Marvel’s Biggest Superhero Rivalry Doesn’t Make Sense And Never Has

By Michileen Martin | Updated

hulk wolverine
From the cover of Hulk/Wolverine: Six Hours #2 (Marvel Comics, 2003)

For decades, Marvel Comics has been making bank off the rivalry between the Incredible Hulk and Wolverine of the X-Men. While the two have yet to meet in any kind of live-action adaptation, Marvel’s had them clash in numerous comics, and dedicated half of the 2009 direct-to-video animated feature Hulk Vs. to a battle between them. As popular as their conflicts have proven to be, it comes from a rivalry that doesn’t make sense, and never has, for two big reasons.

Their Rivalry Was Set Up Retroactively

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Hulk and Wolverine in Infinity Gauntlet #3

Hulk and Wolverine famously had their first throwdown in 1974’s Incredible Hulk #181, but this didn’t lead to any kind of rivalry. Between that first fight and the late 1980s, their paths crossed a couple of times (e.g., in the first Secret Wars series) with no bad blood expressed between them. That changed with 1988’s Incredible Hulk #340 when — in an issue drawn by future Spawn creator Todd McFarlane — a physically weaker but craftier Hulk had a much bloodier and best-selling, rematch with Logan.

After that, it was apparently decided that not only were Hulk and Wolverine rivals but that they had always been rivals. By 1991’s Infinity Gauntlet #3, the pair had fought a total of three times (in the aforementioned Hulk issues and in the anthology series Marvel Comics Presents), but their dialogue gives the impression they’d been fighting regularly for years. Anyone even a little familiar with the Hulk’s stories could easily name at least a half dozen heroes the green goliath fought more often (The Thing, Thor, Iron Man, Doc Samson, Namor, etc.).

In other words, there was no Hulk/Wolverine rivalry until there was, and as soon as there was, Marvel decided it had always been there.

Hulk And Wolverine Are In Completely Different Leagues

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From Ultimate Wolverine Vs. Hulk #1 (Marvel Comics, 2006)

The notion that the Hulk and Wolverine would even consider each other rivals would be kind of like… Thor and Spider-Man considering each other rivals. Like Shang-Chi taking on Godzilla. Like a boxer punching a tidal wave.

This isn’t meant to diss Wolverine. Drop Logan into a few dozen ninjas and you’re going to end up with a perfectly healthy Canadian mutant and more chopped-up masked men than Uma Thurman left behind in Kill Bill: Vol. 1. But pitting him against the Hulk is ridiculous.

The Hulk has fought and defeated, literal gods from Asgard, Olympus, and beyond. In the first Secret Wars series, he saved the rest of Marvel’s champions by holding a mountain range — that’s a mountain range — on his shoulders. In the 1970’s Incredible Hulk #126, he destroyed an entire dimension by clapping his hands.

And in 1980’s Uncanny X-Men #133, a bunch of guys dressed like the cast of Hamilton beat up Wolverine with rolling pins.

Wolverine doing what he does best, losing, in Uncanny X-Men #133 (Marvel Comics, 1980)

In fact, the very first meeting between Hulk and Wolverine bears this out. In Incredible Hulk #181, the green goliath knocks Wolverine out with one little crack upside the head.

Incredible Hulk #181 (Marvel Comics, 1974)

Now you could rightly argue that at this point in Wolverine’s history, very little about the character had been determined. Marvel’s writers had yet to conceive of his adamantium-laced skeleton or his healing factor. In fact, in Incredible Hulk #181 it isn’t clear if Wolverine is even meant to have any actual powers or to simply be a tough guy with a pair of gloves made with retractable claws.

Fair enough. But how about by 1987’s Fantastic Four Vs. X-Men #4 when Ben Grimm — aka Fantastic Four‘s The Thing — effortlessly takes Logan out of the fight between the teams with a gentle knock on the noggin? You know, Ben Grimm — the guy the Hulk has cleaned the floor with dozens of times?

Wolverine taking a nap in Fantastic Four Vs. X-Men #4 (Marvel Comics, 1987)

I understand the appeal of the Hulk/Wolverine rivalry. It’s a massive monster vs. a scrappy, no-nonsense, fearless warrior. Their rivalry is very, very cool.

But it makes about as much sense as you or I entertaining a rivalry with a tornado. Your 6-year-old might be a big deal in the local Tee Ball league, but there’s a reason why he’s not going to be drafted into the majors just yet.