Fantastic Four Marvel Masterworks volume 3


By Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-1182-5 (HB)                    978-0-7851-4296-6 (TPB)

Fantastic Four #1 is the third most important American comicbook in the industry’s astounding history. Just ahead of it are The Brave and the Bold #28, which brought superhero teams back via the creation of the Justice League of America. At the top is Showcase #4, which introduced the Flash and therefore the Silver Age. Feel free to disagree…

After a troubled period at DC Comics – National Periodicals as it then was – and a creatively productive but disheartening time on the poisoned chalice of the Sky Masters newspaper strip (see Complete Sky Masters of the Space Force) Jack Kirby settled into his job at the small outfit that used to be the publishing powerhouse Timely/Atlas.

He churned out mystery, monster, romance and western material in a market he suspected to be ultimately doomed, but as always, did the best job possible. That quirky genre fare is now considered some of the best of its kind ever seen.

However, his fertile imagination couldn’t be suppressed for long and when the JLA caught the readerships attention it gave him and writer/editor Stan Lee an opportunity to change the industry forever.

Depending upon who you believe, a golfing afternoon led publisher/owner Martin Goodman ordering his nephew Stan to try a series about a group of super-characters like the one DC was doing. The resulting team quickly took fans by storm. It wasn’t the powers: they’d all been seen since the beginning of the medium. It wasn’t the costumes: they didn’t have any until the third issue.

It was Kirby’s compelling art and the fact that these characters weren’t anodyne cardboard cut-outs. In a real and a recognizable location – New York City – imperfect, raw-nerved, touchy people banded together out of tragedy, disaster and necessity to face the incredible.

In many ways, The Challengers of the Unknown (Kirby’s prototype partners-in-peril at National/DC) laid all the groundwork for the wonders to come, but the staid, almost hide-bound editorial strictures of National would never have allowed the undiluted energy of the concept to run all-but-unregulated.

Fantastic Four #1 (bi-monthly and cover-dated November 1961, by Lee, Kirby, George Klein & Christopher Rule) is crude: rough, passionate and uncontrolled excitement. Thrill-hungry kids pounced on it.

As seen in that ground-breaking premier issue, maverick scientist Reed Richards, his fiancée Sue Storm, their close friend Ben Grimm and Sue’s teenaged brother survived an ill-starred private space-shot after Cosmic rays penetrated their ship’s inadequate shielding and mutated them all.

Richards’ body became elastic, Sue gained the power to turn invisible, Johnny Storm could turn into living flame and poor, tragic Ben devolved into a shambling, rocky freak. Despite these terrifying transformations, before long the quartet had become the darlings of the modern age: celebrity stalwarts alternately saving the world and publicly squabbling shamefully…

This full-colour hardcover or paperback compendium (also available in various digital formats) collects Fantastic Four #21-30 – spanning December 1963 to September 1964.

Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos was another solid Marvel hit. Eventually its brusque and brutal star would metamorphose into the company’s answer to James Bond. Here, however, he’s a simple CIA agent seeking the team’s aid against a sinister demagogue called ‘The Hate-Monger’ in a cracking yarn with a strong message, inked by comics veteran George Roussos, under the protective nom-de-plume George Bell.

By this juncture the FF were firmly established and creators Lee & Kirby were well on the way to toppling DC/National Comics from their decades-held top spot through an engaging blend of brash, folksy and consciously contemporaneous sagas, mixing high concept, broad comedy, trenchant melodrama and breathtaking action.

Unseen since the premiere issue, #22 finally featured ‘The Return of the Mole Man!’; another full-on monster-mashing fight-fest, chiefly notable for the debut of the Invisible Girl’s newly developed powers of projecting force fields and “invisible energy”.

After an incredibly long period these would eventually make her one of the mightiest characters in the company’s pantheon…

Fantastic Four #23 heralded ‘The Master Plan of Doctor Doom!’, and introduced his frankly mediocre minions the Terrible Trio of Bull Brogin, Handsome Harry and Yogi Dakor. Even after thy were boosted by Doom’s science the goons were sub-par but the uncanny menace of “the Solar Wave” was enough to raise the hackles on my 5-year-old neck… and still does…

(Do I need to qualify that with: all of me was five but only my precious neck had developed hackles worth boasting of back then?)

Issue #24’s ‘The Infant Terrible!’ was a sterling yarn of inadvertent extra-galactic menace and misplaced innocence, as New York is besieged by a lost and wilful alien child with the power to reshape reality.

It’s followed by a two-part epic that truly defined the inherent difference between Lee & Kirby’s work and everybody else’s at that time.

Fantastic Four #25 and 26 featured a cataclysmic clash that had young heads spinning in 1964 and led directly to the Emerald Behemoth finally regaining a strip of his own. In ‘The Hulk Vs The Thing’ and concluding clash ‘The Avengers Take Over!’, a fast-paced, all-out Battle Royale resulted when the gargantuan green man-monster came to New York in search of side-kick Rick Jones, and only an injury-wracked FF stood in the way of his destructive rampage.

Highlighting a definitive moment in the character development of The Thing, the action is ramped up when a rather stiff-necked and officious, newly-constituted Avengers team horn in, claiming jurisdictional rights on “Bob” Banner (this tale is plagued with pesky continuity errors which would haunt Stan Lee for decades) and his Jaded alter ego.

Notwithstanding the bloopers, this is one of Marvel’s key moments and still a visceral, vital read.

The creators had hit on a winning formula by including their other stars in guest-shots – especially as readers could never anticipate if they would fight with or beside the home team.

‘The Search for Sub-Mariner!’ again sees the undersea anti-hero in amorous mood, and when he abducts Sue the boys called in Doctor Strange, Master of the Mystic Arts to aid them… Issue #28 is a superb team-up tale too, most notable (for me and many other older fans) for the man who replaced George Roussos.

‘We Have to Fight the X-Men!’ has the disparate teams clashing due to the machinations of Puppet Master and the Mad Thinker, but the inclusion of Chic Stone – Kirby’s most simpatico and expressive inker – elevated the art to indescribable levels of slick, seductive quality.

