Wherever you’re spending this Valentine’s Day, whether with a loved one or alone in front of the telly, spare a moment of thought for poor Bruce Banner AKA The Hulk.
The Hulk was born when Bruce Banner risked his life to protect a teenager who had wandered onto the testing field of a gamma bomb Bruce had invented. Unlike Spiderman and Batman, almost every other hero apart from Daredevil, Bruce Banner’s powers stem not from random accident but deliberate self-sacrifice. Unlike Daredevil, Bruce’s powers, if they can even be called such, a more a curse than blessing. Now every time he gets angry, the classically mild-mannered Bruce transforms into a raging green monstrosity, the physical incarnation of unbounded rage.
He even tore apart his own wedding, which must have been emotionally messy, not to mention the catering. To make matters worse, while many guys have tension with their spouse’s parents. Not everybody, though, has General “Thunderbolt” Ross for a father-in-law, a military legend with almost limitless resources hell-bent on tracking down and destroying your alter ego. That’s gotta make family holidays awkward.
Not that Bruce gets to have family holidays: when Betty dies of radiation poisonings, Bruce blames himself, believing it was exposure to his Hulk persona that caused her death. Who else in the whole superhero canon has been led to believe that literally just being with them led to the agonizing death of their soul mate?
When you think of tragic comic book romances, you think of Spiderman and Gwen Stacey, Cyclops and Jean Grey, but, lest we forget, Spiderman married MJ, Cyclops hooked up with Emma Frost – they moved on. Bruce Banner and the love of his life, Betty Ross, tend to fall by the wayside, despite being perhaps the most star-crossed of them all. Though The Hulk’s nemeses, Abomination, is later discovered to have been responsible, Bruce never truly recovers and the incident cuts straight to the heart of what makes Bruce such a tragic figure.
In The Avengers , Natasha Romanoff is sent by The Avengers Initiative to recruit The Hulk. She finds Bruce hiding out in a Calcutta slum where not only is he keeping a low profile but helping the poor – Bruce is lured into a trap under the pretense of treating a dying father. And that’s what’s heartbreaking: Bruce is a good guy, a great guy, perhaps the best, most selfless figure in the whole MCU, which is saying something
He’s got Tony Stark’s altruism without his ego, Steve Roger’s morality without his self-righteous, and The Hulk could thrash Thor in a fistfight yet Bruce keeps struggling everyday to suppress his Id for the sake of those around him. Abused by an alcoholic father who murdered Bruce’s mother and mutated his genes, pursued by the forces of good and evil alike, feared, hated, and at one point shot into space. He’s always angry and yet you’d never know.
If anyone deserves to be with someone on Valentine’s Day, if anyone deserves a little happiness, it’s Bruce Banner, and yet he remains God’s lonely man. So, please, dear reader, join me in raising a solitary drink to Bruce Banner, lover, fighter, nuclear physicist, a brave and decent man.