Tuesday, January 1, 2019




Jason Tait
(edited by John THE MEGO STRETCH HULK Cimino)

When I first discovered John Cimino, it was an old video where he and his friends were sitting in a basement discussing Superman versus the Hulk. Powerless to resist the bait, I clicked. Unbeknownst to me, I unleashed a tornado of comic knowledge, hurricane-force winds of passion, and undying loyalty to the modern myths and legends that have forged generations of creativity. It was like my childhood had spawned a loud—very loud—personification of my imagination…in "supa-dupa" form! It was like looking in a mirror…only the reflection was better looking…more muscular…more charismatic…and…okay, it wasn’t like a mirror, at all. It was better. Bigger. More colorful. And I’ve been hooked, ever since. From his manic childhood quest to find the perfect Elastic Hulk to his friendship with living legend Roy Thomas, I’m always astonished at the adventures of John—half man, half amazement. I would like to thank John for giving me the flattering opportunity to write and contribute to “Hero Envy” The Blog Adventures. BOOM!!

You could say I spent Christmas morning in 1979 with John Cimino (aka the Mego Stretch Hulk) and I didn't even know it!?!

What better time than the dawn of a new year to delve into everyone’s favorite green goliath and his top five greatest feats of strength! Strength: it’s the great equalizer in a child’s mind, it’s the elusive trait in an adult’s. No one ever prays for weakness; no one ever wishes they were less strong. It’s a trait that has been both admired and feared. How apropos, then, that Marvel’s strongest has also been admired and feared throughout his existence. But, unlike most superhero stories, the story of the Hulk and Bruce Banner has never been about how powerful he is or how he has risen above when pushed to his limits, no, instead it is about the fact that there is no limit to his power, leaving the reader to wonder if Banner can restrain his own rage from destroying everything he loves. While most superpowers are glorified wish fulfillment, Banner’s is a curse, acquired through an act of selfless sacrifice and heroism. This really sets the Hulk apart from most superheroes and makes him unique in a genre filled with variety.

According to the official Marvel web site, right now, as of this writing, they state this about the Hulk: “His physical strength is potentially limitless, given it grows exponentially as his emotional distress grows.” Notice it didn’t say his strength grows in direct proportion to his emotional distress; no, it grows exponentially. The first ever published, in-continuity, canon description of the Hulk’s strength being “limitless” was in 1962. When this hit the stands, no one was outraged. The letters column wasn’t being bombarded by fans gnashing their teeth at the preposterousness of someone so strong.

But it seems like when fans do have a problem with it is when it’s actually shown and not just said. For example, the Hulk beats someone’s favorite hero, now it’s terrible writing. Hulk beats a villain faster or with more ease than someone’s favorite hero did, suddenly it’s lazy storytelling. The Hulk does something that a reader feels he shouldn’t be able to, and suddenly it’s “plot-induced stupidity.” 

The Hulk’s madder/stronger dynamic has been referenced more than Batman’s cape…but no one would ever say that Batman doesn’t have a cape. Marvel has repeated the Hulk’s limitless strength dynamic ad nauseam for well over 50 years but do a Google search and you’ll inevitably find some guy on a random message board saying that it’s not true or that it doesn’t “make sense."

Believing that a man could get bombarded with so much lethal radiation that it causes him to gain 900 pounds, turn green, and then turn back to human again is no problem at all…but saying that he gets stronger when he gets madder—and there’s no limit to his anger—is suddenly far-fetched, juvenile, and silly?

If you subtract every single time the Hulk has ever called himself the strongest, there still is no character in the history of comics that has been cited as the strongest (by narration, other characters, and creators) more than the Hulk. And yet, ironically enough, no other character has been cited as *not* being the strongest (by angry fans on the internet) more than the Hulk. 

The bottom line is, Marvel has made it abundantly clear that the Hulk has no limit to his strength, so whether some like that or not, or agree with it or not, they just have to just accept it (and in case you couldn’t tell, not only do I accept it, I love it, revel in it, lather up in it, and generally sprinkle my day with reminders about it).

