The Incredible Hulk is one of Marvel’s most easily recognizable characters, but why does he turn green? The real life reason may surprise you.
Nowadays in comics it’s easy to forget that Bruce Banner once had to actually transform into The Incredible Hulk. Modern comic book storylines have all but done away with the Hulk’s meek alter-ego of Bruce Banner, and so have the movies. Nevertheless, at the heart of the character is perhaps the most primal and universal feelings imaginable, something that every kid experiences at one point in their lives: when you get so angry it overtakes you. It’s one of pop culture’s most iconic transformations; from scientist Bruce Banner to the Hulk, a Jekyll/Hyde meets Boris Karloff’s Frankenstein story for the atomic age. It was simple enough idea that ended up being profoundly relatable. But why does he have green skin?
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There’s probably a point to be made here that – generally speaking – in popular media radioactivity is portrayed as having a green glow and Bruce Banner transforms into the Hulk after being caught in what should’ve been a lethal blast of Gamma rays, a high-energy form of ionizing electro-magnetic radiation. Or as Stanford University biology researcher Dr. Sebastian Alvarado posits, the green color may in actuality be a full-body bruise caused by the Hulk’s rapid increase in bone and muscle mass. All of this is great food for thought, but, funnily enough, the real answer is a lot less scientific and a lot more workaday than you might have thought.
When the character was first introduced in the pages of The Incredible Hulk #1 (1962), by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, he wasn’t the now instantly recognizable purple-panted green gargantuan fans know and love today. Instead, he was a gray-skinned blue-pant-wearing monster. Same lovable monster, different packaging. Stan Lee chose the original color because he found it mysterious and spooky, and felt it would match the tone he wanted for the character.
However, back in the 1960s, printing technology being what it was, the color grey was impossible to print consistently. From panel to panel and page to page, the Hulk’s skin color would jarringly shift from lighter to darker and sometimes nearly black. Something had to be done, so the decision to change the color was made quickly, and the Hulk appeared in the easier to print green in the second issue.
Of course, it wasn’t just that the color was easier to print, but that it wasn’t readily associated with any other popular comic book characters at the time. The Hulk couldn’t have been orange, for example, because The Fantastic Four – a smash hit that came out months earlier – already had an orange-tinted heavy-hitter: Ben Grimm’s The Thing. Ironically, Stan Lee would go on to say that the change in color actually made his life easier as a writer. In interviews, Lee confessed his love for advertising and catch-phrases and having a green Incredible Hulk meant he could give the character fun nicknames like the “Jolly Green Giant” and “The Green Goliath.” Simple, silly but it worked.
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