Hulk Hogan versus Marvel Comics | The Fight for His Name

Hulk Hogan reached unfathomable levels of superstardom in the ’80s to the displeasure of the already established Marvel Comics sensation, The Incredible Hulk. Had it not been for this bizarre agreement between Marvel and the WWF, Hulkamania possibly never would have run wild!

The two Hulks, The Incredible Hulk and Hulk Hogan, do battle. [Photo: MrJimiMadcap on Deviantart]
The two Hulks, The Incredible Hulk and Hulk Hogan, do battle. [Photo: MrJimiMadcap on Deviantart]

Even the icons of professional wrestling go through a few failed name attempts before hitting their mainstay name. Take for instance The Undertaker who went through names such as Mean Mark, Dice Morgan, Master of Pain, Texas Red, The Punisher, and Kane the Undertaker at the start of his WWF career before ending up with The Undertaker. This precedent has been similar for most wrestlers as at the beginning of their career it’s essential to test different gimmicks and roles out to see which goes over well with the audience and what’s best suited to them. Stone Cold Steve Austin once infamously had the ring name The Ringmaster and was even pitched the name Fang McFrost before turning that one down (“and that’s the bottom line because Fang McFrost said so”)! Triple H was also once referred to by the comical name Terra Ryzing and played the role of Jean-Paul Lévesque, French-Canadian accent and all. The list can go on and on. This model follows perhaps the most famous name of all of wrestling – Hulk Hogan.

Hogan, then known by his real name Terry Bollea, started his career in his state of residence, Florida, in 1977 working for Championship Wrestling from Florida (CWF). Very early on in his career, Terry would work as ‘The Super Destroyer’ a gimmicky masked character that was played by several wrestlers including Don Jardine, Bill Irwin, and Scott Irwin. He then worked in Alabama with his great friend who he inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2019, Ed Leslie (aka Brutus ‘The Barber’ Beefcake).

During their years in the business, Terry and Ed were a tag team – The Boulder Brothers, Terry and Ed Boulder. Many even believed them to be real brothers around this time. The two were enjoying a successful run when they caught the eye of Jerry Jarrett, Continental Wrestling Association promoter in Memphis, Tennessee. Terry and Ed took the deal to go to Memphis which was the most significant financial opportunity in their short careers at that point – an offer of $800 a week as opposed to the $200 they were making in Alabama.

Related: Hulk Hogan and Brutus the Barber Beefcake: Paying Dues (And Farting Samoans, Too!)

It was during Hogan’s time in Memphis that the ‘Hulk’ moniker was introduced to him. Hogan, still Terry Boulder at the time, was invited to a local Memphis talk show. Appearing alongside him that night was Lou Ferrigno, who famously played Marvel Comics’ The Incredible Hulk in the TV series that ran from ’78 until ’82. The talk show host pointed out that Terry’s muscular frame, 24″ biceps, near 300lbs and a height of 6’7″ was more impressive than The Hulk himself. This comparison caught on, and Terry ‘The Hulk’ Boulder was born.

WATCH: Rare footage of Terry Bollea using the name Hulk for the first ever time on CWA television in 1979

“This man is not a television illusion, he is not an artists conception, he is not a figment of the imagination, he is real,” the announcer hyped up before dropping the famous name for the first time. “He is The Hulk!”

Hogan, in his own words, described the origin of the name Hulk on episode 106 of Talk is Jericho:

“Something happened where I was on a talk show with Lou Ferrigno. Then I went back to the dressing room and of course, I was all jacked, gassed to the gills, 338lbs, and I got told ‘You’re bigger than Hulk!’ So I started using Terry ‘The Hulk’ Boulder.”

The foundation for the name Hulk Hogan was laid, however, ‘Hulk’ didn’t stick completely. There was a brief period where Hulk would wrestle in Georgia for Georgia Championship Wrestling under the name Sterling Golden in late 1979. Soon after that, Hulk was destined for the then known WWWF under Vincent J. McMahon, the father of today’s owner.