Another aspect of the argument is the obligatory, “If the Hulk has limitless strength, why didn’t he beat (insert favorite hero name here)?” It’s been established in the comic that Banner is so afraid of the Hulk hurting innocents that he is constantly reining him in. When the Hulk fights a hero, Banner knows that despite any disagreements, they’re on the same side; his opponent is not innately evil or wanting to kill. This explains why the Hulk and Thor locked up for an hour in Defenders #10 (1973), yet when the Abomination had his strength doubled and was going from planet to planet killing entire populations (including women and children…you know, like that thing Thanos does), it made the Hulk so angry that he beat down the Abomination in a mere few panels (The Incredible Hulk #270 [1982]). This was a character that almost killed the Hulk at one point…who now had his strength doubled…but the killing of innocents caused the Hulk’s strength to escalate exponentially in an instant and he beat the Abomination so badly that years later, he was still terrified at the thought of ever fighting the Hulk again.

There’s another aspect of the argument, something to the effect of, “What’s the point of making a character so strong that he can’t be beaten?” To agree with this would be to agree that the only thing one needs to defeat another is superior strength. But as we’ve seen many times in comics (and the real world) superior strength does not guarantee victory. Some say a character that powerful loses any hope of drama in storytelling, but to me, it would be much more fun (and a creative challenge) as a writer to put a character that strong into situations where his strength was meaningless. One example was when Jim Wilson (the Hulk’s one-time sidekick) was dying of AIDS (The Incredible Hulk #420 [1994]). Despite the Hulk’s immeasurable power, he was helpless to do anything to save his friend. It was quite an emotional tale and one where those big muscles gained him nothing. Here is a superhero with the power to save people…who wants to do the right thing…but yet is powerless to save who he wants to. It's the tragedy of the incredible Hulk. 

Getting back to his physical strength, the Hulk is used more than any other character to show a benchmark of strength. He’s the gold standard by which all other strongmen and women are judged. There are numerous entries in handbooks and character biographies that mention “Hulk-like strength” and use examples of said character fighting the Hulk as evidence of their power. The very fact that there are myriad message boards littered with posts trying to prove that he isn’t the strongest may be the greatest indicator that he, indeed, is. There is a big difference between, “haven't found a limit,” “no known limit,” and "limitless". Many characters haven't found a limit to their strength, power, etc., simply because they haven't engaged in formal, limit-finding tests.

But those characters aren't described as having "limitless strength". The Hulk's limitless strength has been referenced in-continuity every year since his creation. As world renowned comic historian Peter Sanderson said, "The Hulk is the standard of physical strength for the greatest comic characters." And now, without further ado, here are the top five feats of strength of the ever incredible Hulk: 

5. The Hulk Saves His Allies from an Entire Mountain Range Being Dropped on Them 

Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars #4 (1984)

Many consider this the Hulk’s greatest feat of strength ever, but it just barely makes it into the top five. During Marvel’s first major limited-series superhero crossover, Secret Wars, the appropriately named Molecule Man (who has the power to control, you guessed it, molecules) levitates a mountain range “which would dwarf the Andes” and hurtles it at the good guys. The shock of the mountain range landing could be felt on the other side of the planet they were on. While most of the heroes were hurt or knocked out from a recent battle, the responsibility (and the mountain range) fell upon the Hulk to prevent the miles of rock from killing his crony. The classic cover says it all: “Beneath one hundred and fifty billion tons, stands the Hulk--and he’s not happy.” Iron Man estimated that there were two miles of rock above them. Hawkeye stated that they couldn’t dig out of it in a month. 

This is probably the most oft-cited strength feat of the Hulk and perhaps one of the most controversial. While the Hulk does state that he is bracing the weight, critics like to pull real-world physics into the argument and state that the Hulk simply couldn’t support the entire mountain range, as it would collapse under its own weight. This kind of argument is actually self-defeating, because if we bring physics into the equation, then the feat is actually far more impressive than even what the cover stated. A mountain range which dwarfed the Andes was dropped on them from miles above. The Hulk didn’t just brace the weight…he caught it, multiplied by the mass plus speed equals force of its decent from the sky. 

