MARVEL’S FIRST DISASTER
THE not-so INCREDIBLE HULK
Last week we spoke about how Marvel’s first attempt at presenting The Incredible Hulk in his own title was less than a stellar effort. We examined the first three issues of his initial run and found it to be inconsistent and prone to mistakes. This week we wrap up our analysis and attempt to understand why the book was canceled after only six issues. So once again buckle up tight as we go for a ride!
Issue number four gave us two stories instead of one. It promised us “2 FEATURE-LENGTH HULK THRILLERS IN THIS ISSUE!” To do that it would have to have been a double-sized issue. It is not. Therefore promising us two feature-length thrillers is hyperbole. Stan Lee did that a lot!
THE MONSTER AND THE MACHINE!
General Ross tests his new “Iceberg Rocket” against a rocket-powered fake Hulk. The rocket works encasing the fake Hulk in a block of ice. Believing he can now capture the Hulk he sends his men out looking for him.
Meanwhile back at the ranch . . . erm, sorry . . . meanwhile back at his cottage Rick Jones is with the Hulk who is still under his mental control. Ricks sees soldiers coming and orders the Hulk to go away. The Hulk leaps to a nearby town where he causes trouble.
Ross and Betty are convinced Rick knows more than he is saying. But when the boy refuses to cooperate Ross has him arrested. Rick then sends a mental come save my ass to the Hulk. The Hulk appears, scoops him out of the army jeep and leaps away. Actually I am being very generous here. The text says leap but it is obvious from the art that the Hulk is flying. Someone should have told Jack Kirby that the Hulk leaps and does not fly. When you jump you cannot turn direction in mid-air – which the Hulk is obviously doing. This same thing went on the issue before. I have never seen such a breakdown in communication between writer and artist in a comic book.
Rick takes the Hulk to Banner’s secret cave. Inside he places the monster in front of a gamma ray machine that Rick built from notes left him by Banner. Those must have been some notes let me tell you. Most of us have trouble hooking up a DVD player that comes with directions. Here we have a sixteen years old high school dropout building a Nobel-prize winning machine. Kudos to Bruce Banner and his ability to right notes.
Rick activates the machine and the Hulk becomes Bruce Banner. He shows remarkable fortitude. We have been shown that he does not remember what happens to him as the Hulk. So he should have been freaking out. Back in issue three he turned into the Hulk at night and Rick locked him in his room as they did in those days. The next time he became Banner he found himself in a capsule in outer space being bombarded by cosmic rays, and now he is back in his secret cave with Rick. He should have been inundating Rick with questions. Instead he acts as if he is up to date on all that has gone on. He must have written himself some really good notes.
Banner decides that with controlled dosages of gamma rays from his machine he can control his transformations. He makes some adjustments, Rick turns on the machine, and Banner becomes the Hulk. Only this time he is the Hulk with the brains of Banner – albeit he is still kind of rough and brutal. Rick is happy but a little scared.
The Hulk goes out to test himself and finds a farmhouse on fire. He puts out the fire but the family is terrified of him and a deputy sheriff shoots at him. Despondent and angry he returns to the cave where Rick changes him back to Banner.
THE GLADIATOR FROM OUTER SPACE!
A spaceship lands in a city and out comes a huge axe-wielding alien named Mongu who issues a challenge. He will fight anyone who is willing to champion the Earth. If the champion wins he will then go away peacefully. But if Mongu wins he conquers the planet. The duel is to take place at the Grand Canyon.
Banner decides the Hulk is the only one who can stop Mongu. By now he has set it up so he can control his gamma ray projector machine and he turns himself into the Hulk. He then has Rick charter a plane to take them to the Grand Canyon. Now can someone explain to me how a sixteen years old without a pilot’s license can charter a plane? Banner had already become the Hulk so he couldn’t do it. Makes no sense.
