Talking Movies [A-Day]: Avengers: Age of Ultron

Having introduced comic readers to a whole host of colourful characters, in September of 1963 the legendary duo of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby brought together six of Earth’s mightiest heroes to form the Avengers. A super team like no other, with a constantly rotating roster, the Avengers has become the premier team of Marvel Comics and, thanks to the team and its individual members forming the backbone of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), have become an unbelievably popular and successful franchise in their own right.

Talking Movies

Released: 1 May 2015
Director: Joss Whedon
Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Budget: $365 million
Stars: Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, James Spader, Elizabeth Olsen, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, and Paul Bettany

The Plot:
After finally defeating the last remnants of Hydra, Tony Stark/Iron Man (Downey Jr), Steve Rogers/Captain America (Evans), Doctor Bruce Banner/The Hulk (Ruffalo), Thor Odinson (Hemsworth), Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Johansson), and Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Renner) face an even greater threat when Stark and Banner’s prototype for an artificial intelligence, Ultron (Spader), becomes self-aware and concocts a diabolical scheme to unleash an extinction-level event upon the world.

The Background:
After the unprecedented success of Avengers Assemble/The Avengers (Whedon, 2012), the MCU was well and truly on its way to becoming an unstoppable multimedia juggernaut. Following the conclusion of that film, the MCU firmly entered its second phase and director Joss Whedon stated early on that his intention for an Avengers sequel was to tell a more personal and intimate story rather than necessarily being bigger and better. Taking inspiration more from the likes of Star Wars: Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (Kershner, 1980) than the Marvel Comics story of the same name, the script initially included the first appearance of Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel, and many were surprised to see Whedon focus on Ultron after teasing Thanos (Damion Poitier) the end of the first film. The script also saw the introduction of Wanda (Olsen) and Pietro Maximoff/Quicksilver (Johnson), who both Marvel Studios and 20th Century Fox were allowed to include in separate film franchises thanks to a legal loophole. Tensions were frayed between Whedon and Marvel’s executives, however, as they disagreed with some of his scenes and choices, which eventually led to Whedon parting ways with the studio. Although Avengers: Age of Ultron made about $100,000 less than its predecessor, it still grossed $1,404 billion at the box office. Critical reception wasn’t quite as universally positive as with the first film, however; while the effects and action were praised, many were disappointed with how overstuffed and mundane the film was.

The Review:
Much has changed in the MCU since the conclusion of Avengers Assemble; not only has the entire world seen that extraterrestrial threats lie beyond our planet, but all manner of strange and powerful cosmic artefacts and concepts are now loosed upon the Earth. One positive that came out of the whole debacle, though, was the formation of the Avengers themselves and, since the last film and the fall of the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division (S.H.I.E.L.D.), the team have dedicated themselves to tracking down Loki Laufeyson’s (Tom Hiddleston) sceptre and erasing the last remnants of the clandestine organisation Hydra, which has secretly been manipulating events behind the scenes ever since World War Two.

Inspired my Loki’s sceptre, Stark convinces Banner to help him create Ultron.

The retrieval of the sceptre is a cause for much celebration within the team as it marks the end of a lengthy campaign against Hydra, but it leads into not only all of the film’s subsequent problems but also opens the MCU up to an ever greater threat lurking deep amongst the stars. Within the sceptre, Tony Stark and Bruce Banner (who had bonded over their keen love for science in the first film) discover a powerful gem, just one of the many Infinity Stones, that holds the key to completing Stark’s plans for a global defence program known as “Ultron” that he is desperate to deploy to protect the world form extraterrestrial threats. Shaken by his experiences in the last film, where he saw just how outgunned and outmatched the Earth was compared to the vastness of the galaxy, Stark is keen to build a metaphorical suit of armour around the world and encourages Banner to assist him in completing Ultron despite the doctor’s reservations. Banner, still a timid and cautious fellow, argues the moral and potentially dangerous consequences of giving birth to an artificial intelligence without the approval of the entire team and without proper testing, but is persuaded to co-operate by the force of Stark’s conviction.

Banner and Romanoff struggle with their pasts, natures, and feelings for each other.

Although in a far more comfortable position within the team and with himself, Banner is still subject to the whim of his green-skinned alter ego. Thanks to his ability to summon the Hulk at will, Banner is a valuable asset to the Avengers out in the field and, in an unexpected turn of events, the Hulk is easily subdued and calmed down by the influence of Romanoff. When in his more stable and timid human form, Banner has a close relationship with Romanoff that sees him clearly besotted by her but missing or ignoring her obvious flirtatious advances. He explains this as him being aware that Romanoff flirts with everyone, and the obvious interpretation is that he is afraid to act on his feelings because of his monstrous passenger, but he later reveals that he is holding himself back because he cannot offer her anything resembling a “normal” life. After the accident that first triggered his transformation, Banner has been rendered sterile and potentially dangerous by the sheer amount of Gamma radiation coursing through his veins, to say nothing of the fact that he can’t allow himself to get too excited for fear of triggering a transformation, burdening the doctor with a tragic loneliness no matter how close he is to his team mates. While it may seem strange that Romanoff is suddenly so infatuated with Banner, he represents a sense of kindness and stability that is often missing from her chaotic and deceptive life; even when Banner is explaining himself to her, she opens up to him and reveals some of the horrendous experiences she suffered in the “Red Room” while being trained as an efficient and ruthless spy. Since this also involved a full hysterectomy, she also sees herself as inadequate and monstrous since she’s not only done countless despicable things in the past but is so pained by her inability to be a “real” woman that she feels she can’t be anything more than the famed Black Widow.

While Thor’s side quest derails things somewhat, it’s great to see Barton’s personality fleshed out.

For Thor, recovering the sceptre spells the end to his brother’s impact upon his beloved adopted world; since the last film, Thor has built quite the rapport with his team mates and their extended families and revels with them as he would conquering Asgardian comrades. Thor is enraged, however, when he sees Loki’s magic perverted into Ultron and very nearly comes to blows with Stark over his reckless actions in meddling with cosmic powers beyond his comprehension. Thor’s concerns over the gem are only exacerbated after his encounter with Wanda, which causes him to suspect a greater threat and seek out his friend, Doctor Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård), to accompany him on a short side quest to learn more about the mysterious gems that keep popping up in his life. After spending the majority of the first film under Loki’s control, Barton gets far more screen time and relevance in the sequel than I think many people expected; rather than focusing on his relationship with Romanoff, the film initially suggests that he may be a double-agent or keeping his own secrets from the team, but dramatically reveals that he has a wife and kids that he has kept quiet from everyone except for Romanoff. Protected and hidden from official records by former S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Barton’s family provides refuge for the wounded and exhausted team after their encounter with the twins and goes a long way to fleshing out Barton’s character beyond just being “the guy with the arrows”.

Tensions rise between Steve and Stark as both characters have very different methods and ideologies.

Finally, there’s Captain America himself, Steve Rogers. Still very much the field leader and default commander of the superhero team, Steve has committed himself to tracking down and eradicating Hydra’s influence as part of the guilt he feels over not finishing the job back in World War Two. Steve’s old-fashioned sensibilities are a source of much amusing banter within the team, but his pure heart, dedication, and moral integrity mean that he’s devoted to saving and protected all lives above anything else. Indeed, he’s so pure-hearted that he’s even able to ever so slightly budge Mjölnir during a friendly competition, is the only one of the team not driven into a paranoid frenzy by Wanda’s cruel visions, and, of course, takes the moral high ground when he sees the consequences of Stark’s arrogance first stumble to life. Burned by the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier (Russo and Russo, 2014), Cap is understandably annoyed that Stark would go behind their backs and unleash a potentially world-ending threat upon the world, but is also fair and just enough to try and convince the twins of Ultron’s threat and accept them into the team despite the destruction their actions have caused.

Ultron twists Stark’s vision for peace and personality quirks into a megalomaniacal plot for extinction.

As for Ultron…Like a lot of people, I was surprised to see the second Avengers film make a sudden left turn towards Marvel’s famous cyborg maniac, but curious to see how the character would be brought to life. Since Doctor Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) would not make his debut until the following year, the film alters Ultron’s origins and has it be a creation of Stark and Banner (though mainly Stark); personally, I feel like another redraft of the script could have restored Pym as Ultron’s creator and introduced the character earlier, perhaps with Pym also taking the place of Doctor Helen Cho (Claudia Kim) and helping to further set up his antagonism towards Stark and the Avengers in Ant-Man (Reed, 2015). Regardless, I can understand the change, and Ultron’s depiction as this conceited, self-righteous, boastful villain makes for one of the MCU’s most loquacious and enigmatic antagonists if nothing else. Positioned as a dark reflection and extreme perversion of Stark’s desire to protect the world, Ultron learns of humanity’s tendency towards war and self-destruction by first absorbing Stark’s resident A.I., Just A Rather Very Intelligent System (J.A.R.V.I.S.; Paul Bettany) and then trawling the internet. It concludes, as many sentient A.I.’s do, that humanity can only be truly united and learn to survive and prove their worth after suffering from near extinction and sets in motion a dual plot to spread his influence through multiple, disposable copies of itself while forced Cho to construct a near-invulnerable synthetic body and to turn the ravaged nation of Sokovia into a gigantic meteor to drop onto the planet and bring humanity to the brink of desperation…and greatness.

The twins cause havoc with the Avengers before reluctantly joining forces with them to oppose Ultron.

Ultron is assisted by the twins Wanda and Pietro, who were subjected to bizarre and horrendous experiments by Baron Wolfgang von Strucker (Thomas Kretschmann), a Hydra commander who unfortunately gets very little screen time before being killed offscreen but who leaves a lasting impact in his influence on the twins. While the brash and snarky Pietro exhibits superhuman speed, Wanda wields a dangerous and unpredictable red energy that allows her to fire off psionic bolts and manipulate the minds of others. It’s thanks to her influence that Stark sees a vision of the Avengers left decimated and the Earth vulnerable to alien invasion (which compels him to create Ultron in the first place), that Romanoff is forced to relive her traumatic experiences in the Red Room, that Thor learns of the cosmic disaster threatened by the Infinity Stones, and that the Hulk goes on a mindless rampage through Johannesburg. Wanda and Pietro have their own vendetta against Stark that causes them to willingly assist Ultron; Stark’s weapons caused the deaths of their parents and left them trapped, fearing their own death, for two days when they were children. However, when Wanda learns that Ultron’s plan extends beyond killing Stark and destroying the Avengers and into worldwide genocide, the twins turn against the maniacal machine and reluctantly join forces with the Avengers for the action-packed finale.

The Nitty-Gritty:
It’s true that Avengers: Age of Ultron had a lot to live up to; not only was Avengers Assemble a massive, massive box office event, but it changed the course of the MCU and both comic book films and cinema forever. Add to that the decision to title the film after one of the biggest and most complex crossovers in then-recent Marvel Comics and the film definitely had a bit of an uphill battle; I get that titling films “Age of…” was a common practice in Hollywood for a while, and the desire to capitalise on Brian Michael Bendis’ story arc, but I would have picked Ultron Unleashed instead, which would have both paid homage to the comics while also slightly lowering audience’s expectations somewhat. Still, the banter and wit on offer is just as entertaining and compelling as in the first film; the team give Steve a hard time for calling out Stark’s bad language, Thor’s mission report on the Hulk’s actions against Strucker’s forces is amusing (as is his banter with Stark regarding their girlfriends), and it’s nice just see the team relaxing and socialising outside of battle.

While the action is big and exciting, the film primarily sows the seeds of dissension between the Avengers.

I think the film gets a bit of a bad reputation because it opts for a more subdued and interpersonal story rather than necessarily being bigger and better; the film starts basically where the first film left off, with the Avengers operating as a co-ordinated and efficient team, sharing banter and doing their parts individually and collectively in the assault on Strucker’s fortress. It took basically the entirety of Avengers Assemble to get these big egos and characters to work through their issues and set aside their personal grievances for the greater good, so to see them in action as a fortified unit is incredibly gratifying as a comic book fan. When Ultron first reveals itself to the team, they instinctively leap into action and the question isn’t whether they can fight together, but whether they can co-exist and stay on the same page regarding the greater threats. While Stark’s actions in trying to pre-empt their defences against these dangers were irresponsible, his motivations are entirely understandable and he was right: the Earth did need to prepare itself for a greater threat, but arguably they would have been in a better position to do that if Stark had consulted with his team mates first. As angry as Thor is with Stark for meddling in cosmic powers, Steve is equally disappointed in his friend’s recklessness and the first hints of friction between the two are sowed in this film; while Steve fully believes that the team is best served working together, win or lose, Stark would rather prepare for the best-case scenario and have contingencies in place, no matter how morally questionable they are.

When Wanda screws with the Hulk, Stark is forced to bust out the awesome Hulkbuster mech!

This is further evidenced in the dramatic and exciting depiction of “Veronica”, a massive mech-suit designed by Stark and Banner specifically to combat the Hulk. A contingency neither wish to see put into action, Stark is forced to call upon this “Hulkbuster” armour when Wanda screws with Banner’s mind and sends the Hulk on a mindless rampage. Although we don’t get to see Banner’s nightmarish vision, we can assume that it must be either incredibly devastating, traumatic, or tragic based on what Stark, Cap, Thor, and Romanoff are forced to relive, and it’s most likely something that ties into the fear Banner and the Hulk have of each other. Either way, the rest is an absolutely massive and incredible impressive brawl between the Hulk and the Hulkbuster; easily Stark’s biggest and most powerful armour yet, the Hulkbuster quickly repairs and rearms itself when damaged by the Hulk and is more than capable of going toe-to-toe with the Green Goliath, however it’s still heavily implied that the suit was designed to quickly overpower and subdue the Hulk, something easier said than done considering the Hulk’s ever-growing rage. Indeed, it’s only after a prolonged beatdown and having a building dropped on his head that Wanda’s influence is finally shaken for the Hulk, who’s left visibly distraught at the damage and destruction he has wrought.

Although the Hulk doesn’t get to talk, the film is full of fun cameos to set up the new Avengers team.

