Most of Marvel’s first heroes debuted in other comics, showing up in anthology titles such as Tales of Suspense and Amazing Fantasy, because editor Stan Lee wasn’t sure that readers would embrace the character.
That wasn’t the case with the Hulk, who made his first appearance in 1962’s Incredible Hulk #1. The gamble proved correct, as readers then and now relate to the wild tales of mild-mannered Bruce Banner and his powerful alter-ego. For proof look no further than the most smashing Hulk comics.
1. Incredible Hulk #377 (1990)
From the beginning, the Jade Giant has been a character with multiple personalities. With Incredible Hulk #377, the superstar team of writer Peter David and penciler Dale Keown reveal the source of Bruce Banner’s fractured psyche.
Inked by Bob McLeod, colored by Glynis Oliver, and lettered by Joe Rosen, Incredible Hulk #377 finds the savage Green Hulk emerging from Banner’s mind, after being replaced by the smart and grey-skinned Joe Fixit. As Bruce comes to terms with the years of abuse heaped upon him by his father Brian, his various personae combine, creating Professor Hulk — a man with the strength of the Hulk and the intellect of Bruce Banner.
2. Immortal Hulk #1 (2018)
Horror has always played a role in the Hulk story, ever since Jack Kirby and Stan Lee borrowed from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde.
With the series Immortal Hulk, writer Al Ewing and penciler Joe Bennett return the monster to his horror roots. With all other personalities pushed aside, the terrifying Devil Hulk has control, coming out every night to wreak true havoc. Ewing links the Devil Hulk and the gamma bomb that transformed Banner to both environmental decay and religious imagination, transforming the Hulk into an elemental creature.
The first issue of the Hulk comics series — inked by Ruy José, colored by Paul Mounts, and lettered by Cory Petit — begins with Banner dead and the Hulk remaining, making the green beast into a monster that transcends even death.
3. Hulk #100 (2006)
How do you solve a problem like the Hulk?
That is a reasonable question for people living in the Marvel Universe. Sure, Bruce Banner means well and doesn’t want to hurt anyone. But those good intentions don’t seem to prevent the Hulk from coming out and rampaging across the world. Thus, the Illuminati, a secret gathering of super-geniuses such as Reed Richards and Professor X, decide to launch the Hulk deep into space, where someone else can deal with him.
That’s the premise of writer Greg Pak’s Planet Hulk storyline, in which the Green Goliath lands on the gladiatorial planet Sakaar. Penciled by Carlo Pagulayan, inked by Jeffrey Huet, colored by Chris Sotomayor, and lettered by Randy Gentile, Hulk #100 sees the tide turn against Sakaar’s masters as Hulk gathers a rebellion and becomes the World Breaker.
4. Incredible Hulk #340 (1987)
Incredible Hulk #340 deserves this high spot by virtue of its cover alone. The iconic image from artist Todd McFarlane features Wolverine popping his claws, with the rampaging Hulk reflected in the blades. The story inside lives up to the promise of that picture, written by David, colored by Petra Scotese, and lettered by Rick Parker.
The issue consists of the knock-down battle between Hulk and Wolverine, old enemies since the latter’s first appearance in 1974’s Incredible Hulk #180. But this time, Wolverine faces a transformed Hulk, in his grey Joe Fixit persona, which poses an all-new, all-different challenge to the feral X-Man.
5. Incredible Hulk: Future Imperfect #1 – 2 (1992)
Speaking of the next thirty years, Marvel and David also celebrated the Hulk’s anniversary with the two-issue miniseries Incredible Hulk: Future Imperfect.
Drawn by the legendary George Pérez, Future Imperfect sends Professor Hulk into the far future, a world ruled by the tyrannical Maestro, who killed all of the superheroes. Colorist Tom Smith and letterer Joe Rosen help Pérez and David make the future a rich and terrifying place, especially when Hulk comes face to face with the Maestro and realizes that the tyrant is his future self.
6. Incredible Hulk #106 (2007)
As great as the Planet Hulk storyline was, it was premised on a terrible idea from the Illuminati, who have a reputation for being super geniuses.
