5.09.2008

Mighty Marvel Marathon: The Incredible Hulk Part 1

by Jon Quixote

“The Incredible Hulk: The Complete Collection.” It contains every Hulk comic through December 2006, in .pdf format on one DVD-ROM. It is a fantastic idea.

A less fantastic idea, however, is before you. I am but one man. But I will read every issue of The Incredible Hulk consecutively, pausing only to eat, sleep, do some light housework, play an occasional round of Grand Theft Auto IV, get very very drunk with some friends tomorrow night, and do whatever else comes up.

Hey, I still don’t think it’s going to be easy.

I’ve never really been a Hulk reader. Most of what I know about him is via comic book osmosis, Official Handbooks, and guest-appearances and cross-overs. I do own Essential Hulk Vol. 1, but I’ve always found the Essentials to be a largely unreadable format. Therefore, most of the actual plots in these over 535 comics will be new to me.

But I’ve always had a strong affinity for the Hulk. It’s a concept that I really feel for and one that strikes me as having a lot of possibility for imaginative storytelling. So enough talk, let’s get to reading!The Hulk made his debut in May of 1962 in the aptly titled…

The Incredible Hulk 001
He is gray! I thought he probably was, but you don’t know who to trust in comics. I always wondered if it was a bit of a legend, designed to add some pop to the decision to go Grey in the 80’s. But he’s grey here, green in the next issue.

I’m an old comic-book fuddy duddy, but I don’t tend to enjoy the Silver Age – for me, they’re artifacts, not pleasure reads. I think Stan & Co hit upon great themes, but the act of actually reading the comics is not something I find all that enjoyable: I find most of them crude and sloppy.

While still something that would be laughed off the stands today, Hulk #1 is an excellent comic book. The plots are a little over-the-top and rapid fire, but here Stan Lee gets a lot of real emotion on the page. Right away, it has the feeling of instant classic, possibly because it leans very heavy on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, but with the Jack Kirby art lending a Vincent Price vibe. Is that enough name-dropping? William Castle! James Whale! Richard Matheson! I’m ever so knowledgeable!

Hulk himself is very Monster of Frankenstein in these early depictions. He’s quite intelligent, but thuggish, and he’s often depicted with blockish features and dark circles under his eyes. Everything about this issue is gorgeous, iconic and moody.

Photo-referencing in its infacy.
The Hulk is depicted as being played by Marlon Brando,
only slightly more articulate.


The Incredible Hulk 002
The best thing about this collection is that the comics are actually scans of the original comics. Although the scans are just about perfect, I was a little disappointed, expecting something a little more interactive or fancy, sort of like Marvel’s webcomics. But that disappointment soon gave way to thrill: they scanned the entire comic, including ads and letter pages.

The highlight of this issue is a mail-order junk ad, typical to comics. But one of the products is an “Exploding Hand-Grenade.” “Looks and works just like a real one,” the ad promises, although it fires caps instead of destructive shrapnel. “Pull the pin, throw the grenade, and watch the fun!” Wheee! What an innocent time. I imagine this prank was a big hit with Dads who were extra jumpy and moody since getting back from Korea.

The Hulk remains Frankensteinish, but is now green. Maybe it’s just what I’m used to, but it seems much more effective. It gives the Hulk extra-significance and monstrosity, especially in the panels where he’s particularly brutish.

The Incredible Hulk 004
It really was a coloring error. The letter page here says so. Everybody probably knew that already, but I was untrusting.

The Incredible Hulk 006
A half-dozen issues was as far as the Hulk’s first series got, making me wonder if Sean McKeever did any work on the title. This issue is dated March, 1963.

Tales To Astonish 060
Regular appearances for The Hulk resumed a year and a half later, when the Jade Giant took over as the back-up feature for Giant-Man. Really? Frickin’ Giant-Man??

Running through these short Hulk stories, the plots and dialogue all start to blur together, but the shortened features have something that isn’t very common these days: momentum. The Hulk bounces around from the Blue Area of the Moon, to the Future, to a desert fight with Hercules, and the few times when he stops for breath, there are subplots involving Major Talbot and Rick Jones to keep things humming. It’s actually a lot of fun and it’s easy to tell that Stan & Co. weren’t concerned with the big picture at all, simply the next big idea. Which, in an age where so much attention is paid to marketability, events, and continuity (the latter by fans), is kind of refreshing.

