By Jeff Jensen
May 02, 2012 at 08:43 PM EDT
Marvel Entertainment
  • Movie

Unsure who Black Widow is? Having trouble deciphering the Hulk’s roar? Can’t tell the difference between Iron Man and the Iron Giant? In anticipation of the release of The Avengers on May 4, EW’s team of super geeks is here to help guide you through the mythos with our seven-part series of superhero primers, the recently declassified “Avengers Files.” It doesn’t matter if you’re a comic book connoisseur or a Nick Fury newbie — follow along this week as we deconstruct Earth’s mightiest heroes and pose the question: Which Avenger is the mightiest?

Name: Hulk, The (Incredible)

First comic appearance: The Incredible Hulk No. 1 (May 10, 1962), created by writer Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby.

First movie appearance: 2003’s Hulk directed by Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’s Ang Lee, whose artsy-fartsy superhero spectacular fizzled. Global gross: $245 million.

Portrayed by: Mark Ruffalo becomes the latest thesp to play tragic brainiac Bruce Banner and lend face and body to an outrageous anti-hero brought to life in recent years via mo-cap and CG. Previously, Eric Bana played Lee’s Hulk. Edward Norton took up the mantle (and the screenwriting pen) for Marvel Studios’ 2008 reboot, The Incredible Hulk, helmed by Louis Letterier. And yet, Hulk’s best known Hollywood portrayers remain Bill Bixby (as David Banner, not Bruce)and a powdered-green Lou Ferrigno, stars of the late-’70s TV series. (Fun Fact! Ferrigno continues to make greenbacks from the stocky bean-colored behemoth: He provided the grunty-growling voice for the man-monster in The Incredible Hulk and The Avengers.)

Origin story: If you’re a Marvel classicist, then the story goes that brilliant physicist Dr. Bruce Banner was bombarded with radiation while saving the life of a joyriding teenager named Rick Jones who veered into a spot of desert where Banner was testing an experimental Gamma Bomb. Exposure came with a crazy consequence: At sundown, the five-foot-nine-inch, 128-pound egghead morphed into a pea-brained, spinach-hued, seven-foot, 1,040-pound colossus with elephantine bulges, extraordinary strength, and a tendency to refer to himself in the third person. (If he speaks at all.) At dawn, the Hulk reverted back to Banner. Over time, Banner’s Hulk trigger changed. Typically, the catalyst has long been a surge of adrenaline, stress, or emotion, usually anger. (As Avengers director Joss Whedon recently told Time Magazine: “The Hulk isn’t a superhero. He’s a werewolf.”) The cinematic conception of the Hulk trucks with a tweaked origin introduced in Marvel’s “Ultimate” comics. No longer an A-Bomb era cautionary tale, the newfangled Dr. Banner was trying to replicate the World War II-era super-soldier juice that jacked reedy weakling Steve Rogers into a strapping Captain America. When he decided to use himself as guinea pig, Banner went Green Giant instead of Wonder Bread. The modern Hulk more closely apes Stan Lee’s literary inspiration for the character: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Weapon/Superpower: According to The Avengers: The Ultimate Guide to Earth’s Mightiest Heroes!, Hulk has “limitless strength and endurance” and can quickly heal from almost any injury. The pissier Hulk gets, the stronger Hulk becomes.

Outfit/Clothing: The traditional green Hulk wears shredded purple chinos. Nothing else.

Secret identity: Robert Bruce Banner, always a genius, has been depicted at times as sarcastic and arrogant, other times shy and withdrawn. More often than not, Banner is a portrait of emotional repression, and the Hulk represents the tumult of chaotic, unreflective feelings caged within him. Nay: INSIDE ALL OF US! When he’s not rampaging through small towns or big cities, running away from the military, getting duped or exploited by nefarious forces, or incidentally saving the day as the Hulk, Banner is either the Wanderer, searching for a quiet place and inner peace, or the Scientist, searching for a cure. Occasionally, Banner has been able to control or even eradicate his monstrous alter ego. Sometimes, the Hulk has been able to control or eradicate Banner. At one point, Banner and the Hulk split into separate physical entities. Beginning in the early ’80s, scribes began complicating Banner’s backstory with an extraordinary amount of painful childhood trauma, most notably an abusive father, suggesting that the Hulk represents a toxic riot of unresolved emotions. Indeed, over the years, Banner has ballooned into Hulks of varying sizes, personalities, degrees of intelligence, even color (personal fave: the Gray Hulk, a.k.a. “Joe Fixit,” a cunning, even dashing rogue), suggesting a schizophrenic who houses an array of identities. In one memorable story, Banner used hypnotherapy to confront his hulking demons and create an integrated, reasonably healthy composite Banner-Hulk. This did not last long. Memorable recent storylines have seen the Hulk tangle with a tyrannical future version of himself, known as the Maestro, get exiled to a distant planet, and return to Earth to war with the Marvel heroes who sent him into space. Note: If you’re close to Bruce or related to Bruce, chances are you will inevitably become a Hulk yourself. See: Jennifer Walters, Banner’s cousin, a cop’s daughter who got shot by a mobster. Bruce saved her life with a blood transfusion — and the lovably goofy Marvel heroine She-Hulk was born.