In Incredible Hulk #106, Tony Stark, Reed Richards, and other members of the Illuminati pay for their mistakes. Hulk has returned to Earth from Sakaar with a huge, green chip on his shoulder and he’s ready to take it out on those who betrayed him. Written by Greg Pak, penciled by Gary Frank, inked by Jon Sibal, colored by Chris Sotomayor, and lettered by Joe Caramagna, Incredible Hulk #106 launches World War Hulk, a storyline that gives Hulk the chance to get revenge against his old friends, which just might justify their fears.
7. Incredible Hulk #420 (1994)
The Hulk seems an odd vehicle for sensitive stories about social issues, especially the scourge of AIDS. Yet Incredible Hulk #420 doesn’t shrink from the challenge, beginning as it does with a dialogue box quoting John 12:35 (“Walk while ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you”) and an image of a protester holding a sign that reads “Ignorance breeds fear.”
The protester is Jim Wilson, an HIV-positive ally of the Hulk. Despite all of his strength and brilliance, Professor Hulk cannot find a way to save Jim. Written by David, penciled by Gary Frank, inked by Cam Smith, colored by Oliver, and lettered by Rosen, Incredible Hulk #420 ends on a dark note, the only acceptable ending for a superhero comic that deals with such a serious issue, proving that solution cannot be found among four-colored icons, but with real people who search for a cure.
8. Incredible Hulk #1 (1962)
Incredible Hulk #1 might shock readers today in the way that it avoids superhero tropes. Instead, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, with inker Paul Reinman and letter Artie Simek, continue in the vein of the sci-fi horror comics they made in the fifties before they created Marvel and reignited the superhero boom.
Incredible Hulk #1 lays out the basis of the Hulk myth, in which scientist Bruce Banner’s gamma bomb experiments get sabotaged by Russian spies, just as he goes to the testing site to rescue reckless teenager Rick Jones. The radiation makes Banner into a monster, a terrifying grey creature who comes out at night. Although Marvel would change aspects of the story right away, making him a green rage monster within a few issues, Incredible Hulk #1 stands as one of the best Marvel debuts, and, of course, one of the defining Hulk comics.
9. Indestructible Hulk #1 (2012)
Coming after Greg Pak’s remarkable run, writer Mark Waid couldn’t just return to the old standard Hulk plots about Banner getting mad, leveling a city, and then feeling bad about it. Instead, he and artist Leinil Francis Yu, along with colorist Sunny Gho and letterer Chris Eliopoulos let Banner take charge of his life in the series Indestructible Hulk.
Seeing himself as a weapon of mass destruction, Banner makes a deal with SHIELD: throw me at a problem, and the Green Goliath will wreck it. With this unorthodox take, Waid and Yu breathe new life into the Hulk, proving that there’s always another angle to a great character.
10. Incredible Hulk #393 (1992)
For the Hulk’s 30th anniversary issue #393, Peter David and Dale Keown pay tribute to the first issue of Incredible Hulk. While Hulk and his allies, teen Rick Jones and the god-like super-team the Pantheon, battle Russian heroes, the People's Protectorate, Banner comes face-to-face with Igor Drenkov, the Soviet spy whose interference caused the explosion that irradiated him.
The reunion gives the creators — which usual colorist and letter Oliver and Rosen, along with inker Mark Farmer — a chance to reconceptualize the founding explosion and set Hulk on a new course for the next thirty years.
11. Hulk Gray (2003)
Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale made their name taking thoughtful looks at established characters, as in the beloved Batman story The Long Halloween.
For Hulk Gray, they return to the early days of Banner’s transformations. Sale’s grotesque Hulk design hearkens back to Kirby’s original Frankenstein-inspired look, which colorist Matt Hollingsworth douses in moody washes. The visuals set the tone for Loeb’s romantic tale in the vein of Universal horror movies, in which Banner wants nothing more than to give up his strength and live with the love of his life, Betty Ross.
