I found tantalising references to the nature of these earlier Hulk adventures when the stories started showing up in the reprint books Marvel were putting out in the mid-1960s. The Marvel Tales Annual for 1965 had a reprint of the Ringmaster segment from The Incredible Hulk 3 (Sep 1962). I knew that because Stan had thoughtfully added a caption at the foot of the first page that told me so.
|The cancelled Incredible Hulk series was reprinted in Marvel Collectors' Item Classics during the 1960s ... this was the first time I became aware of these comics.|
When you read the six issues in sequence, it's quickly apparent that The Incredible Hulk was a terrific idea in search of a clear plot treatment. And in many ways, it mirrors the ramshackle development style of Jack Kirby's later Fourth World projects for DC, in that the ideas tumble out of the comics in a disorganised and contradictory fashion, leaving the reader a little confused as to exactly who The Hulk is supposed to be. For that reason, I feel it's quite likely that Kirby actually was the driving force behind the series with Stan trying to make sense of Jack's ideas ... which changed from issue to issue.
Many times over the years, Stan Lee has explained how the idea of The Hulk came about. For instance, from as early as 1974's Origins of Marvel Comics, Stan has always described the beginnings of The Hulk in more or less the same way: "It was patently apparent that The Thing was the most popular character in the Fantastic Four. ... For a long time I'd been aware of the fact that people were more likely to favor someone who was less than perfect. ... It's a safe bet that you remember Quasimodo, but how easily can you name any of the heroic, handsomer, more glamorous characters in The Hunchback of Notre Dame? And then there's Frankenstein ... I've always had a soft spot in my heart for the Frankenstein monster. No one could ever convince me that he was the bad guy. ... He never wanted to hurt anyone; he merely groped his torturous way through a second life trying to defend himself, trying to come to terms with those who sought to destroy him. ... I decided I might as well borrow from Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde as well — our protagonist would constantly change from his normal identity to his superhuman alter ego and back again."
Later, in his autobiography Excelsior, Stan would describe how the name came about. "I needed a name for this monstrous, potentially murderous, hulking brute, who ... whoa! 'Hulking brute' is the exact description, and instantly I knew 'hulking' was the adjective. Well, it wasn't much of a stretch to go from 'hulking' to 'hulk', which sounded like the perfect noun."
As a counterpoint, here's how Jack Kirby described how he came up with the idea for The Hulk, during an interview with The Comics Journal 134 in 1990: "The Hulk I created when I saw a woman lift a car. Her baby was caught under the running board of this car. The little child was playing in the gutter and he was crawling from the gutter onto the sidewalk under the running board of this car — he was playing in the gutter. His mother was horrified. She looked from the rear window of the car, and this woman in desperation lifted the rear end of the car. It suddenly came to me that in desperation we can all do that — we can knock down walls, we can go berserk, which we do. You know what happens when we’re in a rage — you can tear a house down. I created a character who did all that and called him The Hulk. I inserted him in a lot of the stories I was doing. Whatever the Hulk was at the beginning I got from that incident."
THE INCREDIBLE HULK 1The Hulk appeared straight off in his own title. That might seem a little unusual, at first glance, but the notion of Marvel debuting characters in the old mystery titles like Tales of Suspense didn't actually come along until later. Fantastic Four 1 (Nov 1961) had gone on sale at the beginning of August 1961. The Incredible Hulk 1 (May 1962) went on sale in February 1962 (Marvels were published about three months ahead of their cover dates), at the same time as Fantastic Four 4 (May 1962). We can be pretty sure of this because the interior pages of FF4 carried hand-lettered lines of text like, "You've never seen anyone like The Hulk!"
|Fantastic Four 4 (May 1962) had these mysterious hand-lettered messages in the margins of many of the story pages. They do look like they were a last minute after-thought.|
Stan has often said that The Thing was his favourite member of the FF, so it seems more likely to me that Stan wanted a Thing-like character that he could explore further in book-length adventures. And this is borne out by the way that Stan made the Hulk's personality a bit like a second-hand version of The Thing's in those early issues of The Incredible Hulk.
|Right there at the top of page 5, there's Dr Banner coming over all funny and in the background, through the window, we see the full moon.|
Another important aspect of this first Hulk story is that the character wasn't green. He was grey, probably another Stan allusion to The Frankenstein Monster, who was portrayed as grey in the old black and white films to denote his deadness. Like The Hulk, old Frankie didn't become green until later ... Stan has always told the story of The Hulk's change of colour like this: "In our first issue the printer had trouble keeping the shade of grey consistent from page to page. On some pages his skin was light grey, on others it was dark grey, and on some it looked black. So for the next issue I changed his skin colour to green, a colour the printer had less trouble with."
