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READ MY LIBRARY ENTRY 49: The Strange and Incredible Origins of the Hulk!

Max makes good on his plan to start reading more Marvel Comics and begins with The Incredible Hulk Omnibus Vol. 1.  After reading this volume, Max learns he really didn’t know much about the Hulk’s beginnings, and probably because they are so wacky and offbeat!  See here for yourself how the Hulk started out!

Super-Fly Comics & Games’ plucky sidekick Max Lake has embarked on a journey to read his collection of comics! Join Max each week every Friday as he takes on his Library! Titles reviewed by this blog do not necessarily reflect what the store has in stock, but you can always email the store to special order something that you’ve seen here at superflycomics@gmail.com. You can also call Super-Fly at (937) 767-1445 or just ask someone at the store next time you’re there for special orders. You can read past entries of the blog here. Any questions or comments for Max should be sent to maxdlake@gmail.com or feel free to comment in the comments section below. Check out @maxdlake to follow Max on Twitter. The things Max writes do not necessarily reflect the views of Super-Fly Comics & Games, and Super-Fly Comics & Games is not responsible for what Max says—especially anything that bugs you.

Written 1/20/13

Thanks to the curiosity and open mindedness of my wife, Maureen, we’ve been striving to get some quality Marvel books into our collection in the Library.  After the Avengers movie and seeing all the movies that led up to it together, Maureen has developed a particular fondness for the Hulk.  She’s been telling me for a while she’s wanted an “ultimate Hulk book” just as in her opinion, “Welcome Back Frank” by Ennis, Dillion and Palmiotti is “the ultimate Punisher book.”  We went in on picking up both of the Bill Mantlo written Hulk volumes, Pardoned and Regression which collect stories from the early 80s (and are pretty meaty in their own right!), and she read and enjoyed some of those, but I didn’t feel these were quite the “ultimate” Hulk experience.  So as Xmas approached, with the help of Tony Barry & Super-Fly, I was able to order and put on layaway The Incredible Hulk Omnibus Vol. 1, a volume now out of print, as a Christmas present for Maureen.  While the original Silver Age Hulk stories may not be the caliber of Peter David’s Hulk run, they are written by Stan Lee (a childhood hero of mine, and although his luster to me has dulled over the years, I still admire the guy) and better yet, drawn by Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, it was a perfect opportunity for Maureen to see “The King” in action at Marvel as well as experience Ditko, and she hasn’t read much of anything he’s drawn.

Hulk Omnibus Vol. 1

Incredible Hulk Omnibus Vol. 1 with cover by Alex Ross, which I gave as a gift to my wife

I was able to finish paying off the book a short time before the holiday and though was tempted to look through it, I left it in the shrink wrap and wrapped it up in an oversized box.  I got some other cool stuff for Maureen, but I was most excited to give her the Hulk Omnibus.  On Christmas Day, we got up, opened some presents and did our holiday tradition of watching a Lupin the 3rd anime movie.  We opened half our presents in the morning; half in the evening to keep the Xmas vibe going all day, and since the Omnibus was the biggest present I had for Maureen, I had her open it last in the evening.  Upon opening it, she was really surprised and thrilled, which I was happy about.  She’s really excited to read it, but concentrated her holiday break comic reading efforts on reading the X-Men Age of Apocalypse Omnibus that our dear friend Travis Ray loaned her.  We looked through The Incredible Hulk Omnibus together a little, but she’s gone back to school and has had little time for comics (and has also coincidentally gotten totally addicted a video game we have on Steam called Bastion, which was developed by Supergiant Games published by WB Games—it has also been a time suck for her) since.  So for the hell of it, I decided I’d start reading it, and have been going through it, reading it alongside Maureen as she does her homework.  What have I learned?  First off, this truly is “The ultimate Hulk book” (But not Ultimate Universe, er, um…perhaps I’m using the wrong adjective?).  But more than that, I learned that I really knew jack squat about the Silver Age Hulk, or the origins of the character.

