Sunday, January 11, 2009

Hulk Mad! Hulk Smash! Hulk Bruce Banner?

Hello readers. It has been a while, but the new year is upon us, and the dawning of the new year (coupled with my return to campus) have inspired me to blog. And, seeing how it is a new year, I thought that I would begin with a topic of importance, namely the issue of identity in the persona of Bruce Banner/The Incredible Hulk.

For those of you who don't know, the Incredible Hulk is a superhero created by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee who first appeared in Incredible Hulk #1, May of 1962. The Hulk was "born" for the lack of a better term when scientist Bruce Banner was caught in the onslaught of a nuclear blast, altering his D.N.A. and causing him to transform into a monstrous alter ego dubbed "The Hulk". Initially these transformations were merely nocturnal, leading Bruce to transform when the sun went down[1], but quickly began to instead be associated with Banner's emotional state, transformation being triggered by emotional duress, be it anger, excitement, jealousy, etc.

All of that brings us to the real question behind this blog post: are Dr. Bruce Banner and the Incredible Hulk the same person? If someone were to ask me this, my initial response would be "of course", but, upon further thought, it appears that the answer is a resounding "no". Consider the following: When Dr. Banner becomes the Hulk, he has little to no control in regards to stopping or regulating his transformations, as well as regulating his actions once he has "hulked out", to use the vernacular. The Hulk does seem to share at least some common memories with Banner, and vice versa, but they do seem to be two distinct identities.

Whether or not you regard Hulk and Bruce Banner as the same person can of course vary depending upon your definition of identity regarding mental instability, specifically psychosis and schizophrenia. But, if some commits some sort of crime while temporarily insane, we do not convict them of this crime. We will restrain and detain them, but not as punishment. Rather, we do so to protect ourselves from a repeat occurrence until such time as they can be cured.

It appears as though they are relieved from responsibility due to their inability to control themselves, implying that we regard the person who committed the crime and the person being tried as two separate individuals, even though they live in the same body. The same applies for Bruce Banner/The Incredible Hulk. In my humble opinion they are merely two separate individuals who inhabit the same body.

[1] Incredible Hulk #1, May 1962


Padraic said...

I appreciate your subtle "Thus Spoke Zoroaster" reference. It makes me happy.

I have been absent from the public blog sphere, I am on the verge of returning, but no promises.

Anonymous said...

It is not clear to me they have the same body either, since Hulk has green skin, and Banner has normal skin. Hulk has large muscles, Banner small. In fact, with the possible unverified issue of their gender, it appears to me they have completely different bodies. Because they have different bodies, and only barely share any memories, I think this is a case best thought of as there being completely two different people -- both different persons and different bodies. They just happen to transform back and forth from one another.

Actually, there are two ways of looking at Banner and Hulk's moral relation. First, it could be that the saner of the two people is somehow responsible for the less sane person, i.e. Banner for Hulk, since Banner has control (within limits) to when Hulk appears. So any damage Hulk does is Banner's responsibility. It's the same relationship between a parent and an angry child, say in a china shop. The adult has (limited) control over the child, but with or without the success of such control, the adult is still responsible.

Second, it could be like somebody who has a brain disease where he has episode of loss of control. If the sick person does not take care to prevent damage to himself and others, then he is morally responsible. This is often the story behind werewolf tales, where the person has to take great pains to lock themselves up at night, or bear the consequences of moral negligence.