Arriving in the WWWF for the first time, ‘Hulk’ was already previously instilled into him but it was Vincent J. McMahon that added ‘Hogan’ as a last name that would later on become synonymous with wrestling audiences worldwide. The reasoning behind it is surprising. Hogan revealed fascinating details in the André the Giant HBO documentary.

“Why Hogan?” Hulk asked Vince Sr.

“Well, we have all these ethnic type wrestlers. We have Cheif Jay Strongbow for the Native Americans, Bruno Sammartino for the Italian-Americans, Ivan Putski for the Polish-Americans and you’re Hulk Hogan for the Irish-Americans!” Vince Sr. told Hogan.

The Irish gimmick didn’t play out, but the name Hogan stuck. Terry ‘The Hulk’ Boulder was no more, and Hulk Hogan had arrived!

Terry ‘The Hulk’ Bollea becomes Hulk Hogan

Hulk Hogan wasn’t a big name in the business upon arrival, and Marvel wasn’t taking action just yet over the use of the name. It would take a giant spotlight for Marvel Comics to take notice and legal action over a name they made famous, a spotlight that was beginning to come to a reality thanks to a film Hulk Hogan starred in 1982 – Rocky III.

Hulk Hogan took a significant chance on his career when he agreed to appear as Thunderlips, a hefty challenger to Rocky Balboa in Rocky III. Vince McMahon Sr. had an old school mentality and wasn’t keen at all for him to take on a movie role. If you were a wrestler for McMahon Sr. you were exclusive to only him. Outside projects and opportunities weren’t welcome. Subsequently, Hogan was fired by Vince Sr. for appearing in the movie.

The gamble Hogan took paid off in spades. Rocky III was a huge box office success and produced international box office earnings of over $200 million. Hogan’s career was about to take off after playing the supporting role, Thunderlips, who also referred to himself as ‘The Ultimate Male.’

After Rocky III, Hogan headed to Verne Gagne’s American Wrestling Association. Initially brought in as a heel, within weeks he was turned into a fan favorite as the crowds were very vocal and organically got behind Hogan. The star power was evident, and Verne Gagne had a guy he could build his promotion around – except Verne made the mistake of never doing that.

Verne had the chance to put the AWA World Heavyweight Championship on Hogan during his feud with veteran heel champion at the time, Nick Bockwinkel. The time seemed right. Bockwinkel was in his late 40s, Hogan was relatively young and had fan support coming in waves, though much like McMahon Sr. had his philosophy that his wrestlers cannot be doing outside projects like movies, Verne Gagne had a philosophy of his own, a view on the style of champion the AWA should showcase, and Hogan didn’t fit his mold. Verne had a past in amateur wrestling, successfully winning two NCAA titles. He liked his champions to be true grapplers and to be technically sound.

AWA’s chance to create a megastar out of Hogan was slipping out of Gagne’s grasp, and before he knew it, he was once again WWF bound, but this time under the guidance from the son of Vince Sr., Vincent Kennedy McMahon!

The Rise of Hulkamania

Hogan returned to the WWF on December 27, 1983. During Hogan’s first run in the company, before the Rocky III incident got him fired, Hogan was a heel with ‘Classy’ Freddie Blassie as his manager. On this occasion, Hogan returned to help Bob Backlund who was in a troublesome 3-on-1 situation against The Wild Samoans, thus establishing himself as a babyface, a role he thrived in.

Continuity with storylines and history is an art that is sadly lost today in WWE. Face and heel turns often go unexplained, and the intelligence of the audience can be insulted, but in the early ’80s, that art was still alive. Bob Backlund cut a simple, yet brilliant promo after Hogan made the save, explaining the face turn entirely, addressing Hogan’s past as a heel years before with Blassie, eliminating any confusion in the process for the viewers.

“You don’t have to introduce this man to anybody!” Backlund told Gene Okerlund. “Everybody knows The Hulk! Everybody knows The Hulk! He’s changed his ways; he’s a great man. He’s told me he’s not gonna have [Freddie] Blassie around.”

Related: Bob Backlund and the Time He Humbled a Heckling Truck Driver at a Bar

Only three weeks after returning to the WWF, Hulk Hogan was set to face the man who defeated Bob Backlund for the WWF Championship, The Iron Sheik, at the world famous Madison Square Garden. What happened that night was so historic and pivotal.

