Saturday, 5 March 2016

349 The Incredible Hulk

First  viewed  : 26  May  1978

Though  The  Hulk  was  never  my  favourite  Marvel  character  I  looked  forward  to  seeing  this  first  live  action  adaptation  of  their  work.  The  series  was  launched  with  a  TV  movie  to  establish  the  premise  and  it  quickly  became  clear  that  not  much  from  the  comics  was  going  to  make  the  transition.  The  Hulk  resulted  from  a  scientist  called  Banner's  exposure  to  gamma  radiation  which  caused  him  to  transform into  a  raging  green  creature  with  incredible  strength  and  equally  incredible  trousers  which  expanded  with  him  as  the  rest  of  his  clothes  were  shredded  in  the  transformation.

That  was  pretty  much  all  the  series  took  from  the  comics. The  scientist's  name  was  David  not  Bruce  and  all  the  supporting  cast  like  Betty  Ross  and  her  general  father  were  jettisoned. Nor , for  perhaps  budgetary  reasons, did  he  fight  super-villains  or  extra-terrestrials  ;  the  villains  he  put  to  flight  were  strictly  human.  To  make  the  fights  a  bit  fairer   the  TV  Hulk's  strength   was  considerably  reduced. Nor  did  he  have  the  pigeon  English  of  the  comic  character  which  might  have  turned  it  into  a  comedy  series . The  Hulk/Banner's main  adversary  was  a  tabloid  reporter  Jack  McGee  ( Jack  Colvin )  whose  investigations  precipitated  an  explosion  which  led  to  Banner  ( Bill  Bixby ) being  presumed  dead. McGee  then  succumbed  to  monomania  and   pursued sightings  of  The  Hulk  for  the  rest  of  the  series  with  Banner, under  a  string  of  false  identities , keeping  one  step  ahead  of  him  while  periodically  looking  for  a  cure. None  of  this  came  from  the  Marvel  stories.

As  such  the  series  had  as  much  in  common  with  The  Fugitive  as  the  comics. Banner  would  turn  up  in  a  small  town, get  a  blue  collar  job  and  make  friends  who  invariably  needed  his  help  against  some  small  time  oppressors. Something  would  trigger  The  Hulk's  appearance  which  drew McGee  there  and  Banner, having  managed  to  dodge  him ( often  by  ingenious  devices ) , would  have  to  move  on. Every  episode  ended  with  Banner  having  to  part  from  his  friends   and  wend  his  weary  way  onwards  to  the  melancholy  theme  tune. It  was  daringly  downbeat  for  a  prime  time  series. Unusually  there  was  no  regular  female  character; Banner's  wife  and  then  a  female  colleague  having  both  perished  in  the  pilot  episode.

The  Hulk  himself  was  played  by  bodybuilder  Lou  Ferrigno  in  a  mask  , wig  and  green  body  paint. Playground  rumour  had  it  that  the  Hulk's face  was  Ferrigno's  own  until  a  magazine  photo  settled  the  issue. He  only  had  a  maximum  of  ten  minutes  screen  time  per episode  in  which  to  burst  out  of  his  clothing  , roar  and  throw  some  polystyrene  props  around.

I  was  a  little  disappointed  that  it  was  so  far  removed  from  the  source  material  and  I  don't  think  I  watched  it  regularly  after  the  first  series. It  was  formulaic  but  very  popular  lasting  for  five  series  until  1982.  Later  in  the  decade  three  TV  movies  were  made  ostensibly  to  bring  some  closure  although  the  first  two  were  also  used  to  trial  ( unsuccessfully )  new  superheros  in  Thor  and  Daredevil.  Bixby's  death  from  cancer  - one  can  imagine  his  thoughts  while  undergoing  chemotherapy - brought  an  end  to  the  franchise  in  1993.

Colvin  appeared  in  the  first  Child's  Play  movie  then  had  a  regular  role  in  Murder  She  Wrote  from  1987  to  1991. He  then  retired  from  acting  and  became  artistic  director  at  a  studio  in  LA. He  died  of  a stroke  in  2005. Ferrigno  continued  in  professional  bodybuilding  until  the  mid  nineties  and  appeared  in  a  few  films  in  strong  man  roles. Since  then  he's  done  some  reality  TV, been  involved  in  training  Michael  Jackson  for  his  ill-fated  London  concerts  in  2009  and  had  cameos  in  both  the  more  recent  Hulk  films.



  1. The Hulk comics I read as a kid did have an element of him always on the run (from the military, led by General Ross and his weasel sidekick Major Talbot) searching for a cure, usually aided by his own annoying friend, Rick Jones... perhaps they took this angle from the show?

    I do remember this being on TV, but far preferred the cartoon series that showed - probably because animation allowed the Hulk to be shown as far more of a huge monster than poor Lou in his body paint. Though as an aside, Ferringo has, I believe, provided the voice for the Hulk in various subsequent mediums.

  2. He wouldn't have had to run very fast given Ross's advanced years at the time you were reading !