“Like a silent dreadnaught, the hulking thing that was once Bruce Banner crouches in the shadows, as the pursuing troops rush by…” The Incredible Hulk, created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby for Marvel comics in 1962 has become one of the most popular superheroes ever, starring in all 3 Avengers movies to date. His green skin and torn purple shorts are iconic, but not his original colors.
In the first issue of the comic series, the Hulk is gray; the color was chosen by Lee partly to avoid the character appearing like any particular ethnic group and partly to appear unnerving. Over the course of the first issue, the grays varied because a “faulty printer” could not produce that shade of gray consistently, coming out in different shades and sometimes with a green tint. Lee asked colorist Stan Goldberg to make the Hulk fully green after the first issue’s problems. When fans preferred the green, the colors stuck.
The varying shades of gray from The Incredible Hulk #1:
Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and many more are responsible for the creation of the Marvel age of comics where their heroes were more relatable. They also had a “formula” for how their heroes should be colored in their comics as described by Goldberg on page 199 in Stan Lee’s How to Write Comics:
I always used red, yellow, and blue for the superheroes. Green, browns, shades of red, and purples were the colors I saved for the villains. It was a formula and it worked. The colors I picked for the villains made for a better contrast with the heroes. I certainly didn’t want to use the same colors for the villains that I used for heroes, because when they came into contact with each other, it’d have been harder to visually separate them. Green was a neutral color to use, and I could use different shades of it for the villains.
The hero colors of red, yellow, and blue are apparent in Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, Iron Man, and so many more while the villain colors of green, brown, red, and purple are apparent in Dr. Doom, the Green Goblin, Mysterio, the Sandman, and more. So why is the Hulk in green and purple, the colors for the villain?
Simple: he wasn’t originally the hero. In the early issues of the character, the Hulk was more of a villain, destroying everything in his path and Dr. Bruce Banner was the hero of the story. In the first issue of The Incredible Hulk, the beast destroys things in his path and stops a villain only because the villain shot at him first. The issue concludes with Dr. Banner, not the Hulk, stopping the villain and preventing the Soviets from winning. In fact, the Hulk hates humans, though this is partially due to how the US Army responded to his presence.
The purple and green are prominent in The Incredible Hulk #2:
In the first issue, he wants world domination, saying, “…with my strength–my power–the world is mine!” In the second issue, the (now green) Hulk takes over an alien ship and realizes, “with this flying dreadnaught under me, I can wipe out all mankind!” The second issue concludes with Dr. Banner, not the Hulk, using his gamma ray gun to make the aliens leave Earth.
The third issue features a scene with the Hulk on a rampage in a city, only stopped because Dr. Banner’s friend Rick Jones had previously established a mental connection with the Hulk, forcing him to obey Jones’ commands. The Hulk saves Jones later, but only because of the connection created; he cares not about the destruction and danger he creates for others.
The Hulk saves a car from being smashed into by a train in issue #4. However, this is because Bruce Banner had been able to influence the Hulk while the Hulk was in control. Later, Rick Jones is able to maintain Dr. Banner’s mind in the Hulk after the transformation and the Hulk, under Banner’s complete control, saves people and stops Russians from attacking him and kidnapping Rick.
In issue 5, Bruce Banner begins to lose control of the Hulk and the “bestial, unhuman engine of destruction stands in his place” so the Hulk begins destroying the surrounding infrastructure. At the end of the issue, the Hulk tells Rick Jones, “…nobody’s safe! …you, and the rest of the weakling human race, will be safe when there ain’t no more Hulk-and I’m planning on bein’ around for a long, long time!”
In the sixth issue, Bruce Banner’s mind in the Hulk realizes that the longer he stays the Hulk, the harder it will be to return, but the Hulk still influences him: “I hate havin’ to become that weakling Banner all the time!” Once again, the villain is thwarted by Bruce Banner’s mind in the Hulk (with the Hulk’s anger influencing his emotions).
Starting with the second issue, the Hulk gets his famous ripped purple trunks and recolored green skin. These two colors are what Stan Goldberg had originally described as mainly reserved for villains. This swapping of colors works with the Hulk, as he truly is a villain in the early comics. Dr. Bruce Banner, his alter ego, is the hero, saving the day. Stan Lee had intended the Hulk to serve as a Mr. Hyde to Bruce Banner’s Dr. Jekyll and the use of villainous colors visually deepens that metaphor. This is fitting for a first issue with the words “Is he man or monster or… is he both?” on the cover.