The Incredible Hyde: Reading Stan Lee‘s “The Incredible Hulk“ as a less monstrous and more human version of Robert Louis Stevenson‘s character “Mr. Edward Hyde“ in his novella “Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde“ Monsters come in all shapes and sizes: hybrids, dragons, vampires and many more. In Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” (1886), the reader is confronted with a different kind of monster: the doppelganger. In the past, the concept of the monstrous doppelganger like Stevenson’s “Mr. Edward Hyde”1 has been adapted several times. In the year 1962, “The Incredible Hulk”, a comic book series by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby about the scientist Dr. Bruce Banner and the monstrous double he transforms into by the name “The Hulk”, was published. In an interview with Leonard Pitts Jr. in 1981, creator and author Stan Lee expressed great admiration for Stevenson’s work. Lee brought “The Incredible Hulk”2 to life with the intention “to create a loveable monster” (Pitts 95). Stan Lee’s monster-hero “The Incredible Hulk” portrays a modern take on Stevenson’s monstrous doppelganger, Mr. Hyde. Although the characters share similarities in terms of their creation and certain character traits, by creating the Hulk, Lee presents a more human and less monstrous version of Hyde.
The essay will be divided into two parts: the creation and control of the doppelganger and character traits, appearance and the aspect of morality. In the course of this essay, the creation of both doppelgangers as a result of a scientific experiment will be subject of discussion. Furthermore, the transformation from Dr. Bruce Banner and Dr. Henry Jekyll into their counterparts and their control or lack thereof over switching characters will be inspected more closely in the first part. Subsequently, the similarities and differences of Hyde’s and the Hulk’s character such as their unpredictability, (in)human physical appearance and character traits and how they conceive and are affected by morality will be compared and discussed in the second section of the essay. Finally, there will be a short conclusion to summarize the main points discussed in this essay.
The primary material used for the essay are Robert Louis Stevenson’s “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” (1886) and the first, the third and the sixth comic book issue of “The Incredible Hulk: The Strangest Man Of All Time” by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby (1962/1963). To support the argumentation, the secondary material used are the abstract “Hyde the Hero: Changing the Role of the Modern-Day Monster” by Erica McCrystal (2018), the essay “Jekyll/Hyde” by Joyce Carol Oates (1988) and the third chapter, “Gothic Surface, Gothic Depth: The Subject of Secrecy in Stevenson and Wilde”, of the book “Skin Shows: Gothic Horror and the Technology of Monsters” by Judith Halberstam (1995). To give more input on the story and the character of the Hulk, the “Encyclopedia of Comic Books and Graphic Novels” by Stuart Lenig (2010) is utilized additionally.
THE CREATION AND CONTROL OF THE DOPPELGANGER
Both Dr. Bruce Banner and Dr. Henry Jekyll are scientists in their field of profession whereas Hyde and the Hulk are artificially created by the scientists. The creations embody either the result or the consequence of a scientific experiment, one being a success and one being a failure. To get a better overview of the creation of the Hulk, a short summary of the original plot is necessary. Dr. Banner experiments with gamma rays to develop a bomb by order of the U.S. government (cf. Lee and Kirby, “Issue 1” 4). As he and his laboratory partner Igor commence a test phase, Banner notices a teenager entering the test area and in the process of saving him, Banner himself gets exposed to a large amount of gamma rays as the “g-bomb” is launched. Later, the scientist wakes up and seems to be unharmed. As the sun sets, a strong radiation can be measured in Banner’s surroundings and he transforms into a monster later to be known by the name “the Hulk”. It is a very large, strong and destructive creature. He changes back to his original self by sunrise (cf. Lenig 310f). Hyde, however, was a lucid creation by Dr. Jekyll. He was not the consequence of an accident, but an intentional result of a consciously performed experiment (cf. Oates 604). Because Jekyll had always felt a duality between good and evil insight his personality, he takes it upon himself to find a potion which allows him to split the two and transform “his body into that of his other self”, going by the name Mr. Edward Hyde (Halberstam 54). Jekyll is aware of the possibility of creating something that is potentially monstrous and could not “know how it will turn out” (Oates 608). Comparing the two creatures and their creation process, it is noticeable that Jekyll had always inhibited an evil side as part of his duality, but suppressed it in order to be socially accepted (cf. Oates 604). On the contrary, Banner was not originally evil or monstrous, but a man with good intentions, for example, when he attempts to save the teenager (cf. Lee and Kirby, “Issue 1” 4), which makes his character and his counterpart, the Hulk, more likeable for the audience. Hyde, as well as his creator Jekyll, however do not evoke the same emotions.