Sadly, despite the Hulk clearly uttering words in Avengers Assemble, the Green Goliath returns to being a largely mute creature who communicates only in growls, grunts, and facial expressions; indeed, he kind of fades into the background by the finale before jetting off to places unknown in order to keep Romanoff safe from his violent nature. While I was quite happy with the amount of Hulk action on offer in the film, it is disappointing that he wasn’t depicted as talking here as I was expecting him to be fleshed out more in that regard. Age of Ultron does, however, have time for a few fun cameos from Colonel James “Rhodey” Rhodes/War Machine (Don Cheadle) and Sam Wilson/The Falcon (Anthony Mackie), who officially join the Avengers by the end of the film, and provides a slightly bigger role for former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders), who largely replaces Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) and even Fury as the Avengers’ go-to liaison, and all of these characters (except, obviously, for Coulson) play a part in the final battle against Ultron. Another criticism of the film was the shoe-horning in of unnecessary world-building, specifically Thor’s “vision quest” that seems to serve little purpose other than reminding audiences of Thanos’ (Josh Brolin) looming threat. Personally, I never had much of a problem with this as it made Thor pivotal to the creation of the Vision (Bettany); furthermore, much of the film is devoted towards further exploring Stark’s guilt and desperation regarding his friendship with the team and his desire to protect the world, all of which paid off beautifully as the MCU progressed.

Hawkeye forms a bond with Wanda and seems destined to die but it’s Pietro who takes one for the team.

Thanks to being revealed to be a loving and devoted father and husband, Hawkeye slips naturally into the role of a mentor to the twins and the heart of the team; he initially has an antagonistic rivalry with the condescending Pietro but is the only one of the team to anticipate and counteract Wanda’s mind control. When the twins join the team, he helps to integrate them into the Avengers’ code and nowhere is this more evident in the pragmatic and honest pep talk he gives to Wanda, who is overwhelmed by the chaos and insanity of the battle against Ultron’s drones. This perfectly encapsulates not just Barton’s moral centre but also the entire point of the Avengers as a team and a concept: no matter how crazy things get or how unwinnable the odds seem, they shake it off and keep fighting until the very end, regardless of the outcome. Cap reinforces this philosophy when he tells the team: “If you get hurt, hurt ‘em back. If you get killed, walk it off”, and these words have a significant impact not only in encouraging Wanda not to hold herself back in the battle against Ultron but also in Pietro’s decision to be selfless for the first time in his life. Seeing Barton using himself as a human shield to try and protect an innocent child, Pietro rushes in and saves them both at the cost of his own life, a random and absolutely unexpected (and potentially unnecessary) sacrifice that continues to be a little confusing. It appears Whedon decided to kill off Pietro because it would have been too obvious to off Barton, a character who had been set up throughout the entire film as basically doomed and living on borrowed time, but keeping him alive ended up paying off on a longer story arc for the character within the MCU.

Ultron aims to transfer itself into the perfect body, but its Vision grows to oppose and destroy it.

Ultron begins life as a confused and disembodied artificial intelligence; as it quickly absorbs information, its curiosity turns to contempt and it soon perverts Stark’s desire for “peace in our time” to the extreme. It regards Stark’s other creations as mere puppets and is quickly able to learn everything about the team, and the world, and evade true destruction by escaping through the internet and transferring its consciousness halfway across the world into a slew of disposable bodies. As a fully CGI character, Ultron is certainly impressive; the only real complain I have is that I don’t think it needed to have lips. Thankfully, Spader provides an enigmatic and surprisingly layered performance; Ultron fully believes that its actions are just and truly cares for the twins, and is unsettling in its unpredictability as it can be charismatic and almost kind-hearted one minute and then a complete psychopath the next. To help position itself as an unstoppable overlord in its new world, Ultron has Cho create a perfect synthetic body; however, the Avengers are able to intercept this form and, despite concerns about Stark’s recklessness, infuse it with J.A.R.V.I.S.’s consciousness, Thor’s lightning, and the mysterious Mind Stone that was contained within Loki’s sceptre, thus giving birth to a new artificial lifeform dubbed the Vision. Understandably cautious and wary of this new individual, the Avengers’ fears of the Vision’s intentions are immediately set aside when he proves his mettle by being capable of wielding Mjölnir; while I can understand the argument that the Vision’s introduction is a bit rushed and his powers somewhat ill-defined, having him grab Mjölnir like it’s nothing was a great shorthand to tell us everything we needed to know about the character at that point, and he plays a pivotal role in paralleling Ultron’s destructive megalomania with a more pragmatic and reasonable logic.

The Avengers stop Ultron and avert worldwide disaster, unaware of an even greater threat on the horizon.

Having used Stark’s technology, Cho’s research, the power of the Mind Stone, and the near-limitless potential of Wakanda’s Vibranium, Ultron succeeds in lifting Sokovia high up into Earth’s atmosphere. Its inexhaustible army of drones may be simply disposable minions for the Avengers to tear apart, much like the Chitauri, but the stakes are far bigger this time around as the Avengers are forced to hold off Ultron and its copies while also trying to slow or safely stop its make-shift meteor, all while trying to evacuate the entire city onto Fury’s repurposed Helicarrier. They’re successful largely thanks to Wanda who, devastated by her brother’s death, decimates Ultron’s drones and crushes its primary body, ripping its heart out for good measure before the Hulk sends it flying off the floating city. Thanks to Stark and Thor, the landmass is overloaded and blasted to smithereens before it can pose a threat, and Ultron’s final form is seemingly eradicated forever following a philosophical debate with its “son”, the Vision. In the aftermath, Thor returns to Asgard to investigate the Infinity Stones and Stark officially leaves the team to follow through with the promise he made to Virginia “Pepper” Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) in Iron Man 3 (Black, 2013) and Cap and Romanoff move to a new Avengers facility far outside of the city where they prepare to train a new team of Avengers. However, while all seems well between the team, the Mad Titan, Thanos, arms himself with a glistening gauntlet and prepares to take care of matters personally.

The Summary:
I remember being somewhat underwhelmed by Avengers: Age of Ultron when I first saw it at the cinema; it wasn’t that it was bad, or necessarily worse than Avengers Assemble, but it didn’t really seem to be much better than its predecessor. Avengers Assemble was such a big event because it was the first time these characters were coming together onscreen and I had waited so long so see comic book characters in a shared universe rather than being restricted to isolated worlds, so it always gets extra credit for me due to that and the power of nostalgia. Being just as good as one of the MCU’s best films is nothing to be ashamed of, however, but I think I, like many audiences, was just expecting something a little more substantial from the team’s next big outing. Still, it’s definitely gotten better over time and remains an action-packed spectacle that ties into Phase Two’s themes of challenging the status quo of the MCU and lays the first hints of dissension within the Avengers. Seeing the Avengers in full force never gets old; as much as I enjoy the direction the MCU took, part of me would have liked to see one more film of them as a cohesive unit with the resources of S.H.I.E.L.D. behind them, possibly battling the Masters of Evil, simply because I enjoy the banter and teamwork of the Avengers so much and it’s always a spectacular moment whenever that rousing theme kicks in and the team appears onscreen.

While a bit bloated, Age of Ultron is a stronger entry in the MCU than you might remember.

While it’s not a perfect film by any means, Age of Ultron introduces a lot of new elements to the MCU and makes an impact with its entertaining action scenes; it’s still amazing seeing Iron Man don the Hulkbuster armour, Pietro’s superspeed and Wanda’s freaky magic add some unique pizazz to the film’s events and finale, but the film really makes its mark with the introduction of the Vision and Spader’s performance as Ultron. A complex and psychotic villain who is all the worst parts of Stark dialled up to eleven, Ultron is both menacing and amusing thanks to its overabundance of personality and snark, and is perfectly juxtaposed by the more life-affirming and analytical Vision. Overall, I feel it’s an under-rated entry in the MCU that is more than deserving of a little more respect and credibility; sure, it’s a little overstuffed and introduces a lot of new elements but, as Ultron states, “with the benefit of hindsight” I think there’s a lot on offer in Avengers: Age of Ultron and that it works wonders for encapsulating the spirit and integrity of the team, perfectly setting them up for their eventual disassembling and climatic reassembling against their greatest every threat, so I’d say it’s a more than worthy follow-up despite some flaws here and there.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

Are you a fan of Avengers: Age of Ultron? How do you feel it holds up against the first film, and the other Phase Two movies? Were you disappointed with the depiction of the Hulk, Banner’s romance sub-plot with Romanoff, and Pietro’s sudden and dramatic death? What did you think to the new characters introduced to the team in this film, specifically Wanda and the Vision? Where does Ultron rank amongst the Avengers’ villains for you and what did you think to the alterations made to his origin, and Spader’s performance? Would you have liked to see one more Avengers movie before the team splintered and, if so, which characters would you have liked to see added to the team? How are you celebrating the debut of the Avengers today and what are some of your favourite Avengers storylines, characters, or adaptations? Feel free to sign up and share your thoughts and opinions on the Avengers in the comments below, or drop me a line on my social media.

Back Issues [Spidey Month]: The Amazing Spider-Man #14

Easily Marvel Comic’s most recognisable and popular superhero, unsuspecting teenage nerd Peter Parker was first bitten by a radioactive spider and learned the true meaning of power and responsibility in Amazing Fantasy #15, which was first published in August 1962. Since then, the Amazing Spider-Man has featured in numerous cartoons, live-action movies, videogames, action figures, and countless comic book titles and, in celebration of his debut and his very own day of celebration, I’m dedicating every Friday of August to talk about everyone’s favourite web-head!

Story Title: “The Grotesque Adventure of the Green Goblin”
Published: 9 April 1964 (cover-dated July 1964)
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Steve Ditko

The Background:
In 1962, Marvel Comics editor and head writer Stan Lee followed up on his success with the Fantastic Four with Spider-Man; his debut in Amazing Fantasy #15 proved to be one of Marvel’s best selling titles and Spider-Man’s popularity led to him getting his own solo title barely a year later and he quickly amassed one of the most colourful and memorable rogues galleries in all of comics. Easily one of Spider-Man’s most devious and iconic enemies is the Green Goblin; although a number of people have assumed this elf-like guise, the most famous face behind the mask is Norman Osborn, industrialist and father to Peter’s best friend. Stan Lee’s initial pitch was very different from what the Green Goblin turned out to be, and he continued to clash with artist Steve Ditko over the character’s true identity. Although his identity was initially a mystery, the Green Goblin would go on to be a central figure in many of Spider-Man’s most prominent storylines and a recurring figure in Spidey’s life both in and outside of comics.

The Review:
According to the issue’s first splash page, the Green Goblin came about after a concentrated effort by the Marvel writing staff to deliver “the greatest 12¢ worth [they] can” and wastes no time in introducing readers to “a really different villain” by opening with the shadowy wrongdoer hard at work in his high-tech basement laboratory. There, the mysterious Green Goblin puts the finishing touches to his “flying broomstick”, a rocket-powered flying device that completes his fearsome, colourful costume. With his look complete, the Green Goblin meets with the Enforcers (Montana, Fancy Dan, and Ox), a trio of the city’s most notorious gangsters, and coerces them into working for him to defeat Spider-Man (who previously got the Enforcers arrested some time prior to this story) by intimidating them with sparks shot from his fingers. Strangely, the Green Goblin’s plan involves offering struggling filmmaker B. J. Cosmos the chance of a lifetime: a sure-fire action movie with the Green Goblin and the real Spider-Man as the stars!

The mysterious Green Goblin offers Spider-Man the chance to make bank on a Hollywood movie.

We then catch up with Peter Parker, who’s in a far better position, socially at least, than usual; not only did he get a 100% score in his last exam, but his intelligence earns him the admiration of Liz Allen, who not only coos over him but actually stands up to Eugene “Flash” Thompson when the football star continues to mock Peter for his lack of physical acumen. Peter’s surprise at seeing Liz leap to his defence and joy at seeing Flash taken down a peg or two is cut short when he hears news of the Green Goblin flying around the skies of Manhattan, so he quickly dashes off to confront the garishly garbed goblin as Spider-Man. Rather than getting into a fist fight, however, the Green Goblin tells Spidey about the movie opportunity and, despite his better judgement, the web-head goes to check it out and finds that the filmmaker is willing to pay him $50,000 to star in a movie that pits him against the Enforcers and the Green Goblin. Despite the fact that the last time he cashed in on his spider powers, Peter learned a harsh lesson about using his abilities responsibly, Spider-Man actually agrees and signs a contract since the cash would allow him to provide for his beloved Aunt May. Although receptionist Betty Brant isn’t best pleased at her man socialising with Hollywood starlets, and Aunt May worries about him making a big trip out to California, Peter is not only given license to get out on his trip but even assigned to cover the movie shoot by editor J. Jonah Jameson, thus promising even more profit from the gig.

Spider-Man is easily duped by the Green Goblin and attacked by the Enforcers.

Upon arrival, Spider-Man is amazed at B. J.’s make-up effects and doesn’t suspect that anything’s amiss (so much for his much-lauded spider-sense…), but quickly learns that he’s blundered into a trap when the Enforcers attack him during a “rehearsal”. Spider-Man’s agility and spider-sense help him to largely avoid the trio’s attacks, but he’s several disorientated when the Green Goblin tosses stun grenades at him and deftly avoids his web shooters thanks to his…*sigh*….rocket-powered broomstick. This gives the Enforcers the opportunity they need to dog-pile him, pummelling him mercilessly and leading to a common sequence where Peter musters all of his spider strength to throw them off and then whips up a “man-made dust storm” to temporarily blind his foes. The story then jumps back over the New York to find Aunt May already writing a letter to her nephew, Liz again standing up for Peter to Flash, and Betty continuing to suspect that Peter’s cheating on her over in Hollywood; I guess the point of this is to show that the never-ending drama in Peter’s life continues to churn over even when he’s not around, but the leaps in logic these characters make never fails to astound!

Of course the Hulk randomly shows up! I mean, why not?!

Thankfully, the story quickly returns to Spider-Man’s plight; the web-slinger takes cover in a nearby cave to catch his breath and ends up being trapped inside by, and with, the Enforcers and the Green Goblin. One by one, Spider-Man picks off the Enforcers; he nabs Montana, webs up Fancy Dan, and knocks out Ox with a single punch to the jaw, but the Green Goblin is not so easily ensnared thanks to burning away Spidey’s web net with his broomstick. As if things weren’t already complicated enough, who else should randomly appear in the cave but Doctor Bruce Banner’s enraged alter ego, the Incredible Hulk! Naturally, the Hulk attacks Spider-Man on sight and goes on a rampage, much to the Green Goblin’s glee. When Spider-Man’s attempts to reason with the Green Goliath fall on deaf ears, he’s forced to rely on his agility to avoid the Hulk’s attacks, stunned to see the beast tear through his webbing, and succeeds only in almost breaking his hand when he wallops the Hulk in the face! Realising that he can’t reason with or out-fight the Hulk, Spider-Man puts his health (and life) at risk by tricking the Hulk into smashing the boulder and freeing them from their confinement.

Spider-Man must settle for having survived as he’s left out of pocket and clueless to the Goblin’s identity.

