Monday, June 20, 2011

May 1962: Is He Man or Monster? Or... Is He Both?

The Incredible Hulk #1

While testing the G-bomb in the desert, Dr. Bruce Banner is exposed to a Gamma Ray blast when he rescues Rick Jones, a teenaged orphan who snuck onto the site on a dare. The radiation soon turns Banner into a gray giant with an angry attitude. Christened The Hulk by a soldier chasing him, he changes back and forth at random, going from mild-mannered scientist to brute without warning. The Hulk's first encounter with a villain comes when he and Rick are captured by The Gargoyle, a misshapen Soviet genius who plans to study The Hulk in order to develop an army of creatures to rule the Earth!
Tom McMillion: I know I'm probably in the minority on this one, but I actually wished that the folks at Marvel kept the gray color scheme for the Hulk. I know this was originally done because of a malfunction. Still, the darker look gave the Hulk a more sinister appearance than the green. Man or monster? More like a villain given his surly attitude.

John Scoleri: What surprised me the most was finding out that the change to the Hulk was originally instigated by the coming of night, and the reversion to Banner at the arrival of dawn. I'll be interested to see how they work that out over time...

Peter Enfantino: Much more layered than the Fantastic Four’s origin story, The Hulk #1 is a delight from beginning to end. I can see the obvious homages to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Boris Karloff’s Frankenstein monster (the high forehead and haircut), but I see quite a bit of American-International’s drive-in hit The Amazing Colossal Man as well. Their bomb blast origins are virtually identical with the outcomes a bit different but, again, quite similar. As with the FF, reading this after fifty years of Hulk-history is amazing. So much fine-tuning to come. Even at this early stage, Rick Jones reminds me of Bucky Barnes, Captain America’s World War II sidekick. Indeed, for a short time in the late 60s, Rick Jones takes on the Bucky role in Cap’s title. Rick would also have a big role in the Captain Marvel comic but let’s not get ahead of ourselves, hmmm? And Stan and Jack keep on hammerin’ those commies.

TM: The Gargoyle sure is a creepy looking little runt. Believe it or not, and as stupid as it may sound, I thought he was going to be the Red Hulk's secret identity instead of Thunderbolt Ross! Glad I didn't bet any money on that one.

PE: This was The Gargoyle’s first and only appearance. No miraculous re-births or resurrections. He did, however, have a son who inherited his good looks and hair-trigger temper. The Hulk would encounter “The Gremlin” in The Incredible Hulk #163 (May 1973). Betty Ross would become one in a series of beautiful women in Marvel Comics who do nothing but sigh, pout, and suffer kidnappings. Most of these women would become stronger figures in the late 60s, but in the beginning they were nothing but window dressing.

Jack Seabrook: I wonder if Lee & Kirby realized what they had with The Thing and got right back into the Martin Goodman-directed copying mode to create the Hulk. This makes number two in an endless series of origin stories where radiation does funky things!

PE: Lesson number one: If you want to hide a Top Secret Gamma Bomb formula, don’t label it! This reminded me of the scene in Young Frankenstein where Gene Wilder finds the book titled “How I Did It” by Victor Frankenstein.

JS: Perhaps he was anticipating that, if he was ever exposed to Gamma radiation, he might not remember who he was, in which case having a clearly labeled document might come in handy?

PE: Evidently, when Bruce Banner becomes The Hulk while driving, the ground opens up under him. A puzzling concept. If you look closely, it’s actually Rick’s side of the car that sinks. What’s the explanation?

TM: I think Banner's first body part to transform was his right leg, which he then slammed onto the Jeep's passenger side.

Fantastic Four #4
Spoiled brat Johnny Storm has marched out on The Fantastic Four* (*see Fantastic Four #3 -Pesky Pete), leaving behind the Terrified Trio. Imagining something horrible has happened to her little brother, Sue Storm goads Reed and Ben (That's Thing to his, well, let's just call them friends for the sake of argument. -JS) into searching the city high and low. The Thing finds Johnny at one of his old haunts: a hot rod repair shop. After demolishing the side of the building and a vintage auto, The Thing momentarily changes back into his human form again, time enough to distract him from the escaping Torch.

Johnny finds refuge among some skid row bums in the Bowery. While reading a comic about a superhero of the olden days, Namor The Sub-Mariner, Johnny is approached by a bum who notices the comic and asserts that there is an old man in their midst with the same strength as Namor. After a quick Torch-shave, the old man is revealed to be, indeed, Namor. The Prince of the Sea has amnesia but Johnny has a quick solution to that: he flies Namor out over the ocean and drops him in. Sure enough, this lifts the veil from the Prince’s memory and he dives down deep to re-visit his home of Atlantis. Not necessarily a good move on Johnny’s part.

