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By Thomas Wheeler

In my opinion, the finest action figure of the Incredible Hulk in recent times was the 6" scale figure offered in the Walmart-exclusive Avengers 6" scale line. This towering green behemoth was closer to 9" in height, so big that he actually had to be posed in a nearly seated position just to fit in his package, and was really amazingly detailed and superbly sculpted. If you want the ultimate modern Hulk figure, and scale is not a consideration, then this is the Hulk for you.

However, if scale is a consideration, and you're more inclined towards the 4" scale Marvel Universe figures, well, that larger-scale Hulk figure isn't quite going to fit the bill, and to be blunt, the 4" scale Avengers Hulk wasn't the most impressive outing for Marvel's not-so-jolly green giant.

So we turn to the Marvel Universe line proper, and even here, we encounter some challenges. Although there has been a figure of the Incredible Hulk in this line for some time, offered in both green and gray, the overall design of the figure -- well, I'll be blunt. It didn't especially appeal to me.

Now, let's be fair. The Hulk has an exaggerated physique. This was why he was computer-animated for the Avengers movie. And that physique is open to a fair amount of artistic interpretation. Some of the background information I tracked down about the Hulk as he appears in the comics remarked that, "Artistically, the character has been depicted as progressively more muscular in the years since his debut." This is a polite way of saying that artists have drawn him bigger and bigger, likely as much as anything to keep the character up to speed with some of the other oversized freaks that have turned up in the Marvel Universe since that time.

Unfortunately, one of the better known renditions of the Incredible Hulk in the Marvel Universe line apparently took its cues from one of these more exaggerated likenesses. Now, I'll readily admit that I'm something of a traditionalist when it comes to action figures, especially of super-heroes. Artistic license in the pages of the comic books is one thing. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. But when it comes to action figures, I really tend to prefer that a figure of a given character be presented in as straightforward a manner as possible. That was definitely not the case with that particular Hulk.

However, a new figure of the Hulk has come along, that is far more agreeable in his appearance. I recently came across him, and have brought him into my collection. Let's have a look at the history of the Hulk, and then at this superb Marvel Universe edition of this iconic character.

The Hulk was created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, and the character first appeared in The Incredible Hulk #1 (May 1962).

The Hulk is cast as the emotional and impulsive alter ego of the withdrawn and reserved physicist Dr. Bruce Banner. The Hulk appears shortly after Banner is accidentally exposed to the blast of a test detonation of a gamma bomb he invented. Subsequently, Banner will involuntarily transform into the Hulk, depicted as a giant, raging, humanoid monster, leading to extreme complications in Banner's life. Lee said the Hulk's creation was inspired by a combination of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Frankenstein.

Although the Hulk's coloration has varied throughout the character's publication history, the most consistent shade is green. As the Hulk, Banner is capable of significant feats of strength, the magnitude of which increase in direct proportion to the character's anger. As the character himself puts it, "The madder Hulk gets, the stronger Hulk gets!" Strong emotions such as anger, terror and grief are also triggers for forcing Banner's transformation into the Hulk. A common storyline is the pursuit of both Banner and the Hulk by the U.S. armed forces, because of all the destruction that he causes.

The Hulk has since been depicted in various other media, most notably by Bill Bixby as Dr. David Banner and Lou Ferrigno as the Hulk in the live-action television series and five made-for-television movies. The Hulk has also been featured in animated series bearing his name, and two live-action theatrical movies, the second of which is connected to the Avengers movie. In that film, the Hulk was a truly superb CGI creation, and Banner was played to great effect by Mark Ruffalo, who gave his portrayal of Banner just enough of a Bixby riff to really nail the character.

Stan Lee explains of his creation of the Hulk, "I combined Jekyll and Hyde with Frankenstein, and I got myself the monster I wanted, who was really good, but nobody knew it. He was also somebody who could change from a normal man into a monster, and so, a legend was born." Lee remembers, "I had always loved the old movie Frankenstein. And it seemed to me that the monster, played by Boris Karloff, wasn't really a bad guy. He was the good guy. He didn't want to hurt anybody. It's just those idiots with torches kept running up and down the mountains, chasing him and getting him angry. And I thought, 'Wouldn't it be fun to create a monster and make him the good guy?'

