A new HULK story begins in Avengers: Infinity War and is promised to be resolved in Avengers 4 - asking a question familiar to every fan of the comics: who will win the battle for control, Bruce Banner... or Hulk?
The question was forcefully addressed at the end of Avengers: Age of Ultron when the Hulk left the Avengers aboard a Quinjet, eventually flying through a wormhole into Thor: Ragnarok to the planet Sakaar. There, in a shocking twist, the Hulk remained in control for two years. How long could the big, green bruiser keep Banner "locked in the trunk" if pushed?
Banner explains to Thor that he fear one more transformation would be the end of him, handing permanent control over to "the other guy." In a moment of true heroism at Ragnarok's climax, he still chose to transform into the Hulk anyway, recognizing that the Hulk's might was needed. The trailer for Infinity War has apparently proven that Banner's fear was ill-founded: the encounter with Thanos will send the Hulk plummeting to Earth, and he'll transition into Banner one more time.
Perhaps one last time. So what should fans expect - and how important is that question to the future of the MCU?
This Page: How The MCU Hulk Has Followed The Comics
The Bruce/Hulk Conflict Is A Core Comic Concept
The conflict between Banner and the Hulk is a core idea in the original comics. Yet there have always been two different interpretations: different writers have taken different approaches, meaning the actual overarching narrative is inconsistent.
The first interpretation is typically seen in the works of Bill Mantlo. Flashback issues and therapy sessions explored it in detail, most notably Incredible Hulk #312 and Incredible Hulk #377. By this reading, the Hulk is actually an aspect of Banner's own personality. The young Bruce suffered a horrifically abusive upbringing, rejected by his alcoholic father, and left if the care of a "loathsome nurse." His father had worked in the nuclear industry, and believed his son to have been mutated - to have become nothing more than a monster. He lashed out at every sign of Bruce's innate genius, and even beat his wife when she tried to defend the young Bruce.
Matters came to a head when Bruce's father actually murdered his mother in front of his eyes. Bruce internalized that rage, becoming a recluse who struggled to socialize. As he said watching over his mother's body, "Emotion's bad. It hurts people." All those emotions were hidden, repressed and never faced. According to this interpretation, when the Gamma Bomb exploded, the years of "pent-up rage locked inside a lovelorn child" were finally released.
Another interpretation argues that this goes still further; that Bruce became a victim of multiple personality disorder (or dissociative identity disorder). Peter David suggested that Bruce's harsh childhood, and his acts of repression had essentially creative multiple personalities - and the Hulk is one of them. David went one step further, creating other Hulk identities such as the Grey Hulk. These wound up in conflict, and it took psychiatrist Doc Samson to integrate the different personalities.
One interpretation argues that the Hulk is simply an expression of Banner's repressed emotions. The other goes one step further, suggesting that the Hulk is a different personality, competing for control of the same body (which Ragnarok also suggests). Whichever interpretation you prefer, both suggest conflict between Banner and the Hulk. In the first interpretation, the Hulk is a part of Banner that he chooses to bury, and fears to acknowledge. In the second, the Hulk is an entire personality, independent of Banner's, battling to come out and take control.
The MCU's Interpretation Of The Hulk/Banner Conflict
At first glance, the MCU has traditionally gone with the idea that the Hulk is Bruce's repressed emotion - doing the things that Bruce can't, but wishes he could. In The Incredible Hulk, any intense experience of emotion - even passion - can unleash the Hulk. In The Avengers, Banner tells Captain America that he has one secret: "I'm always angry." Bruce is presented as always one step away from transforming into the Hulk, desperately seeking to control his emotions. (It's notable that the Hulk and Bruce share the same attraction to Betty Ross and Black Widow, suggesting they share more than Bruce would like to admit.)
But even at this early stage, there are hints that there's more to the dynamic than repression or wish fulfilment. In The Avengers, Bruce realizes that the Hulk will not harm innocents, and so allows himself to transform. For the first time, he's accepted that the Hulk is a part of him... but that he also forms a part of the Hulk. And that seems to have subtly changed the psychology of it all.
But with Age of Ultron and Thor: Ragnarok, it's clear that the MCU version of Hulk is no longer the 'other' identity of Bruce Banner. In fact, he may be the more powerful of the two characters fighting for one body.
- Avengers: Infinity War / The Avengers 3 (2018) release date: Apr 27, 2018
- The Avengers 4 / Avengers: Endgame (2019) release date: Apr 26, 2019