Once you bring actual physics into the picture, the amount of weight that the Hulk prevented from hitting the ground far outweighs the 150 billion tons that was advertised on the cover. A gargantuan object like that would create an astronomical amount of force while traveling at that velocity. The Hulk didn’t just brace that weight; using only his body, he stopped miles of rock from crushing everyone else. If you bring real-world physics into the argument, then you have no choice but to calculate the speed/force equation that reveals that the Hulk didn’t just catch the weight of the mountain (150 billion tons), but the weight of the mountain multiplied thousands of times.

I’ll gladly be the first to admit that the Hulk didn’t catch the full force, weight, and momentum of the entire mountain range. But there were two miles of mountain above their heads (which even calculating a fraction of the range would still far outweigh the stated 150 billion tons). And this wasn’t a loose mound of rock and dirt; Thor was standing on top of the mountain range, hitting it to try and rescue the heroes. It was dense enough to cause Thor’s “mightiest blows” to sound like a slight tapping to the heroes below.

The people that want to discredit this feat by using real-world physics end up making it even more impressive than originally thought. Add to this that the Hulk incarnation that performed this feat is the fan-named “Banner-Hulk” (while in Hulk form, Banner had control), which is universally considered one of, if not the weakest incarnations of the Hulk, and you’ve got yourself one giddy, cackling writer sitting at the keyboard. 

4. The Hulk knocks out Pre-Crisis Superman 

Marvel Treasury Edition #28: Superman and Spider-Man (1981)

To truly appreciate how such an event could be ranked ahead of the senses-shattering Secret Wars mountain feat above, one must understand the magnitude of Pre-Crisis Superman’s abilities. Ask most diehard comic fans about Pre-Crisis Superman and the responses usually include variations of “ridiculously overpowered,” “no way to hurt him without Kryptonite,” and “thank God they de-powered him over the years.” There are three strength feats that Superman fans have cited most when trying to best any of the Hulk’s strength feats. The first is Superman bench pressing 5.972 sextillion metric tons from Superman #13 (2012). In the second example, he’s pushing against the equivalent of 200 quintillion tons in All-Star Superman #1 (2006). The third example shows him towing 13 planets on a chain from Superboy #140 (1967). All three are impressive, mind-boggling feats, to be sure (these feats will be referenced later in the list, so bring a pencil, just in case there’s a quiz). Anyway, after first meeting in Superman vs. The Amazing Spider-Man: The Battle of the Century (1976) the duo met again, years later, and they brought the Hulk and Wonder Woman with them (undoubtedly due to the popularity their respective TV shows garnered). Inevitably, the Hulk and Superman get into a fight and the Hulk K.O.’s the Man of Steel. Without using Kryptonite. Wow! Who else can actually lay claim to knocking out Pre-Crisis Superman?

However, for years, I really disliked this issue. The knockout was very underplayed in the issue and the rest of the fight looked like a low-end showing for the Hulk. I couldn’t understand why Marvel would allow their top strong guy to have such a poor performance against their distinguished competition! But after years of ignoring the book, I finally went back and, under careful analysis, realized that this was one of the Hulk’s better showings. Here’s why: If you look at panel 1, Superman is looking at the Hulk, and talking to him. Also, you’ll notice that the artist, legendary Big John Buscema, specifically drew “motion lines” around the Hulk’s hand to show that the Hulk is, indeed, moving (these details will be important later). 

Panel 2 shows the Hulk talking to Superman and punching him. Now, all of the Superman apologists like to say that the Hulk sucker-punched Superman. This is THE "go-to" argument for Superman fans (and, strangely enough, Thor fans when talking about The Incredible Hulk Annual 2001 and other fights). Superman was looking at the Hulk and talking to him before the Hulk punched him. Superman was suckered? This is obviously not the case, as we saw Superman looking at the very hand that punched him...before the Hulk even clenched it into a fist. Shouldn't Superman's Super-Hearing allowed him to hear the rubble give way as the Hulk reared back for a punch? And what about his Super-Reflexes and Super-Speed? This is a guy that has tied Flash in a footrace. The Flash. The freaking Flash. Can’t Superman let him have anything? Anyway, Pre-Crisis Superman got clocked by the Hulk. Faster than a speeding bullet, indeed. 