But to me, that doesn't sound plausible. For a start, if colourist Stan Goldberg specified that The Hulk's skin tone was 25% black to the engravers, then that's what the colour would be. The only way the skin colour would change is if the colourist or the engravers messed up and set The Hulk's skin tone as 25% black on some pages and 50% black on others (the only available tones for this kind of primitive letterpress printing were 0%, 25%, 50% and 100%). That would have resulted in wildly varying skin colours. However, when you look at the actual original comic, The Hulk's skin-tone is pretty consistent throughout, only looking a little darker in the night-time scenes on pages 18 and 19, as might be expected.
The other aspect of Stan's explanation that doesn't work for me is that if indeed the artwork for a comic had to leave the office around two months before the on sale date, it's unlikely that Stan would have seen finished copies of The Incredible Hulk 1 before issue 2 was due to press. And even if he did manage to get his hands on an advance copy, it would likely be way too late to change the colouring of the whole of issue 2.
All pure speculation on my part, but it just seems more believable to me that after issue 1 went to press, Stan was sitting in his office thinking, "Gee, I wish we'd coloured The Hulk green instead of grey!"
Issue 2 went on sale at the beginning of May 1962, cover-dated July. It's a little odd that The Incredible Hulk was on sale two months ahead of its cover date and Fantastic Four was on sale three months ahead. Maybe there's a reason for that, but it's doubtful we'll ever know.
THE INCREDIBLE HULK 2
The issue marked Steve Ditko's first work on the character, as he was inking Kirby's pencils here, not something Ditko did very often. In fact some pages look like Kirby had little to do with them, so I'm wondering if this wasn't more of a case of Kirby layouts and Ditko finished art.
|There are touches of Kirby here and there, but for the most part, The Hulk looks very Ditko-ish in most panels of The Incredible Hulk 2.|
|The Hulk here demonstrates quite a level of empathy, recognising, quite consciously, that Man has been hounding him for no good reason ... which is why he hates all humans.|
|So ... Stan's brain-wracking to come up with a name for his newest super-character would have been so much easier if only he'd scanned back over a few issues of Journey into Mystery and re-used the name of one of his old monsters ...|
|Click on the image to expand it, so you can read the Important Announcement text ...|
THE INCREDIBLE HULK 3The cover of the third issue of The Incredible Hulk (Sept 1962) does have kind of frenetic feel about it, proclaiming, "Nothing can stop him now ... he can fly!" while Rick yells, "I can't control him any more!", even though his control over The Hulk had previously only even amounted to a few words of persuasion, which The Hulk hadn't always listened to, anyway.
The first of these changes comes about when The Hulk is tricked by Rick into a space capsule then zapped by cosmic rays. When he returns to Earth, The Hulk is pretty ticked off with his teenage sidekick and chases him up a mountain. There, Rick cringes and yells, "Stay back ... please, stop!" and The Hulk stops. Now fully under Rick's control, The Hulk is like a robot, responding only to voice commands. A little while later comes the second change. Rick and The Hulk are cornered by hostile state troopers. When Rick yells, "Get out of here, fast!" The Hulk gathers him up a leaps away, flying for miles before he touches down to earth again ...
At this point, Dr Banner is still transforming to his monstrous alter-ego with the setting of the sun (or the rising of the moon, it varies), so Rick locks him back in his cell until he can figure out what to do.
After a three page recap of the Hulk's origin, Stan and Jack pit The Hulk against his first super-villain, sort of. The Ringmaster is based on an old Marvel foe from the 1940s. Jack Kirby and his then-collaborator Joe Simon were responsible for creating and authoring the first ten issues of Captain America Comics. In issue 5, Captain America comes up against an Nazi agent called The Ringmaster of Crime, who looked essentially the same as the character in this Hulk story.