Now back out in the open and able to swing again, Spider-Man turns his attention back to the Green Goblin; however, he’s too weak to properly overpower the Goblin’s broomstick and ends up falling to the water below. When he spots the Hulk heading back into the cave, Spider-Man is duty-bound to rescue the Enforcers before the Green Goliath can find and hurt them, and flees the scene to confront B. J. over his business associates. B. J. is aghast that the army would arrest his stars, but quickly hits on the genius idea of trying to sign the Hulk to an exclusive contract as a replacement antagonist. When Spidey arrives to talk about his fee, the web-slinger is left out of pocket due to the film being cancelled and given just enough money to cover his trip back to New York. Rather than be concerned about the Hulk being free out in the desert or question his willingness to sell his abilities out for fame and fortune, Peter returns to the city and ponders where and when the mysterious Green Goblin will strike next. Speaking of Spidey’s fiendish new foe, the story ends with the Green Goblin returning to his lair and lamenting his failure to destroy the web-spinner and position himself as the new head of a worldwide criminal syndicate. Still, the experience (and the unexpected appearance of the Hulk) teaches the Green Goblin the valuable lesson that one can never think of everything, but he consoles himself in his anonymity and resolves to strike even harder in his next criminal escapade.

The Summary:
Um…okay, so…Marvel claim, right from the first page of the story, that the Green Goblin will be this big, impressive, unbelievable new foe for Spider-Man and the fiend’s big debut plot is to trick Spider-Man into signing on the a film so the Green Goblin and his unimpressive goons can try and beat him up. I mean, as far as villainous plots go, it’s hardly tossing your girlfriend off a bridge or murdering countless innocents! While the Green Goblin would eventually live up to his hype and become arguably Spider-Man’s most dangerous villain ever, you’d never know it from this first issue; and you can’t even say that Marvel didn’t know how to debut new Spidey foes at the time as Doctor Otto Octavius/Doctor Octopus made a much more impressive debut that same year some months prior and he came across as a far more formidable foe.

Considering how important he would become, the Green Goblin makes an inauspicious debut.

Just about the only thing that the Green Goblin has going for him is the question of his true identity; when he’s not wearing his mask, his face is constantly obscured or in shadow and I can imagine this was incredibly intriguing at the time as it was uncommon for us readers to not know who Spidey’s villains were behind their colourful costumes. Rather than flying his iconic glider, the Green Goblin straddles a ridiculous rocket-power broomstick and tosses stun grenades instead of his trademark pumpkin bombs; he doesn’t seem to exhibit any superhuman powers, and yet is able to intimidate the Enforcers just by causing some sparkles to fly from his fingers (an ability that doesn’t show up again this issue and appears to have no actual function). The Green Goblin barely even fights with Spider-Man; instead, he sets the Enforcers against him, and these three are incredibly underwhelming characters. Sure, Ox is a brute and Montana has his trusty lasso and I guess Fancy Dan is supposed to be quite agile, but they’re never really portrayed as an actual threat even when they have the numbers advantage.

The Hulk completely overshadows the Green Goblin and only adds to the mess of the issue’s plot.

Then there’s the nonsensical inclusion of the Hulk! Now, I get it; Marvel loved to cram in random cameos from their other characters into stories at the time, and it’s incredibly possible that there’s more context for his appearance in his own comic, but all he really does is completely overshadow the Green Goblin and the main plot. Not only that, but Peter acts really out of character here; he signs up for a movie deal without hesitation despite his vow to use his powers responsibly rather than for personal gain and is not only easily duped by the Green Goblin but is spider-sense is unreliable, at best, at warning him of the obvious dangers around him. The action is pretty good, to be fair, but then it always is in Spider-Man comics; ultimately, this is a good showcase for Spidey as you get to see him hold his own against the Hulk, but the entire selling point of the story was the conflict between Spider-Man and the Green Goblin and we get so little of that that the Goblin may as well have not been in the story at all. This is the very definition of style over substance; the Green Goblin is mysterious and colourful but hardly makes a great first impression and the story is full of filler, nonsense, and overshadowed by the Hulk. This could have been a cool opportunity to have this strange, maniacal imp-like villain torment Spider-Man and constantly give Spidey the slip but, instead, we get this weird plot about him duping him with a movie deal, and then Spidey just checks out of there rather than trying to chase after him, resulting in an inauspicious first appearance for someone who would become one of Spider-Man’s most dangerous foes.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

What are your thoughts on the Green Goblin’s inauspicious debut? Were you a fan of the villain at the time or did he win you over in a different story (and, if so, which one?) What did you think to Peter’s willingness to sign up for a movie deal and shirk his responsibilities? Who is your favourite Spider-Man villain and why? What did you think to the Hulk showing up in this story? Whatever your thoughts on the Green Goblin, sign up to share them below or leave a comment on my social media and be sure to check back in next Friday as Spider-Man Month continues!

Talking Movies [HulkaMAYnia]: The Incredible Hulk

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. 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.

Released: 13 June 2008
Director: Louis Leterrier
Universal Pictures
$137.5 to 150 million
Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, Tim Roth, and William Hurt

The Plot:
In a bid to recreate the super-soldier serum, Doctor Bruce Banner (Norton) exposed himself to gamma radiation and, whenever provoked or enraged, transforms into a green-skinned behemoth known as the “Hulk” (Lou Ferrigno). Desperate for a cure, and to avoid the attention of General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross (Hurt), Banner reluctantly rekindles his relationship with former flame Doctor Betty Ross (Tyler) and finds himself hounded by Emil Blonsky (Roth), a relentless soldier who exposes himself to the same process to match the Hulk’s physical abilities.

The Background:
Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s green-skinned rage monster had a troublesome road to the big screen; although Hulk (Lee, 2003) featured its fair share of impressive visual effects shots and was relatively profitable, its poor critical performance quashed plans for a sequel. However, when Universal Pictures failed to produce a follow-up in time, the rights reverted to Marvel, who were currently riding high after the critical and commercial success of the first film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), Iron Man (Favreau, 2008). Opting to reboot the property, Marvel hired director Louis Leterrier and writer Zak Penn, who both drew significant inspiration from their love of The Incredible Hulk television show (1977 to 1982). Edward Norton was cast as Banner and also provided some work on the script, which caused some tension between him and Marvel when many of his additional scenes were cut and ultimately led to him leaving the role. Like Hulk, The Incredible Hulk brought the Hulk to life through visual effects specifically tweaked to portray him beyond the peak of human physical ability and the film even brought back Joe Harnell’s iconic and tragic “Lonely Man” theme from the TV show. The Incredible Hulk was not quite as profitable as Iron Man; it made a little more than its predecessor with a worldwide gross of nearly $265 million but was again met with mixed reviews. Although development of a solo sequel film stalled after disagreements with Universal Pictures, the character would be recast for subsequent appearances in the MCU, where he received something of a “mini arc” and many of the film’s loose ends were eventually addressed in later MCU productions.

The Review:
I came away from Hulk relatively satisfied; it was longer and far more cerebral than I was expecting but I always thought that it was a pretty impressive and enjoyable big-screen debut for the Jade Giant and I was disheartened to learn that we wouldn’t be getting a direct sequel. Still, hearing that the next film in the MCU would feature another crack at the Hulk was an encouraging sign that Marvel Studios were eager to both do the character justice and make him a prominent feature in their fledgling interconnected universe. Even better was the fact that The Incredible Hulk benefitted from a surge of fantastic casting in superhero films at the time; actors like Robert Downey Jr., Jeff Bridges, Michael Caine, and Morgan Freeman were really adding a lot of legitimacy and gravitas to the genre and I thought it was quite the coup to see Edward Norton cast in the lead role in The Incredible Hulk. Sadly, Marvel Studios seemed to lose faith in the project before the release day and spoiled Tony Stark’s (Downey Jr.) appearance the pre-credits scene in the last few trailers and, even now, The Incredible Hulk remains one of the lowest-grossing films in the MCU.

Banner is a desperate man on the run trying to cure his unique condition and avoid capture.

Like Hulk, The Incredible Hulk plays its opening titles over a montage that is both a clear homage to the 1970s TV show and a revised origin for the character as Banner exposes himself to gamma radiation in an attempt to recreate the super-soldier serum rather than as an experiment on the limits of the human body. As much as I enjoy Mark Ruffalo in the role, there’s no denying that Edward Norton is a different quality of actor; he makes for a great Banner, showcasing the same empathy, humanity, intelligence, and desperation that made Bill Bixby so great in the role, and is still probably the most accurate onscreen portrayal of the character in my mind. Actively hiding his identity and staying off the radar of both Ross and the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division (S.H.I.E.L.D.), Banner busies himself with a menial job while communicating with the mysterious “Mr. Blue” in an effort to synthesise a cure for his condition. Banner also wears a heart rate monitor to warn him when he’s getting too stressed and works with an Akido instructor (Rickson Gracie) to control his emotions and anger through breathing and meditation techniques. Having reached the limit of what he can accomplish with his mediocre resources, and after accidentally alerted Ross to his presence with a single drop of blood, Banner has no choice but to abandon his hard but largely peaceful life and return to the United States in an effort to find a cure.

Betty can’t help but be drawn to Bruce and helps him out of pure adoration and love.

This reunites him with Ross’s daughter and Banner’s former love, Betty, a renowned and capable scientist in her own right who, despite being in a relationship with psychiatrist Leonard Samson (Ty Burrell), has never forgotten her feelings for Bruce. Reunited after five years apart, she immediately insists on helping him in any way she can, which involves bringing him clothes after his Hulk-out, helping him gain access to Culver University, going with him on the run, and shielding him from her tyrannical father at every opportunity. Betty is, once again, an empathetic and supportive character who is both clearly besotted with Banner and exhibits a sympathetic protectiveness of his green-skinned counterpart; Tyler and Norton have a very real, tangible chemistry and it’s great seeing their characters interact as equals and attempting to act on their obvious attraction to each other. Crucially, Betty also holds key data that Mr. Blue (who turns out to be Doctor Samuel Sterns (Tim Blake Nelson)), needs to properly help synthesise a cure for his condition.

The Hulk is far more aggressive and wild than usual and more like a force of nature.

Though still largely a silent character, the Hulk continues to exhibit a great deal of personality to separate him from Banner. Far more aggressive and angrier than his 2003 counterpart, this is a Hulk who has had to deal with being constantly suppressed within Banner’s subconscious and finds himself relentlessly hounded by Ross, Blonsky, and the military. As he simply wants to be left alone but is quick to fly into a rage and even mumble a few words of protest when provoked, the Hulk appears to be much more feral than usual, though he does retains his child-like demeanour at times while also seeming much more akin to a wild animal. Crucially, the Hulk is fiercely protective of Betty, who’s the only person to show him any kindness, and notably shields her when Ross allows his selfish vendetta against him to threaten her safety, lending further credibility to Betty’s later belief that the Hulk has great potential as a force for good. Since the film doesn’t delve into Bruce’s childhood or emotional trauma, the Hulk is much more of a result of science gone wrong but there’s also the suggestion that he has the potential to be so much more; Banner, however, is more concerned with ridding himself of his ailment than learning to properly accept it as part of himself and his fear of the Hulk is almost as great as Ross’s hated of him.

Just as Ross is desperate to apprehend Banner, Blonsky is obsessed with fighting the Hulk.

Speaking of ol’ Thunderbolt, General Ross continues to be a stubborn and vindictive character; personally directing the missions to detain Banner, his motivations stem just as much from Banner’s first transformation landing Betty in the hospital as it does from his desire to contain the beast lest anyone discover the role Ross and the U.S. military played in his creation. Again a stern and uncompromising authority figure who prioritises his duty and career over his daughter, Ross begins the film estranged from Betty and their relationship is only further strained by the revelation that Ross is seeking to dissect the Hulk from Banner’s body in order to weaponise the creature. Ross’s ceaseless campaign against Banner sees him employ the services of Emil Blonsky, a former Royal Marines Commando who quickly develops an intense rivalry with the Hulk. Eschewing promotions that would take him away from the combat he craves so dearly, Blonsky obediently follows orders to the letter but, having witnessed the Hulk’s destructive power (and feeling the physical strain of a lifetime of combat), candidly requests more information on Banner and the Hulk and is only too eager to receive a version of the super-soldier serum in order to improve his own strength, speed, reflexes, and recuperative powers. However, when even this fails to make him a match for the Hulk, Blonsky seeks more extreme methods to battle the Green Goliath. Sterns is only too willing to further augment Blonsky’s body with mutated samples of Banner’s blood, which causes him to transform into a bestial form of his own to finally battle the Hulk on equal ground for the finale.

The Nitty-Gritty:
I touched on this earlier but, for a time, it wasn’t entirely impossible to view The Incredible Hulk as a follow-up to Hulk; the film opens in Brazil, very similar to where the 2003 film ended, and it’s easy enough to believe that Banner was granted permission to return to the U.S. to help with the super-soldier serum only to be further ostracised by Ross, and you could even explain away to recasting of Talbot from Josh Lucas to Adrian Pasdar and his revival can be explained away by the questionable canonicity of Marvel’s television shows. I always felt like there was just enough connective tissue to link the two without explicitly stating it but, ultimately, The Incredible Hulk also works extremely well as a reintroduction to the character. By evoking the familiar imagery of the TV show and leaning into the accepted tropes associated with the character, the film is much faster and more action-packed since it doesn’t waste time delving into the Hulk’s origin and instead kicks things off with Banner a desperate man on the run, something immediately familiar to fans of the early comics and the aforementioned TV show.

Banner comes to consider that the Hulk could be used as a force for good.

That’s not to say that The Incredible Hulk isn’t without its poignant moments; it may not be a methodical in-depth character study like the last film but there’s a great amount of time devoted to Bruce’s increasing desperation to rid himself of the Hulk. This has left him alone and exiled from his home and love, and constantly on edge and reluctant to trust anyone with too much of his blood or research lest he be discovered or his condition weaponised. Banner is outraged to discover that Sterns has synthetised large quantities of his blood for medicinal purposes and is disheartened to find that Sterns’ efforts have been unable to produce an actual cure. When he returns to the U.S., Banner is initially reluctant to reconnect with Betty but she insists upon offering her assistance out of a genuine affection for him; Betty is also the one who suggests that the Hulk is actually a force for good, something that kept him from dying from a gamma exposure, and plants the first seed in Banner’s head of trying to “aim” the beast and influence the Hulk’s actions rather than simply eradicate the Jade Giant. There’s also an interesting addition whereby Banner’s condition means he cannot allow himself to get sexually aroused since this risks provoking the Hulk’s emergence, replacing the allegory of the Hulk as an expression of his repressed childhood trauma with a metaphor for impotence.

