Nuclear Anxiety Representation in The Incredible Hulk

Rachel Savage
April 10, 2019

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2019


Fig. 1: Stan Lee, co-creator of the Incredible Hulk. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Nuclear anxiety, or the general stressful feeling that a world introduced to the apocalyptic power of nuclear war could succumb to it at any moment, manifested itself in U.S. policies, daily life and even literature. The Incredible Hulk, a comic book figure created by cartoonist Stan Lee (see Fig. 1) and famous for transforming from Bruce Banner into a monster after being exposed to gamma radiation, is a direct representation of the scientific community's attitude in particular towards nuclear warfare.

The Public Anxiety Over Nuclear Warfare

The first issues of the Incredible Hulk came out in 1962, months after the Cuban Missile Crisis, which many view as the peak of the Cold War. Around this time, public fear over nuclear war was incredibly high, with one study in Baton Rouge, Louisiana reporting that 96% of respondents believed their city was in danger of a bombing, 91% believed that they were personally in danger, and 95% believed they were unprepared for a nuclear attack. [1] It is reasonable then for the comic to reflect such widespread sentiment in the figures of Bruce Banner and the Hulk.

Lack of Control

Scientists responsible for creating the atomic bomb had great anxiety over the uncontrollability of the weapon. Now that the technology was released, any country could develop it and use it; the creation and deployment of the weapon is often talked about as a point of no return. Similarly, Bruce Banner struggles with controlling the creature once he has been released even when he his the scientist who created it. [2]

Disillusionment Among Scientists

After the Manhattan Project, many scientists struggled with accepting that their noble profession was in fact beholden to government interests, and ultimately majorly responsible for causing unheard of destruction. Bruce Banners transformation from respected scientist to brutish monster after experimenting with gamma radiation represents the integration of science into state and military institutions as destroying the character of the scientist himself. [2] This represents how the scientists felt that their involvement with nuclear energy ruined their professions respectable reputation forever.


The anxiety of the Atomic Age was felt particularly within the scientific community that spurred its arrival. Cultural artifacts like the Incredible Hulk that reflected such sentiments over the corruption of science demonstrate how pervasive these sentiments were during the height of the Cold War.

© Rachel Savage. The author warrants that the work is the author's own and that Stanford University provided no input other than typesetting and referencing guidelines. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] O. Eaton, "We must be ready every day, all the time: Mid-Twentieth-Century Nuclear Anxiety and Fear of Death in American Life" J. Am. Culture, 40, 66 (2017).

[2] A. Capitanio, "The Jekyll and Hyde of the Atomic Age: The Incredible Hulk as the Ambiguous Embodiment of Nuclear Power," J. Pop. Cult. 43, 249 (2010).