MARVEL’S FIRST DISASTER
THE not-so INCREDIBLE HULK
Marvel Comics has proven to be THE giant of the comic book industry. And after sixty years it seems as if it has always been that way. Enough time has passed that looking back at the beginnings of Marvel Comics it appears as if Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Don Heck, and all the rest were churning out hit after hit without a miss anywhere. As if everything they touched was gold.
That’s not true. There were failures in the old days. In fact there were unmitigated disasters and one of them was everyone’s favorite green goliath The Incredible Hulk. Only The Hulk proved to be not so incredible when he first came out.
In the early days of Marvel Comics few of their super-heroes debuted in their own titles. After appearing in Amazing Fantasy #15 (1962) Spider-Man got his own comic. The Incredible Hulk (1962) came out in his own title and there was Daredevil (1964). The rest of the Marvel cast appeared in one of the already established anthology titles Marvel had been churning out prior to the advent of the Silver Age of comics.
Thor appeared in Journey Into Mystery (1962), Iron Man in Tales Of Suspense (1963), Ant-Man in Tales To Astonish (1962), and Doctor Strange in Strange Tales (1963). It was years before any of these characters were given their own titles. This goes to show the confidence and high expectations Marvel must have had with Spider-Man, The Hulk, and Daredevil that they were automatically given their own titles right off the bat. That confidence was justified in the cases of Spider-Man and Daredevil.
However, it is hard to believe but The Incredible Hulk did not live up to expectations. As popular as The Hulk is now it is difficult to imagine that he bombed when he first appeared. I’ll give you a moment to recover. When The Hulk first appeared his comic flopped and was canceled after only six issues. What we’re going to do now, you and I, we are going to examine these six issues and determine how this happened. So buckle up my geek brethren we’re going for a ride.
The first issue of The Incredible Hulk is told in five parts.
Part 1: The Coming of The Hulk
At a desert army base Doctor Bruce Banner is getting ready to test his new Gamma Bomb. We meet General Ross who berates Banner for taking so long, and we meet Ross’ daughter Betty who defends the scientist. We also meet Igor – Banner’s assistant who keeps insisting that Banner share with him the secret of the Gamma Bomb. Thru binoculars Banner sees a young boy in a jeep in the test area and rushes off to save him telling Igor to delay the test. But Igor doesn’t do it. Banner manages to get the boy Rick Jones into a trench but before Banner can join him the bomb explodes and he catches the full force of the gamma ray bombardment but does not die. Hours later in the base hospital night falls and Banner transforms into a giant gray-skinned monstrosity of enormous power. He smashes thru a two-feet thick concrete wall and devastates an army jeep with some soldiers in it when they smash into him. The monster lumbers off into the night with Rick following behind him.
Part 2: The Hulk Strikes!
Some instinct drives the monster to Banner’s cabin where they find Igor tearing the house apart searching for Banner’s notes on the Gamma Bomb. He tries to shoot the Hulk to no effect and the monster crushes his gun before slamming him into a lab bench. Rick sees a folder taped to the bottom of a large beaker – it’s the Gamma Bomb notes. The sun comes up and the Hulk becomes Banner again.
Part 3: The Search for the Hulk
Soldiers storm in and arrest Igor as a foreign spy. How convenient they didn’t show up a few seconds earlier before Banner changed back. They also get the Gamma Bomb folder. Betty is there with her father and suggests Banner get medical attention. He promises to call her later. Banner admits to Rick he is afraid he will become the Hulk again at sundown.
Part 4: Enter . . . the Gargoyle!
In his cell, Igor uses a hidden transmitter to contact his superiors. The Gargoyle – a grotesquely deformed Soviet scientist – uses a submarine and man-carrying missile to get to the desert to capture the Hulk. Banner and Rick take a jeep out to the desert in case he changes again at nightfall. He does and wrecks the jeep. The Hulk gets it into his head to see Betty. Meanwhile she decides to go outside and take a walk. They meet, Betty faints, and the Gargoyle shows up.
Part 5: The Hulk Triumphant!
The Gargoyle shoots the Hulk and Rick with mesmerizing bullets and they obey his wishes. General Ross finds his daughter hysterical after meeting The Hulk and vows to kill him! The Gargoyle and his two slaves reach a submarine and then use a jet to fly towards the Soviet Union. Onboard the sun rises and The Hulk reverts back to Banner. The Gargoyle figures out that Banner is The Hulk and has a breakdown because he would give anything to be normal and not a monster. Banner then treats him with radiation, which takes away his deformity and leaves him normal. Blaming his country for his becoming a monster he turns on them, puts Banner and Rick on a jet for home, and blows up his base with him in it.