In the debut, Lee chose grey for the Hulk because he wanted a color that did not suggest any particular ethnic group. Colorist Stan Goldberg, however, had problems with the grey coloring, resulting in different shades of grey, and even green, in the issue. After seeing the first published issue, Lee chose to change the skin color to green. Green was used in retellings of the origin, with even reprints of the original story being recolored, until The Incredible Hulk vol. 2, #302 (December 1984) reintroduced the grey Hulk in flashbacks set close to the origin story. Since then, reprints of the first issue have displayed the original grey coloring, with the fictional canon specifying that the Hulk's skin had initially been grey. Printing technology has also improved since those early days, needless to say.

The core of the Hulk, Bruce Banner has been portrayed differently by different writers, but common themes persist. Banner, a genius, is sarcastic and seemingly very self-assured when he first appears in The Incredible Hulk #1, but is also emotionally withdrawn in most fashions. Banner designed the gamma bomb which caused his affliction, and the ironic twist of his self-inflicted fate has been one of the most persistent common themes.

Throughout the Hulk's published history, writers have continued to frame Bruce Banner in these themes. Under different writers, his fractured personality led to transformations into different versions of the Hulk. These transformations are usually involuntary, and often writers have tied the transformation to emotional triggers, such as rage and fear.

As the series has progressed, different writers have adapted the Hulk, changing Hulk's personality to reflect changes in Banner's physiology or psyche. Writers have also refined and changed some aspects of Banner's personality, showing him as emotionally repressed, but capable of great love for Betty Ross, and for solving problems posed to him.

Under the writing of Paul Jenkins, Banner was shown to be a capable fugitive, applying deductive reasoning and observation to figure out the events transpiring around him. On the occasions that Banner has controlled the Hulk's body, he has applied principles of physics to problems and challenges and used deductive reasoning. It was shown after his ability to turn into the Hulk was taken away by the Red Hulk that Banner has been extremely versatile as well as cunning when dealing with the many situations that followed.

As to the specific circumstances that brought the Hulk about in the first place, during the experimental detonation of a gamma bomb, Banner rushes to save a teenager who has driven onto the testing field. Pushing the teen, Rick Jones, into a trench, Banner himself is caught in the blast, absorbing massive amounts of radiation. He awakens later in an infirmary, seeming relatively unscathed, but that night transforms into a lumbering grey form that breaks through the wall and escapes. A soldier in the ensuing search party dubs the otherwise unidentified creature a "hulk".

The original version of the Hulk was often shown as simple and quick to anger. His first transformations were triggered by sundown, and his return to Banner by dawn. However, in Incredible Hulk #4, Banner started using a gamma-ray device to transform at will. In more recent Hulk stories, emotions trigger the change. Although grey in his debut, difficulties with the printing process at the time led to a change in his color to green. In the original tale, the Hulk divorces his identity from Banner's, decrying Banner as "that puny weakling in the picture."

From his earliest stories, the Hulk has been concerned with finding sanctuary and quiet, and often is shown reacting emotionally to situations quickly. Even in the earliest appearances, Hulk spoke in the third person. The Hulk retains a modest intelligence, thinking and talking in full sentences, even if one of his best-known phrases is "Hulk smash!"

The Fantastic Four #12 (March 1963), featured the Hulk's first battle with the Thing. Although many early Hulk stories involve General Thaddeus "Thunderbolt" Ross trying to capture or destroy the Hulk, the main villain is often, like Hulk, a radiation-based character, like the Abomination or the Leader. Despite being a loner, he has been a member of both the Avengers and the Defenders, helping to form both groups.

In the 1970s and beyond, Hulk was shown as more prone to anger and rage, and less talkative. Writers played with the nature of his transformations, occcasionally giving Banner control over the change, and the ability to maintain control of his Hulk form. Under Bill Mantlo's writing, a mindless Hulk was sent to the "Crossroads of Eternity", where Banner was revealed to have suffered childhood traumas which engendered Bruce's repressed rage.

Having come to terms with his issues, at least for a time, Hulk and Banner physically separated under John Byrne's writing. Separated from the Hulk by Doc Samson, Banner was recruited by the U.S. government to create the Hulkbusters, a government team dedicated to catching the near-mindless Hulk. Byrne's change in the character was reversed by Al Milgrom, who reunited the two personas, and with issue #324, returned the Hulk to his grey coloration, with the changes occurring at night, regardless of Banner's emotional state. Eventually, the Green Hulk began to reemerge.

