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This Fan Theory Could Fill Marvel's Hulk-Sized Plot Hole

How one theory about two Hulks ties up the Marvel Cinematic Universe's biggest loose end.

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Released just 42 days after Jon Favreau’s surprise smash Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk was the second movie to enter what would eventually be known as the MCU, a vast multimedia superhero ecosystem.

Marvel Studios/Universal Pictures

In the eight years since, Marvel has demonstrated an uncanny ability to handle their countless narrative threads deftly, weaving characters and events in and out of television series and movies.

However, one major thread remains hanging: the story of Bruce Banner as played by Edward Norton.

Marvel Studios/Universal Pictures

Sure, Banner — now played by Mark Ruffalo after a 2010 recast — has appeared in three movies since The Incredible Hulk. The Banner and Hulk that populate those scenes, though, bear little resemblance to Norton's: the personality, temperament, relationships and even Hulk-coping mechanisms that shaped Bruce in 2008 are very different from the ones we see now.

These differences open the story up to a reimagining that keeps the Banner of 2008 alive, albeit in the shadows.

Marvel Studios/Universal Pictures/Walt Disney Pictures

Let's call this reimagining "The Theory of the Two Hulks."

In comic book lore, the Hulk as we know it isn’t a condition isolated to Bruce Banner. It takes various forms and is trigged by many different things.

Marvel Comics

We got a MCU-flavored taste of that in The Incredible Hulk through General Ross’s efforts to replicate the Hulk for military purposes. He didn’t quite succeed, though: off-brand bone marrow injections coupled with gamma rays only managed to turn Emil Blonsky into the villainous Abomination. Would-be-Leader Samuel Sterns had his own gamma incident, too, when Bruce’s blood dripped into his head wound and started to transform him. This would have likely given him his own gamma-powered gifts.

So, as it's possible within the MCU for the Hulk condition to manifest itself in multiple people, it’s not much of a stretch to believe that, if two people had similar devastating encounters with gamma rays, they would both become Hulks.

That's where this theory takes its roots, presenting us with two Hulks: 1) the original, named Bruce Banner and 2) a man who, through circumstance, ends up adopting the name "Bruce Banner."

Hulk #1: Bruce Banner

Marvel Studios/Universal Pictures

Bruce Banner is bookish, unassuming and calm. He meditates and uses a heart rate monitor to control his condition. His love for Betty Ross informs a lot of his decisions. He has no interest in becoming a superhero, exemplified by his/the Hulk’s decision to flee after the battle in Harlem and go back into hiding.

His origin: In 2003, General Ross and a team that includes Bruce Banner and Betty Ross resurrect the SSR program that birthed Captain America under the guise of improving the body’s ability to resist radiation. With the project running low on funding, a desperate Banner volunteers as test subject, resulting in a freak accident that transforms him into the Hulk. He flees, living in the shadows for the next five years.

Hulk #2: "David Bixby"

Marvel Studios/Walt Disney Pictures

The other scientist — let’s borrow one of Bruce’s aliases from the comics and call him David Bixby — has a preexisting anger issue, which leads him to control his condition psychologically. He listens to music to escape from his darker thoughts and his Avengers teammates devise a “lullaby” method to keep the Hulk in check. Though he experiences guilt as a result the Hulk’s actions, he is at heart a team player and is fulfilled by being part of the Avengers.

His origin:  In 2006, in an incident mirroring the Hulk’s comic book origin, David Bixby is bathed in gamma rays at a nuclear bomb testing site. As he is isolated in the desert, Bixby’s ensuing Hulk rampage goes undetected. When he recovers and realizes what has happened, he disappears and is assumed dead.

Bixby has the advantage of knowing about the Hulk condition, being familiar with the “myth” of Bruce Banner that had spread through the scientific community over the previous three years. David feels a kinship with him and attempts to trace his steps to figure out how to manage his condition. Eager to remain dead to the world by keeping the world’s count of Hulks down to one, David assumes Bruce’s identity. He stays off the grid, though a few isolated “Hulk-outs” are recorded and mistaken for Bruce’s by Ross’s task force.

In 2008, the events of The Incredible Hulk take place, with Bruce being found, captured and eventually escaping into the great unknown.

Marvel Studios/Universal Pictures

David, watching news footage of the incidents at Culver University and in Harlem, sees the full potential (both good and bad) of the Hulk and becomes even more determined to control his condition in the hopes of using it for good.

Unlike David, Bruce has no interest in heroism, and focuses on keeping his condition in check. In the time between 2008 and David’s Avengers recruitment in 2012, both he and Bruce lay low in separate parts of the world and find their own ways to manage their conditions. Bruce is more successful at it and evades tracking by the government. David, with his underlying control issues, has a few Hulk-outs.

In the beginning, SHIELD believes these to be Bruce, who is, as far as they know, the only Hulk in existence. Eventually, the truth is discovered, but is kept strictly between Nick Fury, Maria Hill and their resident Hulk expert General Ross.

In 2012, Nick Fury sends Natasha Romanoff to recruit David, who, despite not actually being Bruce, possesses the gamma radiation know-how that's needed to study the effects of the Tesseract.

Marvel Studios/Walt Disney Pictures

SHIELD, apart from Fury and Hill, believe him to be Bruce Banner; blurry photos, shaky eye witness accounts and the seemingly unique Hulk condition have created a case of mistaken identity. It helps that David’s already adopted the Bruce identity and has, as a result, dropped a few breadcrumbs along the way. David is eager to serve a greater purpose and is happy to help Bruce live out his life undisturbed, so he accepts SHIELD’s mistake and officially takes on the mantle of Bruce Banner.

This “gaffe” is knowingly made by Ross, Fury and Hill, who have agreed to embark on a plan that would keep the real Bruce in the shadows.

Marvel Studios/Universal Pictures

Ross, whose daughter Betty followed Bruce out of the country shortly after the events of The Incredible Hulk, has learned from his mistakes and seeks to atone for them by convincing Fury to allow this "new" Bruce to keep the identity and allow the other Hulk — a proven hero — to live in peace with the hands-off tracking Natasha referenced in her first meeting with David.

In Ross’s eyes, David’s SHIELD recruitment fulfills his original wish of using the Hulk for defense purposes.

Marvel Studios/Walt Disney Pictures

His alliance with Fury buys him valuable professional connections, leading to the lofty position he enjoys in Captain America: Civil War as Secretary of State.

In Fury’s eyes, keeping the truth of “two Hulks” quiet prevents the mass hysteria that would result from people seeing the condition as a “disease” — one that could infect anyone — rather than the freak occurrence they currently believe it to be.

Marvel Studios/Walt Disney Pictures

Fury could even be seen as referencing this newly-discovered “Hulk disease” at the beginning of The Avengers when he makes a tongue-in-cheek remark about the harmful effects of gamma radiation to Erik Selvig. As far as he knows, gamma ray bombardment could turn anyone into a Hulk.

David’s true identity is never acknowledged outside of the trio of Fury, Hill and Ross. Consequently, he never finds out that anyone knows he’s not who he says he is.

Marvel Studios/Walt Disney Pictures

As an Avenger, the Hulk becomes a hero, restoring honor to the name of the man who first carried the great green burden.

The only question left is this: are two Hulks better than one?

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