Superman is known as one of DC Comics’ most powerful beings – a hero so strong he can literally bench press the Earth and push planets out of orbit. Marvel Comics’ Incredible Hulk, on the other hand, is a monster with potentially limitless strength. The madder Hulk gets, the stronger he becomes – which leads to an interesting question. Could the Hulk ever get so angry that his strength level approaches and actually exceeds Superman’s?
It’s an interesting question – and one that deserves a close examination of each hero’s feats of strength and power sources. While both Superman and the Hulk have the capacity for seemingly infinite strength, do Kryptonian muscles really outclass a gamma-infused physique?
Superman’s strength has fluctuated greatly over the years, with early depictions of the Man of Steel showing him powerful enough to lift a car over his head while more modern versions revealing he can resist the pull of black holes and seal an earthquake fault line with his bare hands. However, most comic creators agree that Superman draws his strength from the yellow sun and the more solar energy he absorbs, the stronger he becomes.
This has led to a version of Superman in All-Star Superman who briefly entered the sun and found that he had grown powerful enough to lift 200 quintillion tons… with one hand. Even more “normal” versions of the Man of Steel showed they could shoulder insane amounts of weight, as Superman once discovered he could bench press the equivalent of five times the Earth’s weight or hold a black hole in his hands. The Silver Age Superman was also shown pushing around planets on a normal basis, and in one story, a “Superman Prime” who spent 15,000 years in the center of the Earth’s sun, became a virtual god with apparently no upper limit to his strength.
As if this wasn’t enough, it was later revealed that, while Superman normally gets incredible amounts of power under a yellow sun, he could gain even greater power levels under a blue sun. Blue solar radiation not only increases all of Superman’s powers – it also grants him some new abilities, like the power to give normal humans super powers. As this literally shows Superman can become strong enough to make ordinary people god-like, he really seems to be a being of no limits.
The Incredible Hulk, on the other hand, has a very different relationship to strength than Superman. While the Hulk’s “baseline” level of strength only allows him to lift about 70 tons – a meager amount compared to Superman’s lifting power – that level can quickly change as he gets angry… and he’s usually furious. Fueled by the Hulk’s rage, the Green Goliath’s gamma-powered muscles can easily allow him to lift over 100 tons – and then exceed even those limits immeasurably.
In one adventure during Marvel’s original Secret Wars storyline, the Hulk was forced to hold up an entire mountain estimated to weigh over 150 billion tons and managed to stay mad enough to maintain that strength level long enough for the other superheroes trapped beneath the mountain to devise an escape plan. This wasn’t even his most impressive demonstration of strength. In Marvel Comics Presents #52, he smashed an asteroid bigger than the Earth (with one punch) and nearly sank a continent just by walking while in his “Worldbreaker” Hulk form. Other stories claim the Hulk can get angry enough to “punch reality” or clap a dimension out of existence.
So, what prevents the Hulk from maintaining such god-like strength? A couple things, actually. First, the Hulk’s alter ego Bruce Banner has been known to limit the Hulk’s strength from inside his psyche, preventing him from accessing his full limitless potential. Also, Banner regularly shapeshifts into different versions of the Hulk, each with its own strength limits. Still, almost all versions of the Hulk grow stronger as they get angrier.
Clearly then, the Hulk is capable of performing Superman-level feats of strength. But could the he ever get so angry that his strength actually outclasses Superman? While fans may continue to debate this issue, the simple answer appears to be no. The main problem with the Hulk’s strength is that while it is potentially limitless, Banner continues to restrain it. Aside from the mental blocks Banner erects within their shared psyche, the very fact that the Hulk’s strength level is tied to his anger puts him at a severe disadvantage.
While certain versions of the Hulk can access greater levels of strength, sooner or later their anger will cause them to overload and burn out, reverting the Hulk back to Bruce Banner. Banner maintained this limit even when he was in control of the Hulk’s form by forcing the Hulk to become human if he ever became too angry and savage. Even when Banner was physically separated from the Hulk, the process only weakened the two, who found they could not live very long without each other.
That being said, Superman has his own mental blocks. Early on, Clark Kent realized his ever-increasing strength made him a danger to those around him, so he created mental limitations on himself that prevented him from accessing his full strength. Later, however, he managed to overcome these limitations and become stronger than ever – while still managing to interact with humans without killing anyone.
Superman’s power source is also superior to the Hulk’s. While the Hulk has shown he can absorb ambient gamma radiation to boost his strength, Superman simply has more power sources to choose from. Not only does he regularly get more powerful just by absorbing solar radiation from Earth’s yellow sun, he can get even stronger by exposing himself to the radiation of a blue sun. To be sure, the Hulk doesn’t have Superman’s vulnerabilities to red sun or Kryptonite radiation, but the Man of Steel simply has more efficient energy sources.
And therein lies the main difference between the two characters – while Hulk has to regularly get angry just to access his strength potential, Superman already has incalculable strength and must focus on not using it most of the time to avoid destroying everything. While the Hulk may experience moments where he appears to reach Superman’s power levels, it’s practically a given that the Man of Steel has even more limitless strength and is just holding back.