The Infinity Saga introduced Thanos to the wider world nearly a decade ago. While he made small appearances in Guardians of the Galaxy and Avengers: Age of Ultron, the Mad Titan didn't take center stage until 2019's Avengers: Infinity War. When Infinity War came about, Josh Brolin’s performance was unmatched, and the villain instantly became a pop culture classic.
So who could possibly follow that? Loki brought one contender to the table. In the series finale of the Disney+ show, viewers met Jonathan Majors’ Kang the Conqueror––or at least, a nicer Variant of the character going by the name of He Who Remains.
Kang’s entrance paves the way for a new big bad to take the throne. But what if the next major threat for the Marvel Universe isn’t Kang, Galactus, or Dr. Doom? What if the next threat comes from within the Avengers' ranks?
That certainly sounds like it could be in the cards, with the recently rumored film now in development at Marvel Studios: World War Hulk.
World War Hulk
In the comics, World War Hulk is a storyline that sees the Hulk returning to Earth after having been banished by the Illuminati. During that time, he was sent to the planet Sakaar, becoming a gladiator and starting a new life––aspects of which were heavily used in Thor: Ragnarok.
Seeing as Hulk has already been sent off-planet, even if it was his own doing, trying the same shtick again might not be the best move.
With the many Hulks being established on Earth, there’s likely a festering uneasiness for those living on the same planet. After all, their power is unchecked and tempers are unpredictable. If any protective group like the Illuminati felt like they wanted to be pre-emptive, then now would be the time to act.
Speaking of that group, there have been rumors of Marvel Studios slowly planting the seeds for an Illuminati project. From Namor to Reed Richards and Doctor Strange, there’s already a team of candidates ready in the wings.
If this group tries to contain the various Hulks, there's every chance it ends worse than it began. With all the Hulks now knowing they are targets for banishment, they might wage an all-out war on those trying to silence them.
Obviously, each character would react differently. For example, Jennifer Walters likely wouldn’t go destroy cities in search of an Illuminati member––but Red Hulk or Skaar would.
Though, there’s still one massive question: why would the Earth turn against the Hulk? After all, it was his snap that brought everyone back, something many people in the world likely know at this point.
While a fair point, a counterpoint would be that it only matters so much. The X-Men have saved the world countless times yet are still hated on a daily basis.
Whatever happens during this rumored World War Hulk project, what if it doesn’t end well? This could potentially pave the way for a darker and much more dangerous Hulk: The Maestro.
Bruce Banner, The Green Avenger
Bruce Banner was first introduced to the MCU in 2008’s The Incredible Hulk, played by Edward Norton. While the success of Iron Man overshadowed the film, it was still the beginning of the Hulk’s journey.
The character went from fighting the Abomination to joining the Avengers in 2012's The Avengers, now portrayed by Mark Ruffalo. While he wasn’t a natural team player, it all worked out in the end. This is where key relationships with other heroes have formed; his friendship with Tony Stark, attraction to Natasha Romanoff, and future bromance with Thor.
Then came Age of Ultron, which took the character to a dark place. While his fling with Black Widow didn’t amount to much, what did was his retreat from Earth after their fight against Stark’s murder bot.
This led to somewhat of a reinvention of the character in Thor: Ragnarok. Now a Gladiator fighting on Sakaar, the green giant had the time of his life for years—but without Banner at the wheel.
This could have caused quite the disconnect between Bruce and Hulk—though the two made up in time to face off against Hela and her minions. Unfortunately, the harmony didn’t last for long. Enter Thanos.
The Mad Titan gave Hulk a beat down which scared the life out of him, so much so that Banner couldn’t even get him to come out. This lead to another loss for Bruce, as he suffered defeat inside the Hulkbuster armor.
Then came the most significant change for the character to date: Smart Hulk. At the beginning of Endgame, viewers were introduced to the product of Banner’s genius, which comprised of the Hulk’s brawn and Bruce’s brains.
