You may think that the more powerful a comic book adversary is, the more popular they’ll be, but that isn’t necessarily the case. Case in point: the Hulk antagonist Klaatu, the “Behemoth from beyond space.” Proving on a number of occasions to be far too powerful for even the Hulk to threaten, Klaatu was named after a very different extraterrestrial character — the benevolent alien eager to warn humanity of their peril in the 1951 classic The Day the Earth Stood Still.
Originally played by Michael Rennie — and later by Keanu Reeves in the 2008 remake — Klaatu comes to our planet in The Day the Earth Stood Still because the galaxy’s other intelligent races are concerned of our growing tendencies toward aggression. The alien meets violence during his trip but still leaves peacefully, though with an ominous ultimatum.
Assuming it was Roy Thomas — the credited writer of 1970’s Incredible Hulk #136 which features Klaatu’s first appearance — who came up with the name of the titanic alien who crosses the Hulk’s path, then the guy either was making some kind of joke or he just liked the name “Klaatu.” That the Godzilla-sized beast is not from Earth and that he briefly visits the planet are the only things he has in common with the hero of The Day the Earth Stood Still.
The Hulk villain Klaatu — a sci-fi reinterpretation of Moby Dick — is named after the hero of the 1951 sci-fi classic The Day the Earth Stood Still.
Which is not to say Klaatu is evil. Tall enough to just barely stand below the top of the Empire State Building, Klaatu is an alien who teleports himself to seemingly random worlds — and even across dimensions — and sustains himself by draining all kinds of energy, electrical or biological, from anything nearby.
Klaatu Vs. The Hulk, Round 1
Klaatu has no malicious intent, and is never shown to intentionally harm anyone except in self-defense. He is more of an animal, or even a force of nature. When the Hulk fights Klaatu, it is largely because the man-monster is confused.
To be honest, referring to what happens between the Hulk and Klaatu as a “fight” or “battle” is kind of generous. Remember when the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) went after Surtur (Clancy Brown) in 2017’s Thor: Ragnarok? Yeah, pretty much the same thing (except Hulk does slightly better against Surtur than he does against Klaatu).
Rather than a villain or the hero of 1951’s The Day the Earth Stood Still, Marvel’s Klaatu winds up being more of an echo of a 19th century novel. Soon after his first meeting with Hulk, it’s clear Klaatu is a sci-fi answer to the monstrous sperm whale of Herman Melville’s 1851 novel, Moby Dick.
When Klaatu visits Earth, he isn’t alone– he’s hunted by the crew of the starship Andromeda, whose harpooner Xeron blames the Hulk for Klaatu leaving Earth before he could engage with the alien. As punishment, Xeron uses the energy harpoons meant for Klaatu on the Hulk to capture him and press him into service. On board the Andromeda, the Hulk learns his old enemy the Abomination is First Mate and he also learns why the vessel is so intent on destroying Klaatu.
The Andromeda is commanded by Captain Cybor, who was forced to replace half of his body with mechanical parts after a disastrous encounter with Klaatu. Like Captain Ahab of the Pequod in Moby Dick, Cybor is obsessed with getting vengeance on the beast who hurt him so badly (and who probably would, you know, have totally left him alone if Cybor hadn’t been hunting him in the first place).
In Incredible Hulk #137, when the Andromeda catches up with Klaatu in space — again, just like in the events of Moby Dick — things don’t turn out well for anyone. In the aftermath of the Andromeda‘s encounter with Klaatu, both the massive alien and Captain Cybor seemingly burn up in the corona of the Sun and the Andromeda is stuck in what Xeron calls an “eternal orbit” around the star. Meanwhile the Hulk and the Abomination battle each other in orbit of Earth, eventually crashing into the planet.
Klaatu Vs. The Hulk, Round 2
It would be fifteen years before the pages of Incredible Hulk saw the return of Klaatu during the epic storyline known as the “Crossroads Saga.” For over a year (real world and comic book time), the Hulk is banished to an inter-dimensional crossroads by Doctor Strange. Klaatu is once more fleeing the relentless Andromeda when he winds up in the Crossroads.
During the first half of the Crossroads Saga, the Hulk is all but completely mindless, incapable of even the usual “Hulk Smash” caveman-like speech. So when he attacks Klaatu in Incredible Hulk #306, it’s more out of instinct than anything else. Once again, the result is–well, we would refer you again to Hulk vs. Surtur, circa Thor: Ragnarok.
Just like last time, the Andromeda arrives shortly after Klaatu’s departure. Xeron, recognizing the Hulk, explains that rather than burning up in the Sun in the earlier story, Klaatu simply absorbed energy from the star and in doing so took from it “perhaps a million years of life.” Before Klaatu could leave for good, Xeron hit him with a harpoon so the beast could unintentionally pull the Andromeda from its orbit.
Along the way, they recovered Captain Cybor who was somehow still alive, but now so scarred as to require most of his organic parts to be replaced with mechanical ones. The cyborg is now permanently attached to the ship’s golden prow.
As bad as things turned out for everyone in the first Hulk adventure with Klaatu, when it comes to the Andromeda and her crew, things get much worse in the second part of the 1985 story. By ensuring the Hulk’s one and only friend in the Crossroads — the ultimately treasonous Puffball Collective (yes, that’s really its name, don’t look at me, I didn’t come up with it) — could come along, Xeron wins Hulk’s loyalty.
But although Xeron’s harpoons strike true and the ship is able to follow Klaatu through every world he flees to, all it takes is one backhanded strike for the beast to finally destroy the Andromeda and kill almost everyone aboard. Recognizing Klaatu is in pain, the Hulk emerges from the crashed ship and yanks the energy sucking harpoons free from the alien. In return, the alien grants a small measure of energy to the Hulk to heal him.
Ever since Hulk saved him in that 1985 comic, Klaatu has not been seen in the Marvel Universe. But in both the comic book world and the screen adaptations, you never know.
As a massively powerful and huge cosmic being, Klaatu could always show up in a future Marvel movie just… you know. As just a dude with a beard. If Kurt Russell isn’t busy.