Back Issues [HulkaMAYnia]: Tales to Astonish #90/91

Since his explosive debut in May 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. The Hulk has been no slouch in the comics either, being a founding member of the Avengers and undergoing numerous changes that have made him one of their most versatile and enduring characters, so what better way to celebrate all things Big Green than by dedicating every Sunday in May to the Green Goliath?

Writer: Stan Lee – Artist: Bill Everett

Story Titles: “The Abomination!”
Published: 10 January 1967 (cover-dated April 1967)

Story Titles: “Whosoever Harms the Hulk…!”
Published: 14 February 1967 (cover-dated May 1967)

The Background:
Created by Marvel legends Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, Doctor Robert Bruce Banner’s monstrous alter ego, the Incredible Hulk, was inspired by the story of a hysterical mother using superhuman strength to rescue her child and classic screen monsters Frankenstein’s Monster and Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde. Initially debuting as a stone-grey figure, the character soon gained his trademark green hue and became a fixture of Marvel Comics thanks to expansions of his lore and character and the popularity of the live-action television series. Stan Lee also had a hand in creating some of the Hulk’s most memorable enemies; having birthed the Hulk’s intellectual superior, Samuel Sterns/The Leader, alongside Steve Ditko about three years prior, Lee and artist Gil Kane introduced Marvel readers to one of the Hulk’s most persistent physical rivals, Emil Blonsky/The Abomination, in this two-part tale. Lee came up with monster’s unique name and reportedly instructed Kane to make the Abomination bigger and stronger than the Hulk to make for some fun conflicts. Over the years, the Abomination has been through almost as many changes as his lifelong rival, being a savage brute, a schemer, and a figure of redemption. His impact on the Hulk’s life has been so influential that he’s featured in numerous Marvel cartoons; although he made his live-action debut in the unfairly overlooked The Incredible Hulk (Leterrier, 2008), it would be some thirteen years before he would return to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The Review:
Our story begins with the Green Goliath embarking on an unstoppable rampage thanks to the manipulations of a cosmic being I’m personally unfamiliar with but who calls himself “The Stranger”; believing that humanity is a blight that needs to be eradicated, the Stranger has set the Hulk to work wiping the planet clean of humankind’s influence, and the Hulk is only too happy to give in to his anger. Already harbouring a resentment and animosity towards the “puny humans” who hate and fear him, the Hulk wrecks a suspension bridge and prepares to lay waste to a missile base when he’s suddenly hit with an intense pain in his head that not only causes him to fall, but also triggers his transformation back into cursed Gamma scientist Bruce Banner. This has the knock-on effect of severing the Stranger’s mind control, but Banner is terrified at the prospect of the Hulk resurfacing and continuing the Stranger’s work and resolve to destroy the Hulk (and himself, if necessary) once and for all using the “Gamma Ray Machine” he created and which just so happens to be at the very base he’s found himself at.

While Banner broods and Ross blusters, a foreign agent undergoes an incredible transformation!

Nearby, the cantankerous General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross is determined to root out the man behind a recent assassination attempt on his daughter (and Banner’s flame), Betty Ross; also Major Glen Talbot assures Ross that it’s just a matter of time before the foreign agent is discovered, Ross explodes in anger and demands that they find the perpetrator before they can endanger the missile, giving his men orders to shoot to kill if necessary. Betty is distraught that there’s been no word from Banner for some days and fears for his life as long as he shares a body with the Hulk; she’s so devastated at the idea of losing him that she pays no mind to Talbot’s attempts to insert himself in Banner’s place. Meanwhile, in Banner’s lab, Ross’s spy (whom we know as Emil Blonsky but who isn’t named in this story), is snooping around in the guise of a soldier and trying to snap pictures of Banner’s vaulted Gamma Ray Machine. Although Banner returns at that very same moment, intending to use the machine on himself, he’s spotted and arrested by military police and the smug Talbot, who refuses to listen to his pleas. Amused by the turn of events, Blonsky comes out of hiding and investigates the machine, activating it out of sheer curiosity and bathing himself in an intense dose of Gamma radiation. The result is his instantaneous transformation into a hulking, green-skinned, lizard-like monstrosity; thanks to stepping out of the Gamma rays early, this Abomination is able to retain his intellect and revels in his newfound super strength, which he believes will make him “master of the world–of the whole universe!!” and promptly destroys the machine so that none will challenge his invincibility.

The Hulk is overwhelmed by the superior strength and intellect of his newest foe.

The Abomination’s subsequent rampage through the base catches the eye of the imprisoned Banner, who willingly transforms into the Hulk as only his alter ego has a chance of opposing this new Gamma monster. Ripping open his cell, the Hulk leaps into the fray but quickly finds that the Abomination is not only smarter thanks to not being a mindless brute, but also more powerful as he was conveniently subjected to a more powerful dose of Gamma radiation. Consequently, Ross, Talbot, and Betty can only watch on in horror as the Abomination asserts his dominance and brutally beats the Hulk into unconsciousness, clearly establishing himself as a formidable threat, and that Blonsky is oddly concerned that he wouldn’t survive the military’s counterattack so he kidnaps Betty and flees from the base. Driven to desperation by the events he’s witnessed, Ross has no choice but to order his physicians to try and save the Hulk’s life; while the surgeon is initially baffled by the half-dead creature’s physiology, perennial sidekick Rick Jones bursts into the facility to suggest using Gamma electrodes to revive the beast and, in panels that owe more than a debt to Frankenstein (Whale, 1931), the Hulk lives again! Believing the soldiers are trying to contain him, the Hulk refuses to listen to reason and even swats Rick aside, vehemently denying his tearful pleas for help, until the mention of Betty’s name causes him to calm down and revert back to Bruce Banner.

