Friday, October 04, 2013

Marvels: Incredible Hulk #5

"Beauty and the Beast!" by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Dick Ayers
(January 1963)

It's only five issues in, but because Incredible Hulk has been coming out every two months, the Hulk's been in the Marvel Universe for nearly a year. Unfortunately, Stan and Jack still seem to have no idea what to do with the character. In fact, it often seems like they can't remember what happened to him in previous issues, because they keep trying desperately to retool the book, trying to get the formula right, and it just keeps not happening. At this point, you can almost see the weariness in the pages; I think Stan loves the potential of the Hulk, but he and Jack are both starting to put these out begrudgingly, frustrated with it.

Do you even remember where we are with the character at this point? Bruce Banner can now change into the Hulk whenever he wants to because of the gamma ray pad he stands on, and when he's the Hulk, he's still got Banner's mind--but, the Hulk's natural aggression and rage cloud Bruce's mind and turn him into kind of a jerk. A dangerous jerk.

The beginning of this story is just General Ross, Betty, Bruce and Rick Jones watching film of the Hulk to remind us, the ever-less-interested readers, what the Hulk's powers are and how dangerous he is. Then Stan rather artlessly shoehorns in what the character dynamic is, in case we forgot--Ross wants to destroy the Hulk and thinks Bruce is a coward and Rick is useless; Betty loves Bruce but is afraid to admit it; Bruce loves Betty but can't tell her because he's really the Hulk and that complicates things; and Rick is around because he owes Bruce his life and doesn't want to let him down.

With that out of the way, the real story suddenly begins. Watching them all from a secret kingdom underground is Tyrannus, who dresses like a poorly-researched version of Alexander the Great if he were from Ptolemaic Egypt. He was apparently banished underground "centuries ago" by Merlin, where he found a race of obedient slave-creatures (who look like a rough draft version of the Moloids, by the way), conquered them, and has been drinking a magic elixir to stay young, waiting for the right opportunity to invade the surface and conquer the world. And, apparently, spying on Betty Ross is the key to all of this. (He wants to use her to gain access to America's "atomic might.")

Tyrannus the Conqueror goes to the surface world wearing flannel and denim under the hilarious pseudonym of Mr. Tyrannus, posing as an archaeologist in order to get Betty to show him the caves. Betty agrees because Tyrannus is so perfect that she knows playing up to him will make Bruce jealous, which it does; soon, Bruce is turning into the Hulk and following the kidnapped Betty underground. Hulk is almost hilariously a jerk now, just calling Rick names and acting really arrogant. "What does it look like I'm doin', stupid?"

Tyrannus gasses the Hulk, captures him, makes him play gladiator in what's almost a proto-version of "Planet Hulk," then forces Hulk to work as a slave because he holds Betty prisoner. Tyrannus eventually tires of the Hulk and orders his execution, so Rick and Betty urge the Hulk to escape, which he does, and then he rescues the two of them while literally caving in Tyrannus' underground kingdom and escaping to the surface, where Betty now fears the Hulk more than ever.

Sorry, it was getting so boring I had to blast through that.

Stray observation: Merlin exists in the Marvel Universe according to this dialogue. In fact, in the future, I think we see a few different versions of him.

"The Hordes of General Fang!" by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Dick Ayers

This story's really just filler. It starts with General Ross finally shooting that iceberg rocket from last issue at the Hulk (he catches Hulk when he's out exercising), but it doesn't work because the ice that covers the Hulk melts too quickly; he has body heat "like an atomic pile."

The rest of the issue is devoted to defeating General Fang, "the most brutal warlord since Genghis Khan," whose communist horde is making its way through the mountains to conquer Lhasa, apparently unaware that the Chinese government already did so in 1950.

Banner decides Fang only understands force and travels to Tibet to stop him as the Hulk. At first, he does so while wearing what I can only describe as the world's largest fuzzy bunny suit, because apparently all Chinese people are terrified of the Abominable Snowman. Then the Hulk just destroys a lot of stuff and Fang runs off alone, defeated and pursued by American troops, and the people of Lhasa are safe, despite having already been taken over by China 13 years earlier.

In the end, the Hulk warns Rick that no one is safe as long as the Hulk's around, and the Hulk plans on staying around for a very long time. Ironically, the series will be canceled with the next issue.

Stray observations:

:: The people of Lhasa are drawn like Buddhist monks, but every Asian character in this story is colored in this offensive pale yellow skin tone. Not cool, Marvel. But at least the dialogue is all in English. There are other stories coming up in which Chinese communists speak in broken English. And are also colored pale yellow. All the stereotypes.

:: Stan and Jack seem to think that the Hulk could leap off of a commercial airliner in mid-flight without anything happening to the plane itself. Guys, I know it's 1963, but you can't just open the door on an airplane, alright?

:: This issue's letters page features a letter from Lee Cohen of Skokie, Illinois. I saw a letter from him in the last Fantastic Four, also. Mr. Cohen points out that the art in Incredible Hulk #2 looked more like Ditko than Kirby; Stan Lee points out that Ditko inked the issue instead of Jack's usual inker Dick Ayers, and promises that from now on, each book will have credits. So thank you, Mr. Cohen! We'll finally get to see who worked on each issue.

Another lame issue of Incredible Hulk, the most frustrating of the current Marvel series. Sure, Ant-Man is lame and Thor often used poorly, but the Hulk has so much potential that's just being completely mismanaged. Of course, I can say that, having lived with fifty years of great Hulk stories. Back here in 1963, the character still has yet to gel into something great. Incredible Hulk is about to get canceled, and that's probably the right move; putting the character on the back-burner for a while, until his appearance in Avengers #1 in September, might take some of the pressure off.

And we're getting Amazing Spider-Man in its place, so that's great.

Next Marvels: Loki returns!


bliss_infinte said...

It's amazing that with the exception of the FF, Marvel was really hit or miss with it's other titles in the first year and a half as they were still feeling around this potential gold mine. But after these initial growing pains by the end of '63 they really shift it into gear. The peak being Avengers 3-5 and FF 25 & 26. That period really launched Marvel into the stratosphere but the foundation was built in these hit or miss months.

Great series, BTW. Always an enjoyable read! Oh, and I too love delving into the letters pages for there is great history there as well!

SamuraiFrog said...

Thanks, I appreciate that. The period you're mentioning is especially great; where I'm at in my posts they're still finding the formula. I can't wait to get to Sgt. Fury, which I've only just discovered for the first time, and which I'm surprised how much I'm enjoying.

What's really great is that my wife and I are both reading these, and she's never read any Marvel comics from this far back. It's great sharing these with her and getting to see her experience these things for the first time. Currently FF and Sgt. Fury are her favorites, too.