This change remained through the end of the film, though several factors are waiting to be explained. For one, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings saw Banner return to human form, something audiences didn't know was possible. Another loop comes in She-Hulk’s early footage, as Banner is shown as Smart Hulk once again, but with a healed arm.
Hulk's future, as well as parts of his past, remains a mystery. That's where Jennifer Walters comes in.
Jennifer Walters, She-Hulk
Walters is the cousin to Bruce Banner. After having been saved by a blood transfusion from him, she becomes an entirely different kind of Hulk.
While She-Hulk isn’t as strong as Bruce’s alter ego, she naturally maintains her intelligence when hulking out. Much like how fans saw the OG Avenger in Endgame, Jennifer eventually embraces her green side—a lot faster than Bruce ever did.
Jenn isn’t just a crime fighter. She also actively fights for justice in the courtroom, having once worked for the District Attorney. On the flip side, She-Hulk has been a member of the Avengers and Fantastic Four as well.
It’s not clear how the MCU will introduce Tatiana Maslany's She-Hulk into the world, but the blood transfusion angle is hard not to use. Whether it happened before or after Endgame is the real question.
Besides that, how will Bruce factor into She-Hulk’s story? From the looks of the Disney+ Day trailer, he will play a mentor role, helping Jennifer not only come to terms with her new abilities but also how to control them.
Another big part of She-Hulk is how it will feature the return of Abomination, the villain from The Incredible Hulk. This will be the first time the character is properly seen in the MCU since that film—Shang-Chi cameo notwithstanding. With that Hulk returning, who else could the upcoming Disney+ series bring into the picture?
Well, one of the biggest rumors surrounding She-Hulk, as exclusively reported by The Direct, is that the story may introduce Skaar—the son of Hulk.
Skaar, Son of Hulk
In the comics, Skaar is the son of Hulk and Caiera the Oldstrong, a romance that sprung from the two on Sakaar. After his mother died, a cocoon containing the boy fell into a lake of fire.
Eventually, he sprang from the cocoon, and over time became a force to be reckoned with. Unlike Banner, this young Hulk has an ability unique to his people: the Old Power.
It’s a more unstable version of the Power Cosmic, which allows the wielder to connect to and manipulate any planet's earth and stone, alongside granting the user many different associated abilities.
Like his father, Skaar was exiled from his home planet––having betrayed his mother by trying to stop Galactus from consuming their planet. His destination became planet Earth, seeking revenge on his father.
With all of that background laid out, how in the world could Skaar exist in the MCU? Well, there are a few angles.
One is how there are plenty of Sakaar adventures not seen on screen. There's an excellent opportunity to put some retroactive continuity in there, such as an abandoned son.
Another angle would be exploring Hulk’s time during the Blip. A lot likely happened to Jolly Green that simply didn’t have the time to come up in conversation while the Avengers figured out how to save half the universe.
Depending on how much has passed since Endgame, there could be just enough wiggle room for something to have happened since fans last saw him. After all, they do have the perfect excuse for flexibility: young Hulks grow quickly.
With She-Hulk, the MCU could have four different active Hulks at once. This begs the question: just how many Hulks are there?
All The Hulks
- The Red Hulk is none other than Thunderbolt Ross himself. The same Army General who was hunting Bruce Banner in The Incredible Hulk and oversaw the Sokovia Accords in Age of Ultron becomes a red rage machine to face his enemy head-on. What makes Red Hulk different is that he can overheat––so his rage and power set is not limitless.
- Ross was given the ability to transform into his new persona thanks to AIM and an organization called the Intelligencia.
- Remember Betty, General Ross’ daughter? She ends up becoming the Red She-Hulk, which could be an easy way of bringing the character back into the MCU. The catch? The transformation is done against her will whilst resurrecting her from the dead; all thanks to the same folks responsible for the Red Hulk.
- This is a character initially played by Ty Burrell in The Incredible Hulk, but he remained in human form for the full duration of that film. In the comics, the character’s primary motivation ends up being to capture and cure the Hulk.