At the Grand Canyon the Hulk discovers it’s a trap. Mongu is actually a communist agent named Boris Monguski in a suit designed to make him look like an over-sized alien. Apparently communists have no more imagination than we do as far as names are concerned. Boris did not come alone and the Hulk and Rick are soon surrounded by his troops. The idea is to capture the Hulk so their scientists can figure out how he works and make an army like him. The Hulk has other ideas and they fight with our jolly green giant making short work of the communists. The Hulk takes them prisoner and sends them packing back to their motherland. A disgusted Hulk grabs Rick and leaps away. U.S. military show up see the fake Mongu suit and the fake alien shop and conclude that the Hulk was running a con game that did not work. So the Hulk protected the world from communism but still got the blame.
Thus far we have been shown the Hulk going from gray to green with no explanation. He started out with his transformation occurring at night, and as the Hulk he is intelligent but savage. But then he becomes the Hulk all the time, almost mindless, and under Rick’s mental control. Not to mention he suddenly is able to leap and or fly – depending upon whether you ask Stan Lee or Jack Kirby. Now the Hulk is able to control his transformations thru a device and retains his Banner brain – albeit a rougher more brutal version. All of this and is has only been four issues. Can anyone say inconsistency?
By the way, the Hulk now begins wearing spandex briefs. He got the idea from the Thing over in the Fantastic Four who also wears them.
For issue number five we are given two separate stories. At least this time they are not claiming they are feature-length.
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST!
A would-be world conqueror named Tyrannus lives underground attended by an army of dwarfish yellow minions (I kid you not). He is one of those bad guys who has a device that allows them to monitor and see anyone, anywhere, and at anytime. How come it is only bad guys who have those devices? Can you imagine Batman with one of those? Bye bye any right to privacy. Anyway, Tyrannus watches Betty Ross with great interest.
Banner and Rick show up at Betty’s cottage and she introduces them to Mr. Tyrannus who claims to be an archaeologist. He is dressed kind of Indiana Jones-like. He asks Betty to assist him in some cave exploring and she agrees. Someone should have told Stan Lee that cave explorers are speleologists not archaeologists. Maybe that is why Banner doesn’t trust him and he and Rick follow them into the caves.
Tyrannus takes Betty deep underground and seals the cavern behind them. He reveals his plan to use her as leverage against her father. He then contacts General Ross to force him to prevent the U.S. Military from opposing his conquest of the surface world.
Banner and Rick find the sealed off cavern. They then go to their secret cave so Banner can become the Hulk and break thru the seal. Once thru the seal they follow the cavern to Tyrannus’ lair where the villain uses gas to knock out the Hulk. The monster wakes up dressed as a gladiator and the villain forces him to fight his robot or Betty will be killed. The Hulk wins but when he tries to attack Tyrannus afterwards he is stopped by a paralyzer ray. For the sake of Betty’s life the Hulk is forced to labor as Tyrannus’ slave. However, all this time Rick is running around free.
Rick rescues Betty and they proceed to the mines so the Hulk can see she is safe. The Hulk basically hulks-out and smashes things until he reaches Tyrannus. Samson-like the monster pushes against two columns causing everything to collapse and sealing Tyrannus underground forever – or until the next time they want to use him. The Hulk, Betty and Rick Jones then return to the surface.
THE HORDES OF GENERAL FANG!
The Hulk is out gallivanting. Remember the Iceberg Rocket from last issue? General Ross uses it and it works – sort of. It encases the Hulk in a block of ice but his gamma powered body heat quickly melts the ice. He retreats back to his cave and becomes Bruce Banner.
Meanwhile, an Asian warlord named General Fang raids a poor village named Llhasa and in desperation the High Lama sends out a plea for help. Banner hears the call for help and decides that the Hulk is the only one who can stop General Fang. Transforming into the Hulk he dons a heavy disguise and he and Rick get on a commercial jet to Asia. Now last issue they chartered a plane to fly to the Grand Canyon but this time they take a commercial flight. What’s up with that?
Knowing the General’s men have a fear of the Abominable Snowman the Hulk disguises himself as a yeti and scares the crap out of them. The Hulk defeats General Fang and capturing him leaps to the island of Formosa where he leaves the villain in the jungle knowing he will eventually be captured by his enemies. Hulk and Rick then return home.