The Hulk is a highly adaptable and aggressive fighter.

Like his 2003 counterpart, the Hulk is a purely digital creation; similar to the last film, the Hulk is initially obscured by darkness and very much painted as a mysterious and fearsome monster. This time, he’s got more of a grey/green hue, is noticeably much more ripped than his predecessor, and there’s loads of really intricate details in his model like bulging veins and muscles that make him a far more impressive digital creation. However, despite this, it can’t be denied that the special effects have aged somewhat. Although the Hulk’s digital model is visually far more impressive than his predecessor, the effects remain somewhat inconsistent in his quality; the Hulk appears very cartoonish when he emerges on the university campus but looks far more believable and fearsome when filmed at night and in the finale. Though he doesn’t continuously increase in mass as he gets madder and stronger, this Hulk is far more aggressive and much more diverse in his attack patterns. He performs his patented thunderclap manoeuvre and his ability to use his surroundings to his advantage, coupled with his ferocious rage, make him a terrifying force of nature. Indeed, the Hulk is smart enough to rip apart military vehicles and turn them into makeshift shields and weapons, very similar to The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction (Radical Entertainment, 2005), which he uses to trash Ross’s heavy ordinance and sonic weapons. Although he wishes to be left alone, the Hulk’s threat only increases the more he is provoked and Blonsky certainly drives him to his limits with his persistence and taunts, earning him a near-fatal blow from the Green Goliath, who appears to rack up quite the body count through his many rampages.

Despite being a dark mirror of the Hulk, the Abomination makes for a thrilling final foe.

Thankfully, there are no gamma dogs this time around and the Hulk surprisingly appears in a number of populated areas, adding to the film’s level of destruction over its predecessor. While Blonsky’s enhanced abilities provide a taste of what we would later see from Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), his obsession with besting the Hulk leads to him forcing Sterns into transforming him into a version of the Abomination. This bony, hulking monster is quite the upgrade compared to the finale of the last film but is a noticeable departure from his traditional comic book appearance and does admittedly add to the MCU’s tendency to rely on dark mirrors of their heroes. Still, the brawl between the Hulk and the Abomination makes for a far more visually impressive finale, not least because you can actually see what’s going on this time around. Potentially because of his conviction or having been exposed to a more potent version of the super-soldier serum, Blonsky retains his personality and intellect when transformed but, drunk with the power afforded to him, the Abomination goes on a rampage through Harlem, attacking civilians and Ross’s troops alike to draw the Hulk out and forcing Ross to risk sending Banner into the hot zone to take Blonsky down. I can totally understand the argument that ending the film with two similar-looking CGI characters bashing each other senseless takes away from the human element of the narrative but it’s a Hulk film so what do you expect? The scene is also framed in a way to make the Hulk appear both heroic and monstrous; though he attacks the Abomination, he causes a great deal of damage in the process but his rage is effectively directed in a more productive way. Despite boasting bony protrusions, the Abomination is ultimately bested by the Hulk’s unquenchable rage but is saved from being choked to death by Betty’s intervention. Humbled by having to turn to the Hulk for help, Ross is far from impressed when Stark comes seeking to recruit the Hulk and the film ends with the ambiguous suggestion that Banner has learned to control his transformations.

The Summary:
Honestly, it annoys me that people overlook The Incredible Hulk; it doesn’t help that legal issues between Marvel Studios and Universal Pictures kept the film somewhat suppressed for a great deal of time and meant that all of the dangling plot threads and sequel bait would sadly never be developed or take a long time to be addressed in the wider MCU. The film’s homages to 1970s show and films like An American Werewolf in London (Landis, 1981) are a nice touch and the cast is absolutely fantastic; Norton, Tyler, Hurt, and Roth all bring a real humanity and intensity to their roles in their own ways and the Hulk is realised perfectly onscreen. Despite being much brisker and more action-orientated compared to the 2003 film, The Incredible Hulk still perfectly captures the desperation of the character as seen in the source material and the popular TV show, and even an admittedly lacklustre finale doesn’t spoil what I find to be an extremely enjoyable and under-rated entry in the MCU.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Are you a fan of The Incredible Hulk? Would you agree that it’s an under-rated entry in the MCU? What did you think to the cast and would you have liked to see Edward Norton reprise the role in the MCU? Were you a fan of the Hulk’s appearance and characterisation this time around and how did you interpret the film’s final shot? Would you have liked to see all of its loose ends addressed in a dedicated Hulk sequel or were you happy with how the MCU incorporated these elements later on? What Hulk story from the comics would you liked to see adapted one day? Whatever your thoughts, feel free to leave a comment below.

Talking Movies [HulkaMAYnia]: Hulk

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. 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.

Released: 20 June 2003
Director: Ang Lee
Universal Pictures
$137 million
Eric Bana, Jennifer Connelly, Sam Elliott, Josh Lucas, and Nick Nolte

The Plot:
After being bombarded with gamma radiation in a lab accident, Doctor Bruce Krenzler (Bana) finds himself transforming into a giant green-skinned creature known as the “Hulk” (Ang Lee) whenever stressed or emotionally provoked. Relentlessly pursued by General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross (Elliot), he is forced to face his traumatic childhood when his biological father, Doctor David Banner (Nolte), reveals Krenzler’s true identity as Bruce Banner and attempts to harvest his alter ego’s gamma-induced super healing.

The Background:
Created by Marvel Comics legends Stan Lee and Jack Kirby after being inspired by the story of a hysterical mother exhibiting superhuman strength and classic movie monsters, the Hulk initially struggled a bit to find an audience with Marvel readers. After a series of backup features helped him regain a solo title, the Hulk shot to fame thanks to his popular television show. Although The Incredible Hulk was followed up by three made-for-TV movies, development of an all-new Hulk feature film can be traced back to the early nineties, when producers Avi Arad and Gale Anne Herd commissioned a script from writer Michael France for production with Universal Pictures. Jonathan Hensleigh was initially attached to the project, which entered pre-production in 1997 and would see the Hulk battle man/insect hybrids. David Hayter was then brought onboard to rewrite the script and include a number of Hulk’s more recognisable enemies before director Ang Lee joined the project and chose to focus more on Banner’s psychological issues. Unlike the TV show, the Hulk was a digital creation of Industrial Light & Magic, with Lee himself providing motion capture for the creature, something that Bana felt reduced his screen time. Although Hulk’s worldwide box office gross of just over $245 million was relatively profitable, it was met with mixed reviews; the less-than-stellar critical response quashed plans for a sequel and, when the rights reverted to Marvel, Marvel Studios instead opted to produce a complete reboot.

The Review:
I’ve always had a soft spot for the Hulk; I grew up watching The Incredible Hulk’s TV movies, the 1982 and 1996 cartoons and reading stories published in the seventies, and I remember being pretty excited to see his big-screen debut thanks to how heavily Universal Pictures promoted the film. Billboards, trailers, TV spots, and merchandise was everywhere for Hulk, which sold itself as this big, action-packed blockbuster in the making but was actually a far more cerebral and poignant story about nature, nurture, the sins of the father and the dangers of science.

David’s efforts to improve his physical limits alter his son’s DNA and get him locked up for thirty years.

Right off the bat, Hulk makes a few alterations to the Jade Giant’s origins; in this film, he owes a great deal of his existence to the research of Dr. David Banner. Much of this is recounted in the film’s opening credits, which play over a montage showing that David has spent most of his scientific career trying to improve the human body’s ability to regenerate. Although close to a breakthrough, he is denied clearance from a young Ross (Todd Tesen) and, like any good mad scientist, tests his formula on himself. Although he exhibits no noticeable effects, the same can’t be said for his son, Bruce (Michael and David Kronenberg). David’s excitement over this development soon turns to horror, however, and Ross’s continued aggression drives him to take desperate measures to try and find a way to reverse Bruce’s condition.

Having repressed his childhood trauma, Bruce is a boiling pot of conflicting emotions.

When we catch up with the now-adult Bruce, he has no idea of his true parentage or nature thanks to having witnessed his father kill his loving birth mother, Edith (Cara Buono), and spending his entire life repressing this memory. A genius scientist in his own right, Bruce finds himself unknowing working in the exact same field as his father, only Bruce favours gamma radiation in his experiments with “nanomads”. Bruce has recently broken up with his co-worker, Doctor Betty Ross (Connelly), after his tendency to be emotionally distant and closed off pushed her away (though they maintain a generally friendly relationship despite this) and, like his father, he has a tumultuous relationship with the military, especially Glenn Talbot (Lucas). Talbot sees the potential for Bruce’s work to be weaponised, which brings him into conflict with Bruce’s more pacifist motivations.

Transformed, freed, by the gamma radiation, the Hulk personifies Bruce’s repressed emotions.

Clearly a complex and tormented individual, Bruce nevertheless willingly sacrifices himself to shield their lab assistant, Harper (Kevin Rankin), from a burst of gamma radiation; initially attributing the improvements in his physical condition to the nanomads, Bruce is pushed to the edge following pressure from Ross and a visit from his birth father. When his emotions get the better of him, his rage literally explodes out of him, transforming him into a mindless, green-skinned beast of pure unbridled fury. The Hulk is characterised as being the unapologetic, mutated physical expression of Bruce’s repressed trauma and memories; although Bruce barely remembers his time as the Hulk, he is terrified by the appeal of the Hulk’s uninhibited anger and power, but the Hulk just seems grateful to be out in the world and free from the trappings of his puny human self. Despite being a largely silent character, the Hulk is given a great deal of characterisation through his facial expressions and body language; he has a child-like quality to him and is quick to fly into a rage when provoked or upon seeing Betty in danger.

Betty cannot help but be drawn to the emotionally unstable Bruce and cares deeply for his welfare.

Betty finds herself irrevocably drawn to Bruce; she feels an empathy and attraction to his intelligence, emotional instability, and his mysterious past that he adamantly refuses to discuss at every opportunity. While they both share a love for science, they also share a bond in their unresolved issues with their fathers; Ross has successfully managed to ostracise his daughter with his officious and militaristic demeanour and Betty is enraged when he pursues Bruce with a stubborn vendetta. Seeking to protect Bruce and standing by him through her father’s persecution, Betty is nevertheless both captivated and terrified by Bruce’s transformation into the Hulk; this compels her to turn to Ross for help but, when she sees how insane David is, she does everything she can to try and help Bruce piece together his fragmented memories and come to terms with his violent childhood.

David Banner makes for an absolutely reprehensible and deeply personal villain.

Initially appearing to be a devoted scientist and loving husband and father, thirty years in confinement have driven David to near insanity. The film goes to great lengths to explore the depravity of David’s motivations; the cold-hearted disdain he shows towards Bruce makes him positively reprehensible. David’s obsession with improving himself, gaining power, and avenging himself against Ross and the world makes him a hermit-like, bat-shit crazy mad scientist who cares nothing for his son and wants only to harvest his gamma cells. David’s mockery of Bruce in the finale, followed by his enraged outburst, are a perfect example of just how disgusting, twisted, and very personal he is as a villain since he purposely withholds information from Bruce regarding his birth mother. Having lived half of his life blaming his violent actions on others (specifically Ross), David is willing to manipulate, torment, and attack anyone with his gamma minions to attain his goals, to say nothing of exposing himself to Bruce’s blood and research in order to augment his physical form.

A stubborn military man, Ross launches a vindictive crusade to lock Bruce up.

General Ross is probably one of the most stubborn, pig-headed, and aggravating characters ever put to screen. A loyal patriot, Ross has spent his entire career putting his work before his family; hiding behind his uniform, Ross justifies his actions out of his genuine desire to protect Betty from Banner’s dangerous nature. To that end, he pursues Bruce without any evidence that he’s actually guilty of anything and is fully prepared to lock him up just for being his father’s son. When Ross witnesses Banner’s transformation, he sees the culmination of David’s obsession brought to startling life and throws everything he has at the Hulk to try and subdue him. Still, it’s obvious that he deeply cares for Betty but his method of protecting her is mainly to purposely and officiously keep key information from her and to rage at Bruce for doing nothing more than existing. Ultimately, Betty is able to convince Ross just enough to arrange for a face-to-face between the two Banners but, even then, Ross is fully prepared to electrocute them both to death if they show signs of being a threat.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Ang Lee’s decision to incorporate split screens, dissolves, and multiple camera angles into the same scene is definitely a unique one. While many of these make for some unique and entertaining shots, and they do make the film visually interesting compared to others, it can’t be denied that they are used way too often and become quite distracting at times. One thing that Hulk definitely has going for it, though, is the quality of the actors; Sam Elliot is a notable standout and makes for quite the vindictive interpretation of General Ross by exuding authority and bringing a gravitas to the film in every scene he’s in. However, while far from the longest film I’ve ever seen. Hulk does seem to drag a bit in places; Hulk’s more methodical pace means that it’s not really the sort of film I throw on casually or can just have running in the background.

Hulk is a surprisingly cerebral film and takes a deep dive into the character’s psychology.

This is because, unlike the vast majority of superhero films, especially at the time, Hulk is a much more cerebral film; rather than make a mere monster movie or an action-packed extravaganza, Ang Lee explores Bruce’s emotional and psychological trauma, both of which are portrayed as just as important to his becoming the Hulk as his anger and gamma exposure, which is also true of the character in recent Marvel Comics storylines. A slower, methodical film than many were expecting thanks to the trailers and the general understanding of the character, Hulk in many ways seems to be the exact opposite of what makes the character appealing and yet tackles the route of Banner’s complex psychological profile head-on. To me, this makes for a very interesting character study; even I, a big Hulk fan, never really thought about how complicated Banner’s emotional stability was until this film and Lee does a wonderful job of making the Hulk’s appearances a big deal in the film. When Bruce gives in to his anger (masterfully portrayed by Bana’s intense facial expressions), it is presented as a veritable explosion of repressed emotion rather than merely being an action scene for the sake of having one and the film does a surprisingly good job of delving into the traumatic psychology behind Banner and the Hulk to make the character more than just a mindless monster.

Despite some dodgy CGI shots (…and dogs), the Hulk generally looks pretty impressive.

