Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Incredible Hulk #1 (May 1962)

Incredible Hulk
Lee and Kirby's The Incredible Hulk #1

Incredible Hulk #1

Doug: Let me get this out of the way up front: I really don’t care for the Hulk. That’s not to say that I haven’t read some good Hulk stories through the years. But overall, I can count on one hand the number of issues of “The Incredible Hulk” I’ve purchased. He makes a great guest-star; a tragic hero/villain, if you will. But a solo Hulk has never really put a hold on me. If you want an honest opinion, I think that’s why various creators through the years have made him gray again, smart, dumb again, normal-acting, put him in space, and even made him red. And don’t get me going on the whole psychology of it all…

Karen: I’ve always felt that the Hulk works best either as a guest-star, or when he has a very strong supporting cast.

Sharon: As a kid I was never a Hulk fan, either; he just seemed like a standard monster to me, and I wasn’t into monsters. But as I’ve matured and (hopefully) grown wiser, I have a greater appreciation of the Hulk character and its implications. What a rich character! Among other things, the Hulk saga represents the fear of losing control and being at the mercy of uncontrollable forces, both internal and external…a pretty powerful story. Also, though a comparison with the Thing seems obvious, there’s really a world of difference between the two and it’s all based on character, a Marvel specialty that was evident even back then. Ben Grimm was permanently stuck as the Thing, but he retained his personality; Banner regularly reverted to his human form but when he changed to the Hulk, his personality was altered. I have no doubt that the intellectual Bruce would have been able to cope with Ben’s situation; after all, Banner’s mind was his strong point.

Doug: I used 1974’s Origins of Marvel Comics as my source material. I also consulted Marvel Masterworks, Volume 8, which features The Incredible Hulk 1-6; both contain Stan Lee’s commentary prior to the reprints.

Not having opened Origins in literally decades, I was shocked to see, and read, that The Incredible Hulk #1 had been reprinted with the Hulk colored green! The cover art depicting him as gray was preserved, but Stan commented that when the book originally sold the color separations were all wrong. At times the Hulk was a dark gray, at other times he was much lighter. There were panels where he had a reddish tint to him, at other times he took on more of a deeper purple hue. So, since one of Marvel Masterworks’ claims to fame is color recreation, I got out that version of the story to see how it was colored. What I suspected proved to be true – the colors weren’t necessarily recreated but were instead corrected. The gray is very even throughout the tale and the only “strangeness” that occurred to me was the purple “highlighting” of the Hulk’s hair.

Karen: I also used “Origins” as my source. The first thing I noticed was how striking the cover was. It really felt a lot like an old Grade B sci fi movie poster – “Is he man or monster or…is he both?” You just don’t get stuff like that anymore.

Sharon: The cover is in keeping with the sci fi/horror comics Marvel was publishing at the time. Take a look a FF #1’s cover (published 6 months prior to Hulk #1), which also features a monster…and for that matter, FF #2’s cover showcases the alien Skrulls, with the Thing front and center. Remember, Marvel was just beginning to get back into the superhero genre; the Hulk was only the second such attempt since the FF...that is, unless you count Henry Pym’s appearance in Tales to Astonish #27 (January 1962), though he didn’t adopt the superhero name and garb (Ant-Man) until TTA #35 (September 1962).

Doug: As to the story itself… Having the luxury of reprints of the first six issues, I was struck right away that Kirby’s Hulk in #1 looked very different than what was penciled in #’s 2-5 (the final issue, #6, was penciled by Steve Ditko and is QUITE a departure from anything Jack had done – Ditko’s Hulk was almost ape-like). The initial Kirby Hulk had many similarities to Boris Karloff’s Frankenstein monster. This is important, as Stan states in both of my sources that his love of that film and of Karloff’s portrayal of the Monster as a tragic figure was a primary influence. He also, by the way, mentions Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”. Kirby’s Hulk evolves through the rest of his brief run, however, into a much more savage, angry, even bestial creature. It’s the latter Hulk, full of anger, that today’s fans would identify with. The Hulk I grew up with (guest-starring throughout the Marvel Universe as well as in the pages of The Defenders) was certainly more sympathetic, and even funny at times (in a butt-of-the-joke type of way).

Karen: My ‘childhood Hulk’ was also the dumb, childlike Hulk, and I have a soft spot for that characterization, even though I do think it was tiresome at times. Again, it was Hulk’s interaction with his cast, or with his fellow Defenders, that I really enjoyed. It’s interesting to see how the character’s personality has changed over time. In the early issues, as well as the current Hulk persona, he’s depicted as dangerous and not at all nice. In fact, I would consider the current Hulk an anti-hero or outright villain. I think I prefer the idea that while the Hulk is dangerous, it’s Banner’s innate goodness that prevents him from being a real monster.

Sharon: The ambiguity surrounding the Hulk is genius…hero, villain, or--as I like to categorize him--anti-hero? The Hulk debuted at the same time as Namor was re-introduced (in FF #4): two premiere anti-heroes. Interestingly, they both went on to headline Tales to Astonish later on.