Namor discovers that Atlantis has been destroyed by atomic testing and his people have flown the coop to find another home. Madder than hell, he rises from the sea to vow vengeance on the human race by stirring the sleeping Giganto, a creature somehow ignored in the pages of Tales to Astonish. Resembling a whale with limbs, the giant forces the evacuation of New York but is ultimately destroyed thanks to the bravery of Ben Grimm.

This poses no problem to the Sub-Mariner who, with the aid of his magical sea-trumpet, can summon hundreds of sea creatures and promises to return humans to the caves. He offers one last chance to The Four: let Sue Storm be his bride and he will spare mankind. Reed thinks it over (sans pipe) but, in the end, decides to keep Sue around. Johnny creates a giant twister that sucks up Namor and his big dead fish and deposits them far out into the ocean. Though he’s lost his beloved blow-horn, Namor vows to return to finish the job he started.

Peter Enfantino: I love how, during his part of the search for the Torch, Reed grabs a cyclist off his bike to interrogate him and lets the bike motor on. No thought to damage. To add insult to injury, the gruff Mr. Fantastic tells the kid that if he has no info on the Torch, Reed has no time to waste on him. The cyclist is left to wonder if his insurance covers elastic man damage.

JS: How about Sue, so parched from 'searching' that she has to stop off for a milkshake... while invisible (and did she pay for the shake?-PE)! And Ben, for no other reason than to let Johnny get away after locating him, turns human and then back into the Thing in the course of a single page.

PE: Only in the Marvel Universe will you find coincidences like a character reading about the Sub-Mariner five feet away from the real thing.

JS: Do we ever get to a point where characters are reading Fantastic Four comics?

PE: Johnny Storm tells the gang of bums to leave the old man (Namor) alone since he just wants some quiet time. Storm then gives him a shave with his flame. But best of all, he grabs hold of him, flies out over the sea and drops Namor in the water, remarking that if he isn’t the Sub-Mariner, he’ll dive in and save him. That’s the definition of letting a man be?!

cover by Everett
PE: It’s a nice touch that Stan Lee was striving to bring back the Golden Age trio in one form or another. First, with Johnny Storm taking place of the android Human Torch, then, this issue, re-introducing Namor (who had last been seen in Sub-Mariner Comics #42 (September 1955). Captain America, the final piece in the puzzle, would be re-booted in Avengers #4 (March 1964). Kirby’s Sub-Mariner is just a sketch, nothing dynamic here but, to be fair, it’s tough for me to see him drawn by anyone other than his creator, Bill Everett (who gets no credit whatsoever in this revival). For proof how good Everett was, check out his too-short revival in various issues of Marvel’s Sub-Mariner series of the 1960s-70s (you can find Everett's Silver Age work in Tales to Astonish #87-91, 94-96, and Sub-Mariner #50-55, 57-61 in various jobs of inking, penciling and plotting).

JS: And, in perfect form for these early 60s tales, Namor is used as a device to introduce Giganto—yet another giant monster from the Marvel stable o' monsters.

PE: Only in the Marvel Universe #2: Ben Grimm straps a nuclear bomb to his back, walks into Giganto’s open mouth (while he’s slumbering), drops the bomb and hightails it. The bomb goes off and miraculously does not level all of Manhattan. It does give the Thing a slight concussion however.

JS: Gotta wonder where they come by all this ordinance.

PE: We see the origin of Sub-Mariner’s crush on Sue Storm, dubbing her “a prize worth catching” and “the loveliest human (he’s) ever seen.” With Sue’s receding hairline resembling The Leader’s, I’d question Namor’s idea of beauty.
JS: That was my favorite panel this issue. Although it wasn't until I looked at it blown up that I realized how horny Namor was...

Also this month
Amazing Adult Fantasy #12
Gunsmoke Western #70
Journey Into Mystery #80
Kid Colt Outlaw #104
Linda Carter, Student Nurse #5
Love Romances #99
Millie the Model #108
Strange Tales #96
Tales of Suspense #29
Tales to Astonish #31

