Greetings fellow travelers! Here we go again, for real this time, making our way through the origins of the Marvel Universe!
Hopefully most of you will have already read these comics, whether it was years ago or just last night. They’re readily available and well worth taking another look at.
This week the Marvel Universe expands to include a second title, The Incredible Hulk. Hulk only lasted six issues during its first outing before it was canceled to make room for other titles (remember, DC’s distribution deal limited the number of titles Marvel could publish each month). But fear not! He made a lot of guest appearances over the following year before returning to the monthly schedule sharing Tales to Astonish with Giant Man and the Wasp. But more on that much later. On the Fantastic Four Front, prepare for the appearance of some Marvel Universe mainstays: The Skrulls and Prince Namor, The Sub-Mariner.
In case anyone forgot, what I’m trying to do here is read these comics as though for the first time, without relying too much on my knowledge of events that I know are coming further on down the line. That way, I hope to get a fairly honest impression about how and why the Marvel Universe developed the way it did between 1961 and December 1969. And by “Marvel Universe” I mean just the shared world of the Superheroes. No in-depth Milly the Model critiques will be found here, so move along if that’s what you’re hoping for.
By the way, right after finishing the first installment of Mondo Marvel a few weeks ago, Marvel announced the pending release of Essential Sub-Mariner for later in the year! That means we’re only missing Essential Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. to have all of Marvel’s 1960s Superhero comics in handy, affordable black and white editions! Keep those fingers crossed!
One last editorial note: When possible, I’ll be including full credits for the issues as I write about them, but my reference materials are a bit spotty. Please feel free to stop by the message boards to give credit to the unsung heroes who got these comics made when I fall short.
Everybody ready? Got your popcorn? Okay then. Let’s do this thing.
Fantastic Four #2
Writer: Stan Lee
Pencils: Jack Kirby
“The Fantastic Four Meet the Skrulls From Outer Space!”
After a fairly ineffectual first adventure that relied more on the Mole Man “killing” himself than on the FF actually doing anything, the second issue gets a little more entertaining and less paranoid and depressing. Once again, Lee and Kirby kept this comic firmly planted in the genres that they were comfortable with, moving adeptly from the previous issue’s giant monsters to aliens from, where? Outer Space, of course.
There’s an interesting slight shift in tone with this issue, as the Fantastic Four are apparently known entities in the Marvel Universe already. The Skrulls see them as the only threat forestalling a full-scale invasion, and while the Skrulls are impersonating them, the FF are recognized by everyone they meet. There’s an element of celebrity to them already, or at least notoriety on Ben’s part, that implies that they’ve been much more busy and public than events in the first issue indicated they would be. Have they been doing stuff we haven’t seen during the month they’ve been off the comics rack? That’s an interesting opportunity for “untold stories” somewhere down the line.
The Skrull plan (discredit the heroes to get them off the stage) is an instant classic and makes perfect sense given the nature of Marvel America. In a world that launches nuclear missiles at unknown threats over New York and people begin panicking at the sight of a flare gun going off, it seems like the sort of plan that could very easily work. The normal folk in these comics don’t have much patience for “freaks” and immediately think the worst is about to happen. It’s an interesting dynamic for the characters to work in that creates a sense of anxiety whenever the heroes appear in public.
It also ties in nicely with a predominant theme in many science fiction works of the ’50s and early ’60s: loss of identity and the subtextual invoking of the Communist threat. It’s not dealt with here in nearly the satisfying manner of 1953’s Invaders From Mars or the classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers from 1956, but at least it’s a step in a well-established direction. Aliens that can look like anyone–or anything–they want are the logical addition to a violent and paranoid Marvel Universe. And if Lee was making another reference to the perceived dangers of Communism, at least it’s not ham-fisted and obvious this time.