12. Defenders #1 (2005)
The Defenders began in 1971 as Marvel’s “non-team,” a group of individuals who don’t play well with others, forced to collaborate. Over the years, the Defenders have gone through many different variations.
The 2005 series brings back the original non-team line-up of Hulk, Silver Surfer, Doctor Strange, and Namor and gives it a comedic spin, courtesy of Justice League International creative team Kieth Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis, and Kevin Maguire. Working with colorist Chris Sotomayor and letter David Sharpe, the JLI team forces the Defenders to reconvene against a mystical threat, one who has big — and not exactly G-Rated — plans for the Hulk. The Defenders isn’t the most dramatic Hulk story on this list, but it does show how much fun a big green brute can be.
13. Incredible Hulk: The End (2002)
Although Peter David already wrote about the Hulk’s end days with Future Imperfect, he and frequent Hulk artist Dale Keown returned to the subject with Incredible Hulk: The End. Working with inkers Joe Weems and Livesay, colorist Dan Kemp, and letterer John Workman, David and Keown tell the story of an aged Bruce Banner, kept alive by the Hulk after a nuclear war decimated the rest of the population. As Banner discusses his fate with an alien record keeper, readers realize that the destructive nature of the Hulk is not an aberration but the end result of humanity’s actions.
14. Incredible Hulk #1 (2023)
The Hulk may have come from the world of monsters, but he more often stays with the superheroes than he does Marvel’s other creepy creatures. The fourth volume of Incredible Hulk starts to change this status quo, courtesy of writer Phillip Kennedy Johnson and artist Nic Klein.
Along with colorist Matthew Wilson and letterer Cory Petit, Johnson and Klein send the Jade Giant on a mission to deal with an evil elemental, one that brings him into the orbit of Man-Thing and other darker corners of the Marvel Universe.
15. Incredible Hulk #319 (1986)
John Byrne’s run as artist and writer of Incredible Hulk didn’t revolutionize the characters as he did with the Fantastic Four or Bruce Banner’s cousin She-Hulk, but he still leaves behind a few enjoyable stories, including the one in Incredible Hulk #319.
Inked by Keith Williams, colored by Andy Yanchus, and lettered by Rick Parker, the issue commemorates the marriage of Bruce Banner, who has separated from the Hulk for several issues, and his longtime love Betty Ross. Despite Betty’s happiness and Banner’s distance from the Hulk, the wedding almost gets ruined by the Hulkbusters, led by Betty’s father, General Thunderbolt Ross.
16. Fantastic Four #25 (1964)
The Hulk makes for an uneasy ally with the Fantastic Four and even joins an ersatz line-up when the main quartet goes missing. But the Jade Giant’s most consistent relationship with the FF involves his rivalry with Benjamin J. Grimm, the ever-lovin’ blue-eyed Thing.
Fantastic Four #25 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, with inks by George Roussos and letters by Sam Rosen, features the first slugfest between these two bruisers. The Thing comes out on top — it is his book, after all — but it’s just one of many battles between the powerhouses of the Marvel Universe.
17. Amazing Spider-Man #328 (1990)
Speaking of legendary fights, Amazing Spider-Man #328 sees Spider-Man take on the Hulk. And not only does Spidey win the battle, but he punches the Hulk into outer space. How does Peter Parker achieve such a feat?
Through the power of Captain Universe, the space-faring entity who bonds with Spider-Man for a short time. Amazing Spider-Man #328 gives artist Todd McFarlane to draw Hulk again, working with writer David Michelinie, inker Al Gordon, colorist Bob Sharen, and letterer Rick Parker.
18. Incredible Hulk #34 (2001)
Just before Hulk’s (under-appreciated) solo movie release in 2003, Marvel gave the character a renewed push with the Return of the Monster arc from writer Bruce Jones and artist John Romita Jr.
