As any card-carrying Marvel zombie knows, the Hulk’s trademark green skin was originally gray when he tore through his first pair of purple pants in 1962.
Unfortunately, printing technology at the time was limited, and the gray that Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby wanted for the Hulk didn’t always look consistent, varying wildly between light and dark tones from panel to panel.
The creative duo, along with colorist Stan Goldberg, fixed this by changing the Hulk’s skin to green in his second issue; green being a much easier color to maintain on each page. Plus, everyone knows that a monster just has to be green. But as with everything in the superhero world, it only gets more complicated from there.
In the decades since, not only has Hulk gone back to gray and eventually red skin (albeit with a different alter ego), his green skin has actually changed over the years as well.
From Ang Lee’s Shrek-like vibrancy to the muddier, more organic look of the later movies and 2000s comics, the Hulk is a constantly evolving engine of destruction.
So to help you keep track of all the Hulk’s different looks—and to provide you with some tips for the next time you decide to paint your bedroom—we’re breaking down 50 years of Hulk colors, Pantone-swatch style.
The Early Years
After the initial gray debut failed, the Hulk took on the classic green look we've come to know over the decades. But he didn't always sport a glowing, gamma-enriched cheek; his initial green skin was much murkier, with a healthy dose of brown and yellow mixed in, depending on the art team on duty. As the decade marched along, that tone became much more vibrant, reaching its apex in the classic King-Sized Hulk Special #1 cover by Jim Steranko.
What about that rogue teal Pantone swatch from the '70s? That's where The Incredible Hulk TV show takes over. The green paint used on Lou Ferrigno changes wildly from episode-to-episode and scene-to-scene, with lighting playing a huge factor as well. But in most of the promotional photos for the series, there is an unmistakable blue hue on Ol' Jade Jaws.
The Gray Age
Throughout the '70s and '80s in the comics, Hulk's green continued to evolve as art teams shifted. A lime-green Hulk could be stomping through a military compound one month, and a more jaundiced behemoth could be doing battle with The Leader the next.
However, one change that was wholly intentional was the decision to bring back the Gray Hulk in Incredible Hulk #324 by writer/artist Al Milgrom. Though it was a familiar color, the character also took on a more conniving, villainous personality. Shortly after Gray's reappearance, writer Peter David began his 12-year-run on the title, with four of those years dedicated to this new slate-colored Banner.
The crafty, sinister Gray Hulk soon gave way to the Professor Hulk, who was again green but actually retained Banner's intellect. Here, the Hulk's skin took on a chartreuse tone, and he finally found a pair of pants that actually fit, making him look more like a traditional superhero than ever before. He also got into the very non-Hulk-like habit of wearing pink bunny slippers, but that's a whole different article.
New Movies, New Colors And Totally Awesome Reboots
As with everything in the early 2000s, the Hulk got all "dark 'n' gritty" at the start of the new millennium. First, writer Bruce Jones took over the comic and imbued it with a much more cerebral tone where Banner was at the forefront of the drama and Hulk only existed on the periphery. Then to go along with this new direction, the Hulk's skin tone changed again from that bright green of the '90s to a much more subdued, organic look that fit with the book's plots, which were mainly set at night.
By 2003, it was time for Bruce Banner to hit the big screen in Ang Lee's Hulk. As is the case with most comic book films, the nitpicking of Ang's Hulk continues to this day, and a big point of contention is the skin tone itself. Sometimes portrayed as bright green, other times with a bit of a darker undertone, the CGI model of Hulk was never consistent from one scene to the next. However, he looked his best when he went on his rampage through San Francisco towards the end of the film.
As Marvel began to shift away from the brooding, psychological Hulk stories in the comics, the House of Ideas introduced a new wrinkle to the lore in 2008: The Red Hulk. This rage-fueled beast wasn't Bruce Banner anymore, though; instead, it was General Ross, Hulk's longtime foe.
That same year, Marvel Studios released The Incredible Hulk, a new film with a new Hulk and a new green. This time, the movie's producers went out of their way to differentiate this version of the character from Lee's ponderous, existential take from '03 by making him more grounded in reality—hence why his green skin is far darker, almost bordering on swampy.
The Hulk underwent yet another full-on big screen overhaul in 2012 when The Avengers hit theaters. This version of the character is more in line with the early Jack Kirby take, with the heavy brow, hunched shoulders and olive tone. He never gets quite as bright as Ang Lee's Hulk did at points, nor is he as muddied as the '08 version. There's a reason why this take is still viewed as the best by most fans.
With the launch of Marvel's new Totally Awesome Hulk in December 2015, the Hulk is getting yet another makeover as Amadeus Cho has taken on the reins of the monster. But despite the new alter ego, this is very much a Hulk of the same color.
You can check out the full infographic by Molly Roth below: