Top 10: Hulk’s Enemies by Jerry Whitworth
When you talk about the best rogues galleries in comics, everyone always talks about Spider-Man, Batman, and the Flash. But, one of the greatest menagerie of super-villains belongs to the Incredible Hulk. However, such a list presents its own unique challenges considering the tendency of the Hulk to cross swords with heroes like the Thing, Wolverine, Sub-Mariner, Iron Man, Illuminati, Gamma Corps, and various others, so I enter with the caveat that the following list is composed of villainous characters. Coming off the success of the Hulk in the Avengers film and his upcoming animated series Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H., lets take a look at the Hulk’s greatest enemies.
10. ABSORBING MAN
Primarily an enemy of the mighty Thor, “Crusher” Creel is empowered by the Norse god Loki with the ability to alter his body into anything he touches becoming the Absorbing Man. Creel would first battle the Hulk when, by chance, he clings to a space-faring vessel piloted by Bruce Banner after the villain was banished to outer space by the Norse king of the gods Odin. After the Absorbing Man’s defeat, the villain would switch between battling Thor and the Hulk, a dangerous opponent for the latter in that he was often to absorb the Hulk’s power, bulking up more quickly than the Hulk’s growing anger could compete. However, after years of fighting, their resentment would eventually cease somewhat, so much so Absorbing Man was invited to Rick Jones’ wedding. The Absorbing Man was largely adapted as the villain facing the Hulk in his self-titled 2003 film when Bruce’s father David Banner transforms himself as such.
Primarily an enemy of the amazing Spider-Man (and to a lesser degree the Fantastic Four as part of the Frightful Four), Flint Marko was a small time crook that came into contact with nuclear irradiated sand transforming every molecule of his body giving him the ability to become living sand. Taking to a life of crime as the Sandman, Marko comes into contact with the Hulk when he tries to use the hero as a distraction in a bid to steal a rocket in order to go to the Negative Zone and reunite with his ally Blastaar. This plan fell through when Sandman threatened Betty Ross drawing the ire of the Hulk where Marko escaped and teamed with the Mandarin to obtain mutual revenge on the hero. When next they met, Sandman was partly turned into glass and, through a coincidence, shared a blood transfusion with Ross when she was at a hospital returning him to normal and Ross into a statue of glass. After a number of run-ins with Spider-Man, Human Torch, and the Thing, Sandman began a journey of redemption culminating in working for Silver Sable as part of the Outlaws, a group of former-Spider-Man enemies turned into work-for-hire heroes before Sandman eventually joined the Avengers. However, the Sandman would later be brainwashed by his former employer the Wizard back into a villain and went on to reform the Sinister Six, returning to his villainous roots ever since.
A living entity of electricity given sentience by absorbing the thoughts of terrorists and engineers as the former sabotaged the latter, Zzzax went on a rampage sucking the consciousness out of its victims before being beaten by the Hulk and Hawkeye. Zzzax would return to frequently menace the Hulk, having power comparable to the Hulk while being even more savage, the creature reaches another level of danger when General “Thunderbolt” Ross merged with it in order to wield enough power to finally topple the Hulk. Eventually, Ross realizes the danger he poses to others trying unsuccessfully to control himself and separates from Zzzax, the entity moving on to largely abandon the Hulk and battle other heroes like Iron Man, Cable, the Avengers, and Ross in his role as the Red Hulk. In the 2003 film Hulk, Bruce’s father David Banner assumes a form reminiscent of Zzzax to battle the titular hero.
Alive during the days of ancient Rome, Romulus Augustus was a brilliant scientist exiled by Merlin to Subterranea after a failed bid to conquer Britain. Therein, he discovered and become ruler of that land’s residents and reverse-engineered the Deviants’ technology left behind in those caves and caverns (uncovering a fountain of youth that allowed him to maintain his health). In modern times, known as Tyrannus, he decides to finally attempt to conquer the surface world and kidnaps Betty Ross to prevent her father’s forces from trying to stop him. Unfortunately, he didn’t account for the Hulk who saves Betty. Of course, he would return again and again to battle the Hulk, at one point merging with the Sacred Flame of El Dorado which led to his consciousness merging with the spread atoms of the Abomination and forming into a single gestalt being. Horrified with his appearance, Tyrannus kidnaps Betty Ross in order to force Bruce Banner to separate the pair only for Emil Blonsky to end up with his human form and Tyrannus stuck in the Abomination’s form. He would return to his human form with help from Ghaur of the Deviants and Llyra of Lemuria. Tyrannus would later align with Mole Man only to uncover more Deviant technology and employ it to take over the mind of the Hulk and goes on various rampages (making the Hulk appear to have gone savage and attracted the world’s heroes to take him down). Tyrannus would go on to battle Skaar and have a sexual relationship with Betty Ross in her Red She-Hulk identity (perhaps in some sense Stockholm syndrome after being kidnapped by him so often).
