Saying Good-Bye to the First Hulk: Examining the Failure of the Incredible Hulk Line

Journey Into Marvel – Part 77

You will surrender this entire base to me immediately, and the planet Earth itself must accept me as supreme ruler within twenty-four hours! – The Metal Master

Steve Ditko's Hulk

Steve Ditko’s Hulk

Extremites, all good things come to an end. The mediocre confused things also do that too. This is the last issue of the first Hulk line. The first Hulk had a tough go at it and today’s issue shows why the Hulk failed the first time.

All five issues preceding this one, including the cross over with the Fantastic Four, were drawn by Jack Kirby. This time Steve “I draw Spider-Man” Ditko is tackling Green. This is common in March 1963. Jack was over worked and his normal quota of drawing all the comics from Tales to Astonish to Fantastic Four were reduced to only Fantastic Four. Steve Ditko’s art is better. His women look human. As does all the other characters; although Rick Jones comes off very like Flash Thompson.

Stan Lee is still writing the Hulk, and when it comes to story, this one isn’t bad. The Metal Master is a creature who uses berms from his forehead to manipulate metal into whatever he sees fit. He looks very much like that puppet that stood in for Clint Howard in the The Corbomite Maneuver; mixed with the same themes that Magneto would embrace. The Metal Master uses his vast powers to control the Earth. This is secondary to the struggles of Bruce and the Hulk.

Bruce regulates his changes into the Hulk by utilizing a Gamma Ray gun. This doesn’t always work. At one point Bruce changes into the Hulk but his head is unchanged. There’s a whole c-plot where Betty Ross is trying to find the missing Bruce Banner under the watchful and hateful eye of Thunderbolt Ross. This is a packed issue to say the least; might be why the Hulk fails.

In reading these five issues I have been trying to find what it is about the Hulk that doesn’t work. There’s a ton of reasons: the fluid nature of the Hulk’s characterization, blatant pandering to fans, the bi-polar quality of the many stories. It is the combination of all of these things.

Hulk stories are monstrous in size and undertaking. They want to tell the standard hero vs. villain story, but the character of Hulk/Banner is already complex enough that panels could be filled with just his story alone. Pepper on top with a villain who needs adequate pages for development, a political message about the secretive militarization of American culture of the period through Thunderbolt — and a love story to boot — there’s a ton of stuff to cover in an Incredible Hulk issue. Hulk needs to be streamlined to make a decent story possible and that’s what happens when he receives solo stories again in Tales to Astonish.

Ditko's art is expressive, and Betty has never looked better.

Ditko’s art is expressive, and Betty has never looked better.

This is issue is an example of stunning Silver Age art. Of course, Steve Ditko is at the helm.

In the Letters to the Bullpen section there is a nerdy fan that writes in to tell Stan about his displeasure with the fluid nature of the Hulk. This fan is noticing the same exact problems I gripe about in every article about the Hulk thus far. Stan, or whoever wrote the replies, writes back that it is the nature of realism in comics for characters to be ever changeable. This does have some logic to it, you have to set up some sort of characterization before you destroy it every issue and create a new one.

This is the issue that gave us the first inkling that Bruce can change into the Hulk through rage.

The original Hulk line is like reading an account of the creative process. It’s a shame that they finally arrived at a solid character only to be canceled.

Ah well… we all know Hulk comes back.

Until next time, Extremites, I remain: Julian Munds.

Story I Read:The Metal Master” (The Incredible Hulk #6 Mar. 1963)

Rating: 2 out of 5

Pros: Ditko’s art is great. Betty looks human. The stories are all good. The villain is fun.

Cons: There are two many undeveloped ideas and none of them are felt with in a satisfying way.

Next Review:Iron Man is Born!” (Tales of Suspense #39 Mar. 1963)

Last Review:Trapped By The Carbon Copy Man!” (Journey Into Mystery #90 Mar. 1963)

About Julian Munds

I possess a degree in Theatre and Drama from the University of Toronto. I own my own theatre company called Snobbish Theatre. We focus our work on new versions of classics.

Posted on May 11, 2015, in Hulk, Marvel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

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