This story isn’t too bad as first issues go. It sets up the situation with Bruce Banner nicely and introduces the supporting characters in a way that lets us know right away the parts they are destined to play.
However, it has an awful lot riding on sheer coincidence. Banner becomes The Hulk and just so happens to lumber home in time to catch Igor ransacking the place and stop him. Later, The Hulk heads for Betty’s house who just so happens to be outside for a walk. To top it off with the entire desert to search the Gargoyle just so happens to find The Hulk in front of Betty’s house. Give me a break!
Stan Lee’s inspiration for The Hulk came from three horror sources – Frankenstein’s monster, the Wolfman, and Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde. Like Jekyll and Hyde, Banner was both a good man and a not so-good monster. Like Frankenstein’s monster, The Hulk was enormous and super-strong. And like the Wolfman, Banner’s transformations occurred spontaneously – not by the full moon but by night falling. The idea was for The Hulk to be a monster hero – an idea Lee had touched upon with the Thing in The Fantastic Four. With the Hulk, Lee was expanding upon the idea.
The second issue of The Incredible Hulk is another story told in five parts.
Part 1: Enter . . . the Toad Men
A startled sheriff sees The Hulk come out of a swamp and head towards his town. He warns the townspeople and they all take cover. State Troopers arrive and they take on The Hulk but to no effect. Rick Jones shows up and manages to lead The Hulk away. Banner introduces the idea of locking The Hulk in a cave at night to keep people safe. Alien Toad Men arrive on Earth and they kidnap Bruce Banner believing him to be the greatest scientific mind on Earth. Better not let Reed Richards or Tony Stark hear you say that.
Part 2: Prisoners of the Toad Men!
The Toad Men try to interrogate Banner and Rick interferes so they send him back to Earth thru their command of powerful magnetic energy. The ship then passes into the night side and Banner becomes The Hulk, escapes, and proceeds to tear up the ship. Back on Earth the military launches a missile attack on the alien ship and they bring it down. What a coincidence it crash lands in the desert nearby.
Part 3: Bruce Banner, Wanted for Treason!
It is daytime in the desert so out of the wreckage steps a dazed Banner who is immediately arrested and imprisoned as a traitor. Meanwhile, using their magnetic energy, the Toad Men create an underground tunnel and escape. Betty tries to defend Banner to her father but then an alien fleet appears in the skies and the King of the Toad Men interrupts television and radio broadcasts to make an announcement.
Part 4: Hulk Runs Amok!
The Toad King gives an ultimatum – the Earth surrenders or they will use their magnetic energy to pull the Moon from its orbit destroying the planet. The sun goes down, Banner becomes The Hulk and breaks out of his cell. Remembering that Ross put him in jail he heads for the General’s house for revenge. Once there he frightens Betty, she screams, and soldiers outside hear her. Ross, soldiers, and a tank have a stand off with The Hulk.
Part 5: The End of the Hulk?
The soldiers attack but The Hulk shakes them off. He then grabs Betty as a hostage and heads for Banner’s laboratory. Rick appears but fails to calm The Hulk down. Before The Hulk can do something he would regret later there is an enormous earthquake, which knocks everyone down, and unconscious. While knocked out the sun rises and The Hulk becomes Banner again. That was a short day. Brought up to date by Rick, Banner decides he must use his Gamma Gun to defeat the Toad Men. Like the Gamma Bomb, he doesn’t know what affect the Gamma Gun will have but it’s their only chance. For a guy who keeps building gamma weapons he sure don’t know diddly about what they do. Just as the soldiers break down the door to Banner’s lab (don’t ask me how they knew he was there) he turns on the Gamma Gun and it reverses the polarity of the Toad Men’s magnetic propulsion sending them out of control and across space. For saving the world Banner is cleared of treason. Betty tries telling her father that she knew Banner was a good man but Ross now suspects a connection between Banner and The Hulk.
Okay this is where Marvel began to lose control of The Hulk. It’s here where things start to become uneven. First, after being gray in the first issue The Hulk is now green in the second. Now we all know that was no fault of Marvel. The gray coloring didn’t work out the first issue and they were forced to go with the green for the second. But no explanation is given and so therefore it is an unsettling change for the readers. The first half of this issue The Hulk is his generally nasty self. But towards the end he seems to become less articulate as if he were becoming stupider. Again there are way too many coincidences in the story and again it is Bruce Banner that saves the day. For a guy who is supposed to be the star of the book The Hulk ain’t much good.
This time for issue number three instead of one story told in five parts we’re given three separate stories in one issue.