Sidekicks: The aforementioned Rick Jones (a sidekick to several Marvel heroes) spent years trying to work off his guilt for making a mess of Banner’s life by becoming the Hulk’s chief apologist and tag-along tether to humanity. Rick played a role in making the Hulk one of the founding members of the Avengers. Convinced that the Hulk had been wrongly accused of causing a near trail derailment, Rick tried to get help for his misunderstood friend by contacting the Fantastic Four via a network of ham radio enthusiasts known as Teen Brigade. However, the trickster deity Loki routed the communiqué to his heroic half-bro and nemesis, Thor, as well as Iron Man, Ant Man, Wasp and Thor. Long story short, the band of mighty Marvels decided to start a club after defeating Loki. The Hulk had one other notable sidekick: During the ’70s, a troubled youngster named Jim Wilson — nephew of the Falcon, a trailblazing African-American superhero — developed a friendship with Banner and became privy to his Hulk secret. In a memorable tale from 1994, Wilson died from AIDS.

Love Life: The first issue of The Incredible Hulk introduced Betty Ross, the daughter of General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross and the love of Bruce Banner’s life. (On the big screen, Betty was first played by Jennifer Connelly, then Liv Tyler.) For awhile, Bruce kept Betty in the dark about his not-so-better half. After finding a way to tame and mentally master the Hulk, with help of Reed Richards, Bruce proposed to Betty, but at their wedding, the Leader attacked, the Hulk went savage once more, yadda yadda boo-hoo yadda. The Bruce-Betty relationship continued to be a roller-coaster ride: marriage, divorce, lost child, death, resurrection, and Betty’s own mutation into Red She-Hulk. Other romances over the years include Jarella, a princess from the subatomic realm of K’ai (deceased); an alien hottie named Caiera (deceased); and S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Dr. Katherine Waynesboro.

Sample Tweet: We could try to be funny here, but we puny punsters are no match for the smashing humor produced daily by @DRUNKHULK, which is allegedly written by author and academic Christian A. Dumais.

Three Random Facts of Trivia! 1. The Hulk was gray in his first comic book appearance — either as a result of a printing error (according to The Avengers: The Ultimate Guide to Earth’s Mightiest Heroes!), or because Stan Lee wanted the Hulk to be racially nondescript, so asked that the Hulk be colored gray, but when the gray didn’t print all that great, the creative team switched to green the next issue (according to Wikipedia, citing Comic Buyer’s Guide). 2. While now considered one of Marvel’s most iconic characters, The Hulk’s first comic series was canceled after six issues. He subsequently appeared here and there in other titles, including The Avengers, until Lee made The Hulk a regular part of Tales to Astonish in 1964 after learning that the misunderstood monster had developed a cult following among college students. 3. As much as the Great Green Garbo says he just wants to be left alone, history shows that the Hulk’s something of a joiner. His other super-team affiliations include the Defenders, Pantheon, Hulkbusters, Warbound.

Why he might be the best Avenger: HULK SMASH THE HELL OUT OF ANYTHING. ‘Nuff said.

Why he might NOT be the best Avenger: HULK SMASH THE HELL OUT OF ANYTHING, INCLUDING TEAMMATES, BECAUSE HULK NOT LIKE ANYONE. Indeed, the green goliath quit the team in The Avengers No. 2 — and wound up teaming up with the Sub-Mariner to attack his former cohorts in The Avengers No. 3. So much for his famous quote from The Avengers No. 1: “I’m sick of bein’ hunted and hounded. I’d rather be with you than against you! So whether you like it or not, I’m joinin’ the… the… HEY! What are you callin’ yourselves?”

Read more:

Avengers Files: Captain America wants YOU… to read all about him

Avengers Files: Nick Fury

Avengers Files: Hawkeye

Avengers Files: Thor

Avengers Files: Iron Man

  • Movie
  • PG-13
Complete Coverage
Available For Streaming On