Of course, in the time since last issue, enough people know about the Fantastic Four to recognize them on the streets throughout the country. None of that popularity matters though, when after one bit of sabotage credited to each member of the Fantastic Four, they become hunted fugitives with at least one newspaper running with the headline “Shoot To Kill!” Looks like it’s hard out there for a genetically altered superhero; even ones who dress like normal folk and go away for family trips to their “isolated hunting lodge” and have “many secret apartment hideouts” scattered around the city.
After a brief night in a military prison specifically designed to counter their “strange talents”, our heroes escape and Johnny sets fire to everything in sight for cover. Apparently, someone in the military has done some thinking about the dangers these super powered Free Agents might pose. It’s a plot point that isn’t really given much attention, but just seems like a natural extension of this world. Of course, they probably should have invested in some specialized training for the military guards since they allow Sue to run right past them. I know she’s invisible, but really, that’s just incompetent.
Again, Stan Lee puts the Human Torch front and center when it comes to actually doing something in reaction to our villains, the Skrulls, and it’s the teenager’s own plan, to boot! I assume that Lee’s goal is to make the character most relatable to the target audience in the spotlight, so that makes sense, although it would be nice to see the others actually carry their weight. Reed is supposed to have the big brain, but two issues in and he’s not really who I look to for a master plan. Maybe he’s hiding his light under a bushel, but sitting around thinking and smoking your pipe is not going to win you over with the readers, Mr. Richards.
As for carrying their weight, Sue again does nothing but trip a guy and look pretty. The Skrull impersonating her actually accomplishes something proactive while mimicking her powers, but it’s criminal so we probably shouldn’t count that as an effective use of her talents. Reed pontificates stuffily and comes up with a pretty lame plan to stop the invasion that relies on the Skrulls being stupid and not being able to tell drawings from photographs. Sure, the art is by Kirby, but come on.
Luckily, the Skrulls are stupid, so the plan works.
Ben displays some virtuoso psychotic madness this issue, smashing things up and threatening to destroy anyone who gets in his way as he goes out ”
to fight! To smash!” It’s so disturbing that the others have a hushed mini-conference about him, with the Torch even suggesting that they have “to do something about him!” It provides an only slightly awkward opportunity for a recap of the team’s origin wherein Reed actually takes responsibility for turning them all into freaks. It’s a nice, almost touching moment that makes me forget what a dick Reed is most of the time.
I mean, really. Ben’s freaking out and to calm him down you can’t call him by name? “Easy, Thing, Easy!” isn’t exactly the most enlightened thing to say to a guy who feels like a monster. But then it’s exactly what I’d expect from a guy whose idea of dealing with alien shape-shifters is to hypnotize them into believing that they’re cows. You know, so they can have some peace and contentment. Once again, Reed demonstrates that while he may be a genius, he makes some pretty bad decisions on the spur of the moment.
I almost forgot to mention the fact that Ben changed back into his human form for a few moments after a second dose of outer space radiation. It didn’t seem to affect any of the others, so I’m not sure what to make of it. It does provide the reader with a fairly disturbing scene of Ben freaking out in their space capsule as though he’s having a panic attack. I’m really starting to feel sorry for Ben almost as much as I think he’s a menace. His self-loathing is seriously bordering on the mentally ill after only two issues. But at least he’s in fine company with a group of Skrulls who hate themselves so much they’d rather be mindless farm animals than sentient beings.
I suppose that could be seen as an interesting take on the psychology of a race of beings with the ability to alter their forms at will. If I could change form into whatever I could imagine, I might be a little harsher in my self criticism, too. Especially if then I was pushed onto the front lines of an impending war with little or no real support from my leaders. I mean, offering a “disguised” Reed and the others a tiny little pin as recognition for “sacrificing” their lives to “protect” the Skrull race is kind of an insult.
And what happened to the fourth Skrull? He’s there when they’re captured, but after the FF’s trip to the Skrull Mothership, he’s gone. Sure, Reed says that the fourth one is “on his way to another galaxy now with the rest of the invasion fleet,” but that can’t be right, otherwise the plan to stop the invasion would never have worked. Is that Lee covering for Kirby, who forgot to draw four Skrulls, or is it just sloppy writing on Lee’s part? If you know the answer, come by the message boards and let me know. It’s really bugging me. Reed didn’t sneakily have him shipped off to a secret lab somewhere, did he?