Moving right along to panels 3 & 4: why would anyone that could fly, "slam brutally into the concrete of a bustling pier" as his "limp body plunges to Earth" unless they were knocked out? And it wasn't the force of the punch that knocked him into the pier; the Hulk punched him straight up. Miles away, he came down and slammed into the pier, full of innocent civilians. If Supes was anything other than unconscious at the time, he would've moved, braced, recovered, not risked property damage, human casualties, etc. The fact that he didn't, clearly indicates that he was knocked out. 

Superman wasn't seen again until two pages later. Let that sink in…two pages later. And it was two pages of the Hulk wreaking havoc, by the way, not two pages of “while at the same time” exponential action shots like Lois Lane shopping for Batman-themed pajamas or something.

So, to recap: 

A. Superman was trying to protect innocent people from the Hulk's rampage. In other words, he was trying to stop the Hulk. 
B. Hulk punched him. It took two PANELS for Superman's “limp body" to travel from where the Hulk punched him, to where he landed. 
C. It took two PAGES for Superman to get back to the Hulk. 

This can only mean: 

A. Superman can't fly back to the fight faster than the Hulk can punch him away from the fight, or 
B. Superman suddenly stopped caring about the innocent people he was originally trying to save and took his sweet time coming back to the fight, or 
C. Superman took so long walking back because he was scared of the Hulk, or 
D. Superman was knocked out.

Superman finally recovers and comes back. Take note of the brilliant wording chosen for the end of the fight. The key words here are “but” and "and". The narration says of Superman, “He does not budge. But the Hulk grows ever more furious, his strength growing geometrically with each passing second--and the outcome of the strange duel is in doubt.” So, the Hulk's blows have no effect, at first. To the reader, the Hulk is getting owned; the end of the fight looks obvious. Then, the narration says the outcome is in doubt (by the way, so much for those fans that say the Hulk needs sufficient time to "ramp up", since his strength was growing geometrically by the second). Superman fans will also point to the text as proof that Superman is stronger than the Hulk. The text in question says the Hulk can shatter mountains and Superman can move (not shatter) planets. How are you supposed to move a planet if you can't fly? Add to that, Superman’s cool telekinetic power that assists him when moving large objects, and you've got one cool little power that Ol' Purple Pants doesn't have. So, Superman fans that use this argument aren’t proving that Superman is stronger than the Hulk, they’re proving that he’s a better flyer than him. The Hulk can't fly...and when he can, people get mad and call it "bad writing" (i.e. a weaker base-strength grey Hulk smashing an asteroid twice the size of planet Earth in Marvel Comics Presents #52 [1990]).

Furthermore, other than the clear knockout, Superman fans point out that the Hulk’s blows later were having no effect on the Man of Steel. This is neither proof of superior strength nor assured victory. For example, in The Incredible Hulk #283 (1983), the Hulk breaks free of a plastithene trap. The Leader’s plastithene humanoids has taken direct hits from Thor wielding Mjolnir, unharmed. Would anyone even consider for a second that those humanoids are stronger than Thor? No way. And Thor later defeated said humanoids, so one panel of a character hitting another unharmed does not constitute greater strength or guaranteed victory. This argument can also be countered by the expertise of master draughtsman John Buscema. Remember those “motion lines” he drew around the Hulk’s hand while Supes was pontificating about something goody-two-shoesy? Well, he also drew them around Superman’s head and body after Superman said he couldn’t be moved, and in the same panels that talked about the Hulk’s escalating strength forcing the outcome of the duel to now be in doubt. *insert school-girl giggling here* 

*Check out the complete "Hulk vs Superman" rivalry here:

3. The Hulk overpowers Thor who was enhanced to be ten times stronger than normal 

The Incredible Hulk #440 (1996) 

Who’s stronger than Thor? How about Thor when he’s boosted ten times his normal strength! In this issue, the military come to Thor in an attempt to get him to end “the menace of the Hulk” once and for all. The issue explicitly states that Thor has entered into the "Warrior Madness", which amplifies Thor's strength 10 times his usual strength level. Before entering Warrior Madness, Thor says that he will not hold back, that he will end the Hulk’s menace, and that it will be their last fight ever. During the fight, Thor tells the Hulk that he is going to kill him. The Hulk holds Thor down using only one arm. The Hulk ends the fight at the exact time he wants to; he sees a nuclear bomb coming toward them and punches Thor to safety. Also worth noting: the Hulk in this issue was unable to get overly angry--if he got too mad, he reverted back to Banner.