With The Hulk fully under control of Rick Jones, the teenager feels it's safe to leave the Hulk unattended while he gets some food. In a nearby town he comes across a circus and joins the audience. But this is a the circus of The Ringmaster, a criminal who hypnotises his paying customers and then robs them. Just as Rick is falling under the master hypnotist's spell he sends out a mental distress call to The Hulk. But by the time The Hulk arrives, Rick has succumbed and the Hulk, without orders from Rick, falls motionless and is captured.
The Ringmaster and his cohorts then take their captive and move on to the next town, leaving their audience to recover as best they can. Just as the Ringmaster is about to hypnotise a new audience, Rick shows up with the FBI to arrest the criminals. The sound of Rick's voice revives The Hulk, who proceeds to make mincemeat of the baddies, finally escaping with Rick just as the army shows up.
With its three-page origin recap, The Incredible Hulk 3 does seem like a re-launch issue of sorts. I'm fairly sure the initial sales figures didn't look good, so Stan exerted a little more authority over the title, making the character less similar to The Thing, by toning down The Hulk's conversational abilities and introducing the flight-like leaps, an idea used in the earliest Superman stories. But there are yet more changes ahead in the very next issue.
THE INCREDIBLE HULK 4The fourth issue of The Incredible Hulk (Nov 1962) was another two-story issue. The first story deals with the further changing relationship between Dr Banner, The Hulk and Rick Jones. As the tale starts out, The Hulk is still under the mental control of his teenage sidekick. Here, the device of The Hulk being "out of range" allows the monster to take some independent action, when he prevents a stalled schoolbus being trashed by an oncoming locomotive. Then, moments later, Rick is able to recall the green goliath with the power of thought, despite The Hulk being too far away. It's the sort of contradiction that contributes to these early Hulk stories seeming jumbled and inconsistent.
The second part of the first story has Dr Banner and Rick use a Big Gamma Machine to control the transformations into the Hulk, but retain Banner's mind. The experiment appears to be successful, but Rick quickly becomes aware that the gamma rays have made the transformed Banner more brutish, as though The Hulk's earlier persona and Banner's have been combined.
|Later on in the same story, Rick is able to use a handy gamma-ray machine to transform the Hulk back to his Bruce Banner identity. From here on, the machine-controlled switches leave The Hulk with some degree of Banner's intelligence.|
The second story offers another variation on Banner's change into The Hulk. When an alien called Mongu arrives on Earth and issues a challenge, Bruce Banner uses his Big Gamma Machine, now controlled via a floor-mounted panel, to change to The Hulk, but still retaining his own mind ... sort of. While he seems as intelligent as Banner, this Hulk affects the coarse speech patterns of one of Stan Lee's stock thug characters, like the later Sandman or Crusher Creel. In a way it's a bit of a throwback to the earlier characterisation of The Hulk we saw in issues 1 and 2. The same characterisation that I'm pretty sure resulted in those early disappointing sales.
|In the second story of the issue, The Hulk talks like an angry version of The Fantastic Four's Ben Grimm. He's capable of cunning and is able to expose the deception of Mongu almost immediately.|
THE INCREDIBLE HULK 5Issue 5 of The Incredible Hulk went on sale at the beginning of November 1962, cover-dated January 1963. Other Marvels on sale that month were Fantastic Four 11 (still being published a month ahead of the other titles), Journey into Mystery 88, Strange Tales 104 and Tales to Astonish 39. Stan was already beginning to build quite a line-up of costumed heroes.
|Even at this early stage, the Marvel line was beginning to take shape, most of the lead stories pencilled - and perhaps co-plotted - by Jack Kirby.|
It's not too clear in the first story exactly what Stan's title is referring to ... Is Betty the "Beauty", or is it the foppishly handsome Tyrannus? Is the "Beast" the Hulk, or the evil Tyrannus? And are the villain's subterranean hench-things the same subterraneans that follow The Mole Man , as seen in Fantastic Four 1 (Nov 1961)? In the opening scenes, Tyrannus explains to his little yellow followers that he was banished to the centre of the Earth by Merlin many centuries ago. Is this the same Merlin that would try to take over the world just a few months later in Journey into Mystery 96? It's all a bit confusing.
