Celebrating the Unpopular Arts
 

A turning point in the life of the Hulk!

As I mentioned in an earlier post about my Silver Age reread, when the Hulk relaunched his series as Giant-Man’s companion in Tales to Astonish, it came with a reboot from a monster series to a superhero series.Tales to Astonish #92 marks another transition, though a more low-key one. Following his battle with the Secret Empire and Boomerang, Hulk stopped a missile from blowing up New York.

Even General Ross had to concede the Hulk wasn’t just a monster, then Rick Jones convinced President Johnson to grant Hulk an amnesty. All ends happily … except Boomerang, pissed-off and vengeful, contrives to drive Green-Skin into a berserk frenzy. With the Hulk running wild and smashing everything in sight, Ross has no choice but to have the military hunt Hulk down like a mad dog. In the middle of all this, Bruce Banner’s identity as the Hulk becomes public knowledge.

Betty and Rick remain loyal to Bruce, of course. Nobody else does as this Stan Lee/Marie Severin scene from #92 shows.(In a minor aside, I was surprised to learn the Teen Brigade was still around, let alone that they’re international in scope now. Nor was this their last appearance).

It’s understandable Hulk feels that even though he’s the strongest one of all, he still can’t win.In case you’re wondering, the Hulk’s “saucer” is the Silver Surfer on his board. The following issue the Surfer explains he can’t fly the Hulk outside Earth’s atmosphere due to Galactus’ decree. Hulk refuses to believe this, tries to force the Silver Surfer to cooperate and gets his butt kicked.

It shows the Surfer’s standing back then that Severin and Lee don’t even try to make it a fair fight: Hulk, for all his strength, is for once punching out of his weight class. The Surfer nevertheless attempts to help by purging Hulk’s body of gamma radiation, restoring Bruce to normal. Hulk misreads what’s happening and drives the Silver Surfer away.

But the story isn’t the point (though it confirms my opinion Severin, who also did good work on Dr. Strange in this period, is a talented storyteller and co-plotter). The point is that the scene above is the first sign of Hulk not as monster or hot-headed antihero but as a tragic outcast. Ben Grimm may be ugly but he has Alicia; the X-Men are distrusted as mutants but they have each other. The Hulk has nobody, and he hates it.

This is more or less the Hulk I recognize from the Bronze Age, when I started reading him regularly. Not as much of a man-child as he’d become but still at least somewhat sympathetic; up to this point Bruce has been sympathetic but his alter-ego? Not so much. It’s the approach that lasted until Mantlo gave the Hulk Bruce’s intellect in the 1980s, followed by Peter David rebooting everything we knew about the Hulk, then rebooting it again several times.

I don’t know if that means Hulk stays consistent from this point through the Bronze Age — the next few years are the period of Hulk I’m least familiar with. But that’s the advantage of this reread, that eventually I’ll find out. In any case, good job Lee and Severin.

#SFWApro. Art by Kirby, Bill Everett, Severin and Severin.

 

2 Comments

  1. Edo Bosnar

    Earlier this year I re-read the Hulk stories from the tail-end of Tales to Astonish, i.e., #85-99, as collected in the Hulk pocketbook from the late 1970s. That’s indeed a great run of material – the stories are solid, and the art, by the likes of John Buscema, Gil Kane and Marie Severin, is damn nice (I particularly like Kane’s brief tenure with the character).
    Since I’ve never read any of the stories between the 6-issue original Hulk series and this, I didn’t realize that this is where his Bronze Age characterization first started to show up. Interesting.

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