‘It Started on Yancy Street!’ (FF#29) begins in a low-key manner with plenty of silly basic comedy on show as the team investigate a crime wave in the slum where Ben Grimm grew up. After dodging cabbages and garbage, things get serious with the reappearance of the Red Ghost and his Super-Apes before the action quickly goes full-on Cosmic…

Abducted into space, the heroes enjoy blockbusting battle on the Moon and another dauntingly close encounter with the omnipotent Watcher

The following issue introduced evil alchemist ‘The Dreaded Diablo!’ who almost breaks up the team while casually conquering the world from his spooky Transylvanian castle. His divide and conquer strategy involved almost curing The Thing of his monstrous deformity, but alchemy, unlike friendship, proves to be fleeting and untrustworthy…

This is a truly magnificent book to read, highlighting the tales that built a comics empire. It’s actually so well-crafted that it could easily work as anybody’s introduction to the most famous family in comicbooks.

The verve, imagination and sheer enthusiasm shines through and the wonder is there for you to share. If you’ve never thrilled to these spectacular sagas then this book of marvels is your best and most economical key to another world and time.
© 1963, 1964, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Hulk: Return of the Monster


By Bruce Jones, Brian Azzarello, John Romita Jr. & Tom Palmer, Richard Corben & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-5346-7 (HB)

Bruce Banner was a military scientist accidentally caught in a gamma bomb blast of his own devising. As a result. he would unexpectedly transform into a gigantic green juggernaut of unstoppable strength and fury when distressed or surprised.

As both occasional hero and near-mindless marauding monster he rampaged across the Marvel Universe for years, finally finding his size 700 feet and a format that worked to become one of young Marvel’s most resilient and enduring features.

An incredibly popular character both in comics and myriad global media beyond, he has often undergone radical changes in scope and direction to keep his stories fresh and his exploits explosively compelling…

One of the most impressive runs of the entire canon came from noted thriller and horror writer Bruce Jones (see especially his impressive Hitchcock pastiche Somerset Holmes) who injected a stunning dose of long-neglected suspense and pure menace back into the saga, as well as tipping his hat to the peripatetic wanderings of the tormented star of the 1970s and 1980s TV series.

This hardcover and eBook re-presents issues #34-39 of The Incredible Hulk comicbook, spanning January to June 2002, and also includes precursor sidebar series Startling Stories: Banner #1-4 (from July to October of the same year) to set the scene for a terrifying new take on the relationship between Banner and his Inner Demon…

The main tale of guilt, paranoia and pursuit combines Jones’ moody, humanistic writing with the ponderously powerful pencilling of John Romita Jr. and the slickly realistic inking of Tom Palmer to stunning effect.

After decades of building up a huge supporting cast this Hulk also strips away all but the most basic remnants of the series’ lynchpins, leaving Banner and the Beast in new territory and to all intents and purposes going it alone…

Always running from the authorities and himself, Banner has finally lost all hope in the aftermath of one of the Hulk’s most appalling bouts of mindless destruction: a rampage which devastated Chicago and resulted in the death of a little boy, Ricky Myers…

We open with ‘The Morning After’ as a cold and emotionally dead Banner hides in a sleazy hotel. Here he encounters Jerome, a kid so smart that he knows joining a gang is the only thing that can keep someone with his level of intellect alive.

The desperate lad gets a glimpse at another option after he tries to rob the skinny, repressed white guy down the hall and, when Jerome gets in over his head, it is Banner not the Hulk who is the solution…

Incognito, restlessly wandering but with a mysterious online ally keeping him one step ahead of his myriad pursuers, Banner is slowly reconnecting with the humanity he has avoided ever since the monster was first created.

In the wordless, deeply moving ‘Silent Running’ (part of Marvel’s ‘Nuff Said publishing event) the fugitive narrowly escapes capture by enigmatic Men in Black at a roadside diner due to the inadvertent assistance of an autistic child, after ‘The Gang’s All Here!’ introduces a mismatched pair of over-competitive assassins hired by the secret organisation actually behind the current manhunt for Banner and the Hulk.

Both the lethal killer Slater and his rival/partner Sandra Verdugo have been co-opted by the cabal of MiBs with an unspecified interest in ramping up anti-Hulk hysteria. They definitely want Banner, but only in one piece. They also appear to have the literal power of life and death over their unwilling agents…

With Banner’s old friend and erstwhile therapist Doc Samson lured into the pursuit, the cabal makes its move in ‘You Must Remember This…’ but after the gamma-fuelled psychologist is distracted by a small child’s experience of school bullying the murderous Hulk-hunters converge and generate a colossal amount of collateral damage at the ‘Last Chance Café’, before events get totally out of hand and terrifyingly weird in concluding episode ‘Tag… You’re Dead!’

Using the theme of troubled childhoods and imagery based on the classic Frankenstein films that were such an integral part of the Jade Giant’s conceptual genesis, these tales focus on Banner and judiciously limit the use of his emerald alter ego to the point where the monster almost becomes a ghost. Ever-present but never seen (the monster is only on 21 of the 144 pages of this storyline and that includes covers, dream-sequences, flashbacks and spot illustrations) like a catastrophic Rebecca haunting a Midwestern Manderley, the Hulk is an oppressive force of calculated salvation and last resort rather than mere reader-friendly graphic destruction and gratuitous gratification.

Like all great monsters he lurks in the shadows, waiting for his moment…

Moreover, the guys pulling all those tangled strings are still waiting for their next opportunity…

One of the most beguiling and impressive Hulk yarns of all, this book offers merely one third of the complete saga but does sweeten the wait for a conclusion by delivering a stunning storm of relentless action and conspiracy from Brian Azzarello & Richard Corben in Banner.

Notionally set on alternate Earth-20017, here the monster’s rampages – in which massive loss of life are a given – are being tracked by Doc Samson, General Ross and the US Army who are actively covering up all knowledge of the Hulk.

Wracked by guilt, Banner tries to help as volunteer medic and grave digger because he’s tried to kill himself and the green devil inside won’t let him die…

Eventually after a horrific casualty count Samson’s brains trump the Hulk’s brawn and the fugitive is brought in and prepped for a lobotomy. Samson is appalled that Bruce welcomes the procedure and while trying to talk his captive out is mad privy to a most unsettling secret: one Ross and his superiors are utterly complicit in. A man of great intellect and high-minded principles, Samson makes a decision that will cause nothing but trouble…

Also included here are sketches, designs and a rundown of the cover process for Hulk #34-39, the text essay from Startling Stories: Banner #1, two promotional interviews with Bruce Jones, promo art by Romita Jr., Palmer and colourist Studio F, the script for ‘Silent Running’ and a series of covers, pages and designs from Corben’s Sketchbook.