Before I get to the content of the book, I’d like to take a moment to discuss my impressions of the Omnibus format itself.  I’ve had The Amazing Spider-Man Omnibus Vol. 1 for a while, but haven’t really dug into it as I have with the Hulk (and to a limited extent, my smaller Squadron Supreme Omnibus), so it’s really my first experience with reading the format.  The Marvel Omnibi (and this one in particular) seem HUGE!  They are meaty hardcovers, so meaty (and delicate…and expensive) that I hope you can understand/appreciate I won’t be providing many, if any scans, of the book.  I will be looking for panels online though, so we’ll see how that goes.  If nothing else I will be able to get some pictures of some of the covers at least.  The Marvel Omnibi are bigger than DC Archive Editions by a slight, but noticeable margin, and definitely fatter.  The pages are quite large and the paper is of good quality.  The MSRP for most Omni is $99.99, and while you can find them for considerably cheaper, even a $100 price tag isn’t unreasonable for the quality and amount of comics you get in each volume—comics that would otherwise be incredibly expensive individually.   The Incredible Hulk Omnibus collects The Incredible Hulk #1-6, the Hulk stories from Tales to Astonish #59-101 and Incredible Hulk #102, the same material which make up the first three Incredible Hulk Marvel Masterworks volumes.  Since it comprises of three Marvel Masterworks, there is an introduction at each section for each respective Masterworks, the first two (at least) by Stan Lee.  There are also original letters pages printed, reprinting the world of fandom’s initial reactions to the Hulk with Stan Lee (presumably) answering the occasional letter.  The addition of the letters pages is a fantastic inclusion and really celebrates this reproduction of part of the dawn of the Marvel Age of Comics.

Now for the comics themselves, and they are nuts!  The premise I’ve always known about the Hulk is mostly intact. I’ve always known Bruce Banner was the Hulk.  I knew he was bombarded with Gamma Radiation trying to save teenager Rick Jones from the testing site of a Gamma Bomb.  I knew he became the Hulk, and that he was a rampaging monster with his anger always out of control with General “Thunderbolt” Ross leading the army to capture the Hulk; Ross’ daughter Betty falling in love with Bruce Banner and Rick Jones helping Banner/Hulk out in his early days…and I thought that was always the case.  It turns out, not so much.  Instead, I have found the original Hulk stories to be a showcase of an ongoing metamorphosis of transformations and changes that eventually evolve into the “get mad, turn into the Hulk” standard we all know, but it actually started out much different.

Initially, the first time Bruce Banner turns into the Hulk after being exposed to Gamma Radiation it happens at night.  Like a werewolf’s curse, Bruce Banner turns into the Hulk at night only to transform back into Bruce Banner as soon as the day breaks, every night.  Not only that, the Hulk was originally grey not green!  In his first issue, the Hulk that Banner turns into is giant and grey.  Stan Lee is quick to point out in his first introduction (and later in one of the letters columns) that this was a goof and since it didn’t look so good, they switched it to green for the second issue with no explanation, in-story or otherwise, given until said letters column issues later.  It’s a little jarring, but was later worked into canon so it’s all good.

The Hulk started out grey!

Teenager Rick Jones seems overall unfazed at Bruce Banner’s sudden transformation into the Hulk, who was grey in his first appearance.

 

The differences don’t stop coming there though.  More exposure to Gamma Radiation causes Rick Jones to gain control of the Hulk.  Out of gratitude for Bruce Banner saving his life, Rick had decided to stay with Banner and the Hulk as the only one knowing their shared identity.  After the Hulk gets tricked into riding a rocket and gets dosed with more Gamma Rays, the day/night switch is a thing of the past and Rick controls Hulk both mentally and verbally as if he were a mindless slave.  However, any time Rick is not nearby, the Hulk is free to act as he pleases—usually angrily and destructively!  Due to being hounded by the army and the Hulk’s calamitous nature, Banner and Rick work to find a cure, but end up working it out so that the Hulk retains Banner’s scientific mind, but not his milksop personality!  In fact, the Banner-minded Hulk is a complete jerk to Rick Jones and just about everyone!  But to transform back and forth from the Hulk to Banner and vice-versa, Banner/Hulk must shoot himself with more Gamma Rays.  Every transformation back to Banner leaves the scientist wiped out completely, leaving him weaker and weaker until he can transform to the Hulk again.

 

Hulk transforms back to Banner!

Like some werewolf curse of old, initially Banner becomes Hulk at night only to transform back to Banner at daybreak

Things get even wackier, as there’s even a transformation where Banner transforms into the Hulk and is totally the Hulk and green except he has Bruce Banner’s non-green head!

Hulk has Banner's head!

Hulk with Banner’s face? What the wha?!? Thankfully this awkward device did not become a Hulk standard.