So, to recap, a Hulk that was unable to reach levels of strength that he was accustomed to reaching, defeated (via battlefield removal) and overpowered a Thor that was ten times stronger than he had ever been in any previous fight with him…a Thor that admitted he was not holding back and was trying to kill the Hulk.

"Trying" being the operative word, here. 

This, as they say, is the proverbial mic drop. 

* Check out the complete "Hulk vs Thor" rivalry here: 

2. The Hulk overcomes the weight of a star 

Infinity #6 (2013) 

In speaking of the Hulk, an intergalactic Mary Sue named Thanos gave the order, "Kill this beast for me...make it suffer." So, Proxima Midnight (a member of the glorified Thanos Boy Band “The Black Order”) conjured the weight of a star onto the Hulk. She did this from behind the Hulk, while he was running, taking him completely by surprise. But this did not crush the Hulk or even cause him to fall flat on the ground. Instead, he was supporting all of that weight on his hands and knees (meaning he overcame the weight by preventing it from laying him flat). And then he raised himself up. Even if he wasn't standing completely up straight (which he may have been, but it is hard to tell with absolute certainty from the art), he was still overcoming the weight of a star, going from his hands and knees (horizontal) to just his knees (vertical). And not just any star, but a supernova. Our sun is not even close to having the mass of a supernova. In order for a star to go supernova it has to have a mass greater than at least 8 solar masses. 

The mass of our sun is approximately: 2,327,400,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 tons. Now multiply that by *at the very least* 8 and you have the minimum amount of weight that the Hulk overcame. 

Yeah, you’re going to need to get that pencil, now.

This is far greater than the aforementioned Superman feat of 5.972 sextillion metric tons. It’s also more than Superman’s 200 quintillion ton accomplishment. Actually, it's undoubtedly even greater than the infamous Pre-Crisis Superboy towing planets feat. There are 13 planets visible in the Superboy panel versus a mass that is 8 times greater than our sun. Keep in mind, it would take approximately 1.3 million Earths to fill up our sun (for those of you not good at math, 1.3 million > 13). And the Hulk overcame the weight of something at least 8 times greater than our sun. And what does that say about his durability, too? Remember, the Superboy feat was a flight feat aided by strength. The Hulk didn't have the luxury of relying on a second power to help him out; he had to do it with raw strength alone. 

Now, put your pencil down and grab a pillow and place it on the ground, because your jaw is about to hit it. If you combine all three of those titanic Superman feats and add them together into one colossal weight, the Hulk feat dwarfs it. 

And (drum roll, please), the Hulk did all of that...and he wasn't even *that* angry. No one killed Betty or Rick Jones (insert other battle board minutiae here). He didn't "go World Breaker". And he did it immediately upon getting the weight dropped on him. In other words, there was no "significant time to ramp up" required. He was taken by surprise—he didn’t see the threat coming. He didn’t have time to make himself angry by punching himself in the face or by thinking about drivers that don’t wave after you let them into your lane. He simply did what he always does—be the strongest. 

And that's not even his greatest feat of strength! 

And now, a pause, as I take the rest of the day off and spend it rolling around on the ground hugging myself. 

1. The Hulk finally stops holding back 

The Incredible Hulks #634-635 (2011) 

