When Marvel’s THE AVENGERS was released in 2012, it was greeted by many with the statement that finally a film had done the character of The Incredible Hulk right. This was a view widely accepted but flawed in two respects. Firstly The Hulk is not Othello, it didn’t need Sir John Gielgud in green body paint to get it right, just a halfway decent script. Secondly ‘The Incredible Hulk’ had already been ‘done right’ thirty odd years ago.
In the TV series, Dr. David Banner travels across America under various assumed names. In the spirit of ‘hiding in plain sight’ these names always begin with the letter “B”, except his first name which he keeps the same. Just like ‘The Littlest Hobo’ Dr Banner finds himself in a weekly position where he can help others. Unlike ‘The Littlest Hobo’ this involves extreme anger and a transformation into a huge, incredibly strong green creature. During his travels, Banner earns money by working temporary jobs while searching for a way to control his condition. All the while, he is obsessively pursued by a tabloid newspaper reporter, Jack McGee, who is convinced that the Hulk is a deadly menace whose exposure would enhance his career. The episodes usually end with Dr. Banner hitch-hiking down some outbound highway or road, with the heart breaking series theme song, “The Lonely Man”, playing during the end credits.
Cleverly, Dr. Banner’s inner struggle is often paralleled by the dilemmas of the people he encounters. The series constantly touches on thematic ways that The Hulk manifests itself in everyone. In Dr. Banner, it happened to be anger. In someone else, it might be obsession, fear, or jealousy. Despite his attempts to stay calm no matter how badly he is treated, Dr. Banner inevitably finds himself in situations that trigger his transformations into the Hulk.
This is when the Hulk (played by Lou Ferrigno in his green form) turns into a one man A-Team bending gun barrels so they can’t be fired or turning cars over on their roofs. No one is ever seriously hurt of course, must of the time the Hulk settles for bending steel piping around a criminal and leaving them helpless for the police to take to jail.
As hopelessly enjoyable as this is the real star of the show is Bill Bixby who masterfully conveys the profound loneliness and tragedy of Dr. Banner while also bringing to the role an abundance of warmth, intelligence, and humanity. If the mark of good storytelling is to lend pathos and sympathy to your hero then The Incredible Hulk hits it every time.