The public never saw the Hulk as a heroic figure. He was seen as a threat and hunted by the U.S. government, particularly by Gen. Thaddeus "Thunderbolt" Ross, father of his love interest, Betty Ross.
"The Hulk is the Marvel character whose internal conflict is the most obviously manifested externally," said Kent Worcester, professor of political science who also teaches a comics and animation course at Marymount Manhattan College. "I'm talking about a deeper conflict, a conflict involving Bruce Banner, who does not want to be the Hulk, who does not want his anger unleashed, does not want his id to run free, and who is caught in a soap opera involving the general, general's daughter, this secret world of the military, and the media.
"The conflict is just not whether I should use my powers for good or should I save the world," Worcester continued. "It's personal. It's psychological."
Identifying With the Demons Within
Banner saw the Hulk as his curse, not his ally, even when his transformation into the titan saved his life. The Hulk had cost him his chance at normalcy. Banner was constantly on the run and was guilt-ridden over the destruction and injuries his inner monster had caused.
"Just the idea of the monster within you … your worst fears of your worst anger come to life, is real to some, despite the crazy, farfetched story involving gamma radiation," said David Jay Gabriel, executive director of the New York City Comic Book Museum. "Bruce Banner has always had this guilt about anything the Hulk has done, but I always thought that he could say that wasn't really him, that was someone else. I always thought that the idea that he could blame someone else for something that he did was a really cool aspect of the character."
In years since the Hulk's debut, Banner's character has evolved with the times. The comic book has become as psychologically driven as it is action-fueled. The 1980s saw Banner's mind take over the Hulk's body and he was able to control his transformation. Later, the monstrous Hulk would return as Banner would lose control over his demon.
And Banner isn't just a man who always seems to find himself in terrible predicaments where enemies trigger his metamorphosis into the Hulk. In recent years, it was revealed he was a victim of child abuse who continues to grapple with his anguish over those memories.
"He has this shameful inner life that is so disruptive and he can't share with anybody," Worcester said. "But the world around him is so dysfunctional that he can't help but express this inner rage."
Indebted to Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno
Today's comic storylines — and even the movie's trailer — hint that Banner does not feel as much guilt about his alter ego's destructive tendencies. In the comic book, he is coming to terms with being the Hulk and can now once again control his transformation. Just as some people struggle with their own demons and addictions, he's just not sure if he can prevent the monstrous Hulk from taking over once he lets him out.
"The relationship between Banner and the monster has occasionally been strained, but it hasn't always been that way," Alonso said. "He is exploring his relationship with the Hulk and does seem more willing to open Pandora's box. But he's not quite sure he can always put him back in."