Fantastic Four #3
Writer: Stan Lee
Pencils: Jack Kirby
“The Menace of the Miracle Man”
This is easily the weakest issue so far. One would think that with a bi-monthly schedule, the stories could be a little better thought out. The Miracle Man turns out to be (surprise!) a hypnotist who just makes people think they’re seeing giant monsters and amazing displays of power. That’s all well and fine, but it doesn’t explain how the giant monster actually accomplishes the theft of jewelry or the atomic tank. Does that mean that when the Human Torch burns it to the ground, he really burned nothing? Is the monster still standing back at the theater? Seems like it would be, but that doesn’t look to be the case. That’s just not very well thought out. And I guess The Miracle Man is just running around discreetly filling his wheelbarrow with trinkets and loading the tank into the back of his semi by himself.
That’s pretty much all there is to this story: some bad plotting that doesn’t hold up to even the barest of attention and a silly villain with melodramatic, goofy plans. On the plus side though, we do get some interesting developments with the team and how they’re seen by the public.
The very first page has the Miracle Man calling attention to them as they sit in his audience. He calls them celebrities and introduces them to the rest of the crowd by name. Reed seems to be the only one comfortable with the spotlight on him, and is it just me or is Kirby drawing him a little younger and more handsome this issue?
To go along with the more marketable Reed, we also get, as the cover promised, “The amazing Fantasti-Car” and “colorful new Fantastic Four costumes.” I’m not sure how I feel about this. I mean, if Lee and Kirby intend to live up to the cover blurb declaring The Fantastic Four to be “The Greatest Comic Magazine in the World!!” (yes, that’s two exclamation points, mind you), then I suppose they do need to up their game. Especially when the main plots have been kind of weak so far.
The real strength of the comic is definitely the characterizations of each character. Except for Sue, of course, but hopefully Lee can come up with something that will make her more interesting as the series progresses. Along with that, I’m really enjoying the way Lee and Kirby are fleshing out the world these characters live in. After just three issues we’ve been introduced to a kingdom of underground monsters and an alien race that, while not too bright, seemed fairly intent on conquering the Earth. This issue introduced the idea of magical superhuman powers, but does what I think is the right thing, and pulls back on that to make it all a hoax.
As cheesy as some of the pseudo-science may be, everything so far has been based in nature and science. Nothing supernatural has been brought into play, and that’s a nice touch that keeps things grounded as much as possible. To push that science envelope a little further, this issue we get a glimpse at just what Reed’s been up to lately.
The Fantasti-Car is an interesting design, looking kind of like a flying bathtub that can then break into four separate mini flying craft. I wouldn’t want to ride in it in bad weather, but it’s a distinctive and unique design. We’re also introduced to the Fantastic Four’s “Secret Headquarters” in the upper tower of a New York skyscraper, with a handy-dandy cut-away diagram showing all the cool rooms and gadgets they have. In addition to the Fantasti-Car, there’s a Fantasti-copter, a pogo orbit plane, an observatory, and a long-range passenger missile separated from the rest of the building by a very thoughtful “anti-vibration wall.” I’m not sure where they got the money for all of this, though. It seems like a bit of a leap, and surely someone had to design and build it all. What are the implications of this?
And while Sue mostly serves as a hostage this issue, she does get a chance to put those “feminine skills” in play as the designer of the new Fantastic Four costumes. I’d love to find out what she made them from since hers turns invisible when she does, Reed’s stretches with him, and Johnny’s doesn’t burn up when he Flames On (which provides Kirby with a reason to redesign the look of the flaming Human Torch). Of c
ourse, all their normal clothes did the same things, so I guess it’s kind of a moot point. The designs are nicely done, but the best moments are having Ben gripe about them being “kid’s stuff” and saying he won’t wear them. Yeah, he’s a grump, but remember: Ben was right.
