The Great Marvel Experiment: How Stan Lee Failed the Hulk
By: Julian Munds
In my last article about the Hulk, I alluded to fact that his first incarnation was a total and utter failure for Marvel; being canceled only after six issues.
I have been informed by a commenter, that Stan drew inspiration from Victor Hugo’s Quasimodo, the notorious Hunchback of Notre Dame.
Even though I have trouble seeing this character within Hulk, I read the source material alluded to by this commenter and it does indicate that Stan intended to base the character on that French classic. This made me wonder if Lee actually understood what he wanted to do with Hulk, for in that former article, I noted the character’s similarities to Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde.
Then I read this issue.
I have not read a more cluttered and shoddy issue since I endured that terrible Iron Man story where he went back in time to meet Cleopatra.
Stan Lee failed the Hulk in only his second issue by over burdening the plot with too many ideas which, in turn, crushed any possible development of the character.
It was common practice, during Stan Lee’s Silver Age tenure, that in the second story after the premiere of a character, they would face an alien invasion. For instance, the issue directly after the Fantastic Four debut, featured a blitz of the Earth from the shapeshifting Skrulls. Though the Skrulls went on to become major reoccurring foes their premiere was less then stellar.
In my discussion of the debut of Thor, I took Stan to task over his aimless use of the Saturnian Stone Men (retconned to Kronans) and the fact that they were inconsequential to the plot.
It seems to me that when Stan Lee and other creatives cannot think of a proper antagonist or a satisfying plot, for whatever reason, they just say “and then Aliens invaded.”
That is what happened here.
After all that time, in the last issue, that Stan Lee spent developing Banner/Hulk into a head of its time, fully psychologically real, three dimensional character, he
abandoned everything to declare: “And then Aliens invaded.”
The aliens in question are the aptly named Toad Men. Right there, in their name, the tackiness is obvious. These aliens are empty B-Movie villains.
Comics historically have always been inspired by the pulp that used to flood the drive-ins. Drive-in B movies were terrible examples of film. They utilized sometimes ingenious film technique but the literary value of the stories presented was less then stellar.
And so it is with these Toad Men. There is no discussion of why they are attempting to take over the planet. They are just invading haphazardly from the skies.
Furthermore, how Hulk works into this invasion is not expanded upon either.
Hulk spends the majority of the issue creating chaos that more resembles a Japanese monster flick then a superhero comic. At one point he almost murders a family. Hulk also destroys a platoon that is attempting to defend the planet from the Toad Men onslaught. His story has no bearing on the invasion plot whatsoever, aside from Bruce’s accidental set off of his Gamma Ray weapon. In fact, he is really more of an obstacle.
Here’s a list of every major conflict in this comic by my estimation:
1. Bruce’s Conflict with controlling his inner Hulk.
2. Thunderbolt Ross’ belief that Banner is behind the Invasion, which makes so little sense I can’t even convey it to you here.
3. The Army’s attempts to defeat both the Hulk and Toad Men
4. Finally, Betty Ross’ kidnapping.
Every one of these conflicts works on their own. Each could adequately hold their own issue. Put together, however, it is a massively overwhelming flood of under developed plots.
These Hulk issues are 26 pages long. The standard Marvel invasion storyline can be covered in less then 8 Silver Age pages. Stan Lee burdens this issue with far too much.
The reason why Lee, and probably his penciler Kirby, were not able to get this character up and popular, like they did the Fantastic Four, is because they did not spend enough time investigating, or developing, what makes him tick. Hulk/Banner has too many internal conflicts to ably carry or influence an outer conflict, let alone four.
What they never did in these six failures is devote one issue to fully examine the relationship Banner has with his alter-ego.
Banner doesn’t need a classic antagonist like the other superheroes do because his antagonist is always going to be the Hulk, so frankly, there is an easily built in story line here.
There’s no need for Toad People.
Once again I renew my claim that Hulk/Banner was far too ahead of his time when he debuted.
A character like his, was failed not only by the creative team that wrote him, Stan Lee being the most to blame because he is both creator and editor, but also the medium. Comics had not yet been developed enough to handle such a complex character like his.
Remember when he debuted, the Fantastic Four were still a very new group and Thor had just premiered. The later morally complex characters like Ant-Man and Iron Man were still months away and their complexity also about two years away from featuring.
Hulk is the great Marvel experiment and sometimes experiments fail.
Rating: 0 out of 5
Pros: The Art is Stunning. Hulk is green. The depth of Kirby/Ayers artwork is of a kind Marvel wont see again for years.
Cons: Just about everything. The lack of direction, cohesion and ability to ably give enough time for plots to develop. No development for Hulk/Banner beyond horror movie monsterism.
Preceding Review: “Prisoners of Dr. Doom” (Fantastic Four #5 Jul. 1962)
Upcoming Review: “Spider-Man” (The Amazing Fantasy #15 Aug. 1962)
Posted on December 17, 2013, in Hulk, Marvel and tagged Betty Ross, Fantastic Four, Hulk, Hunchback of Notre Dame, Marvel, Marvel Comic, Stan Lee, Thunderbolt Ross. Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.