Hulk, Hyde, and Frankenstein
Since its first publication in 1962, Marvel’s Incredible Hulk series has entertained audiences in print as well as film. Despite the Hulk’s smashing success in recent years, Stan Lee’s bipolar superhero owes a great deal to 19th century English literature. Borrowing from both Mary Shelley and Robert Louis Stevenson, The Incredible Hulk was originally imagined as a more appealing mix of Frankenstein’s powerful monster and Hyde’s destructive personality.
“I wanted to get a combination… I always liked Jekyll and Hyde, and I always liked the Frankenstein movie…and in the Frankenstein movie I always felt the monster is really the good guy. He didn’t want to hurt anybody. So I thought it would be fun to get a monster who was really a good guy, but nobody knew that, and to take a leaf from the Jekyll and Hyde thing where he could change from a normal person into the monster.” – Stan Lee
When compared to Frankenstein’s monster, the Incredible Hulk borrows a great deal from his powerful predecessor. Both creatures are highlighted by superhuman feats of strength, stamina, and speed. However, the two characters are ultimately separated by the usage of their physical abilities. While Frankenstein’s monster uses his muscle to strangle innocent bystanders and evade his creator across the harsh Arctic tundra, the Hulk usually just uses his strength to defend himself. Barbaric in the beginning, the “Green Giant” later grew into a more capable role in later works, eventually using his anger-induced powers to save lives and fight villains.
In addition to their actions, the monster and the Hulk also divert intellectually. All of the monster’s crimes are driven by calculated revenge, usually eloquently explained by the monster himself. Rather than suffering existential crises spoken in French, the Incredible Hulk can barely form a sentence in any language. Between flipping cars, tossing helicopters, and smashing through walls, the Hulk is much less sensitive than his Gothic ancestor. The Hulk is animalistic, behaving based on instinct rather than poetic notions of good and evil. Even with all of the structural damage he causes, the Hulk wins by default, just by not strangling anyone.
Lee’s second source of inspiration stems from Henry Jekyll’s alternate personality, Edward Hyde. The most interesting parallel between Hyde and the Hulk is their identification with failed suppression. Both characters display a duality between a public figure and his respective vice. Jekyll falls victim to unspecified evils, longing for lustful and violent activities not suitable for a man of his social stature. Hulk, on the other hand, is brought on by Bruce Banner’s repressed anger. Both caused by indecent impulses, Hyde and the Hulk ultimately represent a sinful liberation.
Apart from this liberation, Hyde and the Hulk differ mostly in their physical appearance. When Jekyll turns into Hyde, he shrinks into a much smaller version of his former self, barely able to wear Jekyll’s clothes. The Hulk, on the other hand, rips through Banner’s entire outfit with every tantrum, save a shred of pants. Rather than showing Jekyll’s vice as a weakness, Lee’s characterizes emotional suppression in a much more influential light. While Hyde portrays a separation of public and private identities, the Hulk represents the collision of those spheres. Again, the Hulk wins out against his forerunner simply by not beating an old man to death with a cane.
“The evil side of my nature, to which I had now transferred the stamping efficacy, was less robust and less developed than the good which I had just deposed…And hence, as I think, it came about that Edward Hyde was so much smaller, slighter and younger than Henry Jekyll.” – Henry Jekyll
Introduced by Marvel Comics in 1962, the Incredible Hulk series traces its origins to Gothic literature published over 100 years ago. Despite all of their differences, the unattractive trio remains united to this day. Frankenstein’s monster, Hyde, and the Hulk are all essentially failed science experiments: one a patchwork of deceased people, another a potion-induced split-personality, and the last a green giant brought on by gamma rays. Despite Hyde and the monster’s less appealing traits, the Hulk proves that two negatives can somehow create a positive – a giant, brick-breaking, car-crunching, glass-shattering positive.
Bear, Leo. “Stan Lee: Creating the Hulk.” Web of Stories. N.p., 24 Jan. 2008. Web. 22 Nov. 2013. <http://www.webofstories.com/play/stan.lee/16;jsessionid=C62619AD714943B0C619A164EE64107C>.
Stevenson, Robert Louis. “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” The Literature Network. Jallc Inc., n.d. Web. 22 Nov. 2013. <http://www.online-literature.com/stevenson/jekyllhyde/>.
“Incredible Hulk History.” The Incredible Hulk Library. Marvel Universe, 2004. Web. 22 Nov. 2013. <http://www.hulklibrary.com/superhero-library/incredible-hulk/incredible-hulk-history.aspx>.