Category Archives: Hulk

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.
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Fantastic Four #12: The Birth of Western Culture’s Greatest Creative Achievement

Journey Into Marvel – Part 75

The historic picture signalled a titanic event.

The historic picture signalled a titanic event.

Extremites, we take for granted, in this post Tolkien/Lewis world, the intricacy of a comprehensive fictional world.

You may have noticed that I keep using the term: “Earth – 616.” This is the name the fandom has given to the collective world that all Marvel characters exist in. As time has gone on, there are other continuities that have been created, but 616 is the main one, and the one that Journey Into Marvel concerns itself with. I believe that Earth- 616 is one of humanity’s greatest expressions of collective creativity, far more vast and comprehensive then Narnia, and with even more complexity than Middle-Earth.  It all began with today’s issue. Read the rest of this entry

Hulk and Yellow Face: Stan and Jack Take On China’s Annexation of Tibet

Journey Into Marvel – Part 63

General Fang... and Yellow Face

General Fang… and Yellow Face

Extremites, you may not have known that in the Marvel/Atlas comic company  all of the creative team, with the exception of those who were to young like Steve Ditko and those who were rated 4-F by the draft board like Stan Lee — served in the military. Knowledge of the military often bled into the creative work of the period. The culture of the military bled in too, and sometimes, that culture was negative. That’s clear in today’s story.

You may or may not have run into a World War II veteran who has trouble discerning cultural differences when it comes to Asian peoples. That is the fault of American and Canadian (for me) propaganda. ‘Yellow-face: a caricature of Oriental Asians is still present, seen recently in Rob Schneider’s character in I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry. It was very prevalent in the 1940s and the decades after the cultural conscience came to terms with the horrors of that World War. When the Maoists took China this stereotype bled to combine with Communism. General Fang the central villain in this Hulk story is an example of the stereotype. Read the rest of this entry

Examining Tyrannus: The Hulk’s Knockoff Sub-Mariner

Journey Into Marvel – Part 62

Tyrannus is definitely a looker that's for sure.

Tyrannus is definitely a looker that’s for sure.

Extremites, a creative war floods every panel of the Hulk series. That greyish-purple Hyde knockoff monster of Issue #1 has disappeared into an altruistic, albeit selfish, Thing knock off. In comparison with the Fantastic Four series, which predates the Hulk by a few months, by their fifth issue they had solidified character intentions, traits, and even a few arch baddies. In contrast, in Hulk’s fifth we have Hulk who is barely defined as a character, Bruce Banner: who seems to both be a seeker of justice and a character that wants nothing to do with justice, and Rick Jones — I write with biting disdain.

Where’s the villains?

Hulk has no villains! Read the rest of this entry

The Hulk vs. The Commies: How Stan Lee Abandoned Big Green In Propaganda Hell

Journey Into Marvel – Part 53

comic-book-craze219Allright, Extremites, we are half way through Hulk and he looks nothing like his debut. He has the intelligence of Banner and all the edge that was established in the first issue has been lost. Fitting that Hulk’s next conflict is against the Communists.

No doubt, you are as sick as I am of the Stan Lee Communist plot, but it’s what he has on offer for us today. Judging by the title, “The Gladiator From Outer Space,” I had high hopes that Hulk would now have a decent nemesis but the creatives once again throw Big Green under the bus. Read the rest of this entry

Giving Up on the Hulk: Investigating Stan Lee’s Desperate Retconn of Big Green

Journey Into Marvel – Part 52

Even the sense of humour is off!

Even the sense of humour is off!

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.

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Coercing the Hulk: What Is Up With Rick Jones?

Rick Jones (comics)

Rick Jones (comics) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Journey Into Marvel – Part 44

Extremites, sidekicks are essential and important parts of the Superhero comic. They are the character that creates a connection with the reader by bringing humanity to often chaotic and absurd plots.

Under every Golden Age superhero there is a sidekick. Batman has Robin. Superman has Jimmy Olsen. Green Arrow has Speedy. Captain America has Bucky.

The sidekick acts as a window into the inaccessible world of the hero. How would we understand what a character’s motivations are if there wasn’t a character present to ask a question?

Sure, in some cases the narrator would just tell us, but this is Passive Narrative. It is inactive. It is no fun.

Passive Narrative is less compelling to read.  It is far more fun to arrive at our own conclusions. It’s fun to listen to a conversation and realize an important plot point. I call this the ‘OH SHIT! Did he just say that’ phenomenon.