 

This leads to Hulk fashioning a mask that Banner had made a mold of Hulk’s face of to study.  Later letters pages even begin to comment on how strange it all is how much the Hulk changes from issue to issue.  However, I believe all these early transformations set the stage for many of the things Peter David did in his run decades later, including bringing back the Grey Hulk and also having the Hulk have Banner’s mind and personality at one point.  Moreover, I find all the constant changes to be cool as the radiation is causing unpredictable results, and made for an interesting ride the first initial six issues of the first The Incredible Hulk series.

 

Hulk vs. Toad Men!

By the Hulk’s second issue his color settled on his trademark green—just in time to take on some creepy alien Toad Men!

 

In all of the stories, Hulk is pursued by the military and Bruce Banner, a nuclear scientist assigned to General “Thuderbolt” Ross’ unit is frequently missing while the Hulk is active, a fact that often and increasingly raises suspicion.  This also causes Ross’ daughter Betty to worry about Banner and fear that the Hulk has done something to him.  Rick Jones is often underfoot, trying to help both Banner and the Hulk any way he can—usually by staying out of the Hulk’s way—but also helping him out in a pinch occasionally.  It’s not always the military that the Hulk is up against though, as alien Toad Men, an immortal underground wizard named Tyrannus, an Asian dictator, the Ringmaster and his Circus of Crime and communist agents (just to name a few!) all pit their mettle against the Hulk only to come up short time and again against the green goliath.

 

Hulk leaps!

Little does that soldier know, Hulk’s not actually flying, but leaping.

 

Jack Kirby does the art for the first five issues and his Hulk has a very classic look and looks pretty brutish and very monster-like.  Steve Ditko does the art on the sixth issue and on many of the Tales to Astonish stories, and his Hulk is also distinct looking a little more cerebral.  In the letters pages, fans would rave and voice their opinions on which version they liked better, and it was a pretty even split (at least as far as the letters go).

 

Incredible Hulk #6 by Steve Ditko

Steve Ditko, who penciled The Incredible Hulk #6 and several of the Tales to Astonish stories brought a different look to the Hulk.

 

The first Tales to Astonish Hulk issue has Hulk squaring off against title co-star Giant-Man as Giant-Man and the Wasp try to talk Hulk into coming back to the Avengers (hot on the heels of the Hulk quitting the Avengers, an event I recently read in a TPB of the original Avengers issues, which I should be writing about soon).  A miffed Giant-Man villain named the Human Top (who decides if he goes without his costume he can blend in better) gets involved, and he basically sets up the Hulk to fight Giant-Man, enraging Hulk to the point that Hulk won’t listen to reason when Giant-Man shows up.  The plan works, with Hulk going nuts on Giant-Man upon seeing him.  The Human Top also goes spinning up to General Ross and his troops telling him where they can find the Hulk to cause more trouble.  Ross is confused when he sees the Top spinning up to him, but upon hearing where the Hulk is, loses all suspicion of what the hell he just saw happen.  Crazy, but okay, it’s Silver Age stuff.

Human Top from Tales To Astonish #59

This jerk is known as the Human Top, who completely ruins a chance for Hulk to re-join the Silver Age Avengers! Boo on you sir!

It’s in the Tales to Astonish shorter stories (shorter as Hulk shared the title with Giant-Man, and later Namor, the Sub-Mariner) that the Hulk begins to really feel like the Hulk we all know and love.  Here, any excitement, panic or anger is what sets Bruce Banner into transforming into the Hulk.  Also, Bruce Banner and Betty Ross have expressed their love for one another, though Banner still cannot trust Betty with the secret that he is the Hulk (mainly because he wants to protect her).  Rick Jones is still around, but not as much as Captain America has at this point asked him to become his partner as the new Bucky (also something that occurred in early Avengers issues).  Rick feels bad for abandoning the Hulk, but Banner understands, not wanting Rick to get hurt by the monster.  Most of all, General Ross’ suspicions about Bruce Banner and him being connected to the Hulk (opposed to him being in league with aliens or communists as he had previously believed) are at an all-time high, leading the Pentagon to assign a Major Glen Talbot to Ross’ base just to monitor Banner’s activities.  Things get worse when identity stealing Spider-Man villain the Chameleon (who Ditko co-created) shows up to cause trouble at Ross’ base on behalf of the Leader, who is a classic Hulk villain who was also exposed to Gamma Radiation and is as smart as the Hulk is strong.  However, none of this is revealed when the Leader first appears, and there is a helmet covering his head and he is just referred to as “The Leader.”  The next issue we see the Leader without his helmet and see his is also green skinned, and has a giant forehead.  He explains how he was some worker (“whose name is now unimportant”—the Leader’s words, not mine) who was exposed to Gamma Radiation and suddenly had an insatiable urge to read.  Then his head grew and his skin turned green.  The Leader finds out about the Hulk and is curious about him and suspects correctly that Hulk is also a victim of Gamma Radiation.  I’ve always kinda dug the Leader but never really read much with him in it, so it was cool to see his first appearances.