All too quickly, Tyrannus has made friends with Betty Ross and spirited her away to his underground kingdom. When a curious Banner and Rick Jones try to follow, they find their way blocked by a huge boulder. Only one creature has the strength to move such a weight, and the pair rush back to Banner's lab to effect a familiar change.
But when Banner returns as The Hulk, the boulder barrier has vanished. Maybe Jack had forgotten to draw it and Stan was just writing round the discrepancy, but whoever was responsible, it feels like careless storytelling. The Hulk follows Tyrannus to his underground kingdom, but is almost immediately rendered unconscious by a volcanic gas weapon and captured. With Betty Ross as a hostage against his obedience, there's a couple of scenes with The Hulk as first a gladiator then a slave. Fortunately, Rick manages to release Betty and The Hulk is free to battle Tyrannus and his underlings head-on.
In this story, The Hulk retains enough of Banner's personality to care about Tyrannus' threat to Betty, and keeps his aggression in check, something the later Hulk would find impossible - even if he could remember who Betty is.
"The Hordes of General Fang" is one of those by-the-numbers commie tales that were used so often at this period in Marvel's development. The first three pages show The Hulk, out taking his exercise (!), then attacked by General Ross' men with an ice missile. The Hulk escapes and returns to Banner's lab where he becomes human once again using the Big Gamma Machine.
Hearing radio reports of an asian warlord, General Fang (great name), invading a peaceful eastern principality Banner decides to take a hand as The Hulk. After reviewing a book about eastern legends (!), The Hulk takes off, on a commercial airliner, for Taiwan. Once there he must first battle his way through communist Chinese forces to reach his intended foe. Fang's soldiers are depicted in communist uniforms, though they're never identified as such. Perhaps Kirby's intention was that Fang and his forces were communist deserters, but Stan deemed it too complicated. Then the point of The Hulk's research is revealed. He dresses up in a furry costume and attacks Fan's army as ... The Abominable Snowman.
|That's right ... your eyes aren't deceiving you. That's The Hulk dressed up in a furry onesy, pretending to be The Abominable Snowman. Not really sure why the deception is needed, when he can just trash General Fan's army with his enormous strength.|
THE INCREDIBLE HULK 6"The Hulk vs The Metal Master" is a book-length tale that differs considerably from what had come before. The most obvious difference was that Kirby was no longer penciller (or plotter). Stan's other heavyweight artist Steve Ditko had come on board as penciller and inker. Whether this was to have been a fill-in issue or a permanent change is hard to say.
Looking at the evidence, the timing of The Incredible Hulk 6 (Mar 1963) could indicate that Stan was clearing Kirby's schedule to accommodate the impending Fantastic Four Annual 1 (Jul 1963) and his imminent takeover of the Thor strip, starting with Journey into Mystery 93 (Jun 1963). However, the replacement for The Hulk's book was to be Sgt Fury and his Howling Commandos 1 (May 1963), also drawn by Kirby, which would make it look less like a scheduling conflict.
At this point, Ditko was only drawing The Amazing Spider-Man - issue 1 cover-dated the same month as The Incredible Hulk 6 though it was on the stands almost a month earlier - so it does seem more plausible that the Hulk title had been promised to Ditko to fill in the gap months between Spider-Man issues. Which indicates that Stan felt The Incredible Hulk was floundering and needed a shot in the arm to get it back on track. And supporting this idea is the fact that when the Hulk was cancelled after just one Ditko issue, Stan was more than prepared to accept a pitch for a new character Dr Strange, which has been well-documented elsewhere.
In the Metal Master story, The Hulk is still talking like a bar-room Ben Grimm, and still transforming via his Big Gamma Machine. But when the Metal Master arrives to threaten Earth with his metal-controlling powers (powers not so vastly different from Magneto, who would be menacing the fledging X-Men just six months later), Banner transforms into The Hulk. All except his face, that is.
