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...!


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