These days, comic books are synonymous with summer blockbusters, with box office records constantly being broken and high-profile names in the film industry vying for a chance to be a part of major cinematic universes and perhaps cementing a legacy akin to Tony Stark, aka Robert Downey Jr.
That’s right. RDJ’s performance as billionaire playboy with a heart, Tony Stark, has merged with the actor and for the public eye become a single persona of the larger-than-life hero that he plays. He’s not the only one–comic book fans around the world now see these actors embodied by the characters they portray and it is simply because they were able to bring to life the stories that they have grown up with.
Stories have molded many a reader from the shy, unpopular kid who can relate to Peter Parker and Spider-Man to the person who feels out of place in society because of their appearance or sexual orientation who empathize with the trials of discrimination in the pages of X-Men.
Many comic books represent the most important topics affecting contemporary society. It wasn’t always this way though. Comics started as a way for struggling writers and artists like Stan Lee and Jack Kirby to make a living by coming up with characters with funny names and weird backstories and placing them in the most ridiculous outfits they can think of. A perfect example would be the original costume for Batman, who first started out wearing red tights with black underwear and bat-like wings. It wasn’t until his revolutionary creators, Bob Kane and Bill Finger, decided to take these stories and make them mean something more.
Today you can look to Captain America for moral high ground, Batman for discipline and dedication, or the many female characters leading the charge for all young women seeking equality, recognition, and empowerment–including Wonder Woman, Captain Marvel, Supergirl, and She Hulk, to name a few.
The recent renaissance big-budget comic book adaptations and the performances of perfectly cast actors, paired with years of character development in the pages of comic books are now truly amazing cinema audiences.
Take the upcoming film, Joker, directed by Todd Phillips. Joaquin Phoenix’s character, Arthur Fleck,is a failed comedian spiraling into insanity, who eventually becomes the titular homicidal clown. The film generating so much buzz before its release that it is already an Oscar contender, and broke October box-office records in its first weekend of wide release.
No longer are comic books regarded as silly pulp magazines for kids to entertain themselves with. They now represent the individual reading them, they connect emotionally, and inspire generations of people who strive to tell the stories that can impact people and change their lives. Together, comic books and the film industry has become a juggernaut–with no slowing down in sight.
Everybody’s talking about what’s on Marvel’s docket after they released their slate of upcoming movies for the next five years. The core of their cinematic universe of course is the Avengers Trilogy (or Tetralogy since they’re splitting Infinity War into two movies). Sequels to Captain America, Thor, and Guardians of the Galaxy are no-brainers, and the addition of new heroes Ant-Man, Doctor Strange, Black Panther, and Captain Marvel aren’t just icing on the cake—they’re a whole extra cake, with icing.
But what about the Hulk? He was the second superhero introduced to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, right after Iron Man way back in 2008, and unlike every other character since, he hasn’t gotten a sequel. It’s agreed by most that The Incredible Hulk was weaker than its compatriots, and like 2003’s Hulk, underwhelmed audiences despite making its money back and then some.
But Incredible Hulk starred Edward Norton and pre-dated the Hulk’s scene-stealing role in The Avengers. Mark Ruffalo is universally adored as Bruce Banner, and with Marvel seemingly making new movies out of thin air, it’s more than conspicuous that he hasn’t earned another solo blockbuster adventure. Gone is the argument that a CGI Hulk in every scene of a movie would simply cost too much money—after all, two of Guardians of the Galaxy’s lead characters are a CGI raccoon and tree. And if the new Avengers: Age of Ultron is any indication, the next Marvel movie will have a supporting cast of about ten thousand computer generated robots.
If it’s not the CGI, and it’s not Ruffalo’s undeniable charm, then just why isn’t Marvel producing another Hulk movie? Maybe they can’t think of a decent plot—The Incredible Hulk’s storyline was basically Hulk Smash. But that’s not a good excuse either. Here’s five ways to make a solo Hulk movie drawn from fifty-plus years of comics backstory, and five directors who could potentially bring these films to life. Get on this, Marvel, before you make us Hulk fans angry.
You wouldn’t like us when we’re angry.
1. Grey Hulk
If you haven’t noticed, Bruce Banner has a bit of a split-personality. What many casual fans don’t realize though is that he doesn’t just have one extra personality, he has several. Besides the big green, savage manifestation of his anger that likes to smash and talk in the third person, Bruce can also turn into the Grey Hulk.