Bruce Banner’s greatest fear is that he would lose control of the Hulk and that his unleashed fury and power would destroy the world and everything he holds dear. In writer Greg Pak’s storyline Planet Hulk (2006-2007), readers got to see a Hulk angrier than ever. It was a justified, righteous anger, but it was still, at times, frightening and never without consequence. In its follow up, World War Hulk (2007), we see a Hulk returning to Earth to face those responsible for events that came from his banishing to outer space and led to the death of his loved ones. At the end of World War Hulk, readers got a tiny glimpse of an incarnation of the Hulk simply known as The Worldbreaker. Overcome with emotion, the Hulk begins to walk forward, and one single footstep (not a stomp, mind you, just the beginning movement of walking away) almost snaps the Eastern Seaboard of North America into the ocean. The Hulk immediately stops himself, knowing his greatest fear is not only a real, palpable possibility, but also mere steps away from coming to fruition. In Pak’s magnum opus, The Incredible Hulks #630-635 (2011), each issue features the Hulk stronger than the issue before. Fans gave witness to the Hulk facing familiar foes who were once peers, but were now elevated magnitudes more powerful than they once were…and a Hulk dispatching them with relative ease. But the pièce de résistance came in Pak’s final two issues where it is revealed that during Planet Hulk, World War Hulk, indeed, even the prior issues in the story arc, the Hulk was holding back

So. Um, take all those feats above…and put them into the context that they were performed with restraint.

The Hulk, wishing no harm to others, is mystically transported away from Earth and into the Dark Dimension, a place in which no innocent beings reside. The Hulk, at last, could stop worrying about collateral damage and harming others and forego restraint. But he wasn’t there alone; notice there were no innocent beings there. Also present were Hulk enemies Armageddon, the Bi-Beast and the Wendigo, who were both augmented exponentially beyond their normal operating levels, and a mystically-enhanced Fin Fang Foom, who was called the most powerful creature on Earth at the time (which included the aforementioned trio above). Add to that gruesome foursome an entire army of Mindless Ones that was so powerful that the combined power of Dormmamu and Umar could not defeat, so they simply constructed a mystical barrier to contain them. 

Also present is Red She-Hulk, whose power has been mystically augmented to match the Hulk’s, meaning that the Hulk may fight her with no fear of harming her at all. The Hulk starts fighting the Red She-Hulk and the radiant force of Worldbreaker's blows against someone else—a collision—literally vaporizes all of the abovementioned baddies…and the entire planet they’re standing on. 

You still got that pillow? 

So, the entire army of Mindless Ones, Armageddon, Bi-Beast, Wendigo, and Fin Fang Foom, and the planet they were on were destroyed instantly—flash-fried—because the Hulk punched someone else. He didn’t punch them or the planet directly; he jumped up above the landscape and the force of his colliding blow with someone else broke the world.

It's the physically strongest we've ever seen a character be. Sure, characters have broken worlds before, but no one has ever done it by punching someone else. That distinction, and that level of strength, belongs to the Hulk and the Hulk alone. What having unlimited rage and strength means, though, is that he can become even stronger than that. And, in fact, we see him do just that merely a few pages later. Thinking this is surely the zenith of the power level shown in this story, the reader is proved wrong as we see the Hulk increase exponentially beyond what was just shown and grow hundreds of feet tall, while seething with gamma energy. There was no telling how powerful he was at this level, but it served to prove that no matter how powerful the Hulk gets, he can potentially keep getting even more powerful. This is because there is literally no limit to the scope of his rage & power. It's a level that takes him past any & every conventional superhero by exponential leaps and bounds into abstract realms of strength that have never been seen on a comic page before or since.

Alas, like all good things, we’ve come to the end of our incredible list. But don’t make the mistake that others have. Some fans can read the last item on the list and cite it as the cap or limit to the Hulk’s strength. But even a feat as astounding as that one is simply the farthest we’ve seen the Hulk’s strength go down an infinite road.

Until next time...

Agree? Disagree? Let's hear it fanboys!


Check out other Hero Envy "Top" Lists:

Top 50 Greatest Marvel Slugfests of All Time (1961-1999)
Top 10 Most Evil Villains in Comics

Top 10 Superhero Capes of All Time
Doctor Who: The Top 5 Greatest Doctors Ever
The Top 20 Greatest Stretch Figures of All Time

Jason Tait has been a fan of comic books as long as he can remember. His special talents include drawing, playing guitar, and the ability to break his left hand with almost any object. Mr. Tait has a preoccupation with the Incredible Hulk that some might call borderline psychosis, but he likes to think of it as cute and endearing. While he does possess one of the largest Hulk collections on Earth, he insists that he has, indeed, kissed a girl before.