A burst of fresh-thinking which utterly reinvigorated the character and completely refocused the series for the 21st century, these staggeringly engrossing tales are a masterpiece of the form. If you’re new to the series or looking for an excuse to jump back on, this is the book for you…
© 2001, 2002, 2018 Marvel Characters Inc. All rights reserved.

Fantastic Four Marvel Masterworks volume 2


By Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-0980-8 (HB)                    978-0-7851-3712-2 (TPB)

Fantastic Four #1 is the third most important American comicbook in the industry’s astounding history. Just ahead of it are The Brave and the Bold #28, which brought superhero teams back via the creation of the Justice League of America, and at the top Showcase #4, which introduced the Flash and therefore the Silver Age. Feel free to disagree…

After a troubled period at DC Comics – National Periodicals as it then was – and a creatively productive but disheartening time on the poisoned chalice of the Sky Masters newspaper strip (see Complete Sky Masters of the Space Force), Jack Kirby settled into his job at the small outfit that used to be the publishing powerhouse Timely/Atlas.

He churned out mystery, monster, romance and western material in a market he suspected to be ultimately doomed but, as always, did the best job possible. That quirky genre fare is now considered some of the best of its kind ever seen.

However, his fertile imagination couldn’t be suppressed for long and when the JLA caught the readership’s attention it gave him and writer/editor Stan Lee an opportunity to change the industry forever.

Depending upon who you believe, a golfing afternoon led publisher/owner Martin Goodman ordering his nephew Stan to try a series about a group of super-characters like the one DC was doing. The resulting team quickly took fans by storm. It wasn’t the powers: they’d all been seen since the beginning of the medium. It wasn’t the costumes: they didn’t have any until the third issue.

It was Kirby’s compelling art and the fact that these characters weren’t anodyne cardboard cut-outs. In a real and a recognizable location – New York City – imperfect, raw-nerved, touchy people banded together out of tragedy, disaster and necessity to face the incredible.

In many ways, The Challengers of the Unknown (Kirby’s prototype partners-in-peril at National/DC) laid all the groundwork for the wonders to come, but the staid, almost hide-bound editorial strictures of National would never have allowed the undiluted energy of the concept to run all-but-unregulated.

Fantastic Four #1 (bi-monthly and cover-dated November 1961, by Lee, Kirby, George Klein & Christopher Rule) is crude: rough, passionate and uncontrolled excitement. Thrill-hungry kids pounced on it.

As seen in that ground-breaking premier issue, maverick scientist Reed Richards, his fiancé Sue Storm, their close friend Ben Grimm and Sue’s teenaged brother survived an ill-starred private space-shot after Cosmic rays penetrated their ship’s inadequate shielding and mutated them all.

Richards’ body became elastic, Sue gained the power to turn invisible, Johnny Storm could turn into living flame and poor, tragic Ben devolved into a shambling, rocky freak. Despite these terrifying transformations, before long the quartet had become the darlings of the modern age: celebrity stalwarts alternately saving the world and publicly squabbling shamefully…

This full-colour hardcover or paperback compendium (also available in various digital formats) collects Fantastic Four #11-20, plus the first Annual, and chronologically spans February to November 1963.

We open sans preamble with more groundbreaking innovations as FF #11 offers two short stories instead of the usual book-length yarn. ‘A Visit with the Fantastic Four’ provides a behind-the-scenes travelogue and examination of our stars’ pre-superhero lives, after which ‘The Impossible Man’, proves to be a baddie-free, compellingly comedic tale about facing an unbeatable foe.

The unorthodox shenanigans are rounded off with a suitably grandiose pin-up of Prince Namor the Sub-Mariner.

FF #12 featured an early example of guest-star promotion as the team are required to help the US army capture ‘The Incredible Hulk’: a tale packed with intrigue, action and bitter irony. It’s followed by an even more momentous and game-changing episode.

‘Versus the Red Ghost and his Incredible Super Apes!’ is a cold war thriller pitting the heroic family against a Soviet scientist in the race to reach the Moon: a tale notable both for the moody Steve Ditko inking (replacing adroit Dick Ayers for one glorious month) of Kirby’s artwork and the introduction of the oxygen-rich “Blue Area of the Moon” and the omnipotent, omnipresent cosmic voyeurs called The Watchers

As the triumphant Americans rocket home, issue #14 touts the return of ‘The Sub-Mariner and the Merciless Puppet Master!’ – with one vengeful fiend made the unwitting mind-slave of the other – and adding lustre and tantalising moral ambivalence to the mighty Sea King who was to become the company’s other all-conquering antihero in months to come…

This epic was followed in turn by ‘The Mad Thinker and his Awesome Android!’ wherein a chilling war of intellects between driven super-scientists resulted in a cerebral yet all-action clash with plenty of room for smart laughs to leaven the drama. The pin-up extra this time is a candid group-shot of the entire team.

Fantastic Four #16 explored ‘The Micro-World of Doctor Doom!’ in a spectacular romp guest-starring new hero Ant-Man whilst also offering a Fantastic Four Feature Page outlining the powers and capabilities of the elastic Mister Fantastic. Despite his resounding defeat, the steel-shod villain promptly returned with more infallible, deadly traps a month later in ‘Defeated by Doctor Doom!’ Except they actually weren’t and soon sent the sinister tyrant packing…

The shape-shifting aliens who challenged the team in their second adventure returned with a new tactic in #18 as the team tackle an implacable foe equipped with their own powers in ‘A Skrull Walks Among Us!’: a potent prelude to greater, cosmos-spanning sagas still to come…

Cover-dated October 1963, Fantastic Four #19 introduced another remarkable, top-ranking super-villain as the quarrelsome quartet travel back to ancient Egypt and become ‘Prisoners of the Pharaoh!’

This time twisting tale tale has been revisited by so many writers that it’s considered one of the key stories in Marvel Universe history: introducing a future-Earth tyrant who would evolve into overarching menace Kang the Conqueror.

Another universe-rending foe debuted and was defeated by brains not brawn in FF #20 as ‘The Mysterious Molecule Man!’ briefly menaced New York before being soundly outsmarted.

The vintage wonderment concludes here with the contents of the first summer Fantastic Four Annual: a spectacular 37-page epic by Lee, Kirby & Ayers as, finally reunited with their wandering prince, the armies of Atlantis invade New York City and the rest of the world in ‘The Sub-Mariner versus the Human Race!’