- At one point, he, after having temporarily cured Banner, Samson imbues himself with that same energy and becomes a Hulk of his own, though that doesn’t last very long. Like the other two on this list, he ends up having a connection to both AIM and Intelligencia.
- Rick Jones is a massive character in Captain America and Hulk’s lore who has yet to make it into live-action. He’s long been a friend of the Avengers and long-term partner to both of the aforementioned heroes.
- At the same gamma bomb site that gave Banner his Hulk powers, Jones gets his own thanks to the Leader and MODOK (both Intelligencia members).
- Instead of being aimed at the original green Hulk, his rage is directed at the Red Hulk.
- While the previous three are more villainous, A-Bomb usually leaned more towards heroics.
- With Marvel’s knack for introducing new heroes recently, Amadeus Cho is no doubt on their radar. During an incident that would have killed countless people, he uses nanites to absorb Banner’s newly toxic radiation––a process that caused him to lose his abilities, only for them to transfer over to Cho. Amadeus coined himself as the new Hulk, taking pride in trying to be a better and smarter Hulk. He went on to join the Champions team.
There's one other Hulk that could be the key to Bruce Banner's future in the MCU; one that should worry the entire cinematic universe: The Maestro.
In the comics, Maestro is a Hulk from an alternate future where a nuclear apocalypse has ravaged the world; all the radiation from which was absorbed by the Hulk, making him far more powerful than he’s ever been before.
His time spent through the many years of tragedy and war caused Banner to take a dark path. Eventually, he takes on the name of Maestro and rules over what’s left of New York City, now going by the name of Dystopia.
The character has lived on in some other comic storylines, with connections to Old Man Logan and Secret Wars—he even got his own slice of Battleworld. More recently, Maestro was one of the villains in Square Enix’s Avengers game. There, he ruled over a world ravaged by the Kree invasion and even had a collection of trophies from the world’s fallen heroes.
Bringing the Maestro to the MCU
While post-apocalyptic wastelands are an unlikely future for the MCU, there are obvious elements Marvel can pull from.
While not nuclear bombs, the energy absorbed by the Hulk when he snapped must have been comparable. The Eternals already used those energies to excuse the initiation of significant world-ending events, so it seems fair game.
Maybe this excess energy didn’t have an immediate effect but is slowly unhinging Banner and Hulk’s psyche. This could cause a downward spiral leading to the emergence of a new persona inspired by the Maestro.
For reference, the Maestro in the comics can easily go toe-to-toe with Thanos, so he would make for a fitting villain not only in thematic value but also in strength. He also made short work of Hulk in the comics, having broken his neck in seconds.
This character could always end up coming in from another dimension. With the Multiverse becoming a significant aspect of the current Marvel stories, he’s an easy pick for Bruce and Jennifer to go up against. Maestro could serve as a mirror for both of them to see the worst version of themselves.
Another point to make is the possibility that the marriage between Banner and Hulk, which audiences saw in Endgame, isn’t as happy-go-lucky as it would seem. Could there be more to the story that Bruce is hiding from people on the outside?
There’s a chance Bruce forcefully compressed a lot of the Hulk while still retaining some of his more valuable attributes. Maybe in doing so, this placed the other side of him in somewhat of a mental prison.
The Tragedy of Bruce Banner
Imagine if the next big MCU bad guy is one of the original six Avengers. That’s not only downright intimidating in its own right, but with it being Bruce Banner, the concept plays perfectly into Hulk's tragic character. The MCU would not only have an insurmountable threat to go up against, but the emotional turmoil it would cause throughout the many heroes up against him would be immensely impactful.
With how Marvel’s Phase 4 is shaping up, there doesn’t seem to be a single threat being built up to, but rather multiple. There’s Kang, Val’s group of questionable mercenaries, Galactus, and the Multiverse as a whole. The Maestro seems a fitting addition to the list.
With so many heroic endings for OG Avengers, maybe it’s time for a little tragic villainy.