 

It's the Leader! Dastardly Hulk villain!

The Leader, also the victim of Gamma Radiation, would become a major Hulk villain.

 

That’s about as far as I’ve gotten so far.  Other interesting things to note are how Stan Lee explains why they had two heroes appear in books like Tales to Astonish and Tales of Suspense (which featured Iron Man and Captain America) was because the Marvel artists, Jack Kirby in particular, had a heavy load.  Kirby was on Thor and Fantastic Four and Hulk (and more) and didn’t have time to draw full features, so they got their best artists to work on stories half the length so more comics could come out with more characters. Another neat fact I found is that a handful of letter writers to Marvel Comics were female!  Very cool!  Another interesting aspect is there seem to be readers of all ages that were reading the Hulk comics, and a fair amount of excitement about the then-new Fantastic Four series and other Marvel Comics stalwarts as they were starting out.  Again, this makes The Incredible Hulk Omnibus Vol. 1 a period piece documenting an important time in comics’ history.

A final thing I found interesting is that in his second introduction, Stan Lee talks about how he received many letters asking if he was making a political statement with his portrayal of General “Thunderbolt” Ross and the military at his command, as they were, in a sense, the constant “bad guys” of the Hulk mythos.  Lee responds by saying:

“My answer is a thunderous, deafening, resounding ‘No!’ Just think about it for a moment. Here we have the strongest living being on Earth.  Nothing can harm him. Nothing can stop him. But we have to put him in danger somehow. Who or what could be powerful enough to give him something to worry about? It hadda be the Army, right? I never tried to make the troops look like bad guys.  They were heroic soldiers doing their duty. And General ‘Thunderbolt’ Ross wasn’t a bad guy, either. He truly believed it was his duty to destroy the green skinned monster who was a menace to our whole nation.  And I really liked the idea of Ross’ daughter being in love with Banner.  It gave me so many personal angles to play with.  But subtle political messages? No way! When I get political, Bunky, I’m not subtle or shy. I shout it from the rooftops!”

I still have massive chunks of Hulk goodness to go (again, the Marvel Omni are HUGE), so I’ll probably be writing more about it as I get through more.  Or maybe not.  I guess it depends on how interesting it is.  I had to write about it though, not only to actually write about something as I’m reading it (and it’s been months since I’ve had a good chance to do so) but because these early Hulk stories are so different than anything I’ve known the Hulk to be, at least in the pre-Tales to Astonish stories.  It’s an interesting evolution, and definitely made for an entertaining read.  I’m sure the rest is pretty entertaining too.  What’s not to love about
“HULK SMASH?!?”

 

NOTES FROM NOW (3/14/13): Thankfully, I was able to find a good amount of images online to supplement the blog today, since I was wary about scanning my wife’s copy of the Hulk Omnibus.  I’m still posting newer stuff for the moment as I’m a little stuck with formatting the next “older” entry that’s set to go up.  At least it brings some variety to the blog!  I’ll be working to finish the older entry hang ups, and maybe I can have both newer and older entries going up.  Wish me luck on that, and I’ll do my best to make it happen!

I have to say I really enjoyed reading The Incredible Hulk Omnibus Vol. 1 and I wish there was a Vol. 2! (I was actually having dreams this morning there was a Vol. 2 coming out, or available somewhere.  Alas, it’s but a dream!) But with the Con season coming up (like Gem City Comic Con and C2E2!  Both of which Super-Fly Comics & Games will be representing at!), I may start looking for the Incredible Hulk Marvel Masterworks that follow the Hulk Omnibus Vol. 1 (provided I can find them cheap!) so I can continue to follow the story of Marvel’s Green Goliath from the get go.  We’ll see.  In the meantime, we’ll have a couple more recent entries with Hulk coming up!

Past entries of the Read My Library Blog

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