A monumental tale by the standards of the time (and still today), the saga saw the FF repel the initially overwhelming undersea invasion through valiant struggle, brilliant strategy and technological innovation, as well as providing a secret history of the secretive race Homo Mermanus.

Nothing was really settled except a return to the original status quo, but the thrills are intense and unforgettable…

Also included herein are rousing pin-ups and fact file features. Interspersed by ‘A Gallery of the Fantastic Four’s Most Famous Foes!’ (powerful pin-ups of The Mole Man, Skrulls, Miracle Man, Prince Namor, Doctor Doom, Kurrgo, Master of Planet X, Puppet Master, Impossible Man, The Hulk, Red Ghost and his Indescribable Super-Apes and The Mad Thinker and his Awesome Android), you can enjoy ‘Questions and Answers about the Fantastic Four’; a diagrammatic trip ‘Inside the Baxter Building’ and a bemusing short tale ‘The Fabulous Fantastic Four meet Spider-Man!’.

This is an extended re-interpretation of the first meeting between the two most popular Marvel brands from the premiere issue of the wallcrawler’s own comic. Pencilled this time by Kirby, the dramatic duel was graced by Steve Ditko’s inking which created a truly novel and compelling look.

Some might argue that these yarns might be a little dated in tone, but they these are still classics of comic story-telling illustrated by one of the world’s greatest talents approaching his mature peak. Fast, frantic fun and a joy to read or re-read, this comprehensive, joyous introduction (or even reintroduction) to these characters is a wonderful reminder of just how good comic books can and should be.
© 1963, 2014 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Incredible Hulk Marvel Masterworks volume 6


By Roy Thomas, Herb Trimpe, Sal Buscema & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-5042-8 (HB)

As the 1970s opened the Incredible Hulk had settled into a comfortable – if always spectacularly destructive – niche. The globe-trotting formula saw tragic Bruce Banner hiding and seeking cures for his gamma-transformative curse, alternately aided or hunted by prospective father-in-law US General “Thunderbolt” Ross and a variety of guest-star heroes and villains.

Herb Trimpe had made the character his own, displaying a penchant for explosive action and an unparalleled facility for drawing technology – especially honking great ordnance and vehicles. Scripter Roy Thomas – unofficial custodian of Marvel’s burgeoning shared-universe continuity – played the afflicted Jekyll/Hyde card for maximum angst and ironic heartbreak even as he continually injected the Jade Juggernaut into the lives of other stalwarts of Marvel’s growing pantheon…

This chronologically-curated hardback and eBook compendium treat re-presents issues #121-134 corresponding to cover-dates December 1969 through December 1970 and opens – after Thomas’ Introduction shares a few intimate behind-the-scenes secrets – with Incredible Hulk #122, hotly touting ‘The Hulk’s Last Fight!’ (Thomas & Trimpe).

When the Fantastic Four advertise a cure for Banner’s condition, the fraught physicist makes his way North from Florida, with the police and army hunting him every step of the way. His quest only falters at the very last moment thanks to a clerical error…

What should have been a quiet transition and resolution instead results in a shattering clash between the Hulk and FF, but eventually the beast is subdued and the cure attempted in concluding episode ‘No More the Monster!’

Sadly, even now that Banner has complete control of his inner demon, he learns that you don’t always get what you want – especially when gamma-super-genius the Leader involves himself in the plan.

Seemingly cured of the curse of the Hulk, Bruce Banner finally marries his troubled sweetheart Betty Ross, but ‘The Rhino Says No!’ and the subsequent set-to (rather heavily finished and inked by Sal Buscema) returns him to the tragic status quo of hunted, haunted antihero perpetually on the run…

Trimpe again took up the inker’s brush for the bludgeoning battle in #125 ‘And Now, the Absorbing Man!’ after which Doctor Stephen Strange guest-stars in trans-dimensional duel with the malign Undying Ones.

‘…Where Stalks the Night-Crawler!’ is a spooky, all-action tidying-up exercise closing a saga from the good Doctor’s own cancelled title – and one which ultimately led to the formation of the outsider super-team The Defenders.

In ‘Mogol!’ (#127) the child-like, eternally-lonely Hulk is transported to the Mole Man’s subterranean realm where he thinks he’s finally found a friend, only to endure bitter disappointment once more. His subsequent subterranean pain-filled rampage threatens to destroy California (#128) when he starts ripping his way surface-ward via the San Andreas Fault. And the American authorities are compelled to call in the Big Guns.

‘And in this Corner… The Avengers!’ sees the assembled heroes seeking a solution to the problem, but they can’t hold the Green Goliath long, leading him to more trouble when ‘Again, The Glob!’ attacks. The embattled Hulk has no idea old enemy The Leader is behind the swampy assault…

Incredible Hulk #130 then sees Banner totally divorce and separate himself from the Hulk in ‘If I Kill You… I Die’, but the scientifically-implausible separation has potentially disastrous consequences for Los Angeles, if not the world, and only Iron Man can help when ‘A Titan Stalks the Tenements!’

This powerful tale introduced black ghetto kid Jim Wilson and is made doubly enjoyable by the inking wizardry of the legendary John Severin who signed on for a 3-issue stint that would eventually turn into a long-term commitment.

In #132, the Hulk is ‘In the Hands of Hydra!’ – although not for long and to their eternal regret. His casually explosive escape leaves him stranded in Mediterranean totalitarian state Morvania, an unwilling freedom fighter against the despicable dictators Draxon on the ‘Day of Thunder… Night of Death!’

Sal Buscema returned as inker for the conclusion of the tale and end of this volume as ‘Among us Walks… the Golem!’ from Incredible Hulk #134 sees revolution free Morvania with the Jade Juggernaut as the most unlikely symbol of freedom ever…

The Hulk is one of the most well-known comic characters on Earth, and these stories, as much as the movies, TV shows and action figures, are the reason why. For an uncomplicated, honestly vicarious experience of Might actually being Right, you can’t do better than these yarns, so why not Go Green?
© 1969, 1970, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Incredible Hulk Marvel Masterworks volume 5


By Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, Herb Trimpe & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-3491-6 (HB)

As the 1960s drew to a socially-divisive close, the Incredible Hulk was settling into a comfortable niche and enjoyable formula as tragic nuclear scientist Bruce Banner wandered America and the world, seeking cures for his self-inflicted gamma-transformative curse, alternately aided or hunted by prospective father-in-law US General “Thunderbolt” Ross and a variety of guest-star heroes and villains.

