January 10, 1964
- The Hulk Vs. The Thing! And so begins a rivalry that will build upon and carry down through the ages, as these two monstrous powerhouses lock in terrible combat for the first time. Oh, sure, the Hulk had first shown up in Fantastic Four #12, where he very briefly tangled with Ben Grimm and the rest of the FF, but this time the throwdown is squarely between the two. And, happily, this issue is everything that #12 wasn't: exciting, focused, and full of suspense. And lest the promise of such a slugfest leave any buyer still wavering: Look at that cover! Look at the carnage these two engines of destruction have left in their wake! It's so catastrophic that the city is collapsing! New York is burning!
Your teeth will rattle when these mighty mountains collide!
- It's also with this issue that you really get the feel of a grand design from Stan, as the myriad and disparate threads seem to culminate in this one tale, leading us to wonder - and not for the first time - whether it's due to intent, or simply good timing. The story picks right up from the end of The Avengers #4, with the team returned from their overseas battle with Namor and the Hulk, and having absorbed the newly-revived Captain America into their ranks. (That issue also saw Rick Jones being grafted on as an Avengers supporting character, and that continues here as well.) Seeing these separate elements coming together gives the sense of one giant, continuing story being told across separate comic magazines, which would go on to become a staple at Marvel and other publishers ... but done so well, and for the first time, it must have been an exciting thing to see!
Bob Banner? Eh?
- And make no mistake: A lot happens in this book. Heck, between the Hulk's story and the appearance of the Avengers themselves, the FF are almost guest-stars in their own comic! Normally, such a thing could be a bad move, signalling a lack of focus - but honestly, the story's so exciting that it just works. And the drama isn't confined to the Hulk, either, as halfway through the tale Reed falls prey to a mysterious malady caused by the improper handling of dangerous chemicals. The irony is that he was working yet again on a formula to cure the Thing of his misshapen form, still haunted by the guilt of how his own ambition had disfigured his friend - but when he presents the antidote to Ben Grimm, the rocky hero smashes it! He no longer seems to hate being The Thing as much as he once did, and now refuses to take any treatment that would permanently change him back to human. Partly he claims this is because of his girlfriend Alicia, and how she loves him for what he is - but we're also invited to wonder if, after two dozen adventures and brushes with the fantastic, he simply likes what he can do! It's certainly a different Ben Grimm than the cynical, brooding one we saw back in FF #1.
When the typically infallible Reed falls amidst such a high-stakes tale,
you know the battle will be rough.
- In the above thoughts, I've used the word "exciting" exactly thrice to describe the events in these pages, and it's because the thrills, action and enthusiasm is undeniable. Even more staggering is the thought that this came out the same month as X-Men #4, featuring the first appearance of The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, and the aforementioned - and massively important - Avengers #4. What kid, browsing these four-color packages of pop and spectacle on the stands, could have surmised how remembered these three comics would be? January 1964 must have been, yes, a truly exciting time to be reading Marvels - and what a way to kick off the year!
Tell the truth: With an image like that leaping out at you,
there's no way you'd miss the next issue!