Hated dictator Ramon Corbo keeps his people poor and sickly in "The Plague" (Amazing Adult Fantasy #12) . When a plague descends on his country, he vows to engage in a war with the U.S. for no reason other than bragging rights. Corbo comes down with the dreaded disease just as an American plane crosses into Cuba's his country's airspace. He gives orders for his Air Force to shoot the plane down and then learns that the crew were landing to share their plague vaccine with Castro's Corbo's people. A weak tale amid five forgettable stories from the "magazine that respects your intelligence." Ironically, a humorous tale also found in issue #12, "Something Fantastic," parodies the problems Lee and Ditko have coming up with story ideas for AAF. As promised in the previous issue, AAF gets its first letters page, "Amazing Adult Fantasy Fan Page." Most of the letters are what you'd expect (one reads simply "Wow!"), but there's a confession from "John Doe" that he's afraid he might be in a bit of trouble for buying a comic book with the word "Adult" in its title as he's only 16 years old. Stan Lee (or whoever edited this letters page) calms the tyke's nerves but then gets a bit high on his seat by saying "...the only reason we put the word ADULT on the cover, is to distinguish our carefully-edited, and literally-written mag from the usual crop of comics which seem to be slanted for the average 6 year old with a 3 year old mentality!" I assume Stan (or Steve Ditko for that matter) wasn't including his own Atlas titles (with its myriad giant turtles and "I Fought Ooogg" fairy tales) in that dismissal. Ironic then that three issues later, Amazing Adult Fantasy would become simply Amazing Fantasy and would introduce a teenager who has the powers of a spider (written by the literal Stan Lee, no less. I suspect the shortening of the title had a lot to do with the letters received by readers like "John Doe."
Kid Colt found his life much easier after the invention of doors
Kid Colt, Outlaw rides into "town" just as Big Montana and his pals are picking on a poor defenseless old man in "When an Outlaw Escapes" (Gunsmoke Western #70; art by Keller). Not taking kindly to bullies, Colt shows the nasty hombre what his fists can do. Grateful, the old man invites The Kid to sample some of his wife's home-cookin'. While enjoying vittles and a smoke, the old man confesses to The Kid that he never has had enough money to live the good life. Why, if only he could capture that vicious outlaw, Kid Colt, who's been "seen somewhere in these parts," he could pay off the mortgage and buy Martha the bloomers she'd spied over at McTucker's Food, Grain, and Whatnot. Not having committed his good deed of the day, it occurs to Colt that if he let the man take him in, the reward would still be his even if the Outlaw escaped afterward. This is pretty much how the deal goes down. An interesting note: after tying up the sheriff and locking him in his own jail, The Kid (naturally) hurls himself through the plate glass window of the jail rather than open the front door. Much less conspicuous that way, I guess. He then hightails it over to the saloon where he makes a citizen's arrest of Big Montana who, when shaved clean and shod of hat, is actually notorious outlaw Monks Mango (no, really!). Colt, feeling guilty about escaping from the sheriff turns Mango over and tells the lawman to keep the sizable reward for himself. Colt then heads off to his eponymous title where it's rumored a cat is stuck in a tree.
The cat in the tree turns out to be the town of Pebble Pass, whose folks don't cotton to outlaws in their midst. They've no problem showing their disapproval as The Kid soon finds out. Just looking for a bed to sleep in for the night and a couple of hot meals, the Outlaw soon finds all he'll end up with is two clenched fists. As he prepares to leave town however, the people of Pebble Pass are invaded by "The Guns of Gringo Gillis" (Kid Colt Outlaw #104; art by Keller) and Colt is forced to wear his white hat yet again. In the end, after vanquishing Gillis, The Kid is offered the job of sheriff of Pebble Pass by the suddenly warm and grateful town folk. Our hero laughs and throws aside the tin star, remarking that maybe some day "When you've all...grown up." You'll also find a solid Stan Lee/Don Heck non-Kid Colt story in this issue's "War in Chicamaw County."