The odds were stacked against The Hulkster. No one had ever escaped from The Iron Sheik’s devastating camel clutch. The packed out MSG crowd was firmly behind Hogan, everyone was on their feet hoping to see a seismic shift in the World Wrestling Federation with Hulk Hogan as champion. Hogan would need the crowd more than ever as he found himself caught in the seemingly impossible, trying to escape The Iron Sheik’s devastating camel clutch submission hold! The crowd rallied, as Hogan, somehow, some way, found the strength to hold on through the pain and rise to his feet and ram Sheik back first into the nearest turnbuckle. Making history, he was the first man to break out of the Iron Sheik’s camel clutch, but even bigger history was made when Hogan jumped off the canvas, planted the leg drop followed by a 1, 2, 3!

“History made at Madison Square Garden!” Gorilla Monsoon exclaimed passionately on commentary.

Monsoon went on to famously say, “Hulkamania is here!”

The Iron Sheik has Hulk Hogan locked into his infamous camel clutch. Moments later, Hogan would become the first ever wrestler to break free from this hold. January 23, 1984, Madison Square Garden, New York.
The Iron Sheik has Hulk Hogan locked into his infamous camel clutch. Moments later, Hogan would become the first-ever wrestler to break free from this hold. January 23, 1984, Madison Square Garden, New York.

Those three words summed up the moment perfectly. Hulkamania was born, and the fans accepted Hogan as champion with open arms. Hogan as WWF Champion changed the game completely. The legion of Hulkamaniacs gravitated strongly towards his larger than life personality. The World Wrestling Federation, under Hulkamania’s peak, became an international, global juggernaut as opposed to being a territory that did shows around the New York area.

Hogan’s popularity was such that he wasn’t just one of the most well-known wrestlers in the world; he was one of the most famous people on the face of the planet. His three demandments of “train, say your prayers, and take your vitamins!” left positive impacts across the millions of his fans. The fans adored and became so accustomed and excited to see Hogan rip his shirt clean in two and pose proudly with his 24-inch pythons. The way he would feed off the fans’ energy was an integral part of his matches. The popularity of Hulk Hogan put more eyes on the WWF, and Vince McMahon was able to capitalize successfully.

The impact of Hulkamania was so enormous that it continues to reap the benefits 35 years on as it influenced the current (as of this writing) Universal Champion, Seth Rollins, to pursue a wrestling path among many others.

Seth Rollins as a young Hulkamaniac [Photo: WWE]
Seth Rollins as a young Hulkamaniac [Photo: WWE]

The bizarre licensing agreement between Marvel Comics and the WWF over the use of the name ‘Hulk.’

Going back to the memorable night at Madison Square Garden in January of ’84 where Hogan made history, if you watch the entrances again, you will hear announcer Howard Finkel introduce him as “The Incredible Hulk Hogan.” This went on for several months until the official date of July 9, 1984. That date was the commencement of a bizarre licensing agreement between Marvel Comics and the WWF over the use of the name Hulk. He would never be announced as ‘Incredible’ again, just only as ‘Hulk Hogan.’ Later on, ‘The Immortal’ was used instead of ‘The Incredible.’

The contract between Marvel Comics and WWF can be found on Scribd, amongst several other fascinating wrestling documents. Part of the document read as follows,

“The term of this license shall commence on July 9, 1984, and shall continue until the earlier of (a) 20 years from the date of this agreement or (b) when Terry Bollea ceases to be involved with wrestling.”

The limitations bestowed upon the WWF by Marvel included:

– “Titan may not use the term ‘incredible’ in connection with Hulk Hogan. Marvel recognizes that the use of the word ‘incredible’ might be used by announcers on TV or radio in connection therewith and such use will not be a breach.”

– “When using ‘Hulk,’ it must always be used with ‘Hogan.'”

– “When used together, ‘Hulk’ may not be more prominent than ‘Hogan.'”

