Thursday, April 1, 2010

43: Incredible Hulk #6

Incredible Hulk #6
January 3, 1963

  • At a faroff glance, it always seemed odd that Jack Kirby drew the first five issues of The Incredible Hulk, but Steve Ditko drew the sixth. Now, having seen Kirby's disappearance over the past month from all of his titles but The Fantastic Four, it at least has some context to it - if still no answer to the mystery. Of course, it's entirely possible to imagine Jack getting the absurd plot for this issue and exclaiming, "Are you outta yer mind, Stan?! I ain't drawin' that!" But, surprisingly, Kirby's loss is Ditko's gain (and ours, as well), as Steve turns out to be the perfect choice for illustrating something just this WEIRD, as well as infusing the characters with the sense of paranoia and desperation so often found in his figures.

    As bizarre plot developments go, they don't get much stranger than this....

  • Okay, yes, the weirdness: Over the course of the series to date, Stan has turned the Hulk from a creature who only emerges at night, to a dumb brute telepathically controlled by Rick Jones, to an intelligent and cruel monster he can turn on and off with the use of a gamma ray machine. This time, though, something goes wrong - and he emerges as a bizarre hybrid, with Banner's head on the Hulk's body. When Rick worries that this would endanger the Hulk's secret identity, the Hulk goes and picks up a lifelike Hulk mask - one of several copies he'd had made, for study (??) - and slaps it on. Unfortunately, when a group of army goons apprehend an unconscious Hulk, they immediately pull off his Hulk mask ... only to discover a Hulk head underneath, having finally caught up to the rest of him. Which, while insane, really makes you wonder: Just what on earth was such a ludicrous development for?!

    If you think Stan's "teen dialogue" sounds painful here ... you've never read
    Bob Haney's
    Teen Titans, over at DC.  And you should!

  • Meanwhile, in the category of "too little, too late", Stan finally gets around to fleshing out Rick Jones a little as he purports to give him something of a supporting cast. Despite having been dared by his friends onto the bomb test site in issue #1, we've only seen Rick as something of a loner ever since. Here he meets up with them once again - though none of them are actually named - and they decide to form a kid-gang called (at least by themselves) The Teen Brigade. Surprisingly, they would actually go on to appear a handful of times in the next couple of years! Unsurprisingly, they never caught on.
    Though Ditko inking Kirby in #2 was a mismatch, he's great on his own.
    The emotive expressions and exaggerated body language are truly inspired.

  • And so, with this sixth issue ... the Hulk is cancelled. And we aren't surprised. The first issue was a mostly successful story that was effectively creepy and darkly powerful. But as has been discussed, they instantly lost focus, and didn't seem to have a clue as to what to do with this character after that. Every issue seemed to bring a new incarnation of the monster, as Stan & Jack rapidly tried on new and different versions of the character, seemingly at random, just to see what worked. So it's not too shocking that the readership might have gotten tired of this constant tinkering with the formula, and simply lost interest. But Stan must have known, deep down, that there was still some power in the concept somewhere, and last month's stint in FF #12 would be just the first of many guest appearances for the now-homeless Hulk....

    And thus ends the Hulk.  He wasn't very popular, wasn't beloved by many, and would
    never star in TV series and blockbuster movies.  No one would ever hear of him again....