Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Marvels: Incredible Hulk #4

"The Monster and the Machine!" by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Dick Ayers
(November 1962)

I'll be honest, this story feels like more wheel-spinning while Stan and Jack experiment with a direction for this character they've created.

When we left the Hulk last time, he was under the mental control of Rick Jones and couldn't change back to Bruce Banner. In this story, Rick figures out a way to change Hulk back to Banner, but Banner's body is so weakened that he's become useless. So he and Rick reconfigure the gamma machine Banner's been working on, and create a new combination that turns Banner into the Hulk physically, keeping his mind intact. So, Banner's personality, but Hulk's body.

The problem is, people still fear and misunderstand the Hulk, and Banner finds that totally offensive. Not only that, but it's quickly obvious that the Hulk is so raging and so powerful that, even with his mind in control, Banner has a hard time stopping himself from following the Hulk's angry impulses. But by then, Banner has built a platform that controls the gamma machine and he can now change into the Hulk (and vice versa) whenever he wants simply by stepping on the platform, turning on the controls with his feet, and bathing himself in gamma radiation. No more becoming the Hulk at night. And no more of Rick's mental control.

There's not much more to this story; this is just a long way around to showing us that now Banner can control when he becomes the Hulk, and he can think for himself when he's the Hulk, but he still fears losing control of the Hulk.

A couple of stray observations:

:: This is really the first time where it's obvious that Betty Ross has feelings for Bruce Banner. She also thinks (correctly) that there's some kind of a connection between the Hulk, Banner and Rick Jones, which her father is annoyingly dismissive of.

:: General "Thunderbolt" Ross has developed an "iceberg rocket" that can encase the Hulk in ice, flash-freezing him, but he won't get to use it until next issue.

:: The Hulk saves a school bus full of kids from getting hit by a train, so he does have some gentle impulses deep in there.

:: I still don't like the way Kirby illustrates the Hulk leaping. He's clearly changing height and trajectory; it's flying in all but name. No wonder they kept having to answer questions about whether the Hulk could fly!

"The Gladiator from Outer Space!" by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Dick Ayers

Well, I think the Hulk was the only one who hadn't fought the Commies yet, so here you go.

The Hulk responds to a televised threat from an alien gladiator calling himself Mongu, but when he gets to the fight it turns out to be a sophisticated robot with a Soviet soldier inside called Boris Monguski. The whole thing was an elaborate ruse to capture the Hulk for the USSR. And then the Hulk destroys them and sends them packing. That's pretty much it, but some of the destruction is fun and well-drawn, especially the Hulk simply catching a grenade and letting it explode in his hands. (It's also the first time someone thinks to use a soundwave gun on the Hulk.)

Inconsequential story, but fun filler.

Overall, the issue just doesn't work as a Hulk story, because Stan and Jack clearly still don't have that grasp on what the Hulk's essential qualities are. Considering the bang-up job they did with the Fantastic Four, and what Stan and Steve Ditko did in just one Spider-Man story so far, it's unfortunate to see them not getting a handle on it yet. No wonder this book's going to get canceled.

Even the letters page seems halfhearted. But Stan does cop to the coloring mistake in the first issue that made the Hulk gray. This is back in the day when an error was a mistake, not a universe-altering continuity thread to be pulled on.

Next time: the Tomorrow Man!

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