Today’s Journey Into Marvel is an investigation of one of the most polarizing of figures in the early Marvel Silver Age: The Hulk’s sidekick Rick Jones.

In the Stan Lee renaissance of Superhero Comics at Marvel— circa 1962 — the emphasis was youth readers. DC had made its bones, for the last thirty or so years, writing characters that existed in heightened fantastical situations. DC didn’t care about reality. When the Fantastic Four debuted in November 1961, Marvel transported superheroes to the bustling world of real time New York. They dared to ask the important question: what would superheroes be like if they were real?

Stan came to the conclusion that superheroes would deal with real life situations like fan mail, approval ratings, traffic…. fans who hated them; Yancy Street Gang, I’m looking at you.  He further concluded that a superhero also had to have been a teenager. Out of this, he created,  Johnny Storm/Human Torch and Peter Parker/Spider-Man; two fantastic sides of the same coin.

Johnny is a brash hot-rodding popular kid, who has a tendency to be a bully. He embodies the spirit rebel youth culture of the early 60s. Inspired by James Dean and Surf Movies.

Peter is an intellectual.  A book worm who is ignored in high school; who has the potential to one day take on the world and be a master of it.

During this period, Stan and Jack were working on another new character. A character that had no basis in DC: Bruce Banner/The Incredible Hulk. The debut, while extraordinarily ahead of its time and fascinating, was received very coldly. This Icredible Hulk feels less like a superhero and more like character from a monster tale. This is mainly due to his similarities with Robert Louis Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde. Check out my article discussing this in depth.

In the second issue, Hulk’s character is even more uncontrollable. He’s an instinctual beast that freely attacks whoever he sees fit. This created a problem for the creatives. Hulk is more villainous than he is heroic.

In Modern Comics, we love the anti-hero. However, in the the early 60s, anti-heroes were not allowed.  Anti-Heroes violated the comic’s moral code. All pulp magazines of the period had to adhere to this code. Hulk is a character that cannot headline his solo title without violating it. Seeing this problem, and understanding that the character straddled the line between hero and villain, Kirby and Lee came up with a conceit to control him. In Issue #3, they presented their idea.

1515_4_3Rick Jones has been present in the Hulk mythos since the debut. He is the impetus of Bruce Banner’s act of heroism that created the Hulk. Rick Jones, over the progression of two issues, has become a confidante, out of guilt for his role in the creation of the Hulk, of Bruce Banner. He helps Bruce control the Hulk by locking him up in an underground bunker.

In Issue #3, Rick is given a new role. Resulting from a further bout of radiation, the results of a new weapon created by Thunderbolt Ross, Rick and Hulk are tied together mentally by a psychological connection. This connection means Rick now has the power of suggestion over the Hulk. He can tell him to do what ever he requires, making the Green Monster his slave. However, there is a catch. When Rick falls asleep the connection is lost and Hulk is left to his own devices, meaning Rick can never sleep if Hulk is to be controlled. It’s is a great conceit. But it has a short shelf life. The relationship cannot go on forever because then that means Rick can never sleep and who wants to read about a sleep deprived teenager? Certainly, not other teenagers.

In this issue, the focus changes from Bruce Banner to Rick Jones. In the first part,  Rick is given the power of control over the Hulk, the thought bubbles switch from Bruce Banner, who only appears in three frames, to Rick. Hulk, and by relationship Bruce, are secondary to master Rick. Big Green is reduced to a pet monster. A protective ‘special friend’ that evokes thoughts of ET or The Iron Giant, rather than Jekyll and Hyde. This change doesn’t even reflect the supposed other inspiration of the Hulk which, according to Jack Kirby, was Victor Hugo’s Quasimodo. The Incredible Hulk is now a story about ‘a young man and his magical friend,’ not the internal struggles of a scientist.

This is the beginning of the end. Remember, the end is only three issues away.

RingmasterThe second story focuses on the evil plans of the Ringmaster who heads a up a group of circus freaks. He guides them in a campaign of larceny against an unsuspecting town. The Ringmaster has the power of hypnoses, because like all circus inspired characters of the time, he has a lot of items with red and white spirals on them. Ringmaster uses this power to coerce legions of middle America townspeople into his big top, where he puts them into a trance and steals all their money.

