Doctor Bruce Banner, also known as the Hulk, is one of the most known characters that the legendary Marvel Comics duo — writer Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby — ever created. The character debuted in The Incredible Hulk comic book in 1962. Since then, the character has been adapted into other media numerous times. We’ll talk more about that later, but for now, let’s answer the most general question: How did Bruce Banner get the powers that turned him into an angry green monster?
In the source material, Bruce was recruited by General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross to create a nuclear weapon known as the Gamma Bomb. During the first test, Bruce went out to a test site to save Rick Jones from the explosion, but because of that, Banner was exposed to massive gamma radiation. Ultimately, the exposure to the radiation turned him into a powerful and uncontrollable humanoid creature that General Ross named “the Hulk.”
In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, however, Bruce Banner was recruited by Ross to replicate a Super Soldier Serum that was used on Steve Rogers in World War II. Banner tested it on himself while using gamma radiation as an activator instead of the vita radiation that Erskine used. Banner was dosed with an immense amount of gamma radiation, and the rest is history.
The Hulk has a very long and rich history in comic books. The character first appeared in the 1978 television series and a series of subsequent television films in which Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno starred. In 2003, Eric Bana starred as Bruce Banner in the first theatrical Hulk movie, directed by Ang Lee and distributed by Universal Pictures. The character was introduced to the Marvel Cinematic Universe five years later with The Incredible Hulk movie starring Edward Norton. Norton was later replaced with Mark Ruffalo, who debuted in The Avengers movie in 2012 and continues to play MCU’s Hulk to this day.
Gamma radiation is what makes Banner the Hulk, no matter the incarnation.
Origin stories of comic book superheroes are a defining moment for each of them, so when origin stories are being adapted, filmmakers usually always use the same formula. We know that Superman’s home planet was destroyed, so he was sent to Earth by his parents; we know that Batman’s parents were killed when he was a kid; we know Spider-Man was bitten by a radioactive spider before his uncle was killed, and we know that Captain America was injected with the Super Soldier Serum in the 1940s’ before he was woken up from the ice 70 years later.
Hulk’s origin story is also known to all the source material fans. And even though his origin story was slightly changed in both 2003’s Hulk and 2008’s The Incredible Hulk, the idea of his Hulk’s story remained. No matter the incarnation, Bruce Banner would’ve never become the Hulk without the gamma radiation.
The Hulk first appeared in comic books in the first issue of The Incredible Hulk comic book in 1962. The storyline follows Dr. Bruce Banner, who is ready to test his next invention. General Thunderbolt Ross recruited him to develop a nuclear weapon known as the Gamma Bomb or the “G-bomb.” Banner informs Ross that the final countdown has begun.
Banner takes a look at the bomb on a test site and notices and teenage boy, Rick Jones, in a car. Banner instructs his assistant Igor to stop the countdown while he goes to pick the kid up from the blasting range. Igor, who is actually a secret spy of the Soviet Union, doesn’t stop the countdown. Although Bruce Banner managed to get Rick Jones to a safe place, the bomb detonated, and its gamma rays saturated Banner’s body.
That was how the Hulk was born in the comic books. However, Hulk’s origin story in the Marvel Cinematic Universe was a bit different. Following 9/11, Thunderbolt Ross was commissioned by the United States Army to reactivate Project Rebirth, a government project from the 1940s led by Abraham Erskine, who created a Super Soldier Serum that eventually turned Steve Rogers into the world’s first superhero. Ross recruited Bruce Banner to work on the project, but he didn’t really tell him that the goal was to recreate Erskine’s serum.
Banner thought the project aimed to develop a radiation prevention serum to protect soldiers from dangerous irradiated areas, so he chose gamma radiation instead of vita radiation, which was used as an activator and stabilizer on Steve Rogers. Banner and Betty Ross eventually created the serum. Believing that the serum would prevent radiation, Banner decided to test it on himself.
Seeking to impress General Ross, and despite Betty’s warnings, Banner sat on the Gamma Ray Projector and increased the dosage of gamma radiation, which eventually turned into a catastrophe with permanent consequences. What the comic book and the MCU have in common is that Banner decided to go on a run after the accident, with General Ross going after him.
Banner eventually created Smart Hulk, but we’ll he ever be the MCU’s original Hulk again?
The MCU fans continued to follow Bruce Banner’s journey even after Mark Ruffalo was hired to replace Edward Norton. Still, there’s no word on if Ruffalo will ever get a chance to play the Hulk in a solo movie, considering that Universal Pictures distributed previous Hulk movies, so that’s why Disney’s Marvel Studios decided to develop Hulk’s character through crossover movies. However, most fans do not approve of the path the writers have taken the Hulk.
In Avengers: Endgame, after Hulk refused to fight Thanos and his army multiple times in Infinity War, Bruce Banner decided to restart his research on gamma radiation, and eventually, he created a hybrid between himself and the Hulk, keeping Hulk’s strength, but also keeping his own intelligence. Now known as Smart Hulk, or Professor Hulk, Bruce rejoined the Avengers on their time heist to bring half the universe that Thanos wiped out back. Even though Smart Hulk fused Banner’s intelligence and Hulk’s strength, the fans weren’t fond of this version of the character because it seemed out of character to see Hulk so peaceful and with glasses.
Ruffalo has stayed to play Bruce Banner in the MCU after the conclusion of the Infinity Saga. He reprised the role in the She-Hulk series on Disney+, still as a Smart Hulk. Some fans expect, and we honestly agree with them, that there could be a new Hulk movie or some crossover appearance in which Banner would be compelled to bring the old, angry Hulk back. That is just a theory and a fan’s wish, but we don’t know what Kevin Feige and the writers have planned for Hulk’s character development in the future of the MCU. And we don’t know for how long Ruffalo has decided to stay, so we can only wait to see and hope for the best.
It’s unknown when Ruffalo will reprise the role of Bruce Banner in the MCU. Still, The Incredible Hulk stars Liv Tyler and Tim Blake Nelson are set to reprise the roles of Betty Ross and Samuel Sterns in the upcoming Captain America: New World Order, starring Anthony Mackie. Harrison Ford, who was cast as Thaddeus Thunderbolt Ross after the character’s original actor William Hurt passed away, will also appear in New World Order and the upcoming Thunderbolts movie. Both of these movies are set to arrive in 2024. As for Bruce Banner, we’re hoping to see him in the upcoming Avengers movies, at least.