On the characterization front, Ben and Johnny are again our main focus, particularly with their bickering interactions. Johnny’s a smart ass who thinks a bit much of himself and Ben reveals one reason for wanting to be human again: He wants Sue to look at him the way she looks at Reed. That’s kind of a bold statement to make right to Reed’s face, but he doesn’t seem to mind at all. He lets Johnny react and, of course, a fight breaks out.
The interesting thing here is that it’s Johnny who gets fed up with Ben and leaves the group. It’s only a trial separation at first as he goes to hang out with some friends at a corner soda fountain (that’s a shop, for all you youngsters out there – not an actual fountain of soda spraying up out of a street corner), but at the end of the issue, he’s had it with Ben and quits, flying off into the distance.
And though Sue’s upset, Reed knows just what to say. He’s not worried about Johnny, but is worried about MANKIND. His girlfriend’s teenage brother just runs away and the first thing Reed thinks of is what kind of menace he’d be if he doesn’t just quit, but turns against them. Way to look at the bright side there, dick.
Fantastic Four #4
Writer: Stan Lee
Pencils: Jack Kirby
“The Coming of … Sub-Mariner!”
This issue opens shortly after the conclusion of the previous issue. Johnny is missing, Sue is worried, Ben is glad he’s gone, and Reed not only tries to make Ben feel worse about himself, he seems to have built up Johnny’s contributions a little more than they actually were. Granted, Johnny is the one who’s been getting things done, but he’s not all that. I don’t think the burning down of the fake monster last issue was real, but Reed seems to think so. The search for Johnny is kind of silly, but we do get another Ben Grimm transformation scene. He only reverts to human for a minute or two, but if it keeps up, he’s seriously going to lose his mind. Johnny, meanwhile, ends up in — The Bowery!
Something strange goes on this issue, and it’s something that, while hinted at in the Skrulls issue, is made explicit here. Comic books, particularly Marvel Comics and their previous incarnations, Timely and Atlas, exist in the Marvel Universe. It was one thing when Reed used monster pictures from Strange Tales and Journey Into Mystery to fool the Skrulls, as those were clearly presented as fantasy comics. But this issue, Johnny is casually flipping through an old copy of a Sub-Mariner comic and then moments later, discovers Namor in the flesh. Sure, he’s got amnesia and is living as a derelict bum, but it’s him. A comic book character come to life.
Having been created all the way back in 1939, the Sub-Mariner was one of the very first superheroes in comics, debuting in the now presciently titled Marvel Comics #1 as a surface world-hating anti-hero. Although he had a brief revival for about a year in the mid-fifties, he really hadn’t been seen since around 1949, and once he’s awake and active here in 1962, other characters act as though they’d always known he was real, but assumed he had died long ago.
It’s a brilliant move on Lee and Kirby’s part, especially given that the Distinguished Competition have a clear line of history back to the publication of Superman back in 1938. Suddenly, in one fell swoop, Marvel isn’t just a company with one Superhero title (with its second debuting this month). The inclusion of the Sub-Mariner in the story of the Fantastic Four, makes all of Timely/Atlas’ history fair game. This means that not only are all of those old characters included in the world-building of the modern Marvel Universe, but by implication we can assume that even the other titles being published concurrently could be considered for possible inclusion, like the entire Western line of comics like Two-Gun Kid, Kid Colt and Rawhide Kid. And in May 1963, when Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos begins, the Marvel Universe will begin fleshing out the Marvel ’40s for a new generation of readers.