The Grey Hulk is a little smaller and weaker than the Incredible Hulk, and his skin is, well, grey. But he still towers over the average-sized man and has muscles that would make Thor drop a Mjölnir in his pants. He’s also a little smarter than the savage Hulk, able to have conversations and drive a car. In fact, he holds down a job as a mob enforcer in Las Vegas as alter-ego Joe Fixit. He makes a great living actually. If you’re a bookie who’s owed some money, who better to scare your debtors into paying than a big grey monster packing heat.
A Vegas-set mob movie would be a great way to do a Hulk movie different from the previous two. And who better to direct a mob movie than Martin Scorsese? His talent behind the camera has been begging for a superhero to shoot, and he’s worked with Ruffalo before. It’s a match made in heaven.
2. Planet Hulk
Why isn’t Hulk helping out Cap and Thor in their respective sequels? How about because he’s in space? Like, deep outer space. The Planet Hulk storyline from the comics finds Earth’s superheroes fed up with Hulk smashing their stuff all the time and banishing him to a far away planet, Sakaar.
The planet is filled with aliens from a multitude of races, forced to battle one another in a gladiator arena for the amusement of the evil Red King. Hulk fits right in, and leads a revolution from the ground up after smashing some space heads. The Guardians of the Galaxy could even make a cameo, helping Hulk overthrow the Red King and bring freedom to Ancient Rome, er, the planet Sakaar.
Ridley Scott has proven adept at directing space movies and gladiator movies, but he hasn’t tackled a superhero pic yet and this would be the easiest way for him to make that transition. With Scott at the helm, how can we not be entertained?
[editor’s note: Three years after this article was published, Marvel did a version of the Planet Hulk story in Thor: Ragnarok, directed by Taika Waititi]
3. World War Hulk
World War Hulk is technically a sequel to Planet Hulk, but since when has continuity ever been an issue in the MCU (cough, Don Cheadle, cough.) The Hulk has made his way back from the planet Sakaar and is more than a little pissed that he was banished in the first place (and that his gladiator girlfriend was killed in the space revolution.)
Hulk takes his revenge on New York City, fighting Iron Man and Doctor Strange as the super-angry, super-strong, super-huge World Breaker Hulk. It looks like he’ll be duking it out with Iron Man already in Age of Ultron but honestly, shouldn’t that be its own movie? Plus, with Doctor Strange in the mix, it could be Benedict Cumberbatch vs. the Hulk, which honestly is an even better title for the movie than World War Hulk.
This sequel would be loud, filled with mindless action and the borderline-offensive leveling of an American city. Michael Bay would be perfect.
She-Hulk is one of Marvel’s most underrated characters. Her alter-ego is Jennifer Walters, and unlike her cousin Bruce Banner, she is always big and green, but not nearly as mindless and angry. In fact, she’s extremely smart, and works by day as a lawyer.
If Marvel wants to introduce a new hero, they could give her origin in a Hulk movie, having the two team up before She-Hulk sets out on her own. Currently, She-Hulk is one of the most entertaining series in the Marvel line, with a fun, youthful energy that also knows how to have badass battles with fellow heroes like Daredevil and Captain America.
The Kids Are Alright director Lisa Cholodenko, who’s worked with Ruffalo before, could balance the witty courtroom repartee with the sweet kickass brawls She-Hulk isn’t afraid to back down from.
5. Guilt Hulk
When Bruce Banner is angry, the green, savage Hulk lets out his rage by smashing. When Bruce is full of guilt and regret, in many ways, a much more dangerous emotion, he becomes The Beast, a.k.a. the Guilt Hulk. The Guilt Hulk is a terrible monster, larger and stronger than usual and makes the standard Hulk look downright cuddly. He’s got long, sharp claws, is covered in spikes, and on occasion, breathes fire. This ain’t your Daddy’s Hulk.
The Guilt Hulk is so scary the sequel would be more horror than action film, and Mexican filmmaker Guillermo del Toro would be perfect to direct and design the cinematic look of the Beast. At his most contrite, the Guilt Hulk can tower over sixty feet tall and level buildings with a single swipe of his arm. After Pacific Rim, is there any doubt del Toro isn’t the right person for the job?