Cartoon Intro Cavalcade: The Incredible Hulk (1982)
There really hasn’t been a “definitive” non-comics version of the Hulk in the way that Spider-Man, Batman, and X-Men have. The 1982 version of the Hulk comes closest. It’s very much the antithesis of the 1970s live-action series. That series focused on David Banner’s life on the run with a mute, depowered Hulk (ooh, he can lift a car) surfacing during dramatic moments. The 1982 series clearly favors the Hulk rather than Bruce Banner, and animation allows the Hulk to finally be the engine of destruction he’s supposed to be.
The opening to this series remains effective in illustrating this point. It’s unusual for a 1980s intro in that it doesn’t cram every character into the proceedings, and it shows – not tells – us what the show is about. There is no extended monologue like He-Man, nor is there an on-point toy jingle like Transformers. The premise of the show and character are explained, wordlessly throughout.
I have to start with Jon Douglas’ unforgettable score. It does what no other Hulk theme has done – establish the Hulk as a force of nature. You get this with the slow, methodic “THUMP, THUMP, THUMP, THUMP” rhythm that continues throughout. It’s the sound that a 7-foot, 1000 pound green creature would most likely make with every footstep. This backs the main melody; a catchy number that starts slowly but gradually builds, creating an unbearable tension that’s released at the end.
Keeping with the musical score, the open itself takes a slower, more deliberate pace. There are only six extended sequences in total, with no fast cuts or camera movements, which is unusual for a cartoon even in 1982. The opening begins with the Hulk running in front of a stone carving of his name and stomping his foot to open a hole in the ground.
He is then shown plummeting to the street in the middle of an unidentified city, raging in front of a rather large flying saucer. The UFO knocks him back into a nearby building, which partially collapses. Coincidentally, female lead Betty Ross just happens to be standing on the metal landing of said building. Hulk emerges from the rubble – unscathed – catches Betty, leaps away. Already, this is in a different universe than the Bixby Hulk, and not just because of the flying saucers; the Hulk can be buried by a building and shrug it off.
The next scene depicts Bruce Banner being caught in the gamma bomb explosion. Longtime Hulk readers will instantly recognize that the explosion itself is the Jack Kirby panel come to life; a very nice gesture. What follows is the most effective part of the open by far. The camera cuts to a closeup of Bruce taking the massive dose of gamma radiation, before flashing to a shot of the Hulk. Another flash replaces his visage with that of Banner’s; a third flash and he reverts to Hulk again.
This is accompanied by Douglas’ theme at its fiercest, most staccato point. It also shows what most other opens circa 1982 would say: Bruce Banner, a scientist, was caught in a gamma bomb explosion and is the Hulk. This works so much better than a jingle or narration ever would.
Then, the next shot is Bruce Banner caught in that most familiar of cartoon and movie traps, the Compactor Of Doom. Bruce is being pushed towards almost certain spiky death while Betty offers her hand. Then, Bruce is suddenly sealed in. Cue close-up of Banner’s hands, pressed against the walls, as they grow big and green… and the Hulk rips the walls apart.
The intro ends with throwaway footage from the first episode, where Hulk is facing an alien robot from space. Originally this show was aired alongside Spider-Man And His Amazing Friends and used a combined intro, possibly explaining the addition of this footage.
Finally, the Hulk is lifting up a steel plate ten times his size, once again bearing his name. By this time, Douglas’ music has swelled to its dramatic finish, with bursts of orchestration adding the exclamation point to the composition.
The very best cartoon introductions introduce the character and premise through effective music and visuals, not exposition and overblown montages. In 60 seconds, we know the Hulk. We might not know all the details, but we know he is a huge engine of destruction that can withstand anything. All of this is conveyed through music and visuals at a deliberate pace.