The Incredible Hulk was released as the second-ever project in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Marvel Studios was learning what worked and what didn’t. They had the Avengers Initiative in mind for a long-term plan though and were keen to include a stinger that teased that.
The Incredible Hulk actually sees a scene involving Tony Stark and Thunderbolt Ross as the duo discusses bringing the Hulk into the Avengers. While the narrative would change moving forward with Iron Man 2 removing responsibilities from Stark, the thread started here would be continued later and even mentioned in one-shots like The Consultant.
In regards to that final stinger, Thunderbolt Ross would actually become a major member of the MCU moving forward. The late William Hurt brought the military man to life in an undeniably charismatic way. Although he began as a General, he would eventually move into the world of politics.
Thunderbolt Ross far exceeded what many might have expected from the character when he was first introduced. In fact, the casting in The Incredible Hulk was so spot on, that it gave the MCU individuals like Ross a chance to move into other scenarios with ease. His use of the Sokovia Accords for instance was particularly prominent.
Betty Ross was Bruce Banner’s love interest in The Incredible Hulk and the daughter of Thaddeus Ross. The character was intriguing and complex, but she wasn’t given much material to work with. She hadn’t been seen in the MCU since, until What If…? that is.
She was brought back in an animated form, paying homage to the original character from the movie. While it’s unclear if Ross will return once again, the notion that audiences were being familiarized once more with Ross suggests Marvel might have future plans for her.
The Culver Incident And Roger Harrington
The Culver Incident (also known as the battle at Culver University) involves the US military and the Hulk. It was a major incident and an example of why the Sokovia Accords should have been put in place, alongside part of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s tracking when it came to the Avengers Initiative.
Not only has the impact of the battle at the college been felt across the MCU, but an alumnus has also been brought into other projects. A student, known as Roger Harrington, studied at Culver University and would eventually go on to become one of Peter Parker’s teachers.
However, Shang-Chi changed all that, bringing back Abomination in a more comic book accurate form. The character will also be appearing in She-Hulk, helping to pay off the arc that was initially started for him in The Incredible Hulk and allowing for Blonsky to be firmly cemented in this shared universe.
Connections To Be Made
The Incredible Hulk did something quite unusual for the MCU and that was to largely skip over the origin story of the character. Fans are pretty familiar with how Bruce Banner became the Hulk and the nature of those Gamma experimentations were largely glossed over.
However, the actual narrative there is really important. The film shows Banner working on a different type of super-soldier serum, but that initially was going to be militarized. This concept could be brought back once more, with Banner’s work perhaps being used to save Jennifer Walters, resulting in her own transformation. The serum could then be used in a more heroic way.
Samuel Sterns was introduced in The Incredible Hulk as a scientist who could aid Bruce Banner in his battle with the Hulk. The character wasn’t given a lot of room to grow, but it was clear that Marvel had a larger plan for him, after getting injured in an accident involving radiation.
Sterns in the comics would become The Leader and it’s a shame that the MCU, thus far, hasn’t been able to bring him back in that role. It would be intriguing to see such an intelligent villain brought into the mix, and he could perhaps be a perfect foil for She-Hulk in her own series.
Doc Samson is a comic book character with a lot of history. He was part of the ensemble in The Incredible Hulk, acting as a love interest to Betty Ross and continuing his work as a psychologist. However, he never got to fulfill his powered destiny that’s been seen in the source material.
Doc Samson goes on to become a superhero in his own right in Marvel Comics and continues to exercise his ability to talk people through their problems. It’s an interesting balance and there’s definitely a need for a psychologist in the MCU, who can help out the superhero community. The Falcon And The Winter Soldier could have made use of him for example.
Bruce On The Run
Bruce Banner spent a number of years on the run, trying to stay calm and out of trouble. It obviously didn’t work; even though he left his life behind he could never outrun the Hulk. However, that era is one of the most interesting parts of the timeline when looking at the character’s development.
In the character’s future appearances, it would definitely be beneficial to revisit this period of time and canonize it further, as it says a lot about Banner and how far he went to protect people, no matter which version of the character it may be.
Edward Norton was the original choice for the Hulk. In regards to the creative direction of the project, things didn’t really work out, which is why Mark Ruffalo took on the role moving forward. Yet, there’s no reason that this iteration of Bruce Banner couldn’t still exist in the MCU.
The Multiverse has demonstrated that there are all kinds of Variants out there. Perhaps Norton could be brought back as a Variant down the line, with the Multiverse acting as a way to explain all the recasting choices (perhaps with realities leaking into one another). Besides James Rhodes, Norton would be the biggest character to test the concept on.