Here we go with another installment of Marvel First! This time, we’re checked in with everyone’s favorite monster… Bruce Banner, the Incredible Hulk himself.
This series in which the Hulk debuted, The Incredible Hulk, was published in 1962. Like all of the big Marvel #1s that we’ve looked at so far, this one was written by Stan Lee, joined by legendary artist and co-creator Jack Kirby. What’s interesting to note about this one is that, while the series introduced one of the biggest icons in superhero comics, the first Incredible Hulk series was canceled just six issues in. Of course, it would come back again, and the Hulk would star in other major books like Tales to Astonish, Planet Hulk, World War Hulk, Indestructible Hulk, and so on, as well as kicking off many spinoffs.
We meet Bruce Banner, a genius scientist who has created the G-Bomb, on the fateful day that he is transformed into the Hulk. Right as the bomb, supposedly the most effective weapon ever created, is about to be tested, a kid named Rick Jones sneaks onto the site to prove to his buddies he can get past the guard. Banner, who it’s interesting to note is heroic as a man and not as his alter ego here, runs out to save him. A fellow scientist named Igor (who turns out to be a Soviet spy) doesn’t give anyone the word to delay the test, allowing Banner to get hit with the full force of the gamma rays… the event that created the monster inside of Banner: the Incredible Hulk.
Banner seems fine at first, though, and he’s alone with Rick Jones when he first transforms. The Hulk escapes and goes on a bit of a rampage as he’s hunted by both the scientists and the Soviets alike. A Soviet genius going by the name Gargoyle captures the Hulk, intent on creating an army of soldiers just like the mysterious monster and then using mind control to command them. Later, when the Hulk transforms back into Bruce Banner, it’s not the powerful creature inside that saves the day, but rather Bruce’s empathy. Unlike most heroes we’ve seen in these iconic first issues, who combat pure evil villains with their superpowers and cunning, Bruce Banner does so here by finding the humanity within his enemy and helping him.
Besides the characterization of heroism being a departure, the story and tone of The Incredible Hulk is far different from most of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s work. It’s aesthetic borrows more heavily from horror films than from the Hulk’s brightly colored contemporaries. Gone are the bombastic mid-air fights and costumed heroes cracking one-liners, in favor of dark images of the Hulk creeping through the darkness, his back to us, as he makes his way toward an unknowing victim. It’s got a real Jekyll and Hyde vibe here, as this this way before the Hulk becomes the heroic figure who would later join the Avengers. In his monster form, at first he doesn’t even know who Bruce Banner is and while he isn’t technically evil, he definitely considers humans weak – contemptible, even. We all know that the Hulk within Bruce eventually becomes one of Marvel’s greatest heroes, but this issue shows the journey of a man struggling with his darker side and saving the day with an act of kindness. It’s pretty powerful stuff!