“The Incredible Hulk: The Animated Series” turns 20 in 2016
By Colin Hickson
One of the most iconic anti-heroes in comic history, the Hulk, is no stranger to the small screen. It should come to little surprise that in 1996, six years after the final TV movie based on the character’s long running series, that the character returned to television in UPN’s (now CW50) “The Incredible Hulk: the Animated Series”, which spun off from the character’s appearances in the “Fantastic Four” and “Iron Man” portions of the Marvel Action Hour.
For those only familiar with either the TV series or the Marvel Cinematic Universe versions of the character, the Hulk (voiced by none other than Lou Ferrigno) was originally Dr. Robert Bruce Banner (Neal McDonough), a scientist who developed a gamma bomb for the U.S. Military (presented in the show as a gamma reactor). Unfortunately, on the day of the device’s test, teenager Rick Jones (Luke Perry) enters the site on a dare, and Banner left the confines of his lab to get the boy out in time. However, a treacherous assistant allows the countdown to continue, hoping to kill Banner. Rick manages to get to safety, but Banner is exposed to the full force of the explosion. The rest, as the saying goes, is history.
Picking up after the character’s appearances in the Marvel Action Hour, the first 13 episodes chronicle Banner’s quest to find a way to rid himself of his alter ego, while also evading both the relentless General Thunderbolt Ross (John Vernon), who wants to destroy the Hulk, and the maniacal Leader (Matt Frewer), a gamma powered super genius who seeks to harness the Hulk’s power for himself. The first season is appropriately dark for the character, with Banner constantly on the run, having very few friends and allies beside him, and with genuine human drama thrown in. This season also had a few guest heroes pop up, most notably She-Hulk (Lisa Zane in season one, Cree Summer in season two), who would become a series regular in the following season, and Ghost Rider (Richard Grieco) whose appearance was meant to serve as a backdoor pilot for a planned show based on the character. The season ended with the three part “Darkness and Light”, which sees Banner literally separated from the Hulk via a nutrient bath, only to discover that the split is slowly killing them both. The two are put back in the bath to reunite them, but Ross disrupts the process, causing Rick to become a “teen Hulk”, and Banner transforming into the Grey Hulk (Michael Donavan).
Unfortunately, UPN deemed season one “too dark”, and demanded a lighter tone, as well as the upgrade of She-Hulk to secondary protagonist as a way of appealing to female viewers. This season also features a unique change to Banner’s transformations, with the two Hulks now battling for dominance when Banner gets angry, and the winner is the version of the episode. Season two, dubbed “the Incredible Hulk and She-Hulk”, while having some passable episodes, is nothing really to write home about. And thus, after a meager twenty one episodes, the series ended.
Despite the flaws it had, the show was still a good take on one of Marvel’s biggest characters. Season one was like an animated version of both the original TV series from the seventies, and “the Fugitive”, with Banner traveling the country, evading both the military and the Leader’s forces. Besides the limited episode number and the second season, the show’s only other flaw is that it never really adapted any classic storylines from the comics, the closest being season two’s “They Call Me Mr. Fixit”, which loosely adapted the Joe Fixit story from the late eighties. Still, Hulk fans can at least be glad the Green Goliath at least had his moment in the limelight.
The show is currently available on Netflix and Marvel.com, so if anyone either wants to relive the nostalgia, or simply want to see the show for the first time, now is the perfect time.