No problem. The Hulk can just use one of these casts "Banner made of his head and mine, in order to study 'em!" as a mask. Whoa, wait, how's that again? Banner made a cast of The Hulk's head? And the Hulk sat still for that, did he? No, wait ... aren't Banner and The Hulk the same person? Now I'm confused again ... OK, it's dumb plotting, but you have to admit, those panels where the soldier pulls the Hulk mask off the unconscious Hulk, only to find The Hulk's real face underneath ... that's a pretty cool scene, right? And pure Ditko. I don't think Stan would ever have come up with that weird an idea.
Right after that, there's a scene where the captured Hulk rages at Rick Jones, paranoid that the teenager has betrayed him. It's the first glimmer we get that The Hulk has anger management issues, fuelled by his feelings of persecution. There was no sense of this in the Kirby-drawn stories, but here it is, emerging in the very first Ditko version of the character.
Then, upset by The Hulk's rejection, Rick asks General Ross about joining the army, but at 16 he's too young. So he turns this into a positive and with his pals forms the Teen Brigade, a national network of kids with radios who share information to help the authorities whenever needed. And of course, they're needed pretty much right away. Banner has an idea that will defeat the Metal Master and the Teen Brigade gathers the necessary equipment.
With the supplies, The Hulk (not Banner) builds a big cannon he intends to use on the Metal Master. I won't say how The Hulk is able to use such a weapon against a creature who controls all metal, as it's a clever twist and you may not have read the issue yet. But Banner's plan works and the menace is defeated.
|When The Hulk tries to use the Big Gamma Machine to revert to Dr Banner, the device mysteriously doesn't work. It's the Hulk's fury at his plight and the way the authorities have treated him that triggers the transformation.|
And Kirby's story about seeing an enraged mother lifting a car off her child? Sorry, Jack, but I just don't believe that's true. The mother-lifting-the-car tale was a common urban legend at the time, one my own mother recounted to me when I was a kid. The science is shaky, and most sources agree that adrenaline wouldn't give the muscles such a surge of strength, let alone be delivered fast enough to permit such a feat. And more importantly, The Hulk wasn't a big green rage monster while Jack was drawing him. That wouldn't come until the later Tales to Astonish stories, drawn by Ditko. Whoever came up with the whole "don't make me angry" schtick ... it sure wasn't Jack.
Despite some of my criticisms here, I still truly love this run of The Incredible Hulk. Yes, they're corny, contradictory and in some spots just plain dumb ... but they're also incredibly endearing. And back in my early teens these six books were the absolute holy grail of Marvel issues for me - I was obsessed with owning them.
In examining them again, I can see that this version of the Hulk might possibly have been Jack Kirby's brainchild, but the enduring Hulk that would go on to massive publishing, television and movie success wasn't this Hulk at all ... it was Stan Lee and Steve's take on the character that would prove the successful one.
The Hulk would also appear in Fantastic Four 12, cover dated the same month, but on sale three weeks earlier, then not again until The Avengers 1 (Sep 1963), six months later and would regularly appear in that title until issue 5 (May 1964), all drawn by Jack Kirby. In all of these appearances, whenever the transformation between Banner and The Hulk is shown, it's always using the Big Gamma Machine, except at the end of Avengers 3, where the change back to Banner is caused by "the excitement ... the stress" and in Avengers 5, where Banner's transformation to The Hulk is entirely spontaneous. Then, Fantastic Four 25 and 26 (Apr & May 1964) show the Hulk being changed back to Banner via a "gamma pill" Rick Jones pops into his mouth, though he's still talking like a slightly ticked-off version of Ben Grimm.
Just five months later, Hulk would first appear in Tales to Astonish 59 (Sep 1964) as a foe for Giant Man, where his transformation to the Hulk is for the first time directly attributed to anger, scripted by Stan Lee and drawn by Dick Ayers. Then the following month, the character kicks off in his own series, written by Stan and once more drawn by Steve Ditko. It's here that the familiar version of the Hulk - the one that changes when his heartrate rises or falls and utters catchphrases like "Hulk smash" - really comes into his own.
NEXT: THE HULK ON TV