– “Titan cannot use the colors green and purple in connection with Hulk Hogan or his logo; that any logo created for Hulk Hogan must be different from the Hulk logo; that any logo created for Hulk Hogan may not be such so as to be confused with or be similar to in any way the logo of Hulk.”

Marvel was able to negotiate a monetary agreement too, resulting in them benefiting from Hogan’s success. For every match Hogan wrestled during that 20-year agreement, Marvel was paid $100. That may not sound like a lot when talking about a company as illustrious as Marvel, but for over 20 years, the amount stacks up, and it would have resulted in a healthy total over two decades. It wasn’t only matches that benefitted Marvel Comics either – even Hogan’s merchandise found a way into their pockets. It wasn’t a lot, only .90 of 1% were paid in royalties, but once again, that all stacks up, especially with someone as big a star as Hogan!

The majority of Hulk Hogan WWF products had a trademark notice on them which read, “Hulk Hogan is a trademark of the Marvel Comics Group, licensed exclusively to TitanSports, Inc.”

Remember that arcade game growing up, WWF Superstars? If you paid attention at the startup screen, you might have noticed the trademark down at the bottom.

The majority of Hulk Hogan WWF products had a trademark notice on them which read, 'Hulk Hogan is a trademark of the Marvel Comics Group, licensed exclusively to TitanSports, Inc.' as evidenced in the WWF Superstars arcade game.
The majority of Hulk Hogan WWF products had a trademark notice on them which read, “Hulk Hogan is a trademark of the Marvel Comics Group, licensed exclusively to TitanSports, Inc.” as evidenced in the WWF Superstars arcade game.

That was a more blatant example. On merchandise like wrestling figures or any toy, the trademark would appear in much finer print. Take this example of an old school WWF badge, featuring Hogan alongside the Legion of Doom and the Big Boss Man.

The majority of Hulk Hogan WWF products had a trademark notice on them which read, 'Hulk Hogan is a trademark of the Marvel Comics Group, licensed exclusively to TitanSports, Inc.' as evidenced at the bottom of the packaging of these WWF badges.

Marvel Comics versus the WWF: The Incredible Hulk and Hulk Hogan go to battle

Marvel didn’t limit the license to namesake purposes only and eventually got creative with the licensing. On March 10, 1990, Marvel Comics Presents #45 was published. Not surprisingly, The Incredible Hulk featured in this issue, but there was a genuine surprise to follow – The other world-famous Hulk made an appearance, Hulk Hogan! There wasn’t room for the two of them, and an enthralling encounter was set to leave its mark in Marvel Comics history.

Marvel Comics Presents was a big stage for this battle. The anthology series started in 1988, publishing 175 issues until the series finished its run in 1995. It then returned in 2007 briefly, releasing 12 issues. The series returned at the beginning of 2019 for its third volume and is still ongoing! It served as a good place for the battle of the Hulks to settle their score.

If The Incredible Hulk wasn’t already angry enough that someone else had the nerve to go around calling themselves ‘Hulk,’ then he was undoubtedly even more irritated with Hulk Hogan’s attitude. The Hulkster was confident he was the best around and wasn’t shy to tell anyone about it in issue #45 of Marvel Comics Presents. Hogan even referenced ‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage and ‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper to prove a point.

“I’m rowdier than Roddy! More macho than the man!”

“I’m The Incredible Hulk,” Hogan said, much to the actual Incredible Hulk’s chagrin.

Scenes from March 10, 1990's Marvel Comics Presents #45 - Hulk Hogan versus The Incredible Hulk

Scenes from March 10, 1990's Marvel Comics Presents #45 - Hulk Hogan versus The Incredible Hulk
Scenes from March 10, 1990’s Marvel Comics Presents #45 – Hulk Hogan versus The Incredible Hulk

After being called out by The Incredible Hulk, the two found a squared circle to have their historic battle. Unlike what wrestling fans were used to seeing, Hulk Hogan was not going over in this bout, not a chance. Marvel made clear who the dominant Hulk was.

The beautiful illustrations show it off better than words ever could.