For the most part, the Hulk is quite an impressive digital character; it’s difficult to bring a character like the Hulk to life and not make him appear cartoonish because of his green colouration and immense size but Hulk set a pretty decent standard. Obviously, some shots and sequences are better than others; thanks to poor lighting and deliberate framing, Bruce’s initial transformation is quite impressive…until the Hulk walks into frame and we see him unimpeded. Lee has the Hulk increase in size and stature as his anger grows, just like in the comics but, at times, the Hulk’s green is a little too bright, his skin a little too smooth and unnatural as well, with the scene of him being encased in expanding foam probably being one of the worst shots of the film. Of course, even the worst shot of the Hulk can’t really compare to David’s gamma dogs; no amount of darkness can hide how terrible these slobbering, cartoonish beasts appear and I can’t help but feel it would’ve been better to save some money and give David just the one dog and focus a bit more on the Hulk’s battles against Ross and his military forces.

Sadly, the finale is a confusing mess of wonky CGI and blurry shots.

When out in the desert battling with tanks and helicopters, the Hulk looks amazing and exudes menace and character with the way he toys with the vehicles attacking him. Similarly, his rampage through San Francisco and the way he “melts” down into Banner are equally impressive, especially as this entire sequence is shot in full daylight. It’s disappointing, then, that the finale takes place under murky darkness; having gained the ability to absorb and take on the properties of things he touches, David transforms himself into a creature of pure, ever-transforming energy in a bid to absorb the Hulk’s great strength. Sadly, this robs us of the power and allure of Nolte’s performance since he transforms into a gigantic electrical beast, a rock monster, and a big…bubble…thing. Unfortunately, this final confrontation is absolutely ruined by being too dark and blurry and confusing, which makes it all but impossible to figure out what’s going on. While it probably would’ve been equally disappointing for David to transform into a grey-skinned version of the Hulk, at least that fight might have been a bit easier to follow; instead, it’s a bit of a bewildering and anti-climatic ending as Bruce manages to overload his father with his rage and is then assumed dead in the aftermath, only to wind up treating the sick in South America.

The Summary:
It’s not easy to defend Hulk, to be honest. Many of the character’s best aspects are set aside in favour of a methodical, psychological thriller rather than focusing on action or excitement, and I can totally understand why the film’s slower, more cerebral approach to this of all superheroes would put some people off. However, for whatever reason, I often find myself enjoying this film. The actors all put in great performances, bringing a legitimacy to the source material in a way others might not, and the Hulk himself looks, for the most part, very impressive. Some shots don’t work, some of the CGI hasn’t aged well, and some of the stylistic decisions might be a bit questionable but there’s no denying that Hulk is a visually impressive film, and quite a unique take on the source material and the genre. More of an introspective character study rather than a bombastic action film, Hulk definitely suffered from poor marketing and I feel is well worth revisiting, especially now when superhero films are bigger and more popular than ever. As much as I enjoy Marvel Studios’ interpretation of the character, which basically erased this movie from continuity, I would have been happy to see a direct sequel to Hulk back in the day and still like to set aside a couple of hours and really get to grips with the film’s character study of the Jade Giant.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Are you a fan of Hulk? Did you enjoy the film’s slower, more cerebral take on the character or were you put off by the psychological aspects of the film? What did you think to the CGI and the film’s portrayal of the Hulk? Would you have liked to see a sequel to this film or do you prefer the Marvel Studios interpretation? 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 and check in next Wednesday for my Hulk content.

Talking Movies [Dare-DAY-vil]: The Trial of the Incredible Hulk

Blind lawyer Matt Murdock first made his debut in Daredevil #1 in April of 1964 and was co-created by writer/editor Stan Lee and artist Bill Everett, with input from the legendary Jack Kirby. While perhaps not as mainstream as characters like Peter Parker/Spider-Man, Daredevil has become one of Marvel Comics’ greatest creations and has featured in a number of ancillary media and merchandise, included a questionably-received big-screen adaptation in 2003 and a critically-successful Netflix series. Still, he’s one of my favourite Marvel superheroes so what better excuse to pay homage to the “Devil of Hell’s Kitchen” than by spending the day celebrating the character?

Released: 7 May 1989
Director: Bill Bixby
Distributor: New World International
Budget: Unknown
Stars: Bill Bixby, Lou Ferrigno, Rex Smith, Marta DuBois, Nicholas Hormann, and John Rhys-Davies

The Plot:
Back on the run and having lost all hope for a cure for his green-skinned alter-ego, Doctor David Banner (Bixby) wanders into a city under the control of crime boss Wilson Fisk (Rhys-Davis). After witnessing Fisk’s men accost Ellie Mendez (DuBois) on the subway, Banner transforms into the Hulk (Ferrigno), framed for the crime, and subsequently arrested. Refusing to stand trial lest the Hulk be unleashed, he offers no co-operation to his blind lawyer, Matt Murdock (Smith), but the two find themselves teaming up against Fisk when Murdock is revealed to be the masked crimefighter known as Daredevil.

The Background:
I’ve mentioned it at length before but, long before the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) dominated cinema screens, Marvel Comics had a decent amount of success with live-action adaptations thanks to the iconic Incredible Hulk television series (1977 to 1982). The show, which coined the unforgettable line “Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry”, ran for eighty episodes before finally coming to an end on 12 May 1982 and firmly entrenched the Green Goliath in the cultural consciousness thanks to standout performances by stars Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno, who would go on to voice the character for years to come. About six years after the end of the series, the first of three made-for-television movies was produced; although intended as a backdoor pilot for a Thor (Eric Kramer) spin-off, The Incredible Hulk Returns (Corea, 1988) was, apparently, a ratings success and a second feature-length film was produced to capitalise on the renewed interest. The Trial of the Incredible Hulk was one of my first exposures to the Incredible Hulk show; like The Incredible Hulk Returns, the feature debuted another Marvel superhero, Daredevil, in the hopes of producing a spin-off that never came to pass and also featured Stan Lee’s first ever onscreen cameo in a Marvel production. Overall, though, the film seems to have garnered mixed reviews, with the general consensus being that it didn’t quite deliver on its title or premise.

The Review:
Rather than open with a version of the traditional, iconic opening from the television show, The Trial of the Incredible Hulk begins with a morose narration from David Banner (now using the pseudonym “David Belson”), who catches any newcomers up to speed with his current predicament (literally just a case of, “Gamma Rays turned me into a monster” with a few shots from the pilot episode). We then join Banner, now sporting a thick head of hair and full beard, working a demeaning job digging a trench or a ditch or some such. When a co-worker attempts to rile him up and Banner is barely able to keep his anger in check, he once again regretfully hits the road and heads towards the city, despite warnings that he could “get lost there”.

Though Banner resigns himself to a life in prison, Murdock is determined to bring Fisk down.

Haunted by his many years on the road and inability to cure his unique condition, Banner remains a lost, tortured soul who drifts from place to place and job to job, refusing to put down any roots and to keep himself to himself and on the move. Despite this, however, he is unable to stand idly by when Ellie Mendez is hounded by a couple of goons on the subway; for his troubles, not only does he transform into the Hulk once more but he also winds up in jail and accused of attacking the woman. Although he knows he is innocent, he adamantly refuses to stand trial out of fear of the damage he might do lest the stress trigger another transformation, and feels that prison is a fitting place for him. The city (which, despite never being named, appears to be New York City) is a bustling metropolis and home to blind lawyer Matt Murdock, a seemingly unassuming man who regularly makes light of his condition with his co-workers. He also has a friendly banter with his staff, Christa Klein (Nancy Everhard) and Al Pettiman (Richard Cummings Jr.), whom he wows with his enhanced senses (which they put down to him making wild, if uncannily accurate, guesses). At the heart of the city is Fisk Tower, a large and ominous structure that dominates the city skyline, and Matt has made it his solemn vow to tear the building down, and Fisk with it, once they have concrete proof that he is involved in the city’s underworld.

Fisk plot to control of the criminal underworld is opposed by Daredevil and his newfound ally.

Matt’s suspicions about Fisk are entirely well-founded as the criminal mastermind directs, via radio and video, two of his henchmen in the systematic robbery of a jewellery store. An enigmatic and authoritative figure, Fisk conducts all of his business with precision and immaculate detail, directing every movement and having the entire operation planned to the smallest detail. Untouchable and in full control of the criminal underworld. Fisk’s operation is put at risk when his goons accost Ellie on the subway; when Banner gets involved in the matter, Fisk begins targeting them both in order to avoid linking him to the crime. When Matt is appointed as Banner’s lawyer, he sees this as the perfect opportunity to get a lead on Fisk and is confused and angered at Banner’s unwillingness to co-operate and refusal to divulge his true name and origins. When the stress of an impending trial, Ellie lying about the subway attack (due to Fisk threatening her with reprisals), and his position in general trigger a transformation, Banner is convinced to trust Murdock when the lawyer reveals his duel identity as the masked vigilante Daredevil. Although Banner has reached the end of his rope and lost all faith in the science that was once his life, he finds himself reinvigorated by Murdock’s plight since he was transformed by the better by radioactive substances and he leaves the film far more optimistic and content to have a “brother in the world”.

The Nitty-Gritty:
The Trial of the Incredible Hulk is a relatively inoffensive little extension of the television show but nothing massively spectacular, though I never really watched the show as a kid as it wasn’t really on TV over here in the United Kingdom, as far as I am aware. As a result, I remember being somewhat impressed with the film back then since it wasn’t as if live-action superhero productions were as accessible as they are today. Even now, it’s still pretty entertaining; sure, it doesn’t deliver on its premise at all (the “trial” only happens in a nightmare of Banner’s and seems to refer more to the emotional trial that Banner is going through) but it’s an interesting time capsule of a bygone era when live-action superhero adaptations were certainly ambitious, if nothing else.

The Hulk’s screen time is sadly limited but he sure makes an impression when he does appear.

As is the case with much of the Incredible Hulk TV show, the Hulk himself is unquestionably the star of the film. Sadly, he gets very little screen time; Banner doesn’t even transform into the Hulk for the finale but, when he does turn green, it’s treated as a pretty big deal. This is, however, par for the course for The Incredible Hulk; the episodes I have seen generally focus much more on the drama surrounding Banner, the people he meets, and his weekly attempts to find a cure for himself or help those in need and the Hulk appears very sporadically as a result. While the Hulk’s rampage in Banner’s nightmare is a standout moment in the film, and is a great showcase of the Hulk raging against a room full of people for a change, it’s still just a dream sequence. Luckily, there’s a particularly decent follow-up scene later on when, having witnessed Daredevil be pummelled by Fisk’s men, Banner transforms to save him and, in the process, forms a kinship with the blind crimefighter.

The film was intended as a backdoor pilot for Daredevil, who’s decent enough, if a little boring.

This, coincidentally, brings me on to the subject of Daredevil; Daredevil’s presence is hinted at early in the film as graffiti carrying his name adorns the walls of the city and the film spends a great deal of time setting up Murdock’s day-to-day life, introducing his enhanced senses (although the depiction of his radar sense is a bit questionable), and making him a prominent figure all before he first appears in an all-black ninja outfit to save Ellie’s life. Despite the fact that his outfit is disappointingly barebones, I appreciate that Daredevil is sporting a look straight out of “The Man Without Fear” (Miller, et al, 1993), one of the first Daredevil stories I ever read. Daredevil is something of an urban legend in the film but he is also unofficially sanctioned by police chief Albert G. Tendelli (Joseph Mascolo), who even has a direct line to contact Daredevil when he needs help outside of the normal confines of the law, and allies like Turk (Mark Acheson) to feed him leads. Rex Smith may not always be performing Daredevil’s few limited fight scenes or acrobatic feats (which are incredibly limited) but he does a decent enough job in the role; while the film alters his origin somewhat to have him begin his training as Daredevil as an adult and after being inspired by Tendelli, he undergoes a trial of his own when Fisk’s men put a severe beating on him and leave him feeling humiliated.

While it drops the ball on the title, the film entertains with some decent sequences and performances.

Undeniably, though, The Trial of the Incredible Hulk is elevated by the presence of the bombastic and alluring John Rhys-Davies; despite never using the name “Kingpin”, Rhys-Davies is perfectly cast as Fisk and brings just the right level of authority and scene-stealing charisma to the role to make him larger than life but also threatening. Even better, he’s not just some one-dimensional gangster, either; he’s incredibly lenient with his right-hand man, Edgar (Hormann), even when he has a change of heart and helps Ellie escape from Fisk’s captivity. At the same time, though, Fisk is absolutely ruthless; having grown weary of Daredevil’s interference and wishing to consolidate his power over the city’s underworld, he presents his rivals not just with a number of jewels but also video evidence of Daredevil’s beating. While he fully believes that this has resulted in Daredevil’s demise, his plans are ultimately ruined when Banner and Daredevil crash the party and force Fisk to flee to fight another day.

The Summary:
In many ways, it’s a bit of a shame that The Trial of the Incredible Hulk didn’t lead to a spin-off for Daredevil; even back then, a TV show about a black-suited vigilante had to have cost less to make than one about a scientist who turns into a musclebound strongman. However, I can kind of see why a Daredevil spin-off wasn’t produced; as much as I enjoy the character, his portrayal in the film, and the magnetic presence of John Rhys-Davies, Murdock and Daredevil are nowhere near as compelling or visually interesting as the Hulk. It’s equally a shame, then, that the Hulk has such limited screen time in the film but I can forgive a lot of that as, again, the main focus of the show was always the drama surrounding Banner and the film does a serviceable job of trying to introduce Daredevil and make us care about him. Ultimately, while it’s probably the most boring interpretation of Daredevil you’ll see, I can’t help but have a soft spot for The Trial of the Incredible Hulk; it was my introduction to the TV show and a vital part of my childhood so I have a lot of nostalgic affection for it and it’s worth watching for John Rhys-Davies’ performance alone, to say nothing of the dramatic allegorical and physical trial that Banner and Murdock, respectively, endure in the film.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

Have you ever seen The Trial of the Incredible Hulk? If so, what did you think to it and its portrayal of Daredevil? Were you a fan of the Incredible Hulk TV show back in the day and what did you think to the feature-length films? Do you think including other Marvel Comics characters benefitted these films or do you think they took the focus away from the Banner/Hulk conflict that made the show so memorable? What do you think of Daredevil as a character and which storyline of his do you think is the best, or the worst? How are you celebrating Daredevil’s debut this year? Whatever you think about Daredevil, drop a comment below.

Back Issues [Crossover Crisis]: Batman vs. The Incredible Hulk

In April of 1985, the first issue of the ground-breaking, twelve issue Crisis on Infinite Earths (Wolfman, et al, 1986) was published. This event, which was easily the biggest in DC Comics at that point (and for many years), saw the destruction of the “Multiverse”, an infinite number of parallel worlds, and the awkward establishing of one unified DC canon. Over the years, DC have returned to this concept again and again, retconning it, expanding upon it, and milking it to the point of excess but that doesn’t change how influential this massive crossover was. To celebrate this momentous event, I’m looking at multiversal crossovers every Wednesday in April in an event I’m calling “Crossover Crisis”.