Doug: The story is divided into five chapters. The first chapter introduces a pantheon of characters that would become staples of the Hulk mythos for years to come: Bruce Banner, General “Thunderbolt” Ross, Betty Ross, and Rick Jones. This same chapter also serves as the origin of the Hulk. It’s somewhat formulaic, and contains perhaps the major theme that ran through Marvel origin stories during this period of the Cold War – radiation. Think of the early Marvel Universe… the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, Daredevil, the X-Men, and the Incredible Hulk all owed their abilities to some type of accident involving rays of some sort, radiation poisoning, etc. I think right off the bat a great comparison involving the plots of this story and Fantastic Four Annual #2 (the origin of Dr. Doom) is evident. When Igor begs Banner to let him check the calculations for the gamma bomb launch, Banner scoffs at him. The scene is repeated two years later in the pages of FF Annual #2 with Reed Richards imploring Victor von Doom to accept assistance on some similar calculations. Of course, in the Hulk’s origin the bomb goes off and Banner is forever changed (although Banner’s math had no effect on the detonation, unlike the events that befell Doom).

Karen: Probably the single most notable element of the story to me was the fact that Banner seemed so arrogant, at least when dealing with Igor. It immediately made me feel somewhat negatively towards him, although he still appeared heroic when he went out to save Rick from the explosion.

Sharon: It’s a nice touch that Igor seems to be a sympathetic character initially; at the time, all “Reds” were evil (at least, that’s how Stan wrote them in the early 1960s) so this was a pleasant surprise. But Stan reverted to cliché and I was disappointed when Igor showed his true colors. Also, the tale is notable because it introduces Rick Jones, who would prove to be one of the most enduring characters in the Marvel Universe (his crowning Silver Age moment occurring years later in Avengers #97, in the twilight of the Silver Age). Here, he has no special abilities powers or costume so he’s sort of the antithesis of the teenage sidekick (prevalent in the Golden Age) that Stan famously hated.

Doug: Chapter 2 sets up what would become the modus operandi of subsequent Hulk tales – in essence the book becomes a superhero version of “The Fugitive”. The Hulk is being hounded by the military, he unwittingly exacts revenge on Igor for betraying Banner and creating the Hulk, and learns that he is indeed Bruce Banner. Chapter 3 is more of the same, and introduces the romance angle to the story with a little sexual tension between Bruce and Betty.

Sharon: “The Fugitive”—what a great comparison, Doug! While there are elements that are unintentionally hilarious--the Hulk reverts back to Banner, and miraculously his tattered clothes shrink too; the “Top Secret Report on Gamma Ray Bomb” plans taped to the bottom of beaker—there are lots of great touches throughout the story. Look at Banner’s body language when facing General Ross the first time in the story; Banner seems to cower a bit in the face of an overtly aggressive “hawk” like Ross. Bruce’s breakdown, in the presence of Betty and Rick, was handled very well. Rick’s disgusted reaction to Betty and Bruce was priceless.

Doug: Another theme that ran through many early Marvels involved the Red Scare that was so prominent in Americans’ minds in the 1960’s. In Chapter 4 Igor is revealed (like with that name we couldn’t have figured it out ourselves – sheesh!) to be a Red spy and even radios behind the Iron Curtain with a “sub-miniature transistor short wave sending set” glued to his thumbnail!! He sends a message that “the Gargoyle” must be alerted to the existence of the Hulk. What comes next is pretty silly – the Gargoyle states the he must either slay the Hulk or take him prisoner to show the world his might (say, how many folks even know that these two guys are around??). In Chapter 5 he ends up shooting the Hulk with some kind of mind-slave pellet and takes him back to the USSR. There the Hulk transforms back to Banner, the Gargoyle deduces Banner’s secret and then breaks down because he (the Gargoyle) apparently can never look normal. Banner offers to assist him and the story ends happily from there, if in a tragically heroic way for the Gargoyle. A nice touch near the end of the story is a portrait of Nikita Khruschchev on the wall.

Karen: I have to say, I feel that the Gargoyle angle really derailed this story. Everything up to that point is fine – we have the explosion, the transformation, the hunt for the Hulk – that all works. But then out of nowhere comes this needless focus on the Gargoyle, and his nasty communist bosses. Banner cures him and suddenly he becomes a red-blooded American, decrying his Soviet ways – it feels like the book was suddenly highjacked by another story.

Sharon: The story was very compressed (as was the style back then) and the Gargoyle bit did seem tacked on, but I actually didn’t mind its inclusion. It provided an interesting contrast: the Gargoyle would rather be “normal” and die, whereas Banner is “abnormal” and alive. While it may have been obvious, I think the Gargoyle character was a good way of underscoring one of the main themes.