6. RED KING
Inherit ruler of the planet Sakaar, Angmo-Asan ascended to the throne to become the Red King after the death of his father, who was responsible for waging a war that united the planet’s people. Maintaining his rule by fear and paranoia, so far to slay all those who threatened his position, the Red King employed his sizable wealth to craft a suit of armor with the latest in his world’s technology (as he lacked the physical attributes of his parent). Everything changed when the Green Scar Hulk arrived on his world, leading a revolution and finally besting Angmo-Asan, despite the Red King’s attempts to destroy his own planet to prevent being dethroned, only for the Hulk to ascend as emperor. Surviving this encounter, Angmo-Asan was rebuilt as a cyborg and he assaulted the city of Okini, conquering it. When the Hulk left Sakaar to conquer Earth and his son Skaar waged war on his native planet, the Red King joined his enemy’s offspring as an ally. And as Skaar was exiled from his homeworld for dooming it, Angmo-Asan begrudgingly swore allegiance to his sole daughter Omaka, who he tried to assassinate only for her to lose both arms and survive, as she became the Red Queen. His fate is unknown as Galactus threatens to consume Sakaar.
A malevolent variation of the Fantastic Four, millionaire politician Simon Utrecht financed a trip into space in order to replicate the conditions that gave Reed Richards’ group their super powers. Hand selecting three others to join him, Utrecht went into space exposing his crew to cosmic rays but failed to realize the greater dose of energy to the prior event would kill them rather than empower them. Fortunately, the Hulk collapsed near the mission command center of the experiment and Bruce Banner awoke realizing the error and programmed the vessel’s return. Arriving as the U-Foes with Utrecht becoming Vector alongside Vapor, Ironclad, and X-Ray, the group discovered Banner and attacked him for his interference. Fortunately for the Hulk, the group was not yet use to their abilities and after a great battle were defeated. The team would return consistently to battle the Hulk, as well as other heroes on occasion such as the Avengers, West Coast Avengers, Captain America, Daredevil, Freedom Force, and the Hulk’s allies in the Pantheon, sometimes in the employ of the Leader. They would later be forced to work for Norman Osborn when he took power in the United States government during a state of paranoia against super heroes and employed the U-Foes to take down unregistered heroes.
The Hulk of a divergent future some hundred years from the present, the Maestro rose to power after an atomic world war left many of Earth’s heroes and villains dead and the radiation strengthened the Hulk. Driven mad by this series of events, the Maestro eliminated what was left of any opposition and ruled the world with an iron fist. A band of rebels stole Dr. Doom’s time machine and journeyed to the past to recruit the Hulk of an earlier time to depose their despot. When battling the Maestro proved fruitless being overtly outmatched, the Hulk used the time machine to transport his opponent to the gamma bomb detonation that gave birth to the Hulk, placing him directly next to the bomb thus finally destroying him. Unfortunately, the Maestro would in fact survive, spending years recuperating from the explosion, in time donning the sentient Asgardian armor the Destroyer and again fighting the Hulk and is again defeated. While the Maestro is certainly a dangerous opponent, what makes him so notable is the fact it is the Hulk, one that became corrupted and driven mad, slaying his allies and friends, keeping their equipment as trophies of his victory over them. He is in fact a possibility for the Hulk, a reminder of the responsibility that comes with his power and a reminder of what the Hulk is capable of should he turn on Earth (in many ways an element played up in World War Hulk and The Order).
