Photos courtesy Universal Studios Home Entertainment
With the "The Incredible Hulk" smashing into theaters Friday, June 13, we take a four-part look back at the beloved live-action TV show starring Bill Bixby as David Banner and Lou Ferrigno as the Hulk. Check out Part 1 and Part 2!
By Jim Beard
"Hulk help lady!"
In 1981, the "Incredible Hulk" TV series plunged into its fifth season offering all the drama and pathos of preceding seasons and looking towards more of the same. CBS pulled the plug after only seven episodes but that wasn't quite enough to stop the mighty Hulk! The green giant found new life six years later in three two-hour TV movies – and the legend of the Incredible Hulk on the small screen grew into a cultural phenomenon.
Too Short a Season
Searching for a cure
The new head of CBS in 1981 decided to shut down the grand experiment known as "The Incredible Hulk" and the show wrapped with only seven episodes in the can. Sadly, no emotional closure came to the cast, crew and viewers due to the quick cancellation, but what was delivered to TVs reflected many of the show's popular recurring themes.
David Banner continued his avoidance of the authorities and still sought a cure for his curse. New jobs came in the form of driving a laundry truck for a women's prison, posing as a priest and working in a gold mine, among others. Banner also once again found love with a pretty girl but a rather annoying lumber baron had other ideas for the homeless scientist – like getting rid of him. Hey, we all have those kinds of problems, right?
Our Hulked-out hero managed to show off his idealism and integrity when he attempted to curtail an assassination plot – and deliver a baby for one of the aforementioned women prisoners. Again, a routine day of a kind we're all familiar with.
Nary an Ending
Hulk in the city
The final episode, aired on May 12, 1982, presented David with "A Minor Problem": a peaceful yet deserted little town under siege by a rapacious biological weapon. When it was over, Dr. Banner, the Hulk, Jack McGee, and their stories faded from view, no true ending in sight – until 1988.
"The Incredible Hulk Returns"
A successful tele-film that spawned two more entries, this first "Incredible Hulk" reunion attempted to add something new into the mix: a Marvel Universe guest star. Beginning two years after David's last transformation into the Hulk, we found that the scientist gained a steady job, that of building a "Gamma Transponder" for a research institute. A former student of his, Donald Blake, entered the scene and one thunderclap later the Mighty Thor appeared.
This wasn't a Thor that most Marvel fans would be familiar with. Dressed in a somber outfit and not as heroic as his comic book counterpart, this Thor did at least get to battle the Hulk, something most kids would have given their eyeteeth to see. Despite the oddball take on the Thunder God, the film scored big in the ratings and the network thought they might just have a new series on their hands.
"The Trial of the Incredible Hulk"
Hulk on the rampage
One year later, in 1989, CBS followed up with this two-hour film and another experiment with a Marvel-ous guest-star for the Hulk. Longtime viewers who may have hoped that the trial for Banner's alleged killing of the women from the original pilot was finally at hand would have been disappointed. The titular trial centered around David being accused of an assault that he himself had broken up between a woman and a gangster. The scientist's attorney? Lawyer Matt Murdock – aka Daredevil.
Actor Rex Smith did a relatively nice turn as Murdock and though his costume left something to be desired, many of the important aspects of the Daredevil character made it to the screen. Add to this the interesting twist of the villain being Wilson Fisk – the Kingpin – and despite a lack of satisfying Hulk-outs there were worse ways to spend two hours in the late 1980s, especially if you were starved for TV super-heroes.
"The Death of the Incredible Hulk"
We hate to break this to you but the title speaks truth – the Hulk dies in this one, True Believer. Something about the third TV movie clicked and much of the feeling of the original TV series filled the production. In his last menial job, David Banner secretly steered the research of another scientist while posing as a lowly janitor. Once the scientist discovered the situation, he and Banner began to work together. As always happens in the Hulk's world, bad people – this time terrorists – interjected themselves into the happy scene and the Hulk was forced to, well, Hulk-out.
There's also another pretty female character to pique David's interest but in the end the ultimate sacrifice must be made and after falling from a very great height, the Hulk and his mild-mannered alter ego, Dr. David Bruce Banner, met their demise head on – and the sad music played.
To Be Concluded Friday, June 13…(Then run to your local theater to see "The Incredible Hulk!")
Join us once more in 7 short days for a brief exploration of the three main "Incredible Hulk" actors and the roles they played to perfection!
Need to catch up on your Hulk reading? Looking for the perfect stories starring the Jade Giant? Check out our list of the 10 Collections marked as required reading by any Hulk fan!
Read classic Hulk stories in Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited! Take pictures with a life-size Hulk statue at select theaters nationwide! Visit the official "The Incredible Hulk" movie site! Remember, "The Incredible Hulk" comes to a theater near you on June 13!