Tales To Astonish 063:
The First Appearance of the Leader. If he’s supposed to be as smart as the Hulk is strong, shouldn’t he play a bigger role than he does in the Marvel Universe? Why does Doctor Doom get all the respect? Shouldn’t the Leader truly have the most bad genious?

Tales To Astonish 074:
The Leader puts a bubble around his head and dies. Oh.

If you're so smart, how come you couldn't figure out not to play with plastic bags?

Tales To Astonish 069:
The Giant-Man feature stories stop. Sub-Mariner feature stories take over. Green banana-hammocks. Spock ears. And plots that turn on the inherent nobility of electric eels. Yes, Jon. Be careful what you wish for.

Tales To Astonish 077:
Thinking him dead, Rick Jones reveals Banner’s secret identity to Talbot and Betty. Hulk stories are immediately 75% less convoluted.

Tales To Astonish 080:
Gene Colan & Dick Ayers take over as the Sub-Mariner’s art-team. And with that, reading the feature story here stops feeling like a chore. For a few issues, at least.

Tales To Astonish 081:
The first appearance of Boomerang! Why is this notable? Boomerang’s first costume is a fashion revolution. I dub it “circus pimp chic” and it needs to make a comeback.

Tales To Astonish 083:
Page 1: Krang says, “Sub-Mariner’s uncanny instincts led him to my sea-cruiser, even though – at the touch of a button – I activated the molecular metal camouflager completely changing the ship’s appearance.” That must really suck. I mean, you go through all the trouble of outfitting your sea-cruiser with a molecular metal camouflager – in fact, you probably had to invent one cause I don’t think they sell them at Radio Shack - and the dude just instincts you out anyway. I’m starting to feel sorry for Krang.

Tales To Astonish 088:
After 19 issues, Sub-Mariner has finally put an end to Krang’s plot to conquer Atlantis. Finally. Maybe now we’ll stumble upon a fresh adventure for Namor, one that actually makes him interesting.

Oh look, it’s Attuma. I wonder what he wants.

Tales To Astonish 092:
A t.v. station presents a scale replica of the Hulk for viewers to study. Y’know, so they’ll know which 8’ tall green monster not to approach if they happen across him
Stan "The Man" is joined by Marie “The She) Severin on art, and man, up until this point, the Hulk has never looked better.

The Hulk finally gets first billing and the opening story? Will my comic book OCD now enable me to skip the Sub-mariner torture? The answer is ‘no.’

Tales To Astonish 100:
This issue is billed as The Sub-Mariner fights the Hulk. I’ve never wanted Brian Azzarello to write a story so badly in my life.

So Subby is searching for the Hulk in order to make him his ally. Coincidentally, the Puppet Master decides to make a Hulk puppet to control him (that easy, huh?) to kill the Sub-Mariner. Ah, fate.

The Incredible Hulk #102
It’s his. The title is all his! The Hulk didn’t kill the Sub-Mariner. But maybe fan-apathy did.

And with this issue, Gary Friedrich takes over the writing duties from Stan Lee. As much as I revere Stan, at this point I find myself welcoming the change with renewed optimism. The Stan stories are not without their moments, but they’re either getting sloppier or repetitive, or the marathon is taking its toll on me. As we move towards the end of the 60’s and what I hope is a more modern comic book age, a dedicated writer might be just what The Hulk needs to start injecting some sense, not to mention real tension and emotion, into the book.

We begin where we left off last issue – the Bruce Banner, in Asgard, falling in a bottomless pit. The Enchantress sees him and, thinking he might know Hercules, saves him. Huh? I guess it’s sort of like the time I went up to a black guy and asked if he could get me Tiger’s autograph. Turned out it was Vijay Singh, and the answer was “no.”

Anyway, so much for optimism. But only 140 issues or so ‘til the 80’s.

I break for sleep and formatting and will resume tomorrow.

1 comment:

Vocal Minority said...

Jon, I fear for your sanity.

At the same time I salute your selflessness and dedication.

You do realise that at some point you're going to end up reading 120+ straight issues of Peter David, right?