Story Title: “The Monster and the Madman”
Published: September 1981
Writer: Len Wein
Artist: José Luis García-López

The Background:
Although the two companies both publish stories of colourful, superpowered heroes in a cut-throat industry, the relationship between DC Comics and Marvel Comics has been surprisingly collaborative and amicable over the years (especially compared to many of the toxic fans” who argue on social media every day…) Sure, there’s been lawsuits and underhanded tactics from both companies, but not only were the legendary Stan Lee and the disreputable sham Bob Kane actually good friends but both companies borrowed from and inspired each other and they’ve even collaborated on many joint publications in the past.

DC Comics and Marvel Comics had a number of crossovers and joint ventures over the years.

Having already pitted Clark Kent/Superman against Peter Parker/Spider-Man in Superman vs. The Amazing Spider-Man: The Battle of the Century (Conway, et al, 1976), DC and Marvel brought these two characters together again in 1981. That same year, the two companies also produced a sixty-four-page “Treasury Edition” comic book that pitted Bruce Wayne/Batman against Doctor Bruce Banner/The Hulk. At the time, graphic novels were nowhere near as commonplace as they are today and both characters were experienced a way of renewed mainstream interest off the back of a popular television series and moving away from the camp aesthetic of the 1960s, respectively. Like many of these early DC/Marvel crossovers, Batman vs. The Incredible Hulk can fetch a pretty high price these days, and it also wouldn’t be the last time that their paths crossed in one form or another.

The Review:
One of the most reliable constants of many comic books, especially back in the 1960s through to the mid-1990s, was that many stories derail or pad out their narrative with a recap of their character’s origins and background. This seems to mostly happen to Spider-Man, who often interrupts whatever problem he’s having in the issue to recap his iconic origin and, don’t get me wrong, I get why this happens (you can’t expect every reader to be familiar with your characters, after all) but I much prefer it when comics simply have a bit of text before the story to catch readers up. Batman vs. The Incredible Hulk opts for this latter option and is all the better for it; before the story starts, we get a one page, two-column spread the recaps how Bruce Wayne saw his parents shot and trained his body and mind to become Batman and how Dr. Banner was bombarded with Gamma radiation and subsequently transforms into the rampaging Hulk whenever stressed or angry.

Banner raises the alarm when the Joker storms into a Wayne facility.

Like Superman vs. Spider-Man, Batman vs. The Incredible Hulk begins with a prologue that establishes the villains of the story; the first is more of an abstract introduction as people all over Gotham City suffer from horrific and disturbing nightmares while the second is far more tangible as is shows that the Joker is back in town and has joined forces with a disembodied voice for nefarious reasons. The story then shifts to find Banner, under the pseudonym of “David Banks”, working a menial job for Wayne Research in order to get close to their “experimental Gamma-Gun”, and who is the only person to act fast enough to slip into a radiation suit and avoid the Joker’s debilitating laughing gas when the Harlequin of Hate and his goons show up to steal that same device!

Outmatched against the Hulk’s sheer power, Batman out-thinks the brute to take him down.

When Banner moves to raise the alarm, he is tackled and beaten by Joker’s thugs which, of course, causes him to transform into the Hulk! Quickly realising that their firepower is absolutely useless against the creature, the Joker orders his men to grab the Gamma-Gun and flee but their escape is impeded by the sudden arrival of the Batman! Unfortunately for Batman, the Joker immediately takes advantage of the Hulk’s child-like demeanour to convince the Green Goliath that Batman is his enemy and thus the two engage in fist fight! Batman initially holds back from confusing and potentially further antagonising the Hulk but finds his attempts to paralyse his foe by striking his nerve centres fruitless. Unable to harm the Hulk, Batman tries to keep his distance and out-think the creature and almost gets his spine snapped as a result! Batman is finally able to subdue the Hulk, however, by forcing him to breathe in a big lungful of his special Bat-gas but, though the Hulk is finally toppled, the Joker escapes with the Gamma-Gun. Batman returns to the facility as Bruce Wayne and immediately enlists the services of the grief-stricken Banner in the construction of a replacement Gamma-Gun.

The Joker and the Shaper conspire to capture the help using fake soldiers.

Back at the docks, the Joker activates the Gamma-Gun and allows his newfound friend, the Shaper of Worlds, to partially manifest in the real world and give us all a run-down on his origin as a parasite who feeds upon the dreams of others and bring them to life. He’s struck a bargain with the Joker (whose insane mind makes him “unique in all the universe”) to help restore the Shaper’s failing abilities, though exactly what the Joker is getting out of this deal is left unclear (and it is heavily implied that the Shaper scares even the Joker!) While Batman hits up Gotham’s underworld in search of the Joker, Banner finds the stress of his assignment putting him on edge. Although he’s briefly calmed down by a cup of Alfred Pennyworth’s tea, he continues to push himself without food or proper rest. Thus, when the Joker’s men arrive disguised as military officials charged with arresting Banner, it isn’t long before he turns green once again. When a specially-designed taser-rifle fails to have the desired effect on the Hulk, a massive blob-like creature enters the fray. Despite the Hulk’s increasing rage and best attempts, the creature is effectively able to absorb and contain the Hulk and spirit him away and Batman arrives in time only to hear Commissioner Jim Gordon receiving confirmation from General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross that the soldiers were fakes.

When the Hulk escapes from them, Joker enlists Batman’s aid in tracking the Jade Giant down.

Back at the Joker’s warehouse, the Hulk goes on a rampage when he hears the Clown Prince of Crime’s plan to revert him to Banner in order to make adjustments to the Gamma-Gun; despite the Shaper’s best efforts to quell the beast’s rage, both he and the Hulk are tormented by disturbing nightmares that leave the two physically and emotionally drained. Bored by the conflict, the Hulk flees but the Shaper comes to the conclusion that the crippling pain and madness his condition brings him can be cured not by the Gamma-Gun…but by the Hulk himself thanks to his unique Gamma properties and orders the Joker to recapture the beast. To facilitate this, the Joker explains the bind he’s in to Batman and enlists his aid, which soon leads to a second confrontation between the two characters. Bored of Batman and being constantly hounded by “puny humans”, the Hulk chooses to flee but a fight soon inevitably breaks out.

Following another fight, Batman is finally able to get the Hulk on side.

Once again, Batman chooses to fight smarter rather than harder, rolling with and doing everything he can to avoid or survive the Hulk’s attacks while trying to talk sense into the increasingly-enraged Hulk. Batman’s tricks result in the Hulk demolishing the building the two were fighting in and once again fleeing in order to be left in peace. Batman is finally able to get through to the Hulk by posing as a harmless old blind man and offering the creature his friendship, which calms the Hulk enough to the point where he willingly goes along with the Joker to confront the Shaper. However, angered that the Joker is willing to let the Hulk face this foe alone, Batman slaps his archenemy down and finally joins forces with the Jade Giant to battle a legion of their enemies brought to life by the Shaper’s powers. Finally on the same page, the two are easily able to overcome the living nightmares and fight their way to the Shaper, who holds them at bay with an impenetrable barrier. Angered at the idea of anything being stronger than he is, the Hulk charges ahead at full speed and exhausts his Gamma energy, reverting to Banner and curing the Shaper.

Despite his vast cosmic powers, Batman is able to trick the Joker into leaving himself vulnerable.

Despite Batman’s pleas, the Shaper honours the bargain he made with the Joker and, having been cured, bestows the Joker with “limitless, infinite power”. Effectively acting as a genie for the Joker, the Shaper makes all of the Joker’s wishes come true, transforming him into a God-like jester who unleashes chaos and madness throughout Gotham City and uses his reality-warping powers to shape the city, its people, and even Batman however he sees fit. When the Shaper refuses to renege on his word, Banner transforms back into the Hulk and finds himself transported to the Joker’s increasingly mental world. Batman goads the Joker into pushing his powers to the limit by criticising his creativity and lack of imagination; although this results in things becoming even more warped and abstract, it also has the intended side effect of overwhelming the Joker, leaving him wide open for a knockout punch. In the aftermath, the Shaper takes his leave, the Joker is confined to Arkham Asylum once again, and Batman allows Banner to slip away in order to find the peace he so desperately desires.

The Summary:
Given that I grew up mainly reading DC and Marvel Comics and annuals published in the seventies and eighties, Batman vs. The Incredible Hulk’s presentation is immediately recognisable to me and these are the quintessential representations of these characters at that time, in my opinon. Batman is much more of a stoic tactician and a fair-minded vigilante than a grim, overly paranoid avenger of the night and the Hulk speaks with a child-like demeanour and, while he just wants to be left alone, is more than ready to throw hands when provoked.

Batman and Hulk tangle more than once in a brain vs. brawn bouts.

Thanks to the Hulk’s unpredictable and explosive demeanour, Batman vs. The Incredible Hulk features a couple of fights between the two characters that are instantly believable. It’s not the first time that someone/a villain has manipulated the Hulk into trusting them or going nuts on a specific target and Batman is smart enough to not try and match the Hulk blow for blow. Instead, their fights are more about Batman trying to outmanoeuvre his foe, trying to reason with him, and using his physical skills and gadgets to stay out of the Hulk’s reach and to subdue him. It’s definitely a battle of brains versus brawn, which isn’t unusual when characters fight the Hulk but it’s definitely a spectacle seeing Batman trying to take on such an overwhelming foe. Superman versus the Hulk obviously makes more sense on paper but I don’t think it would have resulted in as interesting a story and probably would have descended into a slugfest instead.

Joker plays a vital role as an opportunistic and manipulative villain.

I’m not familiar with the Shaper of Worlds but the story does a pretty good job of establishing his powers and what he wants; desperate to cure the crippling pain and madness caused by his fading abilities, he enters into a partnership with the Joker to use Gamma radiation to stabilise him. It’s unusual to see the Joker acting out of fear or subordinate to another but his characterisation remains completely on point and he never seems to be a diminished threat. Instead, he remains in control and a tangible menace throughout; he’s smart enough to manipulate the Hulk and even convince Batman to help him, and then obtains God-like power and goes berserk bending and twisting reality, forcing Batman to think of ways to outsmart him, which is always fun to see.

The story avoids being an all-out slugfest for some interesting character interactions.

Overall, it was quite a decent crossover between the two. The Hulk typically doesn’t have one set location so setting the entire story in Gotham City was a good idea; seeing Banner and Wayne (and Alfred) interact was a nice little inclusion and something missing from Superman vs. The Amazing Spider-Man. While neither character’s supporting cast have very much to do, it was nice to see Gordon show up (and to have him communicate with Ross) and having the Shaper conjure up nightmarish visions of both character’s foes was pretty awesome, especially when the Hulk reacted to Batman’s enemies with disinterested rage. There could have been more interactions between Batman and the Hulk; entire pages and chapters go past without the two interacting at all, either in or out of costume/form, which is in contrast to Superman vs. The Amazing Spider-Man but I think this was done to keep the story from descending into a series of one-sided fights. After all, there’s only so many ways you can show Batman avoiding being pummeled by the Hulk before it gets repetitive, and we do get to see interesting character combinations and interactions (and a pretty decent Batman story featuring the Hulk) as a result.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Have you ever read Batman vs. The Incredible Hulk? If so, what did you think to it? Do you own a copy of the original comic or do you remember reading it when it was first published? Were you surprised that Batman was pitted against the Hulk? Do you think he should have met a different Marvel character instead? What did you think to the team-up between the Joker and the Shaper and the Joker’s acquisition of phenomenal cosmic powers? Would you like to see DC and Marvel collaborate again in the future and, if so, what stories would you like to see? Whatever your thoughts on Batman vs. The Incredible Hulk, and comic book crossovers of this kind, drop a comment down below and check back next Wednesday as Crossover Crisis continues!

Talking Movies: Hulk vs. Wolverine

Released: 27 January 2009
Director: Frank Paur
Distributor: Lionsgate
Budget: Unknown
Stars: Steven Blum, Fred Tatasciore, Tom Kane, Janyse Jaud, Colin Murdock, Mark Acheson, Nolan North, Bryce Johnson, and Tom Kane

The Plot:
After Doctor Bruce Banner’s (Johnson) rampaging alter-ego, the Hulk (Tatasciore), is suspected of destroying a town, Department H send Logan/Wolverine (Blum) in to confront the creature. However, their brutal brawl is interrupted by soldiers from Weapon X, who want the Hulk for their own reasons, forcing the two into a fragile alliance to keep the Jade Giant from being turned into a living weapon.

The Background:
Marvel Comics have had a long history with animated ventures; some of these, like the X-Men animated series (1992 to 1997), largely defined a generation of fans. In 2004, with the Marvel Cinematic Universe was still about four years away from it genesis, Marvel licensed many of their characters out for live-action films, many of which were massive critical and financial successes. To capitalise on this wave of mainstream popularity, Marvel made a deal with Lions Gate Entertainment to produce a series of direct-to-video animated movies based on their characters. Sales were initially very strong and, while the releases soon dropped from two per year to one, 2009 saw a dual feature release that pitted the Hulk against Wolverine and Thor Odinson in separate adventures. Hulk vs. would go on to make the second-highest gross out of all of these animated films and Hulk vs. Wolverine was met with generally positive reviews, potentially because of Wolverine’s inclusion and growing popularity at the time and the inclusion of fan favourite character Deadpool. Wade W. Wilson (also known as “Deadpool”) was created by Fabian Nicieza and Rob Liefeld and first appeared in The New Mutants #98 in February 1991. Though originally little more than a cold-blooded mercenary, the wise-cracking “Merc With a Mouth” went on to become one of the few comic book characters to be aware that they are comic book characters, leading to a warped, violent sense of humour, a tendency to break the fourth wall, and one of Marvel Comics’ most popular characters.

The Review:
Hulk vs. Wolverine begins with a narration by Wolverine, who awakens beaten and bloodied in the middle of the Canadian wilderness. Momentarily disorientated, he painfully shoves his arm back into his socket and his memory is jogged by the dramatic arrival of the enraged Hulk. From there, the feature flashes back to four hours earlier in the day; Logan was transported into Canada by Department H after a town was destroyed by a creature believed to be the Hulk. Wolverine’s senses give him the general sense of what happened and, excited at the prospect of hunting down the Hulk, is given carte blanche to stop the Green Goliath by any means necessary before he can hurt anyone else. Free-falling to the snow-encrusted wilderness, Wolverine follows his enhanced sense of smell deep into the forests and mountains in search of the Hulk (a search made all the easier by the gigantic impact craters the Hulk has left behind as he leaps across the mountains) but finds only the distraught Bruce Banner.