Banished to Outer Space
The Hulk spends his nights locked in his cave. One night Rick Jones is taken to General Ross who tells the boy they have a new rocket that needs testing and that the only one who can withstand the g forces is The Hulk. Therefore for national security Rick has to trick The Hulk into helping them. Wanting to do the right thing, Rick releases The Hulk. In his anger over being imprisoned The Hulk chases Rick who leads him to the rocket capsule. Rick tricks him into entering the capsule and Ross launches the rocket into space. In space the sun changes The Hulk into Banner. The rocket then passes thru a radiation belt and Banner is again bathed in radiation. Meanwhile back on Earth, Rick learns Ross tricked him and the rocket is headed on a one-way trip thru space. The boy begins turning knobs and switches on the control panel in an attempt to save Banner. A power surge arcs between Rick on Earth and Banner in space. Thanks to Rick’s machinations the capsule detaches from the rocket and crashes back to Earth. And lo and behold what a coincidence it lands in the desert near Rick. He is afraid because it is daytime, which means it is Banner in there and he could not have survived the crash. However, it is The Hulk who comes smashing his way out and is glowing from his radiation bath. Rick can’t understand how he can be The Hulk and boy is he mad! He chases Rick to the edge of a cliff and is about to smash him when in desperation the boy screams stop and The Hulk obeys. He then stands there like a mindless puppet and does whatever Rick tells him to do. The Hulk carries Rick to his cabin so he can get some sleep. But no sooner does Rick fall asleep then the Hulk takes off. Rick wakes up and finds The Hulk on a rampage in a nearby town. The boy rushes to The Hulk and yells for them to get away and lo and behold The Hulk takes Rick in his arms and leaps into the air covering miles in one jump. They head back to the cave and Rick locks him in his room but refuses to go to sleep. The Hulk seems stronger and he is no longer sure the room will hold him. Rick doesn’t dare sleep.
The Origin of the Hulk!
As Rick sits there brooding he recounts in his mind the origin of The Hulk as we saw in the first issue.
F.B.I. agents investigate a series of mysterious robberies plaguing towns and small cities. In each case they discover the residents frozen like statues. The one thing in common was that in each town there was a poster advertising the same circus. The Ringmaster and his crime circus move from town to town. The Ringmaster’s hat has the ability to hypnotize people – hence the people frozen like statues. After freshening up and eating at his Aunt Polly’s, Rick Jones decides to take in the circus before heading back to The Hulk. He then becomes one of the many mesmerized by the Ringmaster. Before falling completely under his spell Rick mentally cries out for help to The Hulk. The monster then homes in on his mental signal and attacks the crime circus. The circus eventually overcomes The Hulk thinking it is from their efforts and not realizing that The Hulk has simply stopped while awaiting further orders from the now fully mesmerized Rick. Loading The Hulk into a caravan the Ringmaster decides to make him part of their act. However, before the Ringmaster can unveil The Hulk the F.B.I. agents, along with a recovered Rick Jones, confront him. The Hulk breaks free and goes on a rampage. The Ringmaster tries to escape but is captured by The Hulk. Suddenly, General Ross and his soldier boys storm the circus (where the heck did they come from?). Rick climbs on the Hulk while he leaps away leaving Ross to shake his fist and swear once again that he will get The Hulk.
Okay there are a few points I’d like to raise here to emphasize just how uneven this title has become.
- Bruce Banner would only transform into The Hulk at night. Now he is shown as The Hulk during the day. Considering this is only the third issue that is an abrupt change from the norm.
- After being exposed to a second heaping dose of radiation he appears to have become stronger – strong enough to leap miles at a time. However, someone should have told artist Jack Kirby that he was leaping not flying since the way he drew him it looks as if The Hulk is flying and even changing direction mid-air.
- The Hulk’s intellect appears to be decreasing. In the first two issues he seemed to be normal intelligence with a nasty attitude. In this issue he seems to be acting solely on rage like a mad dog. Again, an abrupt departure for a comic in its third issue.
- On the cover of the first issue Bruce Banner is shown with blonde hair. In the origin story for this issue Bruce Banner is again shown with blonde hair. What is up with that?
- Why the heck would you give a character like The Hulk a full-length comic and then present three separate short stories instead of one full-length?
- And there are way too many coincidences yet again!
Lets review. Three issues into its initial run The Hulk has had a complete change in color, they can’t make up their minds over Banner’s hair color, The Hulk gains a new power, loses his mind and becomes a thrall of Rick Jones. Okay, that is exactly the sort of thing that happens when a comic book is in trouble.
Well that is it for this time my geek brothers. Tune it next week same Bat Time, same Bat Channel and we’ll take a look at the last three issues of the Hulk’s initial run and finish examining how and why it got cancelled. Until then Hasta la vista, baby!