Writer Stan Lee was gradually distancing himself from the creative chair as he became Marvel’s publisher, and neophyte artist Herb Trimpe was increasingly making the character his own with the “standard-received” Jack Kirby-originated house art-style quickly evolving into startlingly abstract mannerism, augmented by an unmatched facility for drawing technology… especially honking great ordnance and vehicles.

And of course, as comics readers increasingly turned to monsters and supernatural themes, no one could deny the cathartic reader-release of a mighty big “Hulk Smash” moment…

This chronologically accurate hardback and eBook compendium contains Incredible Hulk #111-121, spanning January-November 1969 and opens after a charmingly self-deprecating Introduction from Trimpe.

Then it’s on to the bombastic action, as a shocking cliffhanger from the previous volume is resolved…

Umbu the Unliving was yet another extraterrestrial device left to facilitate Earth’s demise, but Banner and his green alter-ego had destroyed it with the assistance of Savage Land jungle lord Ka-Zar, albeit at the cost of Banner’s life. Now its makers come looking for the saboteurs at the behest of their tyrannical cosmic overlord, Galaxy Master in ‘Shanghaied in Space!’ (by Lee, Trimpe & Dan Adkins), using their arcane technologies to reanimate Banner’s corpse so they have a scapegoat to hand to their demonic boss…

Transported to the heart of the evil empire, ‘The Brute Battles On!’, eventually destroying the inimical energy being and sparking a revolution before being rocketed back to Earth by a grateful alien princess…

Issue #113 finds the recently returned Hulk brutally battling an upgraded Sandman in ‘Where Fall the Shifting Sands!’, before the sinister silicon villain pops right back a month later beside the Mandarin in #114’s ‘At Last I Will Have My Revenge!’; two fast-paced power-packed yarns to whet jaded (sorry, puns are my kryptonite!) appetites for the extended return of the Jade Giant’s greatest foe.

‘The Leader Lives!’ opens with the man-monster a prisoner of the US Army, when the long-believed-dead gamma genius – as smart as the Hulk is strong – taking control of the base for his own nefarious purposes.

The Eve of… Annihilation!’ reveals the Leader’s atomic Armageddon plans for our pitiful planet even as the indomitable Hulk escapes a seemingly perfect prison with the aid of the always-unpredictable Betty Ross before the saga explosively concludes in countdown-clock thriller ‘World’s End?’, notable not just for its cataclysmic dramatic conclusion, but also for Trimpe taking over the inking of his own pencils.

Incredible Hulk #118 (August 1969) depicts a duplicitous courtier at the Sub-Mariner’s sunken citadel orchestrating ‘A Clash of Titans’ (as related by Stan Lee and Trimpe) after which the green Goliath stumbles into a South American secretly country conquered by and ‘At the Mercy of… Maximus the Mad’: a two-part tale that concludes with the Roy Thomas scripted ‘On the Side of… the Evil Inhumans!’

This all-out action extravaganza sees the Hulk also fighting the Costa Salvador army, the ubiquitous moustachioed rebels, General Ross’ specialist US army forces and even a giant hypnotic robot before giving way to a moodier menace as Ol’ Greenskin returns to North America…

Wrapping up this tome is a soggy interlude in Florida where the man-monster learns ‘Within the Swamp, There Stirs… a Glob!’

Designed as tribute in equal parts to Theodore Sturgeon’s “It” and the Hillman Comics Character The Heap – who slopped his way through the back of Airboy Comics in the early 1950s – this muck-encrusted monstrosity predates both DC’s Swamp Thing and Marvel’s own Man-Thing in a tale of woeful tragedy and unrequited love when the remains of a long-dead escaped convict are accidentally irradiated and take on a shambling semblance of life.

Surely it’s just bad luck that Betty and the Hulk are in its misanthropic path?

Adding even more lustre and appeal to this tome are the cover to Incredible Hulk Annual #2 and Marie Severin’s colour-guide to #119’s cover.

This titanic tome of Hulk heroics offers visceral thrillers and chaotic clashes overflowing with dynamism, enthusiasm and sheer quality: full-on, butt-kicking, “breaking-stuff” yarns to enthral and delight the destructive eight-year-old in everyone. Just remember to read, not do…
© 1969, 2007, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Avengers Marvel Masterworks volume 9


By Roy Thomas, Harlan Ellison, John Buscema, Sal Buscema, Frank Giacoia, Herb Trimpe, Sam Grainger & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-3501-2

The Avengers always proved that putting all one’s star eggs in on single basket paid off big-time; even when all Marvel’s all-stars such as Thor, Captain America and Iron Man were absent, it merely allowed the lesser lights of the team to shine more brightly.

Of course, all the founding stars regularly featured due to a rotating, open door policy which meant that most issues included somebody’s fave-rave. The increasingly bold and impressively ambitious stories and artwork were no hindrance either.

This sturdy hardcover and eBook compilation gathers the astounding contents of Avengers issues #80-88 and a cosmic crossover from Incredible Hulk #140 spanning September 1970-June 1971): evocative, socially-informed tales which confirmed Roy Thomas as a major creative force in comics whilst simultaneously consolidating John Buscema’s status as the foremost artist of Marvel’s second generation.

Following another candid reminiscence from Thomas – unravelling the behind-the-scenes secrets of the Dawning Marvel Age in his Introduction – this epochal tome opens with the debut of the company’s first Native American costumed hero in ‘The Coming of Red Wolf!’ (Thomas, John B & Tom Palmer) as the Avengers are drawn into a highly personal and decidedly brutal clash between ruthless entrepreneur Cornelius Van Lunt and a tribe of Indians he is defrauding and persecuting.

The dramatic dilemma (heralding the team’s entry into the era of “Relevant”, socially conscious tales) divides the team and concludes with Vision, Scarlet Witch and Goliath aiding Red Wolf in concluding episode ‘When Dies A Legend!’, whilst the remaining team pursues super crime combine Zodiac and the Black Panther pursues what he believes is a personal quest beside Daredevil. (This last tale occurred in DD #69 but is not included here. You’ll need to see the equivalent Daredevil Masterworks volume [#9, I think] for that).

