What lurks deep beneath the surface of ourselves? What are we capable of, if freed from our society’s restraints? In the case of The Incredible Hulk, it’s unbridled anger and destruction — a desire to see everything reduced to rubble. As we gear up for Halloween, let’s look at the connection between the Marvel character and the fears (and literary tropes) upon which he was based. Writers and thinkers have long pondered the hidden facets of our minds, those dark corners that we find ourselves reluctant to shine a light onto. At the same time, science rushes forward, leaving us to fear the misuse of the steadily rushing advance of technology.
For an example, look no further than Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, an obvious influence on the character of the Hulk. In the novel, a London doctor creates a potion that allows him to entertain his base instincts without fear of ruining his social standing. This potion creates the split personality of Mr. Hyde, an ugly and deformed man with no concern for anything but the needs and desires of himself. He maims and kills without a care until the formula wears off and he becomes himself, forced to cope with the damage he has wrought.
If this sounds familiar, it should. The creation of The Hulk takes not the form of a serum, but the blast of Gamma radiation suffered during good-natured Dr. Bruce Banner’s attempt to save a friend from death during a Bomb test in the desert. This blast, a modern equivalent of a magic potion, frees the personality traits that we fear are inside us just as it does in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The Hulk retains some of his humanity of course, and as his rage subsides he reverts to his “good side” once again, left to see the product of his rampages. The use of Gamma radiation is an obvious allusion to post World War II anxieties about the misapplication of science, and growing fear about the role of technology in a global society gone mad. It’s just as relevant today, when you read about all of the uranium mining and nuclear weapons production that occurs today under the radar of international watchdog organizations, and all of the other fascinating (if not unnerving) technological developments in the world, like the creation of cars that can drive themselves (see http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/google-shows-off-self-driving-car/2014/10/27/a72f77ca-5961-11e4-8264-deed989ae9a2_story.html), automated home security systems (see http://www.securitychoice.com/adt-home-security/Alabama/), or wars fought entirely by remote controlled drone (see http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2010/12/the-drone-wars/308304/).
We all have become angry at some point in our lives, of course. Though what we would do if we were unstoppable? Without an understanding or a care about the rules that we’ve made for ourselves? Would we be able to remain good people if given complete freedom to become what we hide? This dualistic nature of humankind and our fear of what we don’t understand is what The Hulk explores, seeing that he remains a popular character today, these questions still keep us awake at night pondering the darkness with us.