So essentially, the retcon is introduced here and used to create a textured past for characters and concepts that are actually so new they’re shiny. But, most importantly, these aren’t just changes for change’s sake. Lee pulls it off in a way that makes it seem as though this new information is naturally a part of this world. The Fantastic Four are no longer the only superheroes around. They’re just the only superheroes around at the moment. With this creative move, the Marvel Universe has had costumed adventurers as far back as the 1800s, and superheroes played a big part in World War II. Given that Namor had attacked New York repeatedly in the ’30s and ’40s before joining the U.S. against the Nazis, I suppose there’s some rationale for the paranoia and fear that the FF’s first appearance sparked. This is a world where the first superhero wasn’t a benevolent alien Superman, but a terrorist. That’s got to do something to the collective psyche. And there’s definitely something strange about the way Lee uses the idea of a mixed-race character “passing” for human before turning violently against the dominant culture. Is he consciously invoking racist anxieties or is that just an accident?
I wonder if we should consider the monster and alien invasion stories of the other Marvel titles of the time as representative of events that occurred in the “real” Marvel Universe. Granted, they would be filtered through the comics’ creators much like the Sub-Mariner comic that Johnny is reading, telling “fictional” stories based on “real” events. That’s essentially the premise of one of the greatest comics in recent years, Warren Ellis’ Planetary, so it’s impressive to see the idea, at least in some form, hinted at here.
Story-wise, the arrival of the Sub-Mariner provides the first real, personalized arch-nemesis for the team, even going so far as to crib a little of the motivations of Issue #1’s Mole Man, only this time, instead of being hated for being ugly, Namor’s actually got a valid reason to hate humanity. The Mole Man could be argued to be the first real arch-nemesis, but that’s only because of the timing of his appearance. In that initial confrontation, neither he nor the FF actually do anything to create a distinctive relationship. Namor, however, makes things personal.
Upon getting his memory back, the first thing he does is head for home: his unnamed Undersea Kingdom. Is there a reason it isn’t called Atlantis at this point? Is that an Aquaman thing? Anyway, thanks to, you guessed it, Atomic Testing, the kingdom is destroyed. Luckily, according to Namor, the radiation can’t harm his people, but they’ve been scattered and Namo
r has little hope of finding them. So he decides to go back to his original ways and start attacking the surface world. This is no good, because not only is he super powerful, he has access to an array of undersea monsters, the first of which is named Giganto (and that’s not an ironic nickname).
The authorities evacuate New York quickly and easily, just in time for Giganto, a giant whale with arms and legs, to come ashore and destroy a lot of property. There’s not a lot of attention given to it, but this is massive damage on an incredible scale that’s going to contribute poorly to that collective psyche I mentioned a minute ago. It looks like at least an entire neighborhood is destroyed before Ben has an idea: strap an Atomic Bomb to his own back and walk it down Giganto’s gullet while it rests, detonating the bomb inside and killing the creature. Once again, no one seems to have a problem with firing or detonating atom bombs in the middle of New York City. It’s no wonder there are monsters everywhere. I wouldn’t be surprised if everyone in the Marvel Universe glowed softly in the dark.
Ultimately what causes Namor to pause is a rush of hormones at the sight of Sue Storm. In a classic pick-up move, he proposes to her on the spot and says he’ll stop trying to kill all the humans if she’ll co-rule the Earth with him. Sue does the noble thing and agrees to marry Namor in order to save humanity, which he kind of takes as an insult. Understandably, I guess. Reed again has virtually no reaction to this on a personal level, which makes me wonder about him. He seems to take Sue for granted on just about every occasion, and it’s hard to really get what she sees in him, especially when contrasted with Namor, who, while being an arrogant terrorist, is at least passionate and impulsive about her. Of course, he does have that mixed-race thing subtextually coming into play, as well, and there seems to be some repulsion built into the narrative here.
Then, Lee and Kirby seem to run out of pages, because suddenly Johnny steps up yet again, creating a giant tornado (?) that sucks Namor and the smoldering, radioactive corpse of Giganto up into the sky before dropping them over “the deepest part of the vast ocean.” And that’s that. Namor swears revenge, and the disembodied heads of the Fantastic Four swear to be waiting for round two.
