Saturday, July 27, 2013

Marvels: Incredible Hulk #2

"The Terror of the Toad Men!" by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Steve Ditko
(July 1962)

This issue starts by showing us the terror of the Hulk (who is green now, coloring issues resolved), reminding us of his origin and what poor Bruce Banner is up against, and re-establishing his relationship with Rick Jones.

In this issue, Bruce and Rick build a concrete wall as a door to an underwater cavern as a possible holding pen for the Hulk. Later, they'll build a lab down there, too, but for now, Banner just wants to keep the guy contained so he doesn't go on a rampage. (At this point, he still only becomes the Hulk at night.)

Bruce and Rick are almost immediately captured by the Toad-Men, the vanguard of an alien invasion, and the Toad-Men are really cool-looking. This is only the second of the many alien races we'll see in the Marvel Universe, and while they aren't quite as neat as the Skrulls, they're still pretty cool just on a design basis. They're trying to determine how scientifically advanced the human race is, and Bruce and Rick are their test subjects. (Well, briefly. The Toad-Men immediately decide they don't need Rick and send him back to Earth.)

But, of course, Bruce turns into the Hulk. He turns into the Hulk when they reach the dark side of the Earth, which makes me wonder how this thing works, exactly. It almost seems like it's the presence of the sun that keeps Banner from changing into the Hulk... But if that were true, wouldn't holing him up in a cave be a terrible idea? He'd never change back!

What separates the Hulk from the Fantastic Four is that the Hulk hates mankind for their weakness, and after handily defeating the Toad-Men, his first thought (he's still not a mindless brute yet) is that he can use their ship to wipe out all of mankind. This version of the Hulk is powered not by rage, but by hatred, and it's very hard to be sympathetic to the character because he really just wants to kill everyone and destroy everything. Right now, it's Banner who has our sympathy.

And poor Banner! The Toad-Men ship is destroyed by General Ross, but the Toad-Men escape by burrowing under the ground, leaving only Bruce Banner inside, and Ross immediately accuses Banner of treason! Now, keep in mind that so far the ship has done nothing except fly into the atmosphere. Ross immediately had it shot down, then saw Banner inside and made the assumption that Banner must have been attacking his own country. And that kind of reasoning, apparently, makes someone general material.

Are we sure that the military didn't put Ross out in the middle of the desert testing weapons as a way to keep him out of the way? (Also, love that when the Toad-Men armada actually shows up, Ross's first piece of advice to a soldier is "Calm down, man!")

The Toad-Men invade and threaten to use their magnets to throw the moon out of orbit and send it crashing into the planet. And then Banner becomes the Hulk again, and... well, he just rampages for a while on the Army base (Ross had Banner thrown in the brig for treason). Hulk is pissed, and he wants revenge on General Ross, so he goes over to Ross's house, only to find himself alone with Betty. And it's here where we get some real characterization for the Hulk and all of the conflicting, raging emotions at play.

Interestingly, there's a real sense of danger, and it is intense and charged. Hulk is forced to take Betty as a hostage, and he explains to her how he hates mankind because he blames mankind for turning him into the Hulk and hunting him. There's never a sense that the Hulk won't hurt Betty because Banner loves her or anything like that. In fact, the Hulk would probably have just up and murdered the girl if it weren't for two things. First, the intervention of Rick Jones, who tries to reason with the Hulk. He thinks of himself as the Hulk's friend, but the Hulk rebuffs him and tells him in no uncertain terms that he's going to die. ("This time I silence you--forever!") Second, the sun comes up and the Hulk turns into Bruce Banner again. (Betty has fainted of fright and misses it.) Otherwise, Betty and Rick would both be dead. And for anyone who thinks Rick Jones is just a selfish teenager, look at what this kid does: he literally puts his life on the line to try and keep the Hulk from rampaging out of control, and all because he owes Dr. Banner his life and refuses to abandon him.

Rick was trying to beg the Hulk for help fighting the invasion, but now it's Bruce who saves the day, running to his lab to use the giant gamma gun he invented to fight the Toad-Men. Rick is really heroic, here: he actually uses a fire hose to keep Ross and his soldiers away to buy Bruce time to aim and fire the gun, which fires a gamma blast that basically reverses the polarity of the Toad-Men's magnetic ships and sends them back wherever they came from. And now that Bruce has saved Earth, those treason charges get dropped, much to General Ross's chagrin.

Heh, "new devilment." Love it.

Stray observations:

:: The inks in this issue are by Steve Ditko, but for the most part the whole issue looks like it was just drawn by Ditko himself. Rick Jones particularly gives us a couple of those characteristic Ditko looks (including that wink) and the Hulk looks extra Karloff-y.

I think of that as the Ditko Wink. I'm not seeing any Kirby in that. Suggested caption: and starring Dean Stockwell as Al Calavicci as Rick Jones telling a story about having sex with your mom.

:: Maybe Ditko just drew some fill-in stuff, because the Toad-Men look very Kirby.

:: Again, General "Thunderbolt" Ross goes on about what a milksop Banner is, and Banner agrees with him and reminds Betty that he's not a man of action. Again, the first thing we ever saw him do was take a gamma bomb to the face in order to save a teenager's life. Still not buying it. You'd think Ross would cut him some slack for being a hero. "I wish I had that goldbrick in my division!" Yeah, so you could give him the medal he deserves, jerk!

:: The Toad-Men use magnetic repulsors as part of their technology. Stan and Jack are really great about coming up with science that sounds plausible, but at the same time seems pure skiffy. Technology based on magnets, flying cars powered by air turbines... damn it, it's 2013, where is all the stuff the sixties promised us?

:: Let's just take a moment to appreciate how wonderful the king of the Toad-Men is.

That crown is adorable!

What's nice about this issue is that the Hulk isn't a hero; he's Banner's cross to bear, and he's also the monster/force that complicates everything else that happens. We don't really feel sympathy for him, because right now he just wants to kill everyone. He's dangerous, and Stan and Jack (and Steve) don't let us forget it for a moment. He doesn't save the day; he only thinks of himself. And his selfishness is only more obvious compared to the selfless Rick.

Our sympathies are with Bruce Banner, who is not only cursed with becoming the Hulk, but also gets to save the day. He's the real hero here, despite what General Ross thinks. And the issue ends on the sad note of the Hulk, raging underground, trapped behind a wall of concrete, wailing into the night while Rick keeps his lonely vigil outside, waiting to free Bruce once more from the nightly grip of the Hulk.

"Poor Doc," indeed, Rick. "Poor Doc," indeed.

Next time: the God of Thunder!

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