Sadly, the malevolent mega-mob move first and take the entire island of Manhattan ‘Hostage!’, leaving only the solitary sightless vigilante Daredevil free to save the day, after which Militant Feminism raises its disconcertingly strident head as the Wasp, Black Widow, Scarlet Witch and Madame Medusa are seduced into joining a new team called the Lady Liberators (yes, I know how that sounds now but the all-male creative team meant well…).

However, the Valkyrie who declares ‘Come on in… the Revolution’s Fine!’ had her own dark secret and sinister agenda that has nothing to do with justice or equality…

Avengers #84 featured part-time paladin Black Knight who had become addicted to the bloodthirsty hunger of his Ebony Blade, resulting in an otherworldly confrontation with alternate-Earth barbarian king Arkon and his latest paramour the Enchantress in ‘The Sword and the Sorceress!’ The resulting acrimonious clash subsequently left half the team lost in a parallel existence…

In ‘The World is Not for Burning!’ (inked by Frank Giacoia), Vision, Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver’s efforts to return home leave them stranded on an Earth where the Squadron Supreme are the World’s Greatest heroes and a solar Armageddon is only hours away…

Illustrated by Sal Buscema & Jim Mooney, ‘Brain-Child to the Dark Tower Came…!’ sees the extremely reluctant trans-Earth allies unite to save a very different world after which, back home, the Black Panther reprises his bombastic origin before taking leave of his comrades to assume the throne of his hidden African nation in ‘Look Homeward, Avenger’ (Giacoia & Sal B).

Novelist Harlan Ellison was a very vocal comics fan in the 1970s and occasionally collaborated on Marvel tales. Avengers #88 began a radical adaptation of one his best short stories, heralding ‘The Summons of Psyklop’ (Ellison, Thomas, Sal Buscema & Mooney) wherein an experiment to cure the Hulk of his destructive nature leads to the Jade Juggernaut’s abduction by a preternatural entity.

The saga concluded in Incredible Hulk #140 (Ellison, Thomas, Herb Trimpe & Sam Grainger) as ‘The Brute… That Shouted Love… at the Heart of the Atom!’ finds the man-monster experiencing truelove and idyllic peace in a sub-molecular paradise, only to lose it all when the demonic Psyklop tracks him down…

Following a reproduction of the cover of the all-reprint Avengers Annual #4, the romantic tragedy is somewhat leavened by a bonus yarn from Marvel’s spoof publication Not Brand Echh #5 (December 1967). Here Thomas, Gene Colan & John Tartaglione recount the sterling saga of ‘The Revengers vs Charlie America’, reinterpreting how – if not why – the heroes saved the Star-Spangled Simpleton of Liberty from icy entombment. Wrapping up the memorable magic is a brace of contemporary house ads and full biographies of all creative folk involved…

Thomas and John Buscema (and Sal too, actually) gloriously led Marvel’s second generation of creators in building on and consolidating Lee, Kirby and Ditko’s initial burst of comics creativity: spearheading and constructing a logical, fully functioning wonder- machine of places and events that so many others were inspired by and could add to.

These terrific tales are perfect examples of superheroes done exactly right and a pivotal step of the little company into the corporate colossus. They are also utterly fabulous stories you’ll never tire of reading
© 1970, 1971, 2015 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Incredible Hulk Marvel Masterworks volume 4


By Stan Lee, Gary Friedrich, Roy Thomas, Bill Everett, Archie Goodwin, Marie Severin, Herb Trimpe, Frank Giacoia & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2682-9 (HB)

Bruce Banner was a military scientist who was caught in a gamma bomb blast of his own devising. As a result of continual ongoing mutation, stress and other factors can cause him to transform into a giant green monster of unstoppable strength and fury.

After an initially troubled few years, the gamma-irradiated gargantuan finally found his size 700 feet and a format that worked, becoming one of young Marvel’s most popular features. After his first solo-title folded, the morose man-monster shambled around the slowly-coalescing Marvel Universe as guest star and/or villain du jour until a new home was found for him.

Covering May to December 1968, this sturdy hardback (and eBook) collection re-presents issues #103-110 of his second solo-starring series and also includes the first Incredible Hulk Annual from autumn of that year.

Following a rather incredulous and self-deprecating Introduction from artist Herb Trimpe the never-ending saga resumes. Trimpe, associated with the character for nearly a decade, began his tenure as Marie Severin’s inker in Tales to Astonish #94 and would eventually take over pencilling the Jade Juggernaut, but before that epic handover rising star Gary Friedrich scripts, Marie pencils and veteran artist Frank Giacoia inks the all-action advent of a tragic alien antagonist in #103’s ‘And Now… the Space Parasite!’: a former hero who seemingly perished after attempting to consume the Green Goliath’s abundant life energies.

‘Ring Around the Rhino!’ in #104 is another paean to the Hulk’s destructive potential and visceral appeal as the gamma-fuelled enemy agent is tasked by his cruel masters with abducting Bruce Banner before a longer plot-strand, tinged with pathos and irony, began in Incredible Hulk #105, courtesy of surprise scripters Roy Thomas and Bill Everett, ably illumined by Severin and inker George Tuska.

‘This Monster Unleashed!’ sees the Missing Link – a radioactive and violently mutating victim of Soviet aggression – dumped in New York, and easily capable of burning our dull-witted hero into glowing ashes.

The second part, ‘Above the Earth… A Titan Rages!’ – by Thomas and Archie Goodwin – was pencilled by the neophyte Trimpe over Severin’s breakdowns, with Tuska inking. Sadly, the result is rather a muddle nearly as great as the story itself since the action abruptly switches from New York to Russia after the battling behemoths are suddenly abducted by Yuri Breslov, the Soviet counterpart to Nick Fury and his agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. who promptly loses them over a rural and isolated farm collective.

The story neatly segues into a much more polished yarn with #107’s ‘Ten Rings Hath… the Mandarin’ (by Friedrich & Trimpe with wonderfully rugged inking from the great Syd Shores) as the oriental despot tries to enslave the emerald engine of destruction…

The extended epic concludes with savage success as Stan Lee returns to script and Trimpe – inked by the legendary John Severin (yep, Marie’s big brother) – pulls all the strands together in the action-packed finale ‘Monster Triumphant!’, guest-starring Nick Fury, Yuri Breslov and even Chairman Mao Tse Tung!

Cover-dated October, The Incredible Hulk Annual #1 was one of the best comics of 1968. Behind an iconic Jim Steranko cover, Friedrich, Marie Severin & Shores (with lots of last-minute inking assistance) delivered a passionate, tense and melodramatic parable of alienation that nevertheless was one of the most action-stuffed fight-fests ever depicted.