This issue retains some consistency as far as the Hulk is concerned. I just wish the stories were better. Both Tyrannus and General Fang are lackluster villains. And the Hulk is still flying while the text insists he is leaping. Didn’t Stan Lee have Jack Kirby’s phone number?
This is it the final issue! And this time around we’re given a real feature-length story.
THE INCREDIBLE HULK VS. THE METAL MASTER!
General Ross wants to test a new rocket but he needs Banner to initiate the launch sequence. Banner is missing because he is currently the Hulk and the military are on maneuvers between him and his secret cave. He can’t change back to Banner.
Eventually he manages to sneak back to his cave and activates the machine to turn him back to Banner. It is becoming more and more painful every time. And he is getting side effects. This time as Banner he is temporarily stronger than usual. From his cave he witnesses what happens next as the Air Force Desert Base.
An alien called the Metal Master uses his mental control over magnetism to melt Ross’ new rocket. After fighting Ross’ men the alien then traps Ross, Betty, and Rick Jones. Ross slips out and attacks the alien with Hunter missiles, which the villain easily takes car of.
Banner uses his machine to become the Hulk however there is a new side effect. He has the body of the Hulk but the face of Bruce Banner. He is forced to put on a latex Hulk mask to disguise himself.
The Hulk power-leaps (this time it is for sure for sure leaping) to the Metal Master and they engage in battle. The villain knocks out the Hulk and takes off. The military capture the Hulk and takes off his mask but by now the transformation was complete and he was fully the Hulk. They toss him in a building Ross had built designed to contain the Hulk. When he awakens he finds himself trapped and believes Rick betrayed him. He swears to get even. Dejected, Rick leaves but still wants to find a way to help. He then forms a club across the country of ham radio operators called the Teen Brigade.
The Hulk batters away at his walls until he smashes thru and escapes. The monster makes his way back to the secret cave and changes back to Banner. His obvious affection towards Rick makes the boy feel bad and realizes that the Hulk and Banner are two different people. Banner has an idea on how to stop the Metal Master but he needs equipment. Rick uses the Teen Brigade to get him everything he needs.
The Metal Master travels the world showing off his power. In Russia he wracks the place and then goes to Washington DC to do the same. But then the Hulk arrives armed with what looks like an over-sized futuristic rocket launcher. The villain scoffs at the weapon to tries to use his power to make it explode. Nothing happens. Unable to understand the villain gets in closer and tries again. Nothing! He gets closer. Nothing! Once he is within reach, Hulk drops the weapon and grabs the bad guy. He threatens him severe bodily harm unless he undoes everything he did worldwide. Terrified the Metal Master does as he is told. The Hulk then lets him return to his home world.
The Hulk, uncharacteristically thanks the Teen Brigade for helping him make a fake weapon made out of non-metal parts. That is why the villain’s power did not work. The Hulk and Rick return to their secret cave where he again becomes Banner then heads over to Desert Base where awaiting him are General Ross and Betty.
The artist for the issue was Steve Ditko. The artist for the previous issues had been jack Kirby. Ditko took great pains to show us that the Hulk is leaping and not flying. Somebody complained and they finally listened. Sheesh – it only took three issues!
A new inconsistency was added this issue. The idea that Banner’s ray machine transformations are painful and have unexpected side effects. It is hard to keep track of the right angle turns this comic book made in just six issues. It should have been called The Schizophrenic Hulk. And that is probably why the sales were low enough to warrant canceling it. Not to mention the amazing coincidences and lackluster villains. And cancel it they did.
After this the Hulk had a team-up with the Fantastic Four in their own comic book and he appeared in the first three issues of the Avengers. A year later he was became the back-up feature in Tales to Astonish and it is there where we are given the Hulk we are most familiar with. It is in Tales to Astonish where the Hulk becomes child-like, where his transformations occur due to his emotional state and where the madder he gets the stronger he becomes. All that stuff we love.
The Hulk is easily one of the most beloved characters in Marvel Comics today. For some he is the most beloved. It is interesting that he flopped the first time around. A perfect example of – if at first you don’t succeed try, try again.
Thanks for taking this walk with me my peoples. I had fun and I hope you did as well. Until next time – Peace!