The Incredible Hulk In Animation - A Retrospective

Part One - Part Two - Part Three - Part Four - Part Five - Part Six - Part Seven

The Incredible Hulk premiered on UPN in the fall of 1996, but wasn’t subjected to the insane network restrictions that were taking place over at FOX KIDS at the time, and boy does it show. This show is dark.

The show itself is a mixture of the comics and the Bixby TV show. It doesn’t follow the comics as closely as Spider-Man and The X-Men did, but I for one have no problem with that – I like it when shows go their own original directions with their characters, as long as they’re well written and somewhat faithful to what the comics character represented.

Just as the 80’s show did with the Amazing Friends predecessor, they managed to greatly improve The Hulk’s character when he appeared on his own show. The biggest improvement however, was Bruce Banner. Both The Marvel Action Hour versions of the character didn’t quite get as good a grasp on the character as they probably should’ve, but the writers absolutely nailed Bruce Banner here. It seemed a simple enough task to do – bringing in Banner’s supporting cast and revolving the show around him was defiantly going to another dimension to the character, but they really went to town on Banner here. Unlike the previous MAH appearances, The Military was perfectly aware that Banner and The Hulk were one and the same, and thus the premises of the show was born – Banner is on the run from the military whilst searching for a cure for The Hulk.

The Hulk’s character was also tweaked slightly too, mainly because he had a motivation now, instead of his somewhat random appearances in the aforementioned shows. It was pretty simple – Hulk wanted to be left alone. Oh, and he hated Banner - with a vengeance.

Both men were recast and were given new character models. Banner looked a lot better for it (brown hair!), and Hulk was pretty good, but not perfect. His face always bothered me a little – I thought it was too soft. Hulk should look scary, both the 80’s version and the Ultimate Avengers got it perfectly, despite looking completely different.

I’ve never been able to decide if I like the Iron Man Hulk model more or not, but I defiantly think they did a much better job with the casting second time around. Neal McDonough provides a fine voice for Banner, pitching the right amount of frustration and anger, wrapping it up in a sympathetic voice. Whilst I admit to preferring Michael Bell in the role, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with McDough’s performances. I view Banner in the same role I regard Spider-Man in, ultimately, I prefer Chris Barnes in the role, but I think Neil Patrick Harris is perfect in the role too. When the new Spider-Man cartoon comes next fall, I think the thing I’m going to miss most about the New Animated Series is Harris’ voice. I wouldn’t mind if they brought him back again.

As for Hulk, ironically, Lou Ferringo was brought back to voice the character – if you remember, Ferringo never actually spoke when he was The Hulk back in the 70’s, despite how much he desperately wanted the character to. He finally got his wish!

We got to see a lot more of Hulk’s rouges gallery in this show than we did in the 80’s one. Unfortunately, again, the villains weren’t exactly a high point in this show, The Leader being the worst offender. He was featured prominently as the show’s chief villain, the main antagonist behind General Ross and his Hulkbusters. For some odd reason, however, he was played for laughs. Considering he was the main threat in the show, it felt far too out of place. Add this to horrendous mis-casting and the fact that just about everyone of his plans were easily thwarted … it was just bad. Even odder, is that his sidekick Gargoyle, came across as a lot more threatening and was a much more interesting character. He too had a gamma related illness which transformed him from Russia’s top scientist into a ugly, grey skinned dwarf, and like Banner he sought a cure for his condition, unlike Leader, who wanted to added the Hulk’s great strength to his own supreme intelligence. Unlike Leader, Gargoyle wasn’t miscast, oh no, the voice acting legend among legends, Mark Hamill provided Gargoyles lines and was sensational in the role. Whilst everyone is quick to compliment Hamill on his Joker and to a lesser extent, his Hobgoblin, I’ve always loved his Gargoyle. It’s completely different from both the aforementioned roles, but is still utterly brilliant.

One day, I’ll go an entire retrospective without gushing over how brilliant Mark Hamill is. [/lie]

Let me re-itterate the point again before I get onto the episodes – this was a dark show, possibly the darkest Marvel has ever done. Certainly the darkest they did in the 1990’s – hell, this may be one of the darkest cartoons in the 90’s. Banner and Hulk truly hated each other, and the show rarely went for laughs, add to this the romance between Bruce and Betty which was complicated by his condition and the fact that her Father, General Ross spent most of him day planning to capture and possibly kill her boyfriend. Ross saw The Hulk as the biggest threat to national security in the history of the country, and vowed to capture the creature.

The premiere episode was fantastic. It showed Banner’s desperation to cure himself, the damage the Hulk could cause when provoked and showed that both Banner and Hulk loved Betty. It features the first of many failed attempted to himself, and has a kick ass origin sequence, as Bruce apologises to Betty for utterly ruining her life and dragging her along this nightmarish existence. The show pretty much follows the comics origin for Hulk – Dr. Banner is bombarded with gamma rays after he ran onto the Gamma Reactors testing range to save young Rick Jones from it’s wrath. There’s a brilliant monologue from Banner as the bomb goes off;

“I’m so sorry, Betty, for all of it. Losing control of the gamma reactor test, and for… and for everything that’s gone so wrong since. I don’t know why it had to happen. In one fractured second, one cowardly act of sabotage later the domino started toppling, one after another faster and faster, relentless in it’s spiral to disaster. Threatening to take with it one innocent who was unknowingly trapped in it’s unforgiving path. So I attempted to oppose fait that day… and that day… I lost.”

It managed to cram three villains in there and featured a pretty good fight between Hulk and a mindless Abomination, before General Ross threatened to blast Hulk to Kingdome Come with his gamma laser, seconds before the “To Be Continued” screen appeared.

In part two… it went down the toilet. The villains took centre stage and stunk the joint out. Banner even mocks them as Leader unveils his master plan of stealing the Hulk’s power. The episode mainly suffers from the fact it’s barely related to its opening part and there’s a huge drop in quality. It does a good job setting up the rest of the series, with Banner on the run and Jones following whilst Betty searches for a cure, but it’s probably the seasons worst episode.