Wolverine is sent to stop the Hulk but their fight is interrupted by Weapon X.

Although Banner begs him to leave and laments his condition, his transformation into the rampaging Hulk s triggered when Wolverine catches the Hulk’s scent on Banner and threatens him. After being knocked clear across the valley from a single punch from the Hulk, Wolverine recovers as in the opening and an all-out slugfest between the two ensues. Rather than engage the Hulk in head-to-head combat, Wolverine initially tries to use his wiles to attack the Hulk from behind, stabbing him repeatedly in the back, but the Hulk’s unquenchably rage and strength quickly overpower Wolverine and leave him a beaten, bloody pulp. As tenacious as his namesake, Wolverine gives in to his bloodlust and continues the fight, gouging deep, bloody wounds into the Hulk using his Adamantium claws but their fight is soon interrupted by a barrage of tranquilizer darts fired by Deadpool (North) and the arrival of Victor Creed/Sabretooth (Acheson), Arkady Rossovich/Omega Red (Murdock), and Yuriko Oyama/Lady Deathstrike (Jaud). Succumbing to the dart, Logan recalls how, while drinking himself into a stupor, he was abducted by the mysterious Professor (Kane) and subjected to the Adamantium bonding process against his will.

Wolverine’s past in Weapon X comes back to haunt him with a vengeance.

In the aftermath, he became the brainwashed soldier code-named Weapon X and was forced into a series of combat scenarios alongside the other Weapon X “graduates”; in time, Sabretooth’s unheeded warnings regarding Logan’s stability came to pass and he violently escaped from the facility and fled into the Canadian wilderness. Wolverine is brought back to the present by a vicious beating from his former teammate; as Sabretooth beats on him, Deadpool chatters incessantly, but the Professor (now sporting a robotic claw hand) interrupts to proceedings to reveal that Weapon X has been pursuing the Hulk and causing the destruction attributed to the beast in their efforts to capture him. The Professor plans to wipe the Hulk’s memories and brainwash him using the same procedures they subjected Logan to back in the day and place Wolverine back into the containment capsule in order to subdue him once more. As each of the Weapon X members wants Wolverine dead, Sabretooth kills the Professor so that he and Deathstrike can torture Logan and rip him to shreds; however, Wolverine is able to goad Deathstrike into skewering him in such a way that frees him from Sabretooth’s grip and, after slicing off her arm, attempts to escape the facility, slaughtering a whole bunch of armed guards in the process.

Hulk tears his way through Weapon X but the film ends with his fight against Logan unresolved.

Although Deadpool isn’t convinced by Sabretooth’s story that Wolverine attacked the Professor, he agrees to hunt down and kill Logan, who frees Banner in order to get the Hulk’s help. A frail, despondent figure, Banner is tired of his dual existence and yet also terrified at the prospect of being turned into a weapon. Although horrified by Omega Red and Deadpool, Banner refuses to let the Hulk out so Wolverine stabs him in the gut to help speed up the transformation before engaging his adversaries alone; thanks to their individual healing factors, the fight is bloody and brutal and effectively pointless and yet each of them do everything they can to try and kill the other. Despite his best efforts, Banner is unable to hold off the transformation and, as Omega Red as Wolverine tangled up in his electrified tentacles, the Hulk attacks in a blind rage. The Hulk easily shrugs off Deadpool’s bullets and Omega Red’s tentacles, unwittingly saving Wolverine from Deathstrike’s clutches in the process; remembering Wolverine as an enemy, the Hulk charges after him, swatting aside Deadpool when Wolverine hilariously uses him as a human shield and dispatching Deathstrike with his patented clap before ripping her cybernetic limbs off. Hulk then pounds Omega Red into submission before bringing the entire facility down around them in his desperate need to escape; Wolverine is launched clear by the resultant explosion and the film ends with the two once again leaping to engage each other amidst the Canadian snow.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Unlike the other Marvel animated efforts, Hulk vs. Wolverine isn’t exactly what you would call a feature-length presentation; this is mainly because it was released alongside Hulk vs. Thor (Liu, 2009) and, together, the two are supposed to form a kind of double feature. While they’re not exactly directly related to each other, this does help explain the brevity of Hulk vs. Wolverine, which is more like a bite-size version of a much greater story.

Hulk’s fight with Wolverine is cut short, as is similarities between Banner and Logan.

You might think that this means the feature is a simple extended fight scene between the two characters but that isn’t actually the case; yes, Wolverine and the Hulk engage in bloody, brutal combat for a few minutes but their fight is quickly interrupted by the Weapon X members. The primary selling point of the feature then takes an extended break to touch upon Wolverine’s back story with Weapon X, which makes this much more like a snapshot of his character rather than a battle for the ages.

As amusing as Deadpool is, the Weapon X plot completely overshadows the title fight.

Indeed, Wolverine (and the Hulk, for that matter) spend more of the feature fighting against Weapon X than they do each other. On the plus side, this means there’s still a lot of violence and action packed into the feature’s short runtime and loads of opportunities for Deadpool to steal the show with his wit and wacky nature but those looking to see Hulk fighting Wolverine, as the title promises, may be left disappointment at how little of the action is actually focused on this fight. It’s interesting seeing a brief glimpse into Wolverine’s animosity against Weapon X but it’s all very rushed and glossed over to get to the next violent scuffle; I would have liked to see a bit more time spent exploring Banner’s desperation and downtrodden character at the sacrifice of, say, Omega Red (who was largely inconsequential overall) and a bit more time spent exploring the dichotomy between Banner/Hulk and Wolverine (since both are characters who rage and animal nature often overcome their rational minds). Instead, the feature blasts through a “greatest hits” package of Wolverine’s life, hints at relationships to characters many audiences might not be immediately familiar with (the past between Wolverine and Sabretooth and Deathstrike is given the bare minimum of lip service), and seems to have little faith in the concept of Hulk fighting Wolverine since it would rather skew its run time towards the more popular Wolverine.

The Summary:
Hulk vs. Wolverine is a fun, if brief, way to spend about forty minutes of your life. Although it doesn’t quite deliver on its premise, the fight between the Hulk and Wolverine is brutal and exciting and there is a great deal of violence packed into its short run time. Hulk vs. Wolverine definitely doesn’t shy away from the ferocious nature of its title characters, or their adversaries, which is refreshing to see since these are violent characters and should be treated as such, but it definitely feels as though Wolverine’s presence overshadows that of the Hulk and the core concept of the feature. Although Deadpool’s role in the animated is small, he definitely stands out and it was exciting to see him included but, in the end, the insertion of Weapon X and the focus on Wolverine’s character definitely keeps Hulk vs. Wolverine from living up to its potential. I guess seeing the Hulk and Wolverine go at it for about half an hour straight wouldn’t have been that interesting but, as I said, there was a lot of potential in paralleling Logan’s animalistic character and nature with Banner’s condition that was imply abandoned to capitalise on Wolverine’s incredibly popularity and that’s a bit of a shame despite the feature being chock full of violent action and bloody violence.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

What did you think to Hulk vs. Wolverine? Do you feel like it wasted the potential of its premise or were you happy with what was presented? How do you feel it compares to Hulk vs. Thor and the other Marvel animated features? Which member of Weapon X was your favourite and how did you feel about the way Banner was portrayed here? What did you think to Deadpool’s inclusion and characterisation and would you like to see him featured in animation more often? How are you celebrating Deadpool’s debut this month? Whatever your thoughts on the Deadpool, or Marvel’s animated features, feel free to leave a comment below.

Back Issues: The Incredible Hulk #181

Story Title: “And Now…The Wolverine!”
Published: November 1974
Writer: Len Wein
Artist: Herb Trimpe

The Background:
In 1974, Roy Thomas, then editor-in-chief at Marvel Comics, called upon writer Len Wein to introduce readers to the first Canadian superhero; a short, feisty character named “Wolverine” who would be as scrappy and fearsome as his namesake. Though it was the legendary John Romita Sr who sketched up the original design for Wolverine and thought up his now-iconic retractable claws, it was artist Herb Trimbe who finalised the character’s design. In what would become a staple for the character for many years, Wolverine’s past and true identity was initially kept a mystery; however, despite claims for years that Wolverine was to be a mutated wolverine cub, Wein insisted that this was never the plan and that Wolverine was always intended to be a Mutant. Of course, nowadays, James Howlett (better known as “Logan” or by the codename Wolverine”) has been established as one of Marvel’s most popular characters but back in 1974, Wolverine was simply meant to be another in a long line of one-off characters to spice up an existing title. The character actually made his first, brief appearance at the conclusion of The Incredible Hulk #180 in a one panel cameo after being ordered by the Canadian military to put a stop to a raging battle that is taking place in the forests of Quebec, Canada between Doctor Bruce Banner/The Hulk and Paul Cartier/The Wendigo.

The Review:
“And Now…The Wolverine!” hits the ground running right from the first panel and doesn’t waste any time with copious flashbacks to the previous issue; we get a lovely one sentence recap of the Hulk’s origin at the top of the first page (which was the style at the time), a few dialogue boxes to give us context as to the place and what’s happening, and then jump right into the action…and rightfully so considering that the battle between the Hulk and the Wendigo was so fierce and destructive in the last issue that the Canadian military had to call in the mysterious “Weapon X” (which, of course, turned out to be “The World’s First and Greatest Canadian Super-Hero!”, Wolverine).

Wolverine attacks both the Hulk and the Wendigo without fear or hesitation.

A small, muscular figure in a skin tight yellow outfit, Wolverine makes an instant first impression not just for his striking appearance (not very many superheroes wore yellow back then and his cat-like mask and gleaming metal claws make him instantly unique) but also for leaping head-first into battle with two of Marvel’s most physically daunting creations. Despite being dwarfed by his opponents, Wolverine strikes without fear or intimidation, using his incredible speed and agility to compensate for the two’s superior strength. As mentioned above, Wolverine’s exact origin is largely a mystery but he does boast that his retractable claws are made of “diamond-hard Adamantium”.

Wolverine takes advantage of the Hulk’s misconception and the two defeat the Wendigo.

So dangerous are Wolverine’s claws and so vicious is his attack that he wounds the Wendigo and begins to not just hold is own but actually dominate their battle. Hulk, confused by Wolverine’s appearance and temperament, decides that if Wolverine (or “Little Man” as he calls him) is attacking the Wendigo, whom the Hulk sees as an enemy, then he (Wolverine) must be his (Hulk’s) friend so he jumps in to join the fight against the Wendigo, galvanised at the idea of fighting side-by-side with an ally. Wolverine takes advantage of the distraction and unnecessary assistance and, between the two of them, they are able to fell the Wendigo.

The Hulk is enraged when the Wolverine seemingly turns against him.

Wolverine delivers what appears to be a killing blow to the beast (which is quickly revealed to have only subdued the creature since the Wendigo is functionally immortal) but the Hulk’s momentary victory and elation turns to his trademark fury when Wolverine immediately lashes at him now that the Wendigo has been defeated. Enraged at the betrayal, the Hulk attacks mindlessly, earning Wolverine’s respect and frustration since the Green Goliath refuses to fall and only gets stronger and more enraged as the battle continues. While the fight is going on, Georges Baptiste and Marie Carter (who was the one who originally lured the Hulk to Quebec) take advantage of the situation to bring the Wendigo’s unconscious form to safety. It turns out that the Wendigo curse has overtaken Marie’s brother, Paul, and that she intends to use “the black arts” to transfer it from him and into the Hulk, much to Georges’ horror. To facilitate this, she evokes the “Spell of Subjugation” to render both Wolverine and the Hulk unconscious. However, Georges’ objections to Marie’s intentions are exacerbated when the two watch in stunned awe as the Hulk, now calmed, reverts back into the unconscious form of Bruce Banner. Georges leaves in protest at the idea of cursing an already cursed man to a fate even worse than that he already suffers with but Marie is determined to see her plan through out of the desperate need to see her brother returned to normal.

The Hulk delivers a decisive blow to the Wolverine, ending their fight as the clear victor.

After binding Wolverine with chains, she attempts to drag Banner’s unconscious form to the Wendigo and, in the process, triggers his transformation back into the Hulk. Hulk, equally furious at having been betrayed by Marie (or “Animal-Girl”), is stayed from turning his rage on her only by the sight of Wolverine’s prone and helpless body. Wolverine, however, suddenly and dramatically breaks free from his bindings and their battle begins anew. Marie uses the distraction to slip away but utters a heart-wrenching scream when she comes face-to-face with the Wendigo; this diverts the attention of the two combatants for a split second, which is more than enough for the Hulk to deliver a sudden, powerful blow to Wolverine’s head that finally puts him down for good. Marie’s horror at the Wendigo’s appearance turns to elation and then dismay when she realises that Georges has taken the curse upon himself, thus returning her brother to normal, out of his love for her. With the last of his humanity slipping away, Georges, now the Wendigo, retreats into the forest, leaving Marie a wreck of emotion. The Hulk, despite his rage and simple nature, comes across her and, in a moment of compassion, comforts her, the two of them briefly bound together in their tumultuous emotion.

The Summary:
“And Now…The Wolverine!” is a heavily action-packed story; the entire issue is just a long fight between the Hulk, the Wendigo, and the Wolverine and it’s pretty great, to be honest. I’ve read a few Hulk stories from the seventies and it seems like most of them revolved around the idea of the Green Goliath fleeing from human persecution, befriending or being manipulated by someone, and then lashing out in a rage at that person betraying him and a lot of that is packed into this story since the Hulk believes both “Little Man” and “Animal-Girl” have betrayed his trust.

The mysterious Wolverine is more than capable of taking on his monstrous foes.

It’s a simple formula made all the more unique with the debut of the Wolverine; we learn next to nothing about this character but he makes an immediate impact because of his actions rather than his words. It’s easy to say now, with the benefit of hindsight and Wolverine’s immense popularity, but Wolverine really does may a dynamic first impression; he jumps right into a battle with the Hulk, probably the most indomitable of Marvel’s heroes, and the nigh-immortal Wendigo without hesitation and is more than capable of holding his own against the two, instantly making him a force to be reckoned with. Of course, Wolverine isn’t quite the character we know him as today; he never says “Bub” and his speech is a bit more eloquent than it would later be written, for one thing, but we do learn that he is a Mutant and that he was specially trained and crafted by the Canadian government and military to be their most savage warrior. Furthermore, while it’s not revealed that his skeleton is also coated in Adamantium and there is no mention of his heightened sense or healing factor, Wolverine is keen enough to partially sense the Hulk’s final blow to save himself from being killed. This was a common theme back in Wolverine’s earliest appearances; dialogue, thought balloons, and narration boxes often emphasised that Wolverine was in danger of serious injury or even death, which can be a little jarring since we’ve seen him completely regenerate from being reduced to a skeleton. Oh, also, if you’ve always wanted to know what Wolverine is “the best at”, the answer is right here in this story as he says: “Moving is the best thing I do!”