In issue #377, writer Peter David revamped the Hulk again; Doctor Leonard Samson engages the Ringmaster's services to hypnotize Bruce Banner and force him, the Green Hulk, and the Grey Hulk to confront Banner's past abuse at the hands of his father. Facing down this abuse, a new larger and smarter Hulk emerges and completely replaces the "human" Bruce Banner and Hulk personae. This Hulk is a culmination of the three aspects of Banner. He has the vast power of the Savage Hulk, the cunning of the grey Hulk, and the intelligence of Bruce Banner.

Hulk's persona has continued to shift back and forth in the years since. Artistically, the character has been depicted as progressively more muscular in the years since his debut.

As to his powers and abilities, the Hulk possesses the potential for limitless physical strength depending directly on his emotional state, particularly his anger. This has been reflected in the repeated comment, "The madder Hulk gets, the stronger Hulk gets." After probing, the entity Beyonder once claimed that the Hulk's potential strength had "no finite element inside." His durability, regeneration, and endurance also increase in proportion to his temper.

The Hulk is resistant to most forms of injury or damage. The extent varies between interpretations, but he has withstood the equivalent of solar temperatures, nuclear explosions, and planet-shattering impacts. He has been shown to have both regenerative and adaptive healing abilities, including growing tissues to allow him to breathe underwater, surviving unprotected in space for extended periods, and when injured, healing from most wounds within seconds.

The Hulk's powerful legs allow him to leap into lower Earth orbit or across continents, and he has displayed sufficient superhuman speed to match Thor and Sentry.

He also possesses less commonly described powers, including abilities allowing him to "home in" to his place of origin in New Mexico, resist psychic control; grow stronger from radiation, and to see and interact with astral forms.

As Bruce Banner, he is considered one of the greatest minds on Earth. He has developed expertise in the fields of biology, chemistry, engineering, and physiology, and holds a Ph.D. in nuclear physics. He possesses "a mind so brilliant it cannot be measured on any known intelligence test." Bruce Banner also makes use of his intelligence to create highly advanced technology labelled as "Bannertech", which is on par with technological development from Tony Stark or Doctor Doom. The most common Bannertech Bruce uses is a force field able to shrug off blows from Hulk-level entities, along with a teleporter, which can be used to transport an unknown number of people.

Charles Q. Choi from explains that unlike the Hulk, gamma rays are not green; existing as they do beyond the visible spectrum, gamma rays have no color at all that we can describe. He also explains that gamma rays are so powerful (the most powerful form of electromagnetic radiation and 10,000 times more powerful than visible light) that they can even convert energy into matter - a possible explanation for the increased mass that Bruce Banner takes on during transformations. "Just as the Incredible Hulk 'is the strongest one there is,' as he says himself, so too are gamma ray bursts the most powerful explosions known."

So, how's the figure? Really outstanding -- and certainly an improvement over the first Marvel Universe edition of the Hulk.

Obviously, by Marvel Universe standards, the Hulk is big. He stands about 5" in height. Even some of the larger specimens in the Marvel Universe collection, such as Sabretooth, Power Man, or Gladiator, don't quite measure up, coming in at around 4-1/2", whereas some of the more standard-sized super-heroes (as much of a contradiction in terms as that may sound) are more like 4-1/4".

Need it also be said that the Hulk's overall physique is far more massive. The Hulk has always had exaggerated musculature. It's the degree of exaggeration that it's given that can be a little problematic. In this case, at the risk of quoting "Goldilocks and the Three Bears", I'd have to say that the level of exaggerated musculature is "just right". The Hulk looks big, he looks powerful, he looks like the last guy on the face of the planet that you'd want to get in a fist-fight with, but he doesn't look too exaggerated or overly-stylized the way his predecessor did.

The headsculpt definitely has a classic look to it. The Hulk has a fairly prominent brow, a relatively small nose, a fair bit of distance between his nose and his upper lip, somehow giving him a rather primitive, almost caveman look, and an angry snarl of a mouth with large teeth showing. He has a fairly short haircut, rather decidedly uncombed.

The Hulk's only apparel is a pair of purple pants, traditional enough for the character, with worn-out knees and ragged hems. I still think one of the more hilarious, if understated moments in comics was one sequence where Luke Cage, Power Man, went to a local tailor shop to pick up a fresh supply of the fancy yellow shirts he wore at the time (which were always getting torn up in fights), and this little guy in a long coat comes in after him, and the tailor says, "Hi, Dr. Banner. Here's your pants..." Suffice to say I think that even with the torn up knees and hems, Banner has had to make use of stretch-fit slacks for years.

