Greenskin. The Green Goliath. The Jade Giant. The Incredible Hulk has had a variety of nicknames over the years, but one thing has always come through in his various monikers: the Hulk is green. Most people, in fact, think he’s always been green. Ask the average person on the street what they know about the Hulk and “he’s green” will probably come up, along with "get out of my face, nerd, I'm just trying to go to work."
The color has been synonymous with the character pretty much since Hulk’s inception in 1962, and it's really one of Ol’ Jade Jaws’s most defining characteristics. But as any comic fan worth their poly-bagged, unopened copy of Superman v2 #75 knows, it hasn’t always been that way.
One of the most powerful comic book characters ever, the Hulk has seen a multitude of changes since he was first conceived by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, and some of those changes have been in coloring. You'd be hard-pressed to find someone who knows every color the Hulk has been; there are a few that only the most devoted comic book historians would know. Prepare to join those hallowed ranks and learn every color the Hulk has been over the course of comics history.
The Hulk was first seen as a bluish, metal robot in 1960’s Strange Tales v1 #75. While no writer is credited for the story drawn by Don Heck, both Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were published in the selfsame comic. The story in question concerns Albert Poole, a brilliant, diminutive scientist who is both obsessed with and enraged at his height.
While his intelligence is massive, his puny size and lack of strength leaves Poole angry and determined to get even with the world. Poole uses his genius, and his assistant Blake, to create the Mighty Hulk, a bluish, metal, 15-foot-tall monstrosity Poole was going to use to take over the world. He might’ve made it work, too, had he not blown up at his assistant. Blake accidentally drops and damages the audio impulse regulator, a vital piece of the Hulk’s components.
Poole angrily fires the assistant and, after sending him packing, locks himself into the Mighty Hulk and prepares to conquer humanity. The problem is, he left the key to metal monster on his workbench, and had no way to control or exit the Hulk. The story ends with Poole trapped in the Hulk for over three days, praying that Blake comes back to work. Marvel later changed the robot’s name to Grutan to avoid any confusion.
In July of 1961, Marvel Comics Group’s Tales to Astonish #21 hit newsstands around the country. Toward the end of the book, there was a small story about people going to see a horror movie. The audience walks past a bold marquis the screams out “The Hulk” in big, block letters as a loathsome, orange blob of a monster menaces them from a movie poster. The audience watches the movie with wide eyes, shocked at the tableau playing out in front of them.
After the movie ends, the crowd files out of the theater, and no one sees the orange Hulk as it steps off of the screen, and into the empty theater. It’s revealed, however, that it’s really just another movie... until the monster steps off of that screen, too. Just as viewers are sure the monster really just on the screen, it reaches out, breaking the panel border, and forcing readers to ask themselves, exactly where is the line between reality and fantasy?
Stan Lee and Jack Kirby went to the Hulk well a third time in 1962’s Journey Into Mystery v1 #62 with the eye catching title, “I Was A Slave Of The Living Hulk.” Lee and Kirby, along with inker extraordinaire Dick Ayers, told a beautiful and entertaining sci-fi horror tale of Joe Harper, small town electrician, and hen-pecked husband. Late one night, Harper gets called to help a neighbor fix a malfunctioning machine, and despite protest from his wife, heads out to assist.
As he passes Blacktree swamp, Joe discovers the unconscious body of an orange, furry, metal android and the wreckage of the ship the thing crash-landed on planet Earth. Believing that reviving the creature will somehow advance the cause of humanity, Joe Harper takes the thing back to workshop, forgetting all about his unfortunate neighbor and his wife. Once he revives the creature, he finds the he’s actually rescued an extraterrestrial criminal known as Xemnu the Living Hulk, who means to use his telepathic powers to enslave mankind.
The creature forces the humans to build him a new spaceship that will carry him back to the stars and destroy the Earth in the process. Soon Harper is the only human left not under the control of Xemnu, and manages to stop the creature by rewiring the ship, sending it into orbit around the Sun forever. Much like the Mighty Hulk (Grutan), Marvel opted to rename the character to the shortened Xemnu or Xemnu the Titan to avoid any confusion.
Lee and Kirby rolled the dice twice in 1962 with characters named "the Hulk," and this time the name stuck. Drawn from mythic figures like the Hebrew Golem, and inspired by literary influences like the monster from Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Stan Lee wanted to have this Hulk be gray in color, so as not to be evocative of any particular ethnic group.
Despite misgivings, the rest of the creative team went with it and when The Incredible Hulk v1 #1 debuted, it featured a rather pallid gray Hulk. This Hulk seemed confused and decidedly surly, as opposed to the child-like constantly raging persona he adopted later. Problems persisted as colorist and veteran Archie Comics artist Stan Goldberg had difficulty keeping the coloring of the Hulk consistent for the sake of the printing presses. The shades of gray varied wildly from panel to panel, and at times even veered off into green.