Everyone knows that they wouldn’t like Bruce Banner when he’s angry, and when he’s really angry, he’s the strongest one there is - except when he’s not. Incredibly enough, there’s a rather lengthy list of Marvel characters who have defeated the Hulk, who have beaten the Hulk, and who have even killed the Hulk.
Can the Hulk die? These days, a better question might be “can the Hulk go a month without dying?” Journeys to the afterlife are a frequent part of the jade giant’s modern existence, as are the inevitable return trips, now that Banner is widely recognized as the Immortal Hulk. In fact, some of the very best Hulk storylines in recent memory have revolved around his untimely demise and, more importantly, what happened afterward.
But in order to get a dead Hulk, you need someone capable of slaying a Hulk - and that’s still a rather privileged club.
When: Tales to Astonish #69 (1965)
Who: A random soldier in the US Army, operating under the orders of long-time Hulk rivals General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross and Major Glenn Talbot in their campaign to stop the jade giant through any means necessary.
How: The Hulk had just wiped out the Leader’s deadly Absorbatron and was attempting to flee the scene to avoid confrontation with the encroaching Army and Navy forces. Amid the fire and dust, Hulk made a run for it, transforming back into Bruce Banner as he did. The army opened fire, and at least one of them hit their target, because when the smoke cleared, there was Banner, lying dead on the ground.
Fortunately, Rick Jones was on hand to abscond with Banner’s body, drag it back to a secret desert lab, and bombard it with gamma rays all over again, which appeared to bring him back to life - though the Hulk’s immortality, revealed more than a half-century later, is a more likely explanation. It would be some time, however, before the bullet lodged in Banner’s head could be removed, limiting his ability to freely transform.
When: Incredible Hulk #225 (1978)
Who: Samuel Sterns, better known as the Leader, is perhaps the Hulk’s greatest enemy. Granted supreme intelligence via gamma experimentation, along with an enormous green head, the Leader has been hassling the Hulk for one reason or another for decades now and shows no sign of stopping anytime soon.
How: One of the Leader’s many onslaughts on “Gamma Base” came during a time at which Bruce Banner thought himself cured of his Hulky affliction. Without his alter ego available, Banner strapped himself into the controls of a Hulk-shaped robot and traded blows with Sterns - only to end up fatally fried when the Leader zapped him with energy feedback.
Doc Samson was on hand to pronounce Banner dead, but he wasn’t ready to close the case quite yet. Instead, Samson convinced Thunderbolt Ross to okay the blasting of Banner’s corpse with gamma rays, which brought him back to life and re-Hulked him in one fell swoop.
When: Incredible Hulk #340 (1988)
Who: Wolverine, diminutive mutant though he may be, is the best there is at what he does. Wolverine has also been trying to take the Hulk down with his adamantium claws since his very first comic book appearance, and the two, despite their mutual good intentions, have come to blows on too many occasions to count.
How: This particular clash was the result of a misunderstanding, but still was one of their most vicious. With Wolverine believing that the Hulk was endangering civilians and wildlife, and Hulk believing that Wolverine was hunting him, the long-time rivals duked it out until Wolverine slipped into a berserker rage and impaled the Hulk, gutting him of all his internal organs.
Even Wolverine’s uncanny senses told him that the Hulk was deceased, but a few minutes later, Hulk got back on his feet and the brawl continued. At the time, this was played as the Hulk just being “mostly dead,” but Wolverine’s senses are usually on point, raising the possibility that this was in fact a legitimate demise, stymied only by the Hulk’s inherent immortality.
When: Incredible Hulk #367 (1990)
Who: The villain initially known only as the Madman was revealed in this storyline to be Phil Sterns, brother of the Leader - in a roundabout fashion. In actuality, Madman is one of Phil’s alternate personalities, one that is obsessed with besting the Hulk in a way his brother never could.
How: Over the course of a few issues, the Hulk suffered a series of heart attacks and strokes for no apparent reason, and even Reed Richards couldn’t figure out what was wrong. Then, the Leader snatched Hulk and informed him that he’d been subjected to a fatal toxin and that he’d have to slay the Madman who dosed him in order to get the cure. But the Hulk refused, and so the Leader and his lackeys watched as the jade giant withered away and perished.
The Hulk’s immortality kicked in at that point, reviving him, albeit with the poison still coursing through his veins. To that end, Hulk tracked down Madman, poisoned him with the same substance, and then coerced the confused villain into curing the both of them - saving them both from an endless cycle of slow demises and subsequent resurrections.