Rick, being the precocious teenager he is, can’t pass up the opportunity to go the circus and soon finds himself in the Ringmaster’s trance.  Because of the mental connection the two share, Hulk hears Rick’s mental anguish when Jones falls into the trap and comes bounding in to save the day.

I love circus gothic.

I also love the idea that the Ringmaster wants the Hulk to headline his new freak exhibit.

I loathe the camaraderie that both Rick and Hulk share.

This camaraderie pacifies the Hulk. No longer is it ‘Hulk Smash,’ but ‘Hulk Love.’

Furthermore, Stan is not confident that the character is working. This is evident in the constant fluctuation of the principle behind Hulk’s transformations. Originally, Bruce changed into the Hulk when the sun went down. This principle is not unlike the changes that the Wolfman or some vampire might go through. Now, Hulk changes whenever he wishes. Hulk, now, has no reason to change. In fact, Hulk never returns to Bruce Banner except for one unexplained instance.

Hulk’s principle of strength is also in flux. One moment Hulk is strong enough the fell an army of tanks, easily repelling an onslaught of shells flying at supersonic speeds and the next moment Hulk is quelled by a common fire hose. There is a tonne of discrepancies across this issue and it really goes to show that Stan is scrambling to attract fans.

None the less, this issue, like the past two has some of the best work of Jack Kirby’s career in it. The vibrant faces of the technicians during the launch sequence is a stunning example of his detailed vision.

All this scrambling to attract fans is the reason why Rick Jones has become the focus. Youth sells, as shown by both Spider-Man and The Human Torch.

Rick Jones is too prominent. He’s no longer a sidekick. This is no longer The Incredible Hulk but ‘The Incredible Rick Jones.’

Perhaps, Jack and Stan think that a teenager would save the ailing title.

The Marvel staff of this period must have been under heavy pressure if they are giving up on a character this fast.

Wesley Crusher didn’t help the Enterprise… and Rick Jones didn’t help The Incredible Hulk.

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

The Story I Read:Banished To Outer Space/ The Ringmaster” (The Incredible Hulk #3 Sept. 1962)

Rating: 2 out 5.

Pros: Lovely art from Jack Kirby. Detailed and quirky writing in the Circus of Crime.

Cons: Lack of focus. Youth Exploitation. Huge discrepancies.

Previous Review:The Stone Men From Saturn” (Journey Into Mystery #83 Aug. 1962)

Upcoming Review: Captives of the Deadly Duo” (Fantastic Four #6 Sept. 1962)

 

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The Great Marvel Experiment: How Stan Lee Failed the Hulk

Journey Into Marvel

By: Julian Munds

hulk2_1In 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

The Toad Men

The Toad Men

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.

Story I Read:The Terror of the Toad Men” (The Incredible Hulk #2 Jul 1962)

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)

The Incredible Incredible Hulk

Take a look at this wonderful article about the Hulk television show. It gives a detailed look into what made up that show.
Give him a follow too, because it looks like his is a blog that will have extraordinary things to say.

Alastair Savage

Whenever we Brits want to moan about the state of TV today, a common mantra is to bemoan schedules that are packed with “cheap American imports”. The funny thing is that this is hardly something new. Back in the 70s and 80s, the schedules were always stuffed with American imports: Buck Rogers, The A-Team, Knight Rider, (and they never looked as cheap as British TV did).

There was even a superhero show: The Incredible Hulk starring Bill Bixby as David Banner and bodybuilder Lou Ferrigno as his alter-ego, the Hulk. It’s surprising that we got this show at all, because superheroes were hardly ever seen on our screens, with the exception of the camp classic Batman.

The Hulk’s catchphrase in the opening credits was always, “Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.” Oh, but we did. We loved the Hulk. In fact…

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How Realism Sabotaged the Original Incredible Hulk

Journey Into Marvel

By: Julian Munds

Hulk1Page01Story I Read: “The Hulk” (The Incredible Hulk #1 MAY 1962)

Comics in the Silver Age relied on a balance between good and evil, black and white, hero and villain. This balance was tipped rarely. If it was tipped, usually, what resulted was a failed title. The reason for this was simple: the Comic medium was too young for wild experimentation. Television and film of the period still relied heavily on cliche and stock characters. Though there were a few characters and films that broke the mould, most of the stories seen every night on the tube or at the pictures were inspired from a melodramatic ‘white/black hat’ conflict. Comics found themselves perpetuating the norm established by their older siblings.

