The Hulk in the 60s, or, Gamma Rays All In My Mind, ‘Scuse Me While I Hit This Guy
On an episode of The Simpsons titled Little Big Girl (Season 18, episode 12), Bart drives a car to a different city and finds a comic book store called “Mylar Baggins.” Once inside, he lays his hands on a limited edition action figure called “Hippie Hulk.” Pulling on his cord, Hippie Hulk says “Tune in, turn on, Hulk out,” and “Hey hey LBJ, how many pants you rip today? Rragghh!”
As funny as this parody is, the concept actually is not too far from the original version of The Hulk. In the 60s, Stan Lee was often asked why he did not have his comics provide direct commentary on the Vietnam War. In World War 2, many of his creations regularly mentioned the war, and in some cases, fought in it. Classic example: Captain America punching Hitler. With the Vietnam war, an older, and perhaps wiser Stan decided to remain out of it, knowing that picking a side, either for or against the war, could easily polarize and alienate his fans. Sometimes, Marvel would slip in veiled references to the war (such as the huge influx of jungle-themed books) but for the most part remained detached. Stan Lee though did want to have a character that at least the folks on the homefront could identify with. Hence, The Hulk.
Bruce Banner in a way represented the powerlessness many young people felt at the time. Once the draft started, for some it felt the only options were to go to war or go to jail once their number was pulled. Public displays, such as burning draft cards or openly revolting could land you in jail. One way to avoid the draft was to attend college, but even this wasn’t a sure-fire way out.
My theory is that Bruce Banner’s job as a scientist is meant to resemble that of a college student who spends all their time in laboratories doing all they can to stay enrolled as long as possible. Then, Bruce ends up getting his powers from the rays given off by a bomb. The bomb is, in effect, the symbol of the war hitting home (it can also be read as a symbol of the Cold War, going on simultaneously. Freudians would interpret the bomb in a whole other way, but I won’t get into that now).
When Bruce Banner then transforms into The Hulk, he’s suddenly free of his inhibitions. Sound familiar? When the Hulk becomes angry, he transitions from nerdlinger to rabble-rouser in seconds. So in a way, he’s like the college student who suddenly decides he can’t take it anymore and becomes someone like Abbie Hoffman. Is it a surprise then that, at least in the early years of the series, the Hulk’s most frequent foes were the US military?
The difference of course between the Hulk and actual hippies is that he wasn’t wavy gravy. He didn’t have good vibrations. And he definitely wasn’t feeling groovy.
The Hulk was smashed.