Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Marvel Chronology - Incredible Hulk v1 #1

We all know this one, right? Dr Bruce Banner gets caught in the explosion when testing his Gamma Bomb, and subsequently transforms into a giant, unthinking, green beast whenever he becomes angry. Except, none of that is right, except the bit about the Gamma Bomb. Not only is the Hulk not green in his first appearance (which is fairly common knowledge amongst comic fans), but his transformation is not triggered by anger. Instead, Banner transforms into a hulking grey beast at sunset, returning to his human form at sunrise. Oh, and the Hulk isn’t really an unthinking beast, either, he’s actually quite articulate.

Indeed, this is a far more interesting tale then the traditional “Hulk Smash!” narrative. Stan and Jack combine elements from a number of classic monster stories…the Werewolf, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and Frankenstein’s Monster…to create a character that has proven to be just as enduring as them. I can also see an influence from classic 1956 science fiction movie Forbidden Planet here. The arrogant use of technology releases a monster from the scientist’s Id in both stories. For that is what the Hulk is here, not simply Banner’s inner rage unleashed, he is the personification of his Id, as Freud put it, “the dark inaccessible part of our personality.” Banner’s very repressed and subtle attraction to Betty is revealed, when his Id is unleashed in the form of the Hulk, who is irresistibly drawn to her.

Less interesting is the “it’s all a dastardly Red Commie plot” aspect of the story. “The Reds” were, of course, a common villain in 1960’s Marvel Comics, but read from a 21st Century perspective, this stuff is a little painful. Would a man named “Igor” with a clearly Russian accent have been employed by the US Military to work on a Top Secret weapons project? I suspect not. He’s possibly the worst spy ever, and it’s interesting to note that we never learn his surname…I suspect his full name was Igor Iamaspyski. Later on it’s clear that Stan and Jack are trying to say something clever about Banner releasing the human inside the monstrous Gremlin, after he had released the monster within his human self, but it’s all very rushed. The entire confrontation with the Gremlin in Russia, turning him back into a human, and him then rebelling against his evil Communist overlords (including him ranting to a picture of Khrushchev, or Comrade K as he’s referred to in the comic) takes place in the last two pages! Can you imagine that much story being packed into two pages in a modern comic? Anyway, subtle this is not, and it really doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of the story.

I guess I should mention that this comic also introduces eternal sidekick Rick Jones to the Marvel Universe. Rick is extremely irritating and, I’m sad to say, this is by no means the last we’ll be seeing of him. Indeed, he will later play a big part in the founding of The Avengers, will play a pivotal role in the Kree/Skrull War and has continued to be the Marvel Universe’s prime hanger on right up until the present day. It’s possible I may grow to love Rick Jones as I read more comics that feature him. It’s also possible that I won’t.

Lastly, I have to mention the art, which is simply breathtaking in places. The three panels at the end of Chapter One, showing the Hulk walking off into the distance are incredibly atmospheric, and showcase Jack Kirby at his best.

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