Friday, December 25, 2009

5: Incredible Hulk #1

Hulk #1
March 1, 1962

  • Today, publishers will restart an old comic with a new #1 issue just to boost sales. It's a far cry from the old days, when a brand-new comic book title was looked on with caution! A higher issue number told the newsstand owner that the comic had been around a while, and so was a tried and tested commodity. But a brand new comic? Why, that could be money down the drain! Best to play things safe. Yet here, just a few months after launching Fantastic Four #1, Stan & Jack launched another new comic, gambling further. Was Stan feeling cocky and confident after that first warm reception? Or was it more a matter of throwing a billion things at the wall to see what might stick?

  • Perhaps inspired by the success of The Thing over in FF, Stan here made the monster/hero the main feature, and a classic monster mix at that: In countenance, Frankenstein's creature; in manner, Jekyll & Hyde. Something most comics fans know is that in the first issue, Hulk was not green, but gray. Well, that was the intent ... but the printing process had a bugger of a time with gray, and the Hulk ended up being various colors depending on which page he was on, including green - which Stan went with from then on. Also note that though the monster is more instinct than intellect, he's a far cry from the dumb "Hulk smash!" state he would later devolve to.

  • And, of course, we also meet the unlikely sidekick, teenager Rick Jones. Already an orphan, his attachment to Bruce Banner is instantly cemented with the bonds of self-sacrifice and guilt, when he realizes that it was the act of Bruce saving Rick - during a stupid prank, no less - that ended up cursing Banner with his burden. If such a tale were being written today, the guilt of such a thing would probably consume Rick, turning him into a tragic figure. Fortunately, Stan must have realized that the monster was dark enough on his own, and needed some lightness and relief.

  • In fact, there are some surprisingly heavy themes at work for an early '60s comic. Bruce's genius came up with the devastating gamma bomb - and was punished for it accordingly. And that's not all: Earlier, when warned of the consequences if his theories were wrong, his arrogance is staggering: "I don't make mistakes."

  • Strangely, the last segment - in Soviet Russia - just doesn't fit. By all rights, it sounds like it should have worked: The Gargoyle reveals he once had been a brilliant scientist, one who was turned into a misshapen monster because of his government's bomb tests, and thus proves a fascinating counterpart to the Hulk - and in the very first issue, to boot. But that's part of the problem; as interesting as it is on a thematic level, it just doesn't fit in with the earlier, darker stuff. Still, it gives Stan & Jack an excuse to end a first issue with a mushroom cloud, for the second time in three months...!


Brenton said...

The Hulk looks strangely modern in the "Hulk Strikes!" picture. Looks like 80s art, maybe, though the soldiers are distinctly 1960s Marvel.

Don Alsafi said...

Yeah, that's a very "classic" Hulk pose. In fact, I'd wager that one panel influenced more Hulk artists than most others....

Don Alsafi said...

Brenton - just saw your comment on Pajiba about the RSS feed not being displayed on the main page. I've just fixed that; thanks very much!

Anonymous said...

according to Stan Goldberg, who colored all the comics at the time, and had a lot of leeway (excuse the pun) to devise color schemes, the Hulk's gray color was changed in the second issue because gray did not reproduce consistently, and thus was not good on a continuing character (although they could get away with it on the shorter monster stories).

Green was used because it was a color they was strong and Goldberg thought it worked well (and was not being used for other Marvel heroes, which were usually shades of red or blue). You can hear what Golberg has to say (as well as Roy Thomas, Joe Sinnott, Mark Evanier and a cameo by my pal Barry Pearl, at a Jack Kirby tribute panel that took place at a New York con a few years ago. I was there and it was fun and informative.

Nick Caputo

Diego said...

I didn't quite like the ending on this one. I mean, why would the Gargoyle mind so much having his appearance fixed, if he was determined to die?? It just doesn't make much sense, but it's incredible how these early comics bashed the Soviets in any chance they had.

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