The Incredible Hulk goes over Hulk Hogan in March 10, 1990's Marvel Comics Presents #45 - Hulk Hogan versus The Incredible Hulk

The Incredible Hulk goes over Hulk Hogan in March 10, 1990's Marvel Comics Presents #45 - Hulk Hogan versus The Incredible Hulk
The Incredible Hulk goes over Hulk Hogan in March 10, 1990’s Marvel Comics Presents #45 – Hulk Hogan versus The Incredible Hulk

Peter David wrote the memorable story with illustrations done by Herb Trimpe.

“Any other of you clowns want to swipe a name you don’t deserve just to get ahead?” – Marvel Comics

Brutal. Marvel didn’t hold back on that one.

Marvel Comics and WCW – A series or misfires and what if’s

The battle between the two icons was a one-off, however, towards the end of Hogan’s WCW run, an editor for Marvel Comics named Ruben Diaz pitched a Marvel versus WCW crossover that would’ve paired the two together once again. Concept art was commissioned, and it indeed looked like it could’ve been a badass comic, this time with Hulk Hogan being taken more seriously as opposed to focusing on how to humiliate him. Sadly, for one reason or another, this partnership never came to fruition.

Marvel and WCW weren’t strangers at doing business with each other. Years before Diaz’s pitch, in April of 1992, Marvel released its first issue of the astutely named ‘WCW: World Championship Wrestling’ – a comic series starring WCW’s top stars. The series ran for 12 issues until March of ’93.

The unique theme of the WCW comic wasn’t that the top stars at the time like Lex Luger, Ron Simmons or Sting all had superpowers that protected WCW from forces of evil. Quite the contrary. What made the comic unique was the realistic approach of it. The comic was more or less an alternative to WCW television, where one could immerse themselves in a Sting and Cactus Jack match or enjoy a battle royal through a comic book perspective. There was nothing supernatural about it. You could even make the argument that it was too realistic, as this snippet from the comic was posted on Reddit by user “keepyourheart,” showcasing a suffering cancer patient’s interaction with Sting.

Wrestler Sting 'helps' a cancer patient in Marvel Comic's WCW: World Championship Wrestling series
Wrestler Sting “helps” a cancer patient in Marvel Comic’s WCW: World Championship Wrestling series

I’m not sure the appropriate response to that one would be to laugh, cry, or both at the same time.

The realistic, superpower-less direction in that comic left the door open for the WCW versus Marvel comic to introduce that very concept. The Incredible Hulk versus Hulk Hogan is a more exciting prospect if Hogan can shoot venom out of his 24-inch pythons!

Comic book artist Adam Pollina did this fantastic sketch of The Incredible Hulk and Hollywood Hulk Hogan.

Comic book artist Adam Pollina's concept art of The Incredible Hulk squaring off against WCW's Hollywood Hulk Hogan.
Comic book artist Adam Pollina’s concept art of The Incredible Hulk squaring off against WCW’s Hollywood Hulk Hogan.

Concept art was also done for Spiderman vs. Sting, Bret Hart vs. Captain America and a Bill Goldberg sketch, looking menacing as ever.

Concept art for Spiderman vs Sting (artist: J.J. Kirby), Bret Hart vs Captain America (artist: Chris Batista), and a Bill Goldberg sketch (artist: J.J. Kirby), looking menacing as ever.
Concept art for Spiderman vs. Sting (artist: J.J. Kirby), Bret Hart vs. Captain America (artist: Chris Batista), and a Bill Goldberg sketch (artist: J.J. Kirby), looking menacing as ever.

The ambitious crossover pitch got as far as WCW releasing a S.L.A.M. Force [Secret Legion Against Monsters] toy line that came with a mini-comic book by Marvel. The S.L.A.M Force team included Kevin Nash, Bret Hart, Chris Benoit, Goldberg, and Sting. Unlike the WCW comic in 1992, this time they were gifted with strength and powers that gave them the ability to save the world from evil!

Chris Benoit wasn’t included among the S.L.A.M. Force figures as he, Eddie Gurrero, Perry Saturn, and Dean Malenko jumped ship to the WWF as The Radicalz. The mini-comic never made it beyond issue #1; thus, the big plans for Marvel vs. WCW never materialized.