Although Banner devises a workable plan, the monster’s rematch is abruptly interrupted.

Cutting through Ross’s bluster and inconsolable babble and prejudice, Banner comes up with a plan to lure the Abomination back to them, rather than confront his great power directly, and reconfigure his “Infinite Weapon” to nullify Blonsky’s strength with “Infra-Gamma Beams”. Begrudgingly, Ross orders his technicians and soldiers to follow Banner’s every command as they race to perform the necessary adjustments, and the Abomination willingly returns to the site, drawn by the allure of the Gamma radiation, though everyone, even Rick, is unsure as to how Banner plans to oppose such a fearsome monstrosity. The Abomination bursts into the laboratory, setting down Betty and preparing to finish off Banner, but is surprised when the machine causes him incredible pain and saps his mighty strength. It’s at this key moment that Banner uncontrollable turns into the Hulk and the two Gamma Giants set about having a rematch. Although they bash each other through walls and promise to really go at each other, the Stranger chooses this moment to return to the story; watching from “a thousand galaxies away”, he begins to consider that humanity might not be beyond all hope if a brute such as the Hulk can be so valorous and chooses to take the Abomination for his own needs. He also completely removes the influence he had over the Hulk’s mind but, while he’s met with congratulations and a semblance of gratitude from even General Ross, the Hulk chooses to head back out into the world alone once more.

The Summary:
The Abomination’s debut is much more the type of Hulk story I’m used to; by this point, Bruce Banner’s dual identity is well known and his adventures follow a very simple formula of him wandering around the country, desperately trying to avoid conflict, all while the Hulk threatens anyone and everyone around him and lashes out at those he deems to be a threat. Unfortunately, I didn’t think much to Gil Kane’s artwork, especially on the Abomination and the Hulk’s face, both of which look to little too simplistic and goofy for my tastes. I did enjoy the twist of the normally unreasonably antagonistic General Ross absolutely snapping when the Abomination kidnaps Betty; he’s so traumatised by this that he’s forced to not only rely on the Hulk and Banner for help, but even revive the Green Goliath and order his men to follow Banner’s every instruction. It’s an interesting twist on his usually staunchly anti-Hulk/Banner mindset, kind of like whenever J. Jonah Jameson is forced to eat crow, though I was interested to see that Major Talbot was actually arguing in favour of Ross’s hated enemy on more than one occasion. Similarly, I liked that Banner got to do a little more than just wallow in despair and self-pity; he puts his genius mind to work creating a trap to lure in the Abomination and sap his strength, though it was a little too contrived that all of Banner’s machinery and work just happened to be at this military base. The Hulk is pretty much exactly as he’s always presented, with the added wrinkle that he’s suffering from the influence of the Stranger; this doesn’t really seem to change his character all that much, however, as it’s hardly an uncommon occurrence to see the Hulk going on an all-out rampage for the smallest of reasons.

The Abomination’s strength is so great that it takes brains, not brawn, to challenge him.

This is potentially the first time that the Hulk has ever faced a foe as physically imposing as him, however; he fought Groot (no, not that one) a few years earlier but as far as I can tell most of his more monstrous foes made their first appearances after this story. Consequently, the Abomination makes quite the impact; not only does he retain his intelligence, allowing him to out-think the Hulk, but he’s portrayed as being significantly more powerful, knocking the Hulk out and beating him almost to the point of death in their first encounter. However, the praise kind of stops there; the explanations behind Blonsky’s retained intelligence and greater strength and paper thin and it’s really weird that he would choose to flee after besting the Hulk as he would surely have even less reason to fear the military’s weapons than the Green Goliath. The Abomination’s greater intelligence also doesn’t really translate into any kind of impressive strategy either; immediately drunk on his newfound power, Blonsky sets his goals as lofty as conquering the entire universe, than smashes the place up a bit, and then resorts to kidnapping Betty. He doesn’t even use her as a means to give the Hulk pause to attack and abandons her the moment he arrives back at the base, but worst of all is the fact that this Stranger’s intervention cuts short his rematch with the Hulk simply to keep the Abomination’s threat unchallenged. Overall, this wasn’t a bad two-part story but it definitely wasted its potential; there was so much that could’ve been done with the duality of these monsters, the twist of Ross having to rely on his enemy, and seeing the Hulk and the Abomination tera up the base of the countryside but the story instead plays it very safe and simply hands the Hulk a decisive loss and has his newest (and presumable most powerful) villain left out in the world (well, cosmos) to no doubt hound him again at some point.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Did you enjoy the Abomination’s debut? Did you read it when it was first published and, if so, how did you think the Abomination compared to other Hulk villains? What did you think to the idea that the Abomination was not only smarter but stronger than the Hulk? Would you have liked to see a proper rematch between the two in the second part? What are some of your favourite fights or moments between the Hulk and the Abomination? Who is your favourite Hulk villain? Whatever you thoughts on the Abomination (and the Hulk), feel free to share them below or leave a comment on my social media and be sure to check in again next Sunday for more Hulk action!

3 thoughts on “Back Issues [HulkaMAYnia]: Tales to Astonish #90/91

  1. Paul Bowler 07/05/2023 / 12:46

    Great Tales to Astonish issues, can’t go wrong with the old favourites.


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