Since his explosive debut in 1962, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s gamma-irradiated Jade Giant has been one of their most recognisable and successful characters thanks, in large part, to the Incredible Hulk television show (1977 to 1982) catapulting the Hulk into a mainstream, pop culture icon. Hulk has been no slouch in the comics either, being a founding member of the Avengers, joining teams like the Defenders, and has gone through numerous changes over the years that have added extra depth to the green-skinned behemoth and made him one of their most versatile and enduring characters.
Story Title: The Hulk (includes “Part 1: The Coming of the Hulk”, “Part 2 : The Hulk Strikes!”, “Part 3: The Search for the Hulk”, “Part 4: Enter…The Gargoyle!”, and “Part 5: The Hulk Triumphant!”
Published: May 1962
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby
The Incredible Hulk (and his human alter ego, Doctor Robert Bruce Banner), was, of course, the creation of Marvel Comics legends Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Inspired by a story of a hysterical mother exhibiting superhuman strength to rescue her trapped child, in addition to classic movie monsters such as Frankenstein’s Monster and the duel personalities of Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde, Lee and Kirby sought to create a tortured, monstrous figure that was a reaction to the mysterious of science and radiation and the foils of war. Famously, of course, the Hulk made his debut as a stone-grey figure who emerged at the onset of night; when printing errors saw the character rendered in different hues, Lee (who also often mistakenly referred to Bruce Banner as “Bob Banner”) decided to switch the character to his now-signature green (though red would have been far more appropriate considering it, like the Hulk, is associated with rage). Despite The Incredible Hulk being cancelled after only a year and a half, the character returned to a self-titled comic and a position of prominence with Marvel readers thanks to subsequent expansions of his lore and character and, of course, his inclusion in numerous team ups, issues of Tales to Astonish, and the popularity of the TV show and his other animated appearances.
The issue begins in the middle of the desert where stands the Gamma Bomb (or “G-Bomb”), the “most awesome weapon ever created by man”; the genius behind the G-Bomb, Dr. Bruce Banner, waits anxiously in the concrete bunker some miles away. Banner’s nerves aren’t helped by the criticism of his fellow scientist, Igor, or the blustering presence of General “Thunderbolt” Ross. Ross isn’t happy at the delays Banner has caused the operation, or his men, and openly scoffs at Banner’s concerns and apprehension concerning the vague (yet nonetheless awesome) power the weapon holds. Igor, meanwhile, is incensed that Banner hasn’t shared the secrets of the G-Bomb with him or their peers, even more so when Banner reveals that no one has double-checked his formulas and calculations.
Banner’s preference towards secrecy and privacy backfires on him, however, as Igor, eager to take all the credit for Banner’s work, allows the G-Bomb countdown to continue after Bruce heroically races out into the testing area to save the life of a teenage kid, Rick Jones, who has slipped past the guards. Banner shields Rick in a nearby trench but, thanks to Igor, the genius scientist is caught in the full blast of the exploding G-Bomb! Hours later, he awakens, still screaming, having miraculously survived the explosion and apparently suffering no ill effects from the awesome gamma rays. Rick, humbled and eternally grateful to Banner for saving his life, sticks around and watches in awe as, when night falls, Banner undergoes a startling transformation into a grey-skinned behemoth!
Rather than the mindless, rampaging beast known for his trademark cry of “Hulk smash!” this first incarnation of the Hulk (as the panic-stricken soldiers coin the beast) is a disconcertingly articulate and lumbering creature. His first thought is escape, smashing first through the concrete wall of the base and then trashing an oncoming jeep with ease before disappearing into the night as Rick frantically gives chase. While the soldiers back at base are gob-smacked at what they witnessed, they nevertheless mount an armed search party to track down the beast, whom they believe has kidnapped or killed Dr. Banner. The Hulk, meanwhile, is driven by pure instinct to retrieve Banner’s gamma formula but stumbles upon Igor attempting to steal it for himself! To Igor’s horror, the Hulk is completely unfazed by a “.38 slug in [his] shoulder]”, crushes Igor’s pistol in one meaty hand, and tosses Igor across the room effortlessly. Upon hearing Banner’s name, the Hulk is disgusted and annoyed, believing Banner to be “weak — soft!!”, and then violently rejects Rick’s desire to help him. Indeed, the Hulk advances on Rick, seemingly looking to kill him, and is only stopped by the sudden and unexpected rising of the sun, which sees the Hulk revert to Banner before Rick’s horrified and fascinated eyes.
When General Ross and the Military Police show up searching for the Hulk, they immediately begin pointing fingers at everyone! Igor is detained as they believe he is in league with the Hulk and Banner (who sports a minor shoulder injury from Igor’s bullet) is questioned as a suspect. Luckily, plenty of eyewitnesses are on hand to attest to the Hulk’s monstrous appearance, though their accounts of the creature vary wildly. Amidst the confusion, Banner is comforted by Ross’s daughter, Betty, who previously defended him in front of her father. Perhaps out of pity, perhaps out of kindness, perhaps even out of an attractive, Betty offers her help and support to Banner, whom she believes is still suffering from the effects of the G-Bomb, to say nothing of the subsequent stress of recent events. After she leaves, Banner laments his cruel fate, despairing that, when the sun sets, he will once again become the Hulk and lose his rational mind to a monstrous creature.
