The recently revealed Avengers: Endgame costumes for the core team has fans clamoring–and no, it’s not because of Natasha’s stylishly grown out dye job or Cap’s classic chain mail look making an appearance. Their concerns are fixated on the inexplicable inclusion of not Bruce Banner, but The Hulk in the lineup after he infamously refused to make an appearance throughout Avengers: Infinity War.
But it’s not just the fact that Hulk is most definitely his mean, green self in the promo image–it’s that he looks a little different from the last time we saw him. And that might actually be a big clue as to where both he and Banner are headed in the final chapter of this installment of the MCU.
Brace yourselves, this one is a little weird.
As fans have pointed out, the new Hulk image not only features Hulk sporting a very fashionable bodysuit, it also (apparently) features a very slightly remodeled face. This, of course, wouldn’t be the first time the Hulk CGI has gone through some major upgrades–his look has changed in just about every movie he’s been in–but this one seems a bit more than just technology leaping forward. This particular render seems to be trying to blend together the look of actor Mark Ruffalo’s face with the Hulk we all know and love. This, coupled with the strange back-and-forth between the two halves of the character since Thor: Ragnarok has led fans to believe that we might be seeing the live-action debut of the character known as Professor Hulk.
Despite the rather ridiculous name, Professor Hulk isn’t just a version of Hulk who went back to school and got a degree. He’s actually a Hulk incarnation that blends both Bruce and Hulk together–sort of. Introduced back in 1991, Professor Hulk was originally a “merged Hulk” that combined the extreme-90s Grey and Savage Hulks–don’t worry too much about the finer points differentiating them–with Doctor Banner himself. The Merged Hulk exhibited traits and personality features of all its combined parts and was later developed further into a personality called The Professor.
The biggest and most important takeaway when dealing with The Professor is understanding that he was an incarnation of Hulk that exhibited Bruce’s intelligence and personality. Normally, as we’ve seen exhibited really well in the MCU, Banner and Hulk are two completely separate consciousnesses–they’re even able to “argue” with one another over who gets to be dominant in their shared body at any given moment. Professor Hulk has no such issue. As a true mixture of both halves of the Hulk/Banner equation, there is no struggle for dominance or control, just a perfect balancing act between the two of them. Strangely, in the comics, this also meant that Professor Hulk was the largest of the Hulks running around for a while, but the least powerful. Do with that information what you will.
So, what does this mean for the MCU if an incarnation of the good Professor is headed our way? Well, it would certainly be a fitting conclusion to the “trilogy” teased by Mark Ruffalo spanning Thor: Ragnarok, Infinity War, and Endgame–and a fitting, if slightly tragic, finale to Bruce Banner’s tenure in the shared universe. As a character driven largely by the push-pull of the duality that consumes his life, finding a balance would be a bittersweet compromise, leaving Bruce changed, but finally free of his “curse,” and ideally, Hulk free of his fear.
Of course, if that does happen, there would most likely be an issue with finding out exactly where on Earth a giant green half-monster man could fit in–but maybe Earth isn’t where Hulk and Banner will want to stay when the dust settles and Thanos is defeated. After all, both halves of the equation have plenty of experience out in the cosmos by now, and assuming the Thanos fight doesn’t wind up fatal, it wouldn’t be too far a stretch to picture him heading back to space, even if that means saying more than a few goodbyes.