I’m pretty sure that the first superhero character I had ever heard of when I was growing up had to be Superman, purely because of the very successful films starring the late Christopher Reeve rather than the comic books. If he was the first though, then the second one would most likely have been The Incredible Hulk, though again not through comics, but rather through the television series.
In the television adaptation, Dr David Banner (played by Bill Bixby) was a medical researcher who became irradiated with gamma rays during an experiment that went wrong. From that day, whenever he got angry, David Banner would transform into his monstrous alter ego, a big green brute of a man who becomes dubbed The Incredible Hulk (played in the series by Lou Ferrigno, a former Mr. Universe bodybuilder).
The highlight of each episode would be watching the transformation from man to monster, which saw Bill Bixby start to writhe and sweat, followed by clips showing his body increasing in size and starting to rip his clothes to shreds. His skin colour would start to go that famous shade of green, and finally, once fully transformed, Lou Ferrigno would grimace at the camera and show off his impressive phsyique.
For some reason all the sequences that then followed of the Hulk smashing and crashing his way through things seemed to be in slow motion. Presumably this was to try and give more of an impressive feeling to the strength of the Hulk, and to hide how easy it would have been for Ferrigno to pick up and hurl a polystyrene boulder.
The slow motion sequences presumably also explain why the Hulk never spoke (except for the odd growl here and there) in the television series, despite the fact he could talk (admittedly in a rather simplistic way) in the original comic books.
Probably the most enduring thing from the show has to be the famous line from the title sequence where Dr. Banner is talking to nosey newspaper reporter Jack McGee. “Don’t make me angry“, he says, “you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry“. I’m sure most children on the 1980’s will have said, or at least had said to them, this quote at some point in their lives.
The premise of the series then was that after an accident causing an explosion at the lab where David Banner worked, Banner turns into the Hulk whilst trying to rescue a co-worker from the ensuing fire. Jack McGee sees the Hulk carrying the injured woman from the scene, but when she later dies from injuries sustained in the fire, the Hulk is blamed for both killing her and David Banner, as well as starting the explosion.
Realising he can’t really suddenly come back from the dead without having to explain how he survived the fire, David Banner decides to hit the road, and travels across America helping out people he comes across along the way, whilst trying to find himself a cure and evade Jack McGee who is hot on his heels following an sightings of the Hulk.
The programme started life as a couple of made for television movies in 1977, before five seasons of the television show were made. The last series was shown in 1982, although in 1988 the first of three more television movies were made, with the following two coming in 1989 and 1990. All three featured both Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno, and there were plans for more (despite the fact the last film was called the Death of the Incredible Hulk and ended with the Hulk falling out of a plane, and reverting back to David Banner just before he dies). These plans were shelved though when Bill Bixby died of cancer in 1993.