Sunday, January 30, 2011

Angry, Dizzy Hulk


Marvel Masterworks: The Incredible Hulk Volume 1, written by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko; illustrated by Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Paul Reinman and Dick Ayers (1962-1963): Of all the classic Marvel characters created in the early 1960's, the Hulk was the least fully realized in his early appearances. He started off grey and surly and possessed of a full, albeit thuggish, vocabulary.

Over the course of the six issues collected here, the Hulk turns green, changes from Dr. Bruce Banner to Hulk only at night, can't change back into Banner at all, is briefly mind-controlled by teen sidekick Rick Jones, changes between Hulk and Banner only when bombarded with gamma radiation, and gets cancelled with issue 6. Whew!

Banner is clearly the hero in most of these issues, with the Hulk playing a supporting role that alternates between grumpy menace to humanity and two-fisted saviour of humanity. Indeed, Banner and not the Hulk saves the entire Earth from the invading space armada of the Toad People, and it's Banner and not the Hulk who convinces misguided Communist super-scientist the Gargoyle to turn against his Commie masters in the Hulk's first issue. Banner's mind also (sort of) controls the Hulk for a couple of issues, though growing more surly and (early) Hulk-like by the panel.

The first few issues are a lot of fun partially because of the protean nature of the Hulk: it's like reading Lee and Kirby workshopping what would eventually become a very popular character, trying stuff out and discarding that stuff almost as quickly. Two of the most defining traits of the Hulk in the broader popular imagination -- his child-like personality and Banner's transformation into the Hulk when under emotional stress -- wouldn't appear until the Hulk was brought back from cancellation to star in his own stories in Tales to Astonish a couple of years after the stories collected here. Lee, Kirby and Ditko do their usual fine early-1960's work. As a bonus, Ditko inks Kirby on a couple of issues here, a penciller/inker combo as rare as it is awesome. Highly recommended.

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