Published: May 1962
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby
Inkers: George Roussos, Paul Reinman
Publisher: Marvel Comics
I’ll just start off by reviewing the first issue a comic book, seeing how it’s somebody else’s fiftieth anniversary not just some neighborhood web-slinger. I currently have the Essential Incredible Hulk vol. 1 in my possession, and after reading through half of it, I am rather pleased with his early adventures.
In my childhood, I was first exposed to the Hulk, like any other superhero, through his TV series, this one aired on UPN. All I remember was that he was huge, he was strong, and was easily able to leap anything with a single bound. Then I got into comic books, and in a bazaar I bought an issue which wasn’t quite as exciting as it was on tv. It was about how Bruce Banner dealt with the death of his wife, Betty, as his radioactivity basically brought her to an early grave. Everything else I learned about the Hulk came through those massive encyclopedic books Marvel published on its history.
Between the Incredible Hulk and the Fantastic Four, it is clear that their stories very closely resemble science-fiction movies of the 1950s, where the heroes have to fight either an alien menace, the Red Soviets, or some opportunistic Earthling. Spider-Man’s early stories may have dealt with a few international villains, but mostly he stuck with fighting street crime, from thugs to organizations. Unlike the dangerous of close combat inside a city, the Hulk was free to tackle his menaces, or rather annoyances, in the wide open space of the desert, where in these man-forsaking places anything could happen and will happen.
Alone in the desert stands the most awesome weapon ever created by man — THE INCREDIBLE G-BOMB!
The same story is as goes, the milksop scientist Bruce Banner and his staff wait anxiously to test their new atomic bomb, while General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross and daughter Betty arrive to see this spectacle. If this test is successful, then America and freedom have a new weapon against the dreaded “Reds.”
Just as the demonstration is about to begin, Banner spots some young punk in the middle of the testing grounds, playing a harmonica of all things. He tells everyone to postpone launching the bomb, but the assistant named Igor decides to go ahead with the test. Seriously, in a comic with anti-communist propaganda, the last person to trust is a person with a vaguely Eastern European name. Anyway, Banner rushes to save the boy, Rick Jones, and as the bomb explodes, our hero gets caught being hit full force by the Gamma Rays.
Jack Kirby does a pretty cool scene transition here, as Banner screams with pain in one panel, and in the next, he’s still screaming hours later!
By the end of the first act, it is nighttime, and in werewolf/Mr. Hyde fashion, Bruce Banner’s blood starts to boil from radioactivity. He grows to an immense size, and taking his first steps and breaking his first wall, “a legend is born!” In typical B-movie fashion, the army is soon dispatched to look for this monstrous creature, and one even has the gall to name this creature, the Hulk!
Meanwhile, the Hulk is driven by one singular goal, to reach Banner’s lab to obtain the Gamma Bomb formula. Was it really a subconscious thought by Banner to get it back or was it something else that compelled the Hulk? No matter, because conveniently Igor is also searching for the formula for his Soviet masters. He soundly gets his butt whupped, and lo and behold, Banner taped his formula under one of his beakers. You’d think a scientific report would be at least hundreds of pages, but apparently it’s enough to fill the notepad of a reporter.
The Hulk notices a picture of Banner, and starts flipping out, driving in the point that the Hulk is indeed something like a Mister Hyde, where he is free to do what he wants anyway he wants, while Banner is a weakling, full of self-restraint unable to fulfill his basest desires. Before Hulk/Banner starts to have a sort of full realization of himself, the sun rises and the milksop is once again whole.
The third act has the military police looking for not just the Soviet spy, Igor, but the Hulk. The soldiers begin to describe the giant in such a hilarious fashion that one might think the constant nuclear testing at the base may have addled their minds. One claims to have seen a bear dressed like a Halloween ghost, and another thinks it’s some kind of gorilla.
Banner decides to rest after the previous night’s ordeal, and here would be a great place to end the first story if it were printed in an anthology comic like Amazing Fantasy or Tales of Suspense. But no comic is complete without a real super-villain, as the fourth act proves it so.
Igor, while in lockup, contacts his Red allies with a radio hidden in his fingernail. (You’d think the police would have done a more thorough search, especially when they are on a military base that tests nuclear materials.) A big headed man named “The Gargoyle,” called so because of his looks, learns of the creature called “the Hulk” and rides a rocket toward America, as it is much quicker than taking a plane.
Meanwhile, General Ross and his daughter are discussing the event so the past 24 hours, and Betty makes a rather expository comment:
But today, with the strange, almost supernatural forces all around us, I feel as though we’re on the brink of some fantastic unimaginable adventure.
Betty is told to go take a walk outside to clear her mind, and despite her willingness to go on these “fantastic adventures,” faints at the sight of the Hulk in typical damsel fashion.
Rather quickly to the next act, the Gargoyle appears and takes possession of both the Hulk and Rick. Rather than reusing the rocket he came down to the US, he gets the duo into a jet conveniently located off the Pacific coast. By the light of day, they manage to reach the Gargoyle’s laboratory, only the Hulk isn’t in the plane, but rather Banner himself.
The Gargoyle possibly does the most brilliant inference in the entire volume, he correctly guesses that Banner is the Hulk. Seeing Banner’s milksop form also causes the the big-headed genius to cry, as he, like the Hulk, is a product of radioactive experimentation. He begs the mild-mannered doctor to cure him of his condition, and Banner willingly does so, making the Gargoyle a normal person once again through the power of radiation. After his treatment, he damns a picture of then-Soviet Leader Gorbachev and aids Bruce and Rick on their escape out of the Red base. He sacrifices himself, blowing up the base, making sure that he dies as a man, not as a mutant.
For the Hulk’s first issue, it packed quite a doozy. A simple story about a man’s struggle to keep his wild side under control, despite it being a result of his own experiments, and a story about Banner’s equal who got what he wanted for a price. Banner’s story could end like the Gargoyle’s, but this is an ongoing series, and there will definitely be more stories on the horizon.