Connected to the creation of the doppelgangers, the process of active and passive transformation represents another aspect of monstrosity: the lack or loss of control over the doppelganger. In the beginning of Stevenson’s novella, Dr. Jekyll is the one in control of the transformation into Hyde. All he needs to do is drink a cup of the potion he invented to become Hyde and another one to turn back into his former self (cf. Stevenson 56). He can intentionally choose who he wants to be (cf. Oates 604). As the story develops, Hyde turns into the dominant part of the “polar twins” as Halberstam calls him and Jekyll (54) and the “power of voluntary change” seems to be lost (Stevenson 60). The switches between Jekyll and Hyde become more frequent until the evil doppelganger takes over completely at the end (cf. Stevenson 68). Jekyll’s increasing lack of control over Hyde, Hyde’s unpredictability and his way of overpowering Jekyll makes him even more monstrous for the reader. In “The Incredible Hulk”, the sensation of losing control over the monstrous doppelganger is reversed into gaining control in the course of the narrative. In the first issue of Lee and Kirby’s comics about the Hulk, Dr. Banner has no influence on the shift into the creature. At the beginning of the night, he becomes the Hulk (cf. Lee and Kirby, “Issue 1” 14), and as the first “daylight bathes” him, “a ... change takes place” and he turns back into his original self (Lee and Kirby, “Issue 1” 22). In the third issue, Dr. Banner takes precautionary measures to keep everyone safe from his other self, the Hulk, and builds a bunker under the sea, which he is unable to escape from during the night when he transforms (cf. Lee and Kirby 14). Although Banner can neither stop nor control his transformation, he regains slight power over the incidents and events connected with the Hulk. He even takes a step further, in Issue 6, and successfully experiments with gamma rays to influence the transformation-process of himself to the Hulk and vice versa (cf. Lee and Kirby 3). Regaining control over the transformation as well as the creature itself, makes Banner’s doppelganger less of a monster and more a tamed beast (McCrystal 239f).
CHARACTER TRAITS, APPEARANCE AND ASPECT OF MORALITY
To go more into depth about how the Hulk is a more human and a less monstrous adaptation of Hyde’s doppelganger character, there is the need to not only look at the similarity of the creation of the counterparts. The shared character traits such as being unpredictable, acting upon instinctual intention and the way they both physically as well as psychologically portray monstrosity need to be examined more closely. For a start, both monsters are volatile and unpredictable. Apart from being unpredictable in terms of involuntarily transforming into the monstrous doppelganger, Jekyll describes Hyde to have “destructive and unrestrained tendencies” which make him seem “more animal than human” (McCrystal 236). He acts solely upon his instincts and is not driven by emotion. The only noticeable emotion on Hyde’s behalf is the fear of dying, though McCrystal categorizes this anxiety as a basic, animalistic instinct as well (236). Being the evil counterpart of the good persona Dr. Jekyll and inhibiting nothing good at all, Hyde has a certain effect on his surroundings. In the initial encounter with Stevenson’s doppelganger in the novella, Mr. Enfield describes his feelings and reaction when he sees Hyde for the first time (10):
There is something wrong with his appearance; something displeasing, something downright detestable. I never saw a man I so disliked, and yet scarce know why. He must be deformed somewhere; he gives a strong feeling of deformity; although I couldn’t specify the point. He is an extraordinary looking man, and yet I really can name nothing out of the way. ... I can’t describe him.
He embodies “Otherness” causing the society to reject him. A sign of monstrosity is “physical aberration”(McCrystal 237). Apart from being described as dwarfed, “less robust and less developed” (Oates 605), he is neither missing a limb, nor does he look especially monstrous, but his “foul soul transpires through” which evokes others to dislike him, making him a psychological monster rather than a physical one (Oates 606). The Hulk on the other hand, embodies a typical monstrous exterior, which is the most concise distinction between Hyde and the Hulk. In the first issue of “The Incredible Hulk”, the reader encounters a drawing of a grey , very large, muscular and rather primitive looking monster figure (cf. Lee and Kirby 5).
At first sight, people in the story deny the Hulk to be human and compare his strength, power and appearance with that of an animal such as a gorilla or a bear (cf. Lee and Kirby, “Issue 1” 9). Even Banner describes the Hulk after his first transformations as a “brutal, bestial mockery of a human ... a creature which fears nothing” (Lee and Kirby, “Issue 1” 14). Though being driven by instincts and still being “passionate”, the Hulk, read as a new version of the character Hyde, does not become a “monstrous threat that needs to be suppressed” in order to sustain social balance (McCrystal 239). His unpredictability, volatility and violence are being used to the contrary, to protect humanity from greater threats and evil antagonists, for example, when he fights “the metal master” who terrorizes society in issue 6 (Lee and Kirby 1). That way, Banner’s heroic doppelganger-monster, though not looking human, acts in favour of society and as a result regains his humanity to some extend (McCrystal 239). Physically, the Hulk is unmitigatedly a monster, but his actions and use of his power for a better cause make him less monstrous and more human. In comparison to Hyde, his good, human side transpires through and weakens the monstrosity of his appearance.
1 In the course of this essay, the character “Mr. Edward Hyde” will be referred to as “Hyde”.
2 In the course of this essay, ‘The Incredible Hulk“ will be referred to as “the Hulk”.
- Quote paper
- Sophie Hardt (Author), 2018, The doppelganger motive in fantastic literature. A comparison of "The Incredible Hulk" and "Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde", Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/931130