Hulk has many incredible abilities – but how many fans know that the Jade Giant could fly like Superman in his original comic book?
The Incredible Hulk possesses a multitude of powers. His rage-fueled strength is practically limitless and enables him to lift millions of tons. His skin is virtually invulnerable – and if it ever is pierced, his healing factor repairs the damage almost instantaneously. Then there are his more exotic powers like his ability to see ghosts, breathe underwater, and… fly?
Wait, what? Since when can the Hulk fly? Apparently since The Incredible Hulk #3, where a soldier on the comic book cover breaks the fourth wall to announce to the reader, “Look!! Nothing can stop him now! He can fly!!”
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To understand this weird development, readers need to understand that the Hulk’s original series (which lasted only six issues) was very much a testing ground for different depictions of the Hulk as imagined by writer Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby. Most fans know the Hulk was colored grey in his first appearance and that he automatically transformed during the night. Later stories, however, continued changing the character – almost with every issue. The Hulk turned green in his second appearance. His intelligence rose and fell. He used a gamma ray projector to transform. And he gained some weird powers that were not always well-defined.
At the beginning of The Incredible Hulk #3, Banner had built a prison for himself in a hidden cavern where his friend Rick Jones locks him up every night when he transforms, making sure to return in the morning to release Banner when he changes back. Unfortunately for Rick, the army had been surveilling the area and capture Rick shortly after he’d secured the Hulk. While Rick refuses to “rat on the Hulk,” he quickly changes his mind when General “Thunderbolt” Ross explains they need the Hulk to… test-fly a new missile in the interest of national security (yes, really).
Not seeing the obvious trap, Rick releases the Hulk and gets him to follow him to the missile. Luckily for Rick, at this point the Hulk – while strong – moves very slowly, allowing Rick to outpace him in time to lure him onto the rocket and allow the army to shoot the Hulk into space. The rocket’s course also sends it into a radiation belt that bombards Banner’s body with even more radiation, altering the poor scientist’s physiology even more.
Back on Earth, Rick finally realizes he’s been duped when he sees the army celebrating the end of the Hulk. Furious, Rick gets his hands on the missile control panel and brings the rocket back… but receives a massive surge of radiation in the process. Rick gets a bigger shock when he tracks down the rocket and sees the Hulk emerge from the wreckage, even though it’s already daytime. Moreover, Rick Jones finds he can now mentally control the Hulk much like a golem-type creature due to the radiation surge he received.
And there are more changes – thanks to the extra radiation the Hulk absorbed, the formerly slow-moving Hulk can now make superhumanly powerful jumps. Stan Lee even describes the Hulk’s jump as “a leap which carries him over the top of the tallest building!” offering an obvious comparison to DC’s Superman. Hilariously, while the captions indicate the Hulk is just leaping, all the characters – from Rick Jones to the entire army – mistake this ability for flying. Rick even believes he needs to direct the Hulk to go “down” (even though gravity would just take care of this on its own).
Weirdly, by the last three panels of the comic book, even Jack Kirby appears to have gotten confused over the Hulk’s new ability – as the Hulk is seen carrying Rick Jones on his back, arms outstretched like Superman – and changing direction in mid-air as he soars away from a circus tent. He later continues “flying” (horizontally) toward the setting sun, indicating that… for the briefest of moments, the Hulk really could fly!
Hulk would retain his ability to make superhuman leaps, although later stories would emphasize that he was only jumping and not defying gravity. Oddly enough, DC’s Superman also started out as a superhuman jumper who could “leap over tall buildings in a single bound” before his powers evolved to the point where he could fly. Sadly, Hulk’s powers never went in that direction… although one wonders if he would have been able to outfly the Man of Steel if they had!
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