Locked up in a prison cell, Igor (actually a spy for the Russians) is able to use a handy-dandy hidden “sub-miniature transistor short wave sending set” (translation: a small radio) hidden in his thumbnail to send a message to his Soviet comrades. The Russians take Igor’s message of the Hulk to the Gargoyle, “the most feared man in all of Asia”, a hideous little…gargoyle…of a man who is so feared that no one dares give him the message in person. Angered at the thought of a creature able to match his power, the Gargoyle immediately has himself literally launched over to America to confront the Hulk.
In a desperate attempt to keep the Hulk from hurting others, Banner and Rick drive out of the base and into the desert but, on the way, the transformation occurs and their jeep is wrecked. Rick is shaken by the crash but the Hulk is unfazed and immediately, instinctively, heads towards Betty at General Ross’s house. Betty, who is irrationally overcome with feelings of concern and affection for Banner, attempts to clear her head and encounters the Hulk just outside her house, fainting in his arms to the grey goliath’s disgust. However, unbeknown to the Hulk and Rick, they have been followed by the Gargoyle, who promptly shoots the charging man-monster and his young companion with a special pistol that instantly makes them obedient to his every command.
Utilising the help of similar slaves, the Gargoyle manages to escape with his prey back behind the Iron Curtain and is positively giddy at the thought of dissecting the Hulk and claiming his power for his own…and equally distraught to find that the Hulk has reverted back to Banner during the trip. Now no longer showing the effects of the Gargoyle’s weapon, Banner and Rick are astonished to witness the Gargoyle break into tears when he realises that the Hulk and Banner are one and the same. Distraught at his ghastly appearance, the Gargoyle wishes only to be a normal man again, just like Banner, whatever the cost. Banner, who has “seen cases” like the Gargoyle’s before, believes he can use “radiation” to grant the creature’s wishes and is, surprisingly, successful. Now a man once more, the Gargoyle allows his captives to return to America safely while he stays behind and sacrifices himself to destroy the Russian outpost
Well, honestly, I have to say that I am surprised; I was expecting the Hulk’s debut appearance to be primarily about him coming into conflict with the military but, instead, the story takes a dramatic and odd sharp left turn with the introduction of the Gargoyle.
“Unexpected” is perhaps the best world to describe The Incredible Hulk #1 since neither the Hulk or the Gargoyle are portrayed as mere mindless monsters. Instead, the Hulk is childlike, lumbering, and quick to anger but a far cry from the volatile creature he is now known to be. His feats of strength are extremely subdued compared to the literal world breaking exploits he would later indulge in and he’s also surprisingly articulate and cunning, acting on instinct but not simply yelling and screaming near-incoherently at his pursuers.
The Gargoyle, meanwhile, appears to be this deformed, monstrous Red Menace and, indeed, it is implied that he is one of the Soviet’s most formidable weapons. Yet the knowledge that Banner and the Hulk are one and the same reveals his true nature as a tortured, pitiable creature who is lashing out because of his monstrous appearance. The Hulk, meanwhile, lashes out to escape and out of pure instinct thanks to the remnants of Banner’s memories and consciousness rather than out of pure malice and, while Banner is seemingly unable to help himself (though, to be fair, he hasn’t even tried yet) he is able to cure the Gargoyle through questionable means and allow him to die as a man.
The issue, obviously, establishes many of the troupes that would come to be associated with the Hulk for decades: Banner is tormented by his condition, lamenting his fate and completely giving into despair and acceptance of his newfound curse. The Hulk wishes only to be left alone and to revel in his strength and power over the likes of “Puny Banner!” Betty is at once fascinated by Banner and terrified of the Hulk, with no one besides Rick having knowledge of his dual nature, and Ross, having discovered Betty still woozy from her fainting spell and babbling about the Hulk, vows to hunt down and destroy the creature without mercy. Little of this is really developed all that much in this first issue thanks to the sudden shift in tone and focus to the Gargoyle but the seeds are definitely planted and it certainly stands out as more of a monster/horror story than a traditional superhero tale, which may have been why the Hulk struggled to connect with Marvel readers for some time as they were, perhaps, expecting bright, costumed adventurers rather than a persecuted man-monster.
How did you find the Hulk’s debut story? Did you read it when it was first published and, if so, did the Hulk leave much of an impression on you or were you expecting something different from Marvel? What did you think to the Hulk as a character, especially compared to how he would be portrayed in subsequent years? Do you like the original grey-skinned Hulk or do you prefer the traditional green colouring? What is your favourite Hulk story, character, or piece of media? How are you celebrating the Hulk’s debut today? Whatever your thoughts on the Hulk, go ahead and leave a comment below.