Who remembers UPN? That was a strange network. Watching shows on it always felt like hanging out with the weird kid. Your opinion of him was ambivalent at best, but you certainly didn’t want to be seen publicly, lest your reputation be destroyed. But, he’s the only kid on the block with a Super Nintendo. So you bite the bullet and hang out anyway, your skin crawling the entire time. That’s UPN. They had a few good shows, like Buffy (the bad seasons) and Veronica Mars (no wonder its rating tanked), and an amazing cartoon, The Incredible Hulk. Too bad no one watched any of it.
Two Marvel cartoons from the ’90s are credited with increasing the comics fan base: X-Men and Spider-Man, and rightfully so. These shows were amazing (at the time) and still (mostly) hold up well today. Criminally, The Incredible Hulk isn’t mentioned in the same breath, or even at all, likely because many don’t know it existed. But Mr. Hulk, how do I know you’re not showing bias because it’s your namesake? And what made it so great? First, shut up. Second, read on.
The show began in medias res, with Banner already on the run. Quickly, a sprawling cast of characters were introduced, characters that hadn’t seen life outside the page before or since. Everyone knows Hulk, Betty, and General Ross, but what about Rick Jones, Doc Samson, Absorbing Man, or Leader? Let alone Marvel mainstays that made appearances like She-Hulk, Iron Man, the Fantastic Four, Doctor Doom, Thor, Doctor Strange, War Machine, Ghost Rider, and more. All this set against amazing stories. And Marvel Studios can’t find story for a solo Hulk movie. Yeah, okay.
The Incredible Hulk debuted in 1996, a boon for the series. Both Fantastic Four and Iron Man released in 1994 in the Marvel Action Hour with terrible first seasons. Honestly, terrible isn’t a strong enough word. Both were retooled for a superior second season, but too late. Hulk however, was able to benefit from those mistakes, taking on a similar tone to both aforementioned shows’ second seasons. The result was a cornucopia of Hulk and Marvel goodness. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be.
The network complained about the darker aspects of the first season, demanding they be toned down for the second. Along with this, She-Hulk was ordered to be a series regular in a vain attempt to attract girls. The title was changed to The Incredible Hulk and She-Hulk. Sigh. The first season ended with Rick turning into a Hulk monster, along with introducing the Grey Hulk. Quickly, much of that was sidelined. Rick and Betty were quickly forgotten, as was series antagonist Leader. Longer story arcs were also shuttled in favor of stand-alone episodes. Despite a crossover with Fantastic Four and Iron Man, the ratings plummeted.
The Incredible Hulk was a fantastic show that was doomed (ha) from the word go thanks to its home network, UPN. Rather than letting the creators tell amazing stories, the network demanded thoughtless changes, resulting in an inferior product that quickly died. I highly recommend this show, but stop after the first season. The second season isn’t overly insulting, just slightly.
Did you watch Hulk when it aired? Know it existed? Comment below!
In addition to THN’s Saturday Morning Cartoons and Nerd at the Movies, Tony writes for his own site, thecredhulk.com, about comics, video games, movies, TV and more, six days a week. You can follow his updates on Facebook or Twitter. Drop by and tell ’em hi.
Where’s Grey Hulk been?