In 51 titanic pages ‘A Refuge Divided!’ sees the forlorn and perpetually lonely Jade Juggernaut stumble upon the hidden Great Refuge of genetic outsiders. The Inhumans – recovering from a recent failed coup by new players Falcona, Leonus, Aireo, Timberius, Stallior, Nebulo and their secret backer (the king’s brother Maximus the Mad) – are distracted by the Hulk’s arrival.

All too soon, suspicion and short tempers result in carnage and chaos. The band of super-rebels start the fight but it’s the immensely powerful Black Bolt who eventually battles the infuriated Hulk to a standstill…

This is the vicarious thrill taken to its ultimate, still one of the very best non-Lee-Kirby tales of that period, and the issue also provides a pictorial extra with a Marvel Masterwork Pin-up featuring 11 different versions and a challenge to identify the artists…

Back at the monthly venue, Incredible Hulk #109 takes up from the end of the Mandarin saga with the Hulk rampaging through Red China, but still without a settled creative team in place. ‘The Monster and the Man-Beast!’ was written by Stan Lee, laid out by Giacoia, pencilled by Trimpe and inked by John Severin, as the Hulk trashes the Chinese Army and accidentally interferes with a Red super-missile…

The upshot is that the man-monster is hurtled into space and blasted into the Antarctic paradise known as the Savage Land. This preserve of dinosaurs and cavemen is a visually perfect home for the Hulk and the addition of Tarzan analogue Ka-Zar, and a primitive death-cult worshipping an alien device designed to destroy the world, ramps up the tension nicely.

The tale and this edition wrap up with the attack of ‘Umbu the Unliving!’ (Lee, Trimpe & John Severin) as yet another extraterrestrial device left to facilitate Earth’s demise goes into overkill mode. Thankfully Banner and his green alter-ego dispatch it with Ka-Zar’s assistance, albeit at the cost of Banner’s life.

As they said at the time “To Be Hulkinued!”…

Adding even more deal appeal to this book is a stunning selection of comedy sketches and cartoons devised by the infamously puckish Marie Severin to cheer up her fellow Bullpen pals as well as Hulk original art pages and covers by her, brother John, Trimpe, Giacoia, and Steranko – plus her unused cover for that iconic Annual.

This titanic tome of Hulk heroics offers visceral thrillers and chaotic clashes overflowing with dynamism, enthusiasm and sheer quality: tales crucial to later, more cohesive adventures. Even at their most hurried, these epics offer an abundance of full-on, butt-kicking, “breaking-stuff” catharsis to delight the destructive eight-year-old in all of us.
© 1968, 2007, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Incredible Hulk Marvel Masterworks volume 3


By Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Gary Friedrich, Marie Severin, Bill Everett, John Buscema, Gil Kane, Jerry Grandenetti & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-6762-4 (TPB)

Bruce Banner was a military scientist who was caught in a gamma bomb blast. As a result of continual ongoing mutation, stress and other factors can cause him to transform into a giant green monster of unstoppable strength and fury.

After an initially troubled few years, the gamma-irradiated gargantuan finally found his size 700 feet and a format that worked, becoming one of young Marvel’s most popular features. After his first solo-title folded, the morose man-monster shambled around the slowly-coalescing Marvel Universe as guest star and/or villain du jour until a new home was found for him.

Spanning June 1966 to April 1968, this trade paperback (and eBook) volume covers his years as co-star of Tales to Astonish – specifically issues #80-101 – and includes the first issue of his well-deserved new solo vehicle Incredible Hulk #102.

Following an Introduction by Stan Lee the saga resumes with TtA #80 as the Jade Juggernaut is dragged into an under-earth civil war after not-so-immortal old enemy Tyrannus resurfaces in ‘They Dwell in the Depths!’

Seeing the rampaging Hulk as a weapon of last resort in a bitter war against the Mole Man, the toppled tyrant abducts the emerald brute to Subterranea, but still loses his last bombastic battle. When Hulk returns topside, he promptly shambles into a plot by the insidious Secret Empire in #81’s ‘The Stage is Set!’

The convoluted mini-epic spread into a number of other Marvel series, especially Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Sub-Mariner (who was at that time sharing Tales to Astonish with Ol’ Greenskin).

Here, however, the Hulk is targeted by the Empire’s hired gun Boomerang as they strive to steal the military’s new Orion missile…

As the epic unfolds ‘The Battle Cry of the Boomerang’, ‘Less then Monster, More than Man!’, and ‘Rampage in the City!’ weave potent strands of sub-plot into a gripping mosaic which indicated to the evolving reader just how close-knit the Marvel Universe was becoming.

Obviously, such tight coordination between series caused a few problems as art for the final episode is credited to “almost the whole blamed Bullpen” (which to my jaded eyes is mostly Jerry Grandenetti). During that climactic clash the Hulk marauds through the streets of New York City in what I can’t help but feel is a padded, unplanned conclusion…

Everything’s back on track with #85 however, as John Buscema & John Tartaglione step in to illustrate ‘The Missile and the Monster!’ with yet another seditious spy diverting the experimental Orion rocket directly onto the city. The obvious stylistic discomfort the realism-heavy Buscema experienced with the Hulk’s appearance has mostly faded by second chapter ‘The Birth of… the Hulk-Killer!’, although the return to the strip of veteran inker Mike Esposito also helps.

As obsessed Hulk-hunter and fiery US General “Thunderbolt” Ross foolishly deploys a weapon designed by gamma genius The Leader to capture the Grim Green Giant, the old soldier has no inkling what his rash act will lead to, nor that Boomerang is lurking behind the scenes to make things even hotter for the Hulk…

Issue #87’s concluding episode ‘The Humanoid and the Hero!’ depicts Ross’ regret as the Hulk-Killer abruptly expands his remit to include everybody in his path and Gil Kane takes up the green pencil for #88 as ‘Boomerang and the Brute’ shows both the assassin and the Hulk’s savage power uniformly unleashed…

Tales to Astonish #89 once more sees the Hulk become an unwilling weapon as a nigh-omnipotent alien subverts and sets him to purging humanity from the Earth.

‘…Then, There Shall Come a Stranger!’, ‘The Abomination!’ and ‘Whosoever Harms the Hulk…!’ comprise a taut and evocative thriller-trilogy which also includes the origin of the malevolent Hulk-counterpart who would play such a large part in later tales of the ill-fated Bruce Banner.

