Why ‘The Incredible Hulk’ Changed Bruce Banner’s Name to David

The Incredible Hulk took a different approach with the Marvel comic book character created by writer Stan Lee. The ‘70s series altered several aspects of the superhero’s story, including parts of his identity.

One of the most obvious was Bruce Banner’s name. The show changed it to David Banner. And according to the showrunner, there was a specific reason he made the switch. 

Lou Ferrigno as the 'Hulk' and Bill Bixby as David Bruce Banner in 'The Incredible Hulk'
Lou Ferrigno as the ‘Hulk’ and Bill Bixby as David Bruce Banner in ‘The Incredible Hulk’ | CBS/Getty Images

‘The Incredible Hulk’ was different than the comics

In Lee’s comics, Bruce Banner is a physicist who gets exposed to gamma rays in a lab explosion. The incident results in Banner turning into a large green monster, the Hulk, whenever he gets angered or frustrated. As the Hulk, the superhero faces outlandish villains in larger-than-life situations. 

But on The Incredible Hulk, Banner is a physician and researcher whose self-experimentation goes wrong. He turns into a large, but still human-sized green monster. And his adventures are far more realistic. 

And that was by design. Show creator and producer Kenneth Johnson wanted to create a serious drama. So he made the Hulk’s story as realistic as it could be. 

RELATED: ‘The Incredible Hulk’ Had a Perfect Villain Despite Being an Imperfect Movie, According to Fans

“When I wrote it, I had been reading Les Miserables at the time so I had Jean Valjean and Javert and the fugitive concept in my head, and I took a little of that classic Victor Hugo and a little of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and really imbued the original pilot with that sense of human drama,” Johnson told IGN

“I really set out to mine all of the emotions that somebody like David Banner would go through under the circumstances,” he added. “I think it’s that combination of emotional life and basis in the classics that have made it as successful as it is.”

Why Kenneth Johnson changed Banner’s name to David

Comic book characters like Bruce Banner, Peter Parker, and Stephen Strange have alliterative names. But because Johnson wanted The Incredible Hulk to feel more realistic, he changed Banner’s name to David.

“It was more the alliteration that bothered me, the Lois Lane, Clark Kent, that sort of thing, and as always I was trying to get as far away from the comic book origins as I possibly could,” he explained to IGN. “I mean, virtually the only thing I kept from the comic book was gamma rays and green and metamorphosis, and everything else was made up out of what I hoped to be presented as the real world.”

“And again, when you put somebody into a story whose name is Bruce Banner, it just immediately starts to sound comic book-y,” Johnson added. “And I was very anxious to attract the adult audience because I knew that we could not have a hit show if we just had kids.”

Stan Lee didn’t mind the changes in ‘The Incredible Hulk’

Despite all the changes to his character, Stan Lee actually liked Johnson’s vision for the Hulk. And he felt it worked for the series’ target audience.

“The Hulk television show I thought was wonderful,” Lee told the Television Academy  “It was created and done by Kenneth Johnson, who I think did a brilliant job, and I got quite friendly with him in the course of it. He was so smart, he took a character which in live-action television might have been unbearably foolish-looking with nonsensical stories, and he made it as palatable for grown-ups as for kids.”

The Incredible Hulk first aired in 1978. It ran for five seasons on CBS and was accompanied by three TV movies.