3. BRIAN BANNER
The father of Bruce Banner, Brian Banner is largely responsible for the path leading to the Hulk and the turmoil it has created. Abusive, vile, and ill-tempered, Brian routinely battered his wife and son, eventually taking the life of Bruce’s mother before his young eyes. It has also been commented the reason Bruce manifests as the savage Hulk is because of the mental trauma inflicted on him by his father, his meek demeanor born from pushing his rage and sadness so deeply inside himself that it gave form to the various personalities of the Hulk. Eventually Bruce would murder his father atop his mother’s grave, a crime he blocked out of his memory but has plagued his subconscious ever since. Indeed, the ghost of Brian in his son’s psyche has manifested several times, in part in Hulk personas like Mr. Fixit, Devil Hulk, and Guilt Hulk (and reminded Bruce of him when he fought his son Skaar while in his Green Scar Hulk identity). The memory of Brian would be used against Bruce over the years by villains like the Red Skull and Mentallo and Bruce even faced his father in Hell (along with the Leader and Maestro). Brian would return from the dead during the Chaos War, transforming into an amalgamation of the Devil and Guilt Hulks and actually drew strength from his son’s anger. It would be one of the Hulk’s loves that turned the tide in Jarella when she helped Bruce break the cycle of hatred and anger and this led to Brian’s defeat. Bruce Banner’s father, renamed David Banner (in homage to the Incredible Hulk television series), was the primary antagonist of the 2003 Hulk film.
Nearly killing the Hulk in their initial encounter, Emil Blonsky was a KGB agent that exposed himself to a greater quantity of gamma radiation than what created the Hulk, employing a device Bruce Banner built in order to commit suicide, transforming him into a monstrosity even bigger and stronger than the Hulk while maintaining his own mind. With superior power and combat training, any encounter with the Abomination is dire for the Hulk with the latter’s larger saving grace in his ability to grow stronger with his growing anger. What has often been Blonsky’s only real weakness is in acting as a follower, working under the likes of the Leader, General “Thunderbolt” Ross, MODOK, Mephisto, Amatsu-Mikaboshi, and the Galaxy Master. He tends to have a smaller measure of success on his own, one such occasion killing Betty Ross and fooling even Bruce Banner into believing the hero was instead responsible. The Abomination would eventually meet his end when Betty’s father became the Red Hulk and hunted down and killed him with a firearm developed by S.H.I.E.L.D. This event, however, couldn’t keep the Abomination down as he became a thorn in the side of Pluto in the afterlife and would be re-animated by Amatsu-Mikaboshi, in turn summoning Brian Banner back to life as a Guilt/Devil Hulk hybrid. The Abomination would again fall this time against Marlo Chandler-Jones with her aspect of Death. The Abomination was the primary antagonist of the 2008 film Incredible Hulk.
1. THE LEADER
Working a manual labor job at a chemical plant, Samuel Sterns’ life changed when exposed to gamma radiation in an accident giving him a newfound superhuman intellect. Always talked down to by his mother and envying his brilliant brother Philip, Samuel became the malevolent Leader seeking to use his brilliant mind to bring him the power and prestige life before had denied him. However, the major stumbling block in his schemes arose with the Hulk, so much so the Leader would then became fixated on eliminating his gamma irradiated foe. Having battled the Hulk in dozens of encounters, the Leader became the most consistent and dangerous enemy of the hero having instituted a spy ring to overtake the United States, constructed an army of powerful obedient plastic robots called Humanoids and an orbiting space station with self-awareness named Omnivac, and has employed the likes of the Chameleon, Rhino, Abomination, Glob, Half-Life, U-Foes, Riot Squad, and Rock & Redeemer under him and aligned with General “Thunderbolt” Ross and MODOK from time-to-time. The Leader would be, at least in part, responsible for creating the Red Hulk, Red She-Hulk, Harpy (Marlo Chandler), and A-Bomb (having resurrected the Rosses and Chandler from the dead). One of the Leader’s most memorable schemes to eliminate the Hulk was to use a device to create mental constructs of his greatest opponents in hopes the strain would kill the Hulk in the story Many Foes Has the Hulk. The hero, having battled projections of Rhino, Xeron the Star-Slayer, Namor the Sub-Mariner, Missing Link, Night-Crawler, Mandarin, Sandman, Glob, Iron Man, Abomination, and the Absorbing Man, nearly died until his friend Jim Wilson realized what was happening and stopped the Leader. Samuel Sterns was a confidant of Bruce Banner in the 2008 film Incredible Hulk who helped empower the Abomination only to be knocked down with Banner’s blood dripping into his head wound setting up his turn as the Leader if a sequel was made.
Honorable mentions: General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross, Hulkbusters, MODOK, Madman, General John Ryker, Agamemnon, Gremlin, Juggernaut, Rhino, Psyklop, Bi-Beast, Metal Master, Ravage, Missing Link, Wendigo, Glob, Dark-Crawler, Mandarin, Circus of Crime, and Hammer and Anvil.