A new narrative tone comes with ‘Turning Point!’ (TtA #92, June 1967, by the superb and criminally underrated Marie Severin & inker Frank Giacoia), depicting the Gamma Giant hunted through a terrified, locked-down New York City as a prelude to a cataclysmic guest-battle in the next issue.

Back then, the Hulk didn’t really team-up with visiting stars, he just got mad and smashed them. Such was certainly the case when he became ‘He Who Strikes the Silver Surfer!’; ironically battling with and driving off a fellow outcast who held the power to cure him of his atomic affliction…

Herb Trimpe, associated with the character for nearly a decade, began his tenure as Severin’s inker with #94’s ‘To the Beckoning Stars!’: the initial instalment of a terrific 3-part shocker which saw the Hulk transported to the interstellar retreat of the High Evolutionary to futilely battle against recidivist beast-men on ‘A World He Never Made!’, before escaping a feral bloodbath in #96’s ‘What Have I Created?’.

Returned to Earth by the now god-like Evolutionary, the Hulk was gearing up to the next being change in his life.

Returned to Earth, the Green Goliath fell into a high-tech plot to overthrow America in ‘The Legions of: the Living Lightning!’, but the subversives’ beguilement of the monstrous outcast and conquest of a US military base in ‘The Puppet and the Power’ soon faltered and failed ‘When the Monster Wakes!’: his last inked by John Tartaglione.

Tales to Astonish was an anthological “split-book”, with two star-features sharing billing: a strategy caused by Marvel’s having entered into a highly restrictive distribution deal to save the company during a publishing crisis at the end of the 1950s.

At the time when the Marvel Age Revolution took fandom by storm, the company was confined to a release schedule of 16 titles each month, necessitating some doubling-up as characters became popular enough to carry their own strip. Fellow misunderstood misanthrope the Sub-Mariner had proved an ideal thematic companion since issue #70, and to celebrate the centenary of the title, issue #100 featured a breathtaking “who’s strongest?” clash between the blockbusting anti-heroes as the Puppet Master decreed ‘Let There be Battle!’ and Lee, Severin & Dan Adkins made it so.

The next issue was the last. With number #102 the comic would be redesignated The Incredible Hulk and the character’s success was assured. Before that, however, Lee, Severin & Giacoia set the scene with ‘Where Walk the Immortals!’ as Loki, Norse god of Evil transported the monster to Asgard in an effort to distract all-father Odin’s attention from his other schemes.

The premiere issue (#102) of The Incredible Hulk launched with an April, 1968 cover-date.

‘…This World Not His Own!’ included a rehashed origin for the Hulk and completed and concluded the Asgardian adventure with a troll invasion of Asgard with arch-villains Enchantress and the Executioner leading the charge. The issue was written by rising star Gary Friedrich, drawn by Severin and inked by veteran artist George Tuska. It was only the start of a big, bold and brutally enthralling things to come…

To Be Continued…

Adding even more lustre and appeal to this tome is a selection of original art covers by Everett, Kane and Severin…

This titanic tome of Hulk heroics offers visceral thrillers and chaotic clashes overflowing with dynamism, enthusiasm and sheer quality: tales crucial to later, more cohesive adventures, and even at their most hurried, the efforts of Kirby, Everett, Kane, Buscema, Severin and the rest in full-on, butt-kicking, “breaking-stuff” mode is a thrill to delight the destructive eight-year-old in everyone.

Hulk Smash(ing)!
© 1966, 1967, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

The Incredible Hulk Epic Collection volume 2: The Hulk Must Die


By Stan Lee, Gary Friedrich, Steve Ditko, Jack Kirby, John Romita, Bill Everett, Gil Kane, Bob Powell, John Buscema, Mike Esposito, Jerry Grandenetti, Marie Severin, Herb Trimpe & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-0445-6

Bruce Banner was a military scientist who was caught in a gamma bomb blast. As a result of ongoing mutation, stress and other factors can cause him to transform into a giant green monster of unstoppable strength and fury.

After an initially troubled few years the gamma-irradiated gargantuan finally found his size 700 feet and a format that worked, becoming one of young Marvel’s most popular features. After his first solo-title folded, The Hulk shambled around the slowly-coalescing Marvel Universe as guest star and/or villain du jour until a new home was found for him and this trade paperback (and eBook) volume covers his years as co-star of Tales to Astonish; specifically issues #60-96, spanning October 1964 to October 1967, and even includes a silly spoof yarn from Not Brand Echh #3.

Way back then, the trigger for the Hulk’s second chance was a reprinting of his origin in the giant collection Marvel Tales Annual #1 (the beginning of the company’s inspired policy of keeping early tales in circulation and which did so much to make fervent fans out of casual latecomers). Thanks to reader response, Ol’ Greenskin was awarded a back-up strip in a failing title…

Giant-Man was the star turn in Tales to Astonish, but by mid-1964 the strip was visibly floundering. In issue #59 the Master of Many Sizes was used to introduce his forthcoming co-star in a colossal punch-up, setting the scene for the next issue wherein the Green Goliath’s own feature began.

‘The Incredible Hulk’ (TtA #60) opens with Banner still working for General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross, despite the military martinet’s deep disgust and distrust of the puny milksop who had won his daughter’s heart. Aloof and standoffish, Bruce keeps secret his astounding condition: an affliction which subjects him to uncontrollable transformations into a rampaging, if well-intentioned, engine of destruction.

The 10-page instalments were uncharacteristically set in the Arizona/New Mexico deserts, not New York, and espionage and military themes were the narrative backdrop of these adventures.

Lee scripted, Ditko drew and comics veteran George Roussos – as “George Bell” – provided the ink art. The first episode details how an anonymous spy steals an unstoppable suit of robotic armour built by the radiation-obsessed Banner, and concludes with a shattering battle in the next instalment as the Hulk is ‘Captured at Last!’

Cliffhanger endings such as the exhausted Gamma Giant’s imprisonment by Ross’s military units at the end of the yarn would be instrumental in keeping readers onboard and enthralled. Next chapter ‘Enter… the Chameleon!’ has plenty of action and suspense as the spy infiltrates Ross’ command, but the real punch is the final panel, hinting at the mastermind behind all the spying and skulduggery. The enigmatic Leader would become the