"Propaganda" is a perfect title for the Lee/Kirby story in Journey Into Mystery #80, once again spotlighting those evil Russkies and their plan to overtake the world with their Communist ways. In the story, an expert in propaganda is given a choice, sway an African tribe with ties to the U.N. or spend the rest of his life in Siberia. He opts for the former but finds the swaying a hard task as these natives are very happy with the treatment they receive form the U.N. When told that the Communist Gods would protect them and provide good crops, the tribesmen bring up their own Gods to the dismay of the Reds. Ironically, while trying to educate the 6 year-old readership with the 3 year-old mentality, Lee and Kirby bend over backwards to demonize the Soviets in typical early 60s fashion. I'm too young (haven't said that in a long time!) to have experienced the adolescent fears of the Cold War so I can't put myself in those shoes but I did live through the equally gloomy early 1980s when a mushroom cloud courtesy of the USSR seemed likely in everyone's near future. At that time, we knew there was a lot of blame to go around on each side and I think the fiction reflected that. I now step down from my soapbox to ask the goofy question about that cover blurb: was it really supposed to say "For sheer fantasy, as you like it..." or " it"? A no-no-prize to the first correct answer.
In "I Dream of Doom" (Strange Tales #96; art by Kirby), Frank Atwell bursts into an emergency room demanding medication to keep him awake. He's being haunted by a monstrous being in his dreams and the creature gets closer to capturing Frank each successive dream. Believing Frank to be an exhausted, stressed man, the ER doctor gives him a sedative and Frank dives into a deep sleep. There he encounters the beast who at last gets ahold of Frank and takes him to a quasi-futuristic land, where he's told by the people there that he's actually their king having a real bad dream about a nightmare world called Earth. Back in our world, the ER doc discovers Frank missing and, for some reason, questions the mysteries of the universe with his (Jane Foster twin) nurse. An entertaining read with a big monster reminiscent of the Mole Man's pet from Fantastic Four #1.
"Nothing Can Save Us" from a highly mediocre issue of Tales of Suspense (#29; art by Kirby) including the story of the space travelers forced to crash land on a distant planet. There the astronauts are terrorized by a giant flame-spouting dragon. Since the men will be marooned on the planet at least a month patching up their spaceship, the majority decide to kill the dragon before it becomes a problem. One amongst them believes it to be against the law to kill a creature on another planet that hasn't attacked yet and he forces, at gunpoint, the other men to reconsider their plans. At that point, a meteorite hurls towards them but is veered off course by the mighty dragon's fiery breath. Kids in 1962 were left to ponder the fact that everything serves a place in life, maybe even that icky girl down the block who keeps asking if you can come out and play jump rope.
At first glance, "The Mummy Walks" (Tales to Astonish #31) would appear to be one of those mega-opuses that Lee and Kirby are famous for whipping up in the early 1960s. Unfortunately, this one is deadly dull and dumb. After years of research, Paul Kentworth has reached the conclusion that an ancient pyramid buried under the sands of Egypt is prison to some unknown ancient evil. Paul sets out with girlfriend in tow to make sure it doesn't stay undiscovered and unknown for long. Alas, as it happens so often with intelligent men in the comics world, Paul doesn't surround himself with loyal comrades. His longtime friend, Jason Wilkes, harbors a high-energy jealousy for Paul's past accomplishments and now wants a piece of that red carpet. Once the trio discover and enter the pyramid, they stumble onto the resting place of the ancient evil, a huge mummy. Wilkes sets off TNT and traps Paul and his girl with the giant monster, who rises and reveals that he's actually an alien from another world sent to scout for an invasion. Lucky for the lovers, this is not the brightest invader in the Marvel Universe as he's forgotten just why he blockaded himself in his tomb until he smashes his way through the wall to the outside world. As he lies dying in the sand, it comes back to him that earth's atmosphere is poison to his race. Sadly, he doesn't further enlighten us as to why he took the time to wrap himself in bandages before he took to his slumber. Much more enjoyable was the delightfully goofy space alien/giant mummy mash-up "Mummex - King of the Mummies" from TTA #8 (March 1960) with another nice art job by the underrated Don Heck. But further, our bandaged outer space buddy from "The Mummy Walks" was actually the third such hybrid to be used by Stan Lee within a two year period. Just a few months after Mummex' premiere, the harried people of Egypt were set upon by yet another mummified alien in "I Defied Gomdullah, the Living Pharaoh" (Journey Into Mystery #61, October 1960; art by Kirby and Ayers). Never let it be said that Stan "The Man" Lee let a good idea rest.


  1. One of the interesting things about the Hulk over the years is the different variations the character has gone through. He first started out as a gray/green monster with intelligence and a sinister demeanor. He later becomes a misunderstood savage with the brain of a caveman. In the 1980's he resorted back to his gray color and along with having intelligence, became an a mob enforcer at a Las Vegas casino (my favorite Hulk storyline). In the 90's he was green with Banner's mind. There have been some other incarnations as well.

  2. Oh, and TTA #31 has to go down as one of the all-time stupidest creature features cranked out by the Marvel monster machine.

  3. Journey Into Mystery #80 is the only pre-Thor issue I have. It does seem almost funny to read in these early Marvels about all the anti-Communism sentiments. Like you Peter, I was too young to have experienced any of it (-2 to the month). When I used to read said stories (in the main Marvel titles) as a kid, I mainly thought of them as filler until the better villians came along, but maybe it was a real fear back then.
    If this issue was typical of the pre-Thor issues, and same with the pre-Spiderman Amazing Fantasy, etc., with the three or four stories per issue, it made for fun if slightly frustrated reading, with the twist endings. In this issue I like the kid reading a "Journey Into Mystery" comic within the comic in "I Spent A Night In A Haunted House" , as well as the two page straight text "Strange Mission".
    Hey, and what about those old comic book adds? 8mm movie projector for $6.98, those Mike Marvel muscle-building adds, and how many Marvels had the Albert Dorne "He's Looking For People Who Like To Draw" on the back cover?

  4. Professor Jim!

    I was weened on Where Monsters Dwell and Where Creatures Roam so I have a special place in my hardened heart for the lee/Kirby Giant Monster stories. These "the real monster lives a few thousand miles away and sleeps in red pajamas" not so much. I can see Lee today writing stories about aliens that are really Al-Qaeda bombers.