The Hulk has changed his wardrobe somewhat from time to time over the years, but I think the fact that this figure has been given the rather iconic purple pants is an indication that Hasbro's objective here was to make as classic a Hulk as possible -- and they have succeeded admirably.

Hulk, obviously, has green skin. And it's been my experience over the years that a green-skinned human-type character is not the easiest transition from the comics page to the action figure world. There's a degree to which an action figure looks more "real" than its printed counterpart. It's three-dimensional, it doesn't have black outlines or drawn shading, and the color scheme has to work well and look good in the real world. And in the real world, green is not a natural color for human beings. It's one thing to match a normal flesh tone. It's another to use come up with a good-looking skin tone that doesn't otherwise exist in the human species.

I've got any number of green-skinned characters here, many of them in Mattel's DC Universe collection. Martian Manhunter, Beast Boy, Braniac, Brainiac 5. In fact, I have several versions of Martian Manhunter, also from the Justice League and Young Justice lines, and their Retro-Action series. I have a couple of other Hulks, including the big one that Toy Biz did in their Famous Covers line, and I used to own the Mego Hulk back in the 1970's. I have a 9" Martian Manhunter than Hasbro produced when they had the DC license, and I have the Martian Manhunter from the Kenner Super Powers line back in the 80's. I even have an Orion Dancing Girl from Playmates' Star Trek line from back in the 90's.

Now, while I haven't ever lined the whole lot of them up all in a row, based on casual observation, I don't think any two of them have exactly the same color green skin, regardless of how similarly they might be colored in the comics. If this isn't clear proof that green skin on a human-type character just isn't the easiest thing in the world to come up with and have it look good, I don't know what you'd call it.

This particular Hulk figure is probably a little darker green than I'd have been inclined to go with the character, but it doesn't really look bad. Certainly the overall musculature has been very well sculpted and detailed, and as I think this figure's predecessor indicates, it's not an easy thing to sculpt a physique that is grounded in reality -- a muscular human body -- but is exaggerated to a certain level for the sake of the character, without getting carried away or taking it too far. The designers of this Hulk figure got it right across the board.

The Hulk has been given a certain texturing to his skin, some small cross-cross marks that make his skin look tougher, like some sort of rhino or elephant hide. While perhaps a bit of a stretch, there's no reason to assume that the Hulk's skin might not indeed have such properties. The only odd point about it as far as the figure is concerned is that a certain woven texture has also been given to his trousers, and it's perhaps just a little too similar to the texture of his skin, if a little more orderly and consistent.

Obviously, there's not a lot of paint applications. Really only the facial details, the hair, and the trousers. One odd thing I noticed when I opened the figure. He's got some purple paint on his left foot. What I don't understand is how this could happen, since the foot is a separate piece from the lower leg, unless the figure was painted after assembly -- which seems unlikely in this case, but I don't know for sure. Either way, it was an unfortunate bit of sloppiness somewhere, if a relatively minor matter.

The entire figure has been given a black wash to bring out some of the details. I seldom think this is necessary, and I really question whether it was here. Okay, I've seen worse, and I've seen more inappropriate uses of this particular method of detailing. But frankly, I'd just as soon see it dropped across the board except in those instances where something like this really would be part of the character's appearance on a consistent basis -- and I just don't think it is here, at least not to this degree.

Obviously, the Hulk is superbly articulated. Some other action figure lines, including some Hasbro lines, are cutting back articulation to rather unfortunate degrees, but to date, at least, Marvel Universe isn't one of them. The Hulk is very nicely articulated at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, waist, legs, upper leg swivel, knees, and ankles. About the only degree of articulation I think should be scaled back on action figures is double-jointed elbows and knees. The Hulk does not have elbows like this, but the knees are. However, he gets away with it better than most. He's a little loose at the waist, but that could just be this single figure. I'm impressed that a figure this stocky has this level of articulation.

The Hulk does not come with any accessories -- like he needs them!?

So, what's my final word? Plain and simply -- if you're looking for the single best 4" scale Hulk figure ever produced -- here he is. This is the Hulk the Marvel Universe line has been waiting for, and he was well worth the wait. This is the Hulk in all his green (and purple) glory, ready to smash anyone and anything that challenges him. I have to believe that any longtime Marvel fan and action figure collector will be sincerely pleased with this superb rendition of this iconic, classic character. I certainly am.

The MARVEL UNIVERSE figure of THE HULK definitely has my highest recommendation!