Kevin Nash from the S.L.A.M. Force [Secret Legion Against Monsters] toy line
Kevin Nash from the S.L.A.M. Force [Secret Legion Against Monsters] toy line

The single issue sees the group of powered-up wrestlers head to Antartica for their first (and only) mission. The Bad guys roam Antartica to attempt to unlock a missing link that holds powers capable of world domination. The world’s survival depends on the S.L.A.M. Force to stop these dastardly men. The story has been described as ‘cheesy’ by readers.

It is a shame that WCW versus Marvel didn’t see the light of day. Wrestling is full of larger than life characters that could easily translate to the comic book world. S.L.A.M. Force may not have been a resounding success, but WCW versus Marvel is an entirely different proposition.

Bryan Barrera of WCWWorldwide.com did a brilliant job getting information out about this rarely talked about Marvel versus WCW comic, and it’s thanks to him and his dedicated pursuit for information that there are any details online at all! He spoke with Ruben Diaz, the man who originally pitched the idea.

“As the editor, I commissioned it and was part of the pitch to WCW,” Diaz told Barrera.

“I worked on the pitch for the WCW/MARVEL crossover somewhere between 1998-2000. The most we got out of it was producing a mini-comic for a toy license of theirs. S.L.A.M. Force, I think. Bill Roseman wrote it, and Michael Ryan did the art.” Diaz continued, “Premise had the WCW characters at the time as agents fighting supernatural threats. It served somewhat as a proof of concept that never went anywhere either. We had other spec scripts to show how we’d handle the characters, with one that involved Chris Benoit meeting up with Wolverine.”

“Nothing came of it because of the various business issues with both WCW and Marvel. Well, there was an interesting lunch meeting with Raven [Fun fact, Raven is a HUGE comic book fan]. At least this got more traction than the proposed Marvel vs. Capcom comic. Guess they weren’t interested in making money.”

Ruben Diaz’s connection to the wrestling business didn’t end there. He’s now involved entirely in it and has been working for Philadelphia-based promotion CHIKARA since 2010. He plays a vital role for them.

“I wear many hats in CHIKARA. During showtime, my primary role is lead camera operator/video editor, but I do a little bit of everything on the creative side. I pitch storylines and characters to Mike Quackenbush, who’s our Vince McMahon.”

You can subscribe to their product at chikarapro.com for a monthly fee of $7.99 with the first week free.

“We believe pro-wrestling should be fun! That’s why we make it for everyone!”

Marvel Comic’s right to the name “Hulk Hogan” comes to an end

Going back to the agreement of Marvel’s ownership of the name Hulk Hogan, the license officially stated that the contract would end if Hogan ceased to be involved with wrestling or when 20 years had passed. Hogan certainly was still involved in wrestling at that point which left it down to the expiration date. As of 2005, after more than two decades, Hogan became the rightful owner of his name when he purchased the rights to it.

The long-awaited change in trademark notices was shown on display with the new notice saying, “Hulk Hogan is a trademark of Terry Bollea.”

The notice can be seen as early as April, 2005, on a WWE.com article hyping up Hogan’s return to the ring at Backlash, appearing alongside Shawn Michaels in a tag team against Daivari and Mohammed Hassan – the match was the beginning of a build-up that ended with that infamous Summerslam match between the two legends.

Terry Bollea finally purchased the rights to the name Hulk Hogan in 2005.
Terry Bollea finally purchased the rights to the name Hulk Hogan in 2005.

If there’s one thing we know about Hogan after watching him throughout the decades, it’s that he isn’t easy to beat. After twenty years, Marvel learned the same. But to get in one last laugh and to bring things full circle, thirty-four years after Hogan last used the nicknamed ‘The Incredible Hulk Hogan’, Marvel published a comic series entitled ‘The Immortal Hulk’. Coincidence? We think not!

To bring things full circle, In 2018, Marvel released a comic series entitled The Immortal Hulk, 34-years after Hulk Hogan used the same name. Coincidence? We think not!
[photo: Marvel]

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Braeden Farrell is a long-time contributor for Pro Wrestling Stories and can be reached on Twitter @braedenfazza.