When the Hulk debuted in 1962, he debuted into a comic world that was not yet ready for him. This prematurity was the reason for his ultimate failure, for only six issues later, this Marvel title would be canceled. The Hulk failed because he was too real.

Realism is both the reason the premiere issue is brilliant and the reason it failed.

Marvel, as I have stated many times before, is a company which strives to apply a ‘real’ outlook to superhero comics. They want to create characters that resonate with the readers as tangible possibilities who could exist along side real people like JFK or Khrushchev. They don’t want to create legends to be worshipped like the archetype demigods of the DC Universe.

Hulk was the great realist experiment. Stan Lee created Bruce as a vainglorious doctor, who invented a new type of weapon of mass destruction, who after an Oppenheimer moment in which he witnesses a rather ditzy teenager put himself in harms way, sacrifices himself while saving that ditzy teenager. Instead of dying, Dr. Bruce Banner absorbs an unnatural amount of Gamma radiation which mutates him into a Jekyll/Hyde like monster.

Jekyll and Hyde, created by Robert Louis Stevenson, relies upon the theory that man has two sides to his personality: the logical and the instinctual. The logical side is the one that controls thought processes and the instinctual side is the animal urge, the seat of sex and rage.Just like in the Doyle, Bruce becomes the Hulk when the sun sets and he goes to sleep. While he’s the Hulk, Bruce is not conscious of his actions and the Hulk becomes an untamable monster. That happens in this comic many times, showing his chaotic instinctual strength when he destroys army platoons, or absolutely ravages a small town.

Silver Age comics were based on a concrete black and white balance. The Incredible Hulk doesn’t work because there is too much grey area. Hulk and Gargoyle (the

This cathartic moment is way ahead of it's time.

This cathartic moment is way ahead of it’s time.

supposed antagonist)  suffer essentially the same malady meaning they could both be the hero and both be the villain. This means there’s no one to follow. Bruce Banner is a villain who gets very sick. At the top of the story Bruce was busy working away on a weapon of mass destruction. He began as a villain.

There is a political comment here and it is worth noting. In the early Sixties the anxiety over nuclear war was fever pitch. Many felt that the world was about to end because a group of scientists had used their knowledge to prop governments up and plunge the world into what seemed like an infinite standoff. It is fitting that Marvel, run by self confirmed hippies, made a political statement about the nature of nuclear war. Though I enjoy the political comments being made, it seems out of place in the juvenile world of the Silver Age.

Bruce Banner is not the only character that is hard to peg in this comic. The Gargoyle, a brilliant and terrifying disfigured communist spy, is a mirror image of Bruce/Hulk. He is constantly battling with the need to find human contact and be authentic with some one. At one point he bemoans his deformity to the point of existential agony. Though he searches out the Hulk and captures him to harness his energy for the Soviet cause, there is part of him that sees the Hulk as an equal and therefore, some one he can confide in.

Both characters: Bruce and Gargoyle are given a 3 dimensional portrayal that shows their constant struggle with the darkness that exists within them. Just as Bruce sacrifices himself for Rick Jones, Gargoyle sacrifices himself for Bruce. At the very end when a bomb is about to go off, a bomb based on the work of Banner, Gargoyle redirects the trajectory of the missile to kill the Soviet High Command. The actions of the Gargoyle in the final panels redeem him to the status of a true hero. A status that Bruce and the Hulk never quite reach.

The ambiguity of the characters is both the marvelous thing about this issue and the thing that probably made it fail. It is very hard to tell exactly who the hero is. While the title suggests Bruce is the hero, it is hard to agree with this, as while Bruce does one heroic action, he spends most of the issue, through the guise of Hulk, creating chaos and generally being a villain. This is a wonderfully head of its time character, which is probably the reason for the success of Hulk in later years, but in this age of absolutes, he’d be far too complex to gain a large following.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Pros: The complexity of both Bruce Banner and the Gargoyle. The satirical consciousness. The detailed and dark art of Jack Kirby

Cons: Hulk is grey. Betty Ross and Thunderbolt Ross are grossly underdeveloped. Rick Jones is rather annoyingly written.

Preceding Review:  “The Menace of the Miracle Man” (Fantastic Four #3 Mar. 1962)

Upcoming Review: “The Coming of the Sub-Mariner” (Fantastic Four #4 May. 1962)

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