The Hulk is much more child-like and quick to anger when he feels he’s been betrayed!

I’ve mentioned a couple of times hits year how the Hulk was originally a far more articulate and intelligent creature rather than a mindless beast; by the seventies, it seems, the Hulk’s intelligence and vocabulary had degraded somewhat. Hulk is far more irritable at this time, with the temperament of a child; he wishes only to be left alone and is disgusted by “Puny humans” but also revels in combat, loudly proclaiming “Hulk is the strongest one there is!” at every opportunity. At the same time, though, he only fights when he is provoked or enraged and is desperately seeking a friend, usually a monster such as he, to connect with. As I alluded to, this basically never happens and every potential friend he encounters either turns against him, turns out to be a villain, or dies, leaving him in a constant state between rage and anguish. Unfortunately, there’s literally nothing for his human alter ego to do in this issue but, since the fight is the centrepiece of the story, I can’t imagine what Banner would have really been able to bring to the narrative and I like that the writers had Hulk ultimately defeat Wolverine in combat rather than the fight abruptly ending because he turned back into Banner.

The side plot exists to give us a break in the action but the main appeal is the fighting!

As for the Wendigo…well, I’ve never been a massive fan of that character. He’s a bit basic and doesn’t have much going for him besides the tragic nature of the curse; generally, he’s more animalistic and feral than even the Hulk, which is an obvious juxtaposition for the Hulk’s unadulterated rage (and, in this case, Wolverine’s primal savagery) and again it’s another of those ways of showing how truly cursed the Hulk is as at least the Wendigo curse can be passed on to another. If there’s anything that lets this issue down, though, it’s the side plot of Marie and Georges; it’s not as annoying as some side plots in other stories I’ve read but I doubt anyone is reading this issue to see Marie and Peter reunited! We’re here for Hulk vs. Wolverine and that is always going to be the more entertaining aspect of the story.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

What are your thoughts on “And Now…The Wolverine!” and Wolverine’s impressive debut? Did you read the previous issue and, if so, were you intrigued to find out who this “Weapon X” was? What did you think to Wolverine’s depiction and characterisation here? Were you impressed that he held up so well against the Hulk and the Wendigo or was he just another one in a number of one-off characters? Do you like the Wendigo and the curse associated with the character? Which era/incarnation of the Hulk is your favourite? How are you celebrating Wolverine’s debut this month? Whatever you think about this issue, or Wolverine in general, leave a comment below and be sure to check in next Sunday for more Wolverine content!

Back Issues [A-Day]: The Avengers #1

Having introduced comic readers to a whole host of colourful characters, in September of 1963 the legendary duo of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby brought together six of Earth’s mightiest heroes to form the Avengers. A super team like no other, with a constantly rotating roster, the Avengers has become the premier team of Marvel Comics and, thanks to the team and its individual members forming the backbone of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, have become an unbelievably popular and successful franchise in their own right.

Story Title: The Coming of the Avengers!
Published: September 1963
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby

The Background:
In 1960, DC Comics brought together their most popular and powerful characters to form the Justice League of America. Never ones to let the competition get a leg up on them, and having seen successful with the Fantastic Four and the debut of the X-Men in that very same month, Marvel Comics head honcho Martin Goodman asked Stan Lee to create a similar team of superheroes. Helpfully, Lee and a number of his most famous collaborators had already established a number of colourful characters to bring together: Tony Stark/Iron Man, Doctor Bruce Banner/The Hulk, Doctor Donald Blake/Thor Odinson, and Doctor Hank Pym/Ant-Man and Janet van Dyne/The Wasp.

Since their introduction, the Avengers have changed members and fought many cosmic threats.

Since the debut issue, the Avengers have been a consistent and influential presence in Marvel Comics; the roster constantly shifted and changed, with the Hulk leaving the team in the second issue and Lee memorably dusting off the long-retired character of Steve Rogers/Captain America in issue four. Since then, the team has expanded and changed many times, seen spin-offs and splinter groups, been disassembled and reassembled, and taken part in all manner of massive cosmic events in the decades since their introduction.

The Review:
“The Coming of the Avengers” begins with Thor’s brother, Loki Laufeyson, the God of Mischief, imprisoned on the “dreaded Isle of Silence” in the mythical realm of Asgard. This is, of course, back when Loki was a despicable, irredemable villain whose previous mad schemes for power and conquest were thwarted by his brother; consequently, Loki is incensed at being exiled to the barren wasteland by Odin Allfather and plots a devious scheme for revenge.

Loki burns with a desire to destroy Thor, not Blake, and sees the Hulk as his chance to do so!

Though his physical self is trapped, Loki is able to use his vast magical abilities to project his disembodied self across the length of he dimension-spanning Bifrost and down to Earth, the planet Thor loves so dearly. He spies in on Donald Blake but dismisses him as a lame and insignificant mortal; he is acutely aware that Blake and Thor are one and the same but desires victory over Thor, not his crippled mortal shell. After many long hours, Loki comes upon the Incredible Hulk and is instantly intrigued by the creature’s brute strength and disdain for humanity. Thanks to Loki’s manipulations, the Hulk is blamed by the media when a train almost derails (despite the fact that the Hulk went out of his way to keep the train on track after Loki’s tricked him into damaging the tracks). Concerned for the well-being of his friend, Rick Jones desperately attempts to contact the Fantastic Four for help but Loki intercepts the broadcast and successfully coerces Blake to transform into Thor.

Words almost can’t express how much I despise Janet’s characterisation in these early comics!

However, Rick’s broadcast is also intercepted by Ant-Man and the Wasp and Tony Stark, who eagerly leap into action to stop what they perceive to be one of the Hulk’s trademark rampages. Though he’s now decked out in his slightly more streamlined gold plated armour (which can also charge through solar power), Stark is still entirely reliant upon his iron plated chest device to keep him alive but, nevertheless, he’s eager to test the strength of his armour against the Hulk’s much-vaulted power. The Fantastic Four eventually pick up the transmission regardless of Loki’s interference but are unable to assist since they’re already busy on another case but Rick and his fellow “Teen Bridge” are star-struck when Thor, Iron Man, Ant-Man, and the Wasp all show up to answer their summons. This is probably as good a time as any to talk about how much I loathe Janet van Dyne, especially in her earlier appearances in the sixties and seventies! She’s such a ditzy, scatterbrained little tart; all she ever does is think about her hair, make-up, and appearance and constantly fawn over other men right in front of her partner/husband, Hank. Sure, Hank is generally much more focused on his work, the mission, or being professional and is largely neglectful and ignorant of Janet but that doesn’t excuse her God-awful characterisation. Similar to Susan Storm/Invisible Girl, Jean Grey/Marvel Girl, and many of Marvel’s supporting female characters at the time, Janet is constantly patronised and spoken down to by men but, unlike many of them, she actually deserves such harsh treatment since she’s more of a glorified model or brainless celebrity than a capable superheroine, much less an individual worthy of their respect since all she wants to do is drool over Thor’s muscles!

Sadly, this is the closest we get to a fight between Thor and the Hulk.

Anyway, having inadvertently brought together some of Earth’s mightiest heroes, Loki changes tactics and uses his powers to trick Thor into thinking the Hulk is right outside their door! Acting without thought or logic, Thor immediately heads out to battle the Green Goliath and immediately heads to Asgard when he realises that the “Hulk” is merely one of Loki’s visions…just as Loki planned all along! Meanwhile, the Hulk, now free from Loki’s control, has…disguised himself as Mechano the Mechanical Man and hidden himself away at a circus? Thanks to Ant-Man’s uncanny helmet, which allows him to control and communicate with ants, Pym is able to first locate the Hulk and then use countless numbers of ants to cause a cave-in beneath the beast’s feet. Unimpressed and irritated, the Hulk easily bursts free of the trap and reacts with anger when Ant-Man attempts first to calm him and then to trap him.

The Hulk outsmarts Iron Man (!) and lands a crippling blow to Stark’s armour.

As in his debut appearance, the Hulk is far more than the mindless, rampaging beast he is generally known as; he’s eloquent and intelligent, using words like “masquerade” and being smart enough to disguise himself as a circus performer and use weapons to blow the Wasp out of the air and render her helpless. The Hulk is kept from crushed the Wasp into a fine paste by the timely arrival of Iron Man; after Iron Man’s attempts to lure the Hulk into a trap fail, he gives chase but the Hulk is wily enough to allow Iron Man to pass harmless overheard so that he (as in the Hulk) can deliver a crippling blow to Stark’s “propulsion battery”.

Loki is apprehended but the battle between Iron Man and the Hulk continues to rage!

Over in Asgard, Odin grants Thor permission to travel to the Isle of Silence to confront Loki and he has to overcome numerous traps and hazards conjured by Loki’s black magic along the way. Thor perseveres and shatters Loki’s magical barrier using his enchanted hammer, Mjölnir, in his mission to “avenge” Loki’s foul deed. However, Thor is kept from attacking Loki first by the sudden arrival of a monstrous troll, a nature of the isle, and then by Loki’s deceitful illusions. Regardless, Thor triumphs again by summoning lightning to drive the creature away and then dispels Loki’s duplicates with an implausible twirling of his hammer. Though Thor has Loki in his grasp and intends to bring him to Earth to answer for his deception, there’s still the little problem of the Hulk to contend with; Iron Man, having repaired his battery, continues his pursuit of the Hulk to an automobile factory, where the Hulk is able to endure and outwit Iron Man’s attempts to subdue him.

Loki is defeated with ridiculous ease and a new super team is born!

Thor interrupts the battle and reveals that Loki was behind everything; Hulk’s desire to make Loki pay for framing him is momentarily avoided when Loki breaks free of Thor’s grasp and prepares to resume his battle with his hated brother…only for a hoard of ants to open a trapdoor beneath his feet and cause him to fall into an lead-lined chamber. With the threat ended, Ant-Man suggests that the six of them join forces as a team, which the others (including the Hulk, despite everything he went through during the issue) readily agree to and it is the Wasp who suggests the team’s name: The Avengers!

The Summary:
“The Coming of the Avengers!” is a breath of fresh air after the year I’ve had looking back at early origin stories and comic books; even compared to standalone stories of the time, it’s refreshing to not have the plot be endlessly bogged down with recaps of the characters’ origins and to not have every other piece of dialogue by a description of that character’s ability. Characters do still have an annoying tendency to monologue and describe what they’re doing as they’re doing it but it’s a far more action-packed issue than some other comics I’ve read this year, that’s for sure.

The brisk pace means some characters get more focus than others but there’s still time for cameos…

If you’re a newcomer to Marvel, this is obviously a bit of a disadvantage since you’d have no idea who any of these characters are; the only characters who really get any extended backstory and focus are Thor and Loki, which is only natural considering it is Loki who drives the main plot of the issue. However, we never see an appearance from the Hulk’ alter ego (Banner isn’t even mentioned in the issue), Ant-Man and the Wasp are never seen outside of their costumed identities, and the comic even has time to waste panels on a cameo by the Fantastic Four. The intention, however, is pretty clear: Rick’s first thought is to call the Fantastic Four since there are only a couple of superhero teams in existence at that time and the implication is that Loki is a threat worthy of the Fantastic Four’s involvement, which thus makes the Avengers appear just as capable and formidable by proxy. Not that the Avengers really need any help in that regard; each character has already had numerous chances to shine and show how capable they are in their solo issues but what better way to showcase that to its fullest than by pitting them against the Hulk, the most powerful mortal in Marvel Comics at the time?

For all his power and scheming, Loki is incredibly ineffectual and his plan massively backfires!

Iron Man, especially, is eager to pit his skills and augmented strength against the Hulk’s (who sadly never gets to tussle with Thor to see which of the two truly is mightier) and it’s certainly unique seeing Ant-Man and the Wasp futilely try to subdue the beast with traps and trickery. It’s not a perfect story by any means; I could talk for days about Janet’s characterisation and she basically does nothing except buzz around, pine after Thor, and name the team and Loki never thinks to use his powers to send the Hulk into a mindless rampage to help tip the balance in his favour. Indeed, though Loki’s powers are vast and have the potential to be extremely dangerous, he’s pretty ineffectual as Thor easily fights off his illusions, he’s anti-climatically defeated by Ant-Man and the Wasp (of all people), and all he succeeds in doing is uniting Earth’s Mightiest Heroes as a team. He might have had more success if he’d tried to manipulate them into fighting each other or used his powers to better effect but, as an excuse to bring together six of Marvel’s most formidable superheroes into a super team, “The Coming of the Avengers!” succeeds far more than it fails…it just needed to be a bit longer and have a bit more interaction between the characters.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

How do you feel about “The Coming of the Avengers!”? Do you feel it was an effective introduction to Marvel’s newest and greatest team or do you, perhaps, find it a little weak and light on content? Which of the original line-up is your favourite? What did you think to the Wasp’s characterisation and the treatment of females during this time? Which version of the team is your favourite or who would you like to see on an Avengers roster one day? Do you think the singular threat of Loki was suitable enough justification for bringing together these heroes or would you have preferred a bigger threat? How are you celebrating the debut of the Avengers today and what are some of your favourite Avengers storylines, characters, or adaptations? Feel free to share your thoughts and opinions on the Avengers in the comments below.

Back Issues [HulkaMAYnia]: The Incredible Hulk #1

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 Background:
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 Review:
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.

Thanks to Igor and Rick, Banner is bathed in the full force of the mysterious gamma rays!

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!

The Hulk’s rampage is stopped right before he can do serious harm to Rick.

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.

The stress of his newfound curse begins to take its toll on Banner…

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.

News of the Hulk’s strength reaches the Gargoyle, the Soviet’s ghastly grotesque.

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.

The Hulk is disgusted at Betty’s fragility…

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.

Banner uses his intellect to cure the Gargoyle, who sacrifices himself to ensure their escape.

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

The Summary:
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.

The Hulk is surprisingly articulate and subdued compared to his later, more mindless portrayals.

“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, like the Hulk, is not what he seems on the surface.

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.

Many of the Hulk’s troupes are established in this debut issue despite the story’s odd turn.

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.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

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.