Doug: Overall, this book was OK – not a bad origin story for the time it was written, and typically steady art and dialogue from Kirby and Lee. If I can get back to Stan’s commentary for a second: In both sources I used for this critique, Stan is consistent in his claim that he came up with the idea for the character and Jack came up with the visuals based on Stan’s descriptions. Hence, Stan created the Incredible Hulk with Jack merely giving him a 2-D life. I would urge all readers to pick up an issue here or there of The Jack Kirby Collector, which is of course somewhat skewed toward Jack’s defense in the creative process. My opinion on any “he said/she said” situation is that the truth is somewhere in the middle – this is surely one of those cases.

Karen: I think this is the weakest of origin stories for the early Marvel characters. The structure is awkward, and the ending is unsatisfying. That being said, I do think the idea, of a monstrous anti-hero, was inspired – particularly when you consider what the Distinguished Competition was putting out at the time. I found Stan Lee’s commentary in “Origins” to be very telling of the Lee-Kirby relationship, or lack of, at that point in time (1974). He really does imply that the entire concept for the Hulk (as well as most of the other characters) was his doing. While I have tremendous respect for Stan, it’s become more apparent over the years that these really were collaborative efforts; the ‘Marvel Method’ required it.

Sharon: Jack did some great work here; I could really feel Banner’s anguish and confusion, Rick’s initial flippancy and then concern for Bruce, Betty’s compassion and fear, etc. The expressions throughout were telling and of course the action scenes could not be better—the story moved a great pace. I also loved the three panels at the bottom of page 14, when darkness is literally and figuratively falling on Banner’s face. Kudos to the King.

Karen: The new “Incredible Hulk” film came out this summer, and I thought it was very well done. The film is something of an amalgam of the comics and the old TV series, but they seem to have picked up on the best elements of both. I enjoyed seeing more of the Marvel Universe on the big screen; between this film and the excellent “Iron Man” movie which also opened this summer, we are starting to get a cohesive Marvel universe – although it seems to be edging a bit more towards the Ultimates Universe than the “regular” MU. But regardless, the “Hulk” movie was thoughtful, action-packed, and had very nice performances. I would rank “Iron Man” as the better overall movie, but “Hulk” is definitely a fun flick and another step in the right direction for Marvel movies.


Skydragon said...

It's a very interesting post!

I only have vague memories of the boook with the origin of the Hulk, but your discussion highlights two of the themes that were dominating Marvel at the time, albeit somewhat indirectly: radiations and communism. In both instances, it's probably one of the earliest attempts to make the Marvel characters "real" for the readers.

From what I've read in a few sources, in the 60s the memory of the two atomic bombs was still pretty fresh in mind, especially for the adults. Certainly Japanese mangas from the same period show a very direct and strong influence - for example Go Nagai's super-robots (Mazinger, Grendizer, Jeeg Robot, Getter Robot, Gaiking etc) are often nuclear powered (those that aren't, function thanks to more nature friendly ways, like solar energy, which usually sets them as particularly nice/heroic characters, even among their peers), and more realistic series, focusing on everyday things like school and sport, while not mentioning the war or radiations directly, carry an extremely strong "get stronger than the rest and emerge to be succesfull in life" message, which was much needed at the time.

However, mangas never show people receiving their powers FROM the radiations, clearly because it would be sort of insulting for those who actually died of radiation poisoning. At Marvel, especially in the very beginning, radiations are seen more as a wonder, something that changes people but instead of killing them, grants them superpowers and, sometimes, a monster aspect. I suppose it's a way to exorcize the fear for radioactivity, while at the same time making it interesting for the young readers who hadn't experienced the war or seen the worse side of it.

On a side note, the idea that radiations could do *anything* reminds me of Iron Man's transistors in the early years of his book. At the time, they could accomplish all sorts of feats ^^

The communism thing was more straight forward propaganda, and there is some of it in most silver age Marvel book. I recently read the early Thor issues, and even there the Thunder God often ends up in some small country behind the iron curtain where tyrannical communists rule people treating them like beasts (there is also the occasional rebel who helps the hero explaining how they are not all bad and wish they could be like the Western people). I suppose it was right for the time, but it's looks pretty simplistic and one-sided now, it's good that it didn't last too long and wasn't in all the books (Spidey never had any of it from what I remember. There were only some issues on Vietnam war, but not quite so propagandistic).
I'm not familiar with Russian comics from that time (or in general), but I've always wondered if they show the same propaganda from the other side of the table ^^ There certainly are a few mangas around showing an ideal, peaceful, perfect world where Japan won WWII and everyone is happy.

DLW said...

Excellent analysis! I appreciate the info. on the Japanese strips of the time. You've really highlighted the ethnocentric aspect of Stan's storytelling, no less propagandistic than his anti-communist scripts!

Anonymous said...

I don't know if having the heroes fight "commie" villains during the Cold War was any worse than (or even much different from) having them fight Nazis in WWII. And, IMO, most comics tend to be "simplistic and one sided" when dealing with political or social issues. That goes whether the propaganda is left-wing or right-wing.



Anonymous said...

There were a lot of science fiction horror movies in the 1950's in which radiation turned people or animals into monsters. They may have been an attempt to make everyone's vague anxiety about atomic weapons more tangible. AFAIK, Marvel was the first to use radiation exposure as an origin device for the heroes.

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