Again, it’s not a very satisfying ending, but if anyone was planning on making a Fantastic Four film, this issue has everything I’d pay to see on-screen. There’s no evidence of it here, but it seems to me that Reed should start worrying about everybody wanting to make time with his girl. Granted, he doesn’t feel threatened by Ben, but Namor’s interest should make him think twice. If he ever finds his people and gets some Prozac, he could be a serious rival for Sue’s affections. That would be a pretty easy way to add some interest in her character, even if it is just another variation on the “Sue as Captive” theme that Lee keeps falling back on.
Does he think girls don’t read comics? Then who’s Milly the Model for? Give them a character they can relate to in your superhero comics and you’ve got a whole new market share, Stan.
Writer: Stan Lee
Pencils: Jack Kirby
Inker: Paul Reinman
Finally, after nearly six months worth of Fantastic Four comics, Marvel introduces a new Superhero title. However, like the FF before it, Lee and Kirby have something different in mind when they design and create Marvel Superheroes. The Incredible Hulk stakes out narrative territory usually reserved for monster comics and gives us something not quite a monster, yet not quite a hero.
And again, radiation is at the heart of it.
This is essentially a cross between the split personality tale of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and the misunderstood monster of Frankenstein. Although, to be quite honest, Frankenstein is much more sympathetic a creature. The Hulk is a big, gray bastard from day one.
Our supporting cast is loaded with potential, however cliche and over-the-top they are. Rick Jones is another cocky teenager sort of in the Johnny Storm mold, but with a much stronger sense of responsibility and a level head. General “Thunderbolt” Ross is a raging, blustering, mildly psychotic career military man, and his daughter, Betty, is pretty, nice, and finding herself drawn to our main character: Dr. Bruce Banner, super-genius. Even though he seems to be fairly timid and quiet (“Thunderbolt” calls him a gutless milksop right to his face), he nearly dies trying to save Rick, who has wondered into a Gamma Bomb testing range.
What’s a Gamma Bomb, you ask? I dunno either, but apparently it’s “the most awesome weapon ever created by man”, and Banner created it.
Anyway, Banner gets a full dose of Gamma Radiation after tossing Rick into the safety of a ditch (?), and then finds himself transformed every evening when the sun goes down, into a huge, musclebound, gray sociopath with poor impulse control. While I’m not sure about the marketability of this character, I have to admit that the scene where Banner gets caught in the Gamma blast is very nicely done. Kirby gives us an iconic shot of Banner being hit by a blast wave as the explosion goes off behind him, followed by two panels that play with vivid contrasts of light and shadow. The idea that he is screaming for hours before coming to his senses is a powerful one, too, which immediately puts Banner in an even more positive light with the reader. This guy is clearly suffering physically before the psychological torture begins.
In another echo of subjects raised in the first issue of Fantastic Four, the fight against Communism is central to this story. Only instead of just being a paranoid fear, we’ve moved from the world of civilians and into the world of military science so the Communist bogeymen are real. In fact, Banner gets caught in the blast because a Commie double-agent doesn’t postpone the detonation with the hope of killing Banner and then rummaging through his home for the Gamma Bomb secrets. It’s not the greatest of plans, but it almost works.
Except for that pesky transformation into a super strong behemoth thing, anyway. I’m not sure that if I were Rick I’d be so calm and cool about watching the skinny scientist change into a bulgy, gray monster. Especially since he seems to be putting out a LOT of radiation during the transformation. That’s not cool.
The Hulk is an interesting character. He’s not heroic at all. His heroism is kind of a side-effect of being selfish, nearly invulnerable, extremely strong, and mildly retarded with a mean streak. If you came to this comic looking for a superhero story, you’ll be sorely disappointed. Or maybe oddly surprised. I know I was surprised when at one point, if it wasn’t for the sun coming up, it is strongly hinted that the Hulk was going to murder Rick Jones because he knew his secret. That’s effed up, right there.