Return of the Monster pairs Jones and Romita Jr. with inker Tom Palmer and letters Richard Starkings and Wes Abbott for a story that recalls the Incredible Hulk television show of the 1970s. Bruce tries to lay low, going from town to town while communicating via Instant Messenger (it is the early 2000s) with the mysterious “Mr. Blue.” But when Banner gets caught up in a local problem, as always happens, Jones and Romita Jr. show just the aftermath of the Hulk’s rampage, giving the story a creepy vibe.
19. Incredible Hulk #300 (1984)
The Hulk has butted heads with the Avengers since the Avengers were assembled, so it’s fitting that Incredible Hulk celebrates its 300th issue by throwing down with Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. Written by the great Bill Mantlo and penciled by the titanic Sal Buscema, with inks by Gerry Talaoc, colors by Bob Sharen, and letters by Jim Novak, Incredible Hulk #300 serves up a no-thrills battle between Jade Jaws and the Avengers, with Spider-Man getting caught in the crossfire.
20. Incredible Hulk #1 (2011)
For his first issue on the relaunched Incredible Hulk title, writer Jason Aaron not only gets to work with superstar artist Marc Silvestri, but he also gets to set up a new status quo. Banner and Hulk have separated again, and the latter has found a good life, fighting subterranean monsters in an underground lair.
But the U.S. government arrives to recruit Hulk for an important mission: to stop the mad scientist Bruce Banner. Aaron and Silvestri, along with a group of artists that includes fellow penciler Michael Broussard, provide a new look at the Hulk/Banner dynamic, one that forever changes how we think of the mild-mannered scientist.
21. Avengers #1 (1963)
When Avengers #1 launched in 1963, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby wanted to bring together the greatest heroes of the nascent Marvel Universe, save for Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four. Iron Man, Thor, Ant-Man, and the Wasp all made sense, but the Hulk made for a strange fit.
So Kirby and Lee came up with the perfect solution in Avengers #1, inked by D. Ayers, colored by Stan Goldberg, and lettered by Sam Rosen. Driven by Loki’s manipulations, the Hulk goes wild, forcing the other Avengers to team up to stop him, and then Loki. The Hulk leaves the team after just three issues, but he played an important role in bringing them together in the first place.
22. Incredible Hulk #124 (1970)
No one puts writer Roy Thomas and artist Herb Herb Trimpe’s run near the top of the Hulk lists, but the duo did put out some solid rock ‘em, sock ‘em adventures. Case in point: Incredible Hulk #124, inked by Sal Buscema and lettered by Rosen. The story involves Hulk’s old foe, the Leader, and the Leader’s robot minion, the Super-Humanoid. But the real excitement comes when Hulk matches fists with Spider-Man’s enemy, the Rhino. The Rhino’s impervious skin gave Spidey more than a few headaches, but Incredible Hulk #124 lets the Jade Giant see just how impervious the baddie is.
23. Hulk #22 (2010)
General Thunderbolt Ross has hunted the Hulk since the beast’s birth back in Incredible Hulk #1. He would go to surprising lengths to achieve that goal, often alienating his only daughter, Betty. But no one could have seen him battling the Hulk by becoming a Hulk himself.
As the Red Hulk, Ross finally had the muscles he needed to stop his emerald enemy, but at what cost? That’s the question raised by Hulk #22, written by Jeph Loeb, penciled by Ed McGuinness, inked by Mark Farmer, colored by Morry Hollowell and Chris Sotomayor, and lettered by Richard Starkings. Part of the World War Hulk storyline, Hulk #22 reveals Ross as the Red Hulk and changes his relationship to both his daughter and his rival.
24. Startling Stories: Banner #1 (2001)
Given its Jekyll and Hyde setup, Hulk comics have gone to some dark places. But few Hulk stories get as bleak as Banner, a mini-series under Marvel’s Startling Stories line.
Written by Brian Azzarello, drawn by Richard Corben, and lettered by Wes Abbott, Banner shows the full extent of the Hulk’s control over his host. No matter how desperate Bruce gets, the Hulk continues to follow, wreaking havoc that weighs on his conscience. The 2012 movie The Avengers hinted at the depths of Bruce's connection to the Hulk. In Banner, the reader has to see that horrible connection to understand it.