Giving Up on the Hulk: Investigating Stan Lee’s Desperate Retconn of Big Green
Posted by Julian Munds
Journey Into Marvel – Part 52
Extremites, when I opened up Big Green’s fourth issue all I could see was the desperate machinations at work behind the panels. It’s clear Stan Lee uses this issue to rework a title that is failing.
In 1962, The Incredible Hulk’s four issues had proven to be startlingly unpopular. Lee went into panic mode and tried to figure out why the concept was disliked. He decided that it must be a character problem. Hulk was far too villainous. In this issue he created a failsafe to take some of the Hyde out of the ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ concept that defined the series. Hulk becomes more of a power, a skill, rather than a malady or, indeed, separate character from Bruce Banner. While this makes sense it also has the pathetic affect of removing all the edge out of the character.
Let’s face it.
The edge has already ben sucked out of the character issues ago. It was sucked out the minute Stan Lee elevated Rick Jones from supporting character to partner/slavemaster of the Hulk.
The Rick Jones of this story is even more unrecognizable than last issue’s slavemaster turn. Now Rick has so much Silver Age scientific knowledge that he runs Banner’s underground lair and the gamma ray machine that converts Banner to Hulk.
Sidenote: I know it’s real folly to apply modern logic to Silver Age science but if gamma rays are the force that caused the Hulk problem wouldn’t further doses make it even worse?
Speaking of things getting worse, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby spend the first few pages of this issue retelling Hulk’s origin story. Although it once again gives us readers a chance to marvel —forgive the pun — at the brilliant art of Jack Kirby’s Hulk, it also reminds us of the moronic journey of the annoying Rick Jones. This rehash, the third in four issues, does not bode well for a devoted readership.
I believe the lack of devoted readership stemmed from two problems with the Hulk line: one, the ever changing nature of his character canon and, two, Lee’s inability to create a decent nemesis. The only character that comes even close to filling that position is Thunderbolt Ross. Even though his absurd hatred of the Hulk is about as fun as J. Jonah Jameson’s vendetta against Spiderman, his plots always boil down to some new variation on a nuclear missile.
The one compelling aspect of the opposition of Ross and Banner lies in the reason behind Ross’ irrational hatred. It seems, as made clear by interaction here between Ross and his platoon, that he only hates Banner because he dares question Thunder’s tactics. To Thunderbolt, Banner is an “intellectual.’ This would become a common theme in the later Tales to Astonish Hulk revival.
During Ross’s latest attempts to capture the Hulk, somehow a bus gets stuck on railway tracks.
Stan Lee’s retcon inexplicably and without cause takes place.
The caption reads “a part of Bruce Banner, which exists deep within the monster’s brain comes to life!” Hulk pushes the bus off the tracks. But, judging by the issues to date, isn’t this just a tad convenient?
All of the sudden there is a ‘spark’ of humanity within the beast?
The conveniences are result of an unfocused story. After the bus incident Hulk goes on a tirade for 10 wasted pages. The whole plot with Thunderbolt Ross’ weapon is forgotten and never brought up again. Although its all beautifully drawn by Kirby, as most Hulk stories are, there is nothing here but a crazy retcon.
So, what’s going on here?
Why does Stan Lee keep changing the nature of the Hulk?
Ever since Hulk appeared in the Marvel universe there has been a problem in his creation. The line between Hulk and Bruce has always been vague. His alter ego has made it difficult for Hulk to be seen as the hero. Most of the stories become about Bruce dealing with the threat of his alter ego. This means that most of his issues have been the same story over and over. Aside from being boring and repetitive this lack of definition in Hulk’s role alienated the action craving audience. This made the Hulk title unpopular; hence why there has been a rehash of his origin story in every issue so far to remind casual and new readers.
Stan Lee hoped that a retconn establishing Hulk as a controllable stronger and greener version of Bruce Banner would make Hulk more relatable. However, it adds nothing but more confusion to the character.
If Hulk is more controllable, than why does Rick say that Bruce sounds more fierce?
Wait till you see what Stan does in the accompanying story. It’s even worse.
Until next time, Extremites, I remain: Julian Munds.
Story I Read: “The Monster and the Machine” (The Incredible Hulk #4 Nov. 1962)
Rating: 1 1/2 out of 5.
Pros: Still great Kirby art. The narrative is far more complex, veering from 1st person, to a limited 3rd. Too bad the story is not better.
Cons: Far too convenient. The retconn. The lack of direction. All the needless exposition.
Previous Review: “Prisoner of the Wizard” (Strange Tales #102, Nov. 1962)
Upcoming Review: “Gladiator from Outer Space” (The Incredible Hulk #4 Nov. 1962)
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