I really like the way that these comics are creating a sense of danger and anxiety rather than being reassuring, escapist adventures. Yeah, the protagonists are winning out in the end, but only just barely. And usually, when they win, they don’t actually do much to make it happen and/or the endings are temporary at best. It creates a feeling that anything could happen, regardless of whether or not Lee could really get away with having the bad guys win. At least he’s writing villains that, while they do evil things, we can understand their motivations; usually more than we can those of the heroes.
The villain of Incredible Hulk #1 is another variation on this theme: the hideous, but brilliant and deadly, Gargoyle. He’s a Soviet scientist, transformed by his work on Secret Bomb Tests, and is “the most feared man in all of Asia.” Just how this happened or why he’s feared is never really gone into, but rest assured, he’s dangerous and evil! Or maybe not so much. After a crying breakdown in front of a captive Banner, we find out that all he really wants is to be normal again. And maybe a puppy. Nah, just to be normal.
So Banner says he can cure him, and does, with, you guessed it, radiation! Then after allowing Rick and Banner to escape, the Gargoyle rants an anti-Communist rant at a portrait of “Comrade K” (who looks suspiciously like Khruschchev), then commits suicide by nuclear bomb, taking everyone in the base with him. This is another echo of the first issue of The Fantastic Four, but without the open-ended “he might be back” twist. We can rest assured that we won’t be seeing The Gargoyle again.
Yes, as Banner says in the closing panel, in the light of a nuclear blast, “It’s the end of the Gargoyle! And perhaps… the beginning of the end of the Red Tyranny, too!” Wow. That’s not too heavy-handed, is it? Especially when The Gargoyle is essentially an alternate version of Banner/Hulk himself, which raises some interesting thematic questions about the Cold War. Clearly, on the surface Lee and Kirby are producing jingoistic, pro-America propaganda marketed specifically for kids. They’re also pretty fast and loose with nuclear radiation without overtly moralizing over uses of atomic bombs and the perceived threats of Communism.
However, at the same time, nothing good is coming from these conflicts. On both sides, monsters are being created and “innocent” people are being used and manipulated by antagonistic government forces. And if they don’t play ball, they are to be hunted down and killed. Hell, the public demands that they be destroyed if those headlines in Fantastic Four #2 are to be believed. Ultimately, in The Incredible Hulk, Banner can’t rely on anyone but Rick Jones and their bond was only forged by accident. Nationalism is bandied about as a surface motivation, but the heart of this comic is harsh individualism and tortured isolation.
This is an interesting, if not actually entertaining comic. By that I mean that the sheer dread that permeates the entire story is a little overwhelming, especially given the nastiness of the Hulk himself. The whole book is a bit too awash with political propaganda, and while the supporting cast is colorful, I’m not sure if I really care about any of them. The premise is a good one, though. Not a Superhero comic by any means, but a good idea nonetheless. I hope to see more of the psychological elements explored and the political stuff put on the back burner. But I guess if you’re emotionally involved with a raving psychotic general’s daughter, you work for the government building weapons of mass destruction, and you turn into a WMD yourself, it’s going to be hard to avoid the political.
I think the strongest part of the story is really that it’s Bruce Banner who’s the hero. He saves Rick from the Gamma Bomb and from the Gargoyle, with the latter occurring through an act of kindness rather than of violence. I suppose that’s offset with the fact that the Gargoyle commits murder/suicide immediately after, but hey, our titular character really only serves to screw up Banner’s life, and that’s a daring socio-political statement to make, however veiled. It’ll be interesting to see how long they can maintain this dynamic and keep readers. I’m not sure there’s an audience for this type of comic, especially after seeing how The Fantastic Four had to change in order to broaden its market.
Well, that’s that, eh? I have a feeling that as these go on, the individual issue commentaries will get shorter. These opening issues are laying a lot of groundwork for things to come and basically building a world from the ground up, so I guess I’m giving them more attention than may really be necessary. Or am I?
Stop by the message boards and let me know what you think and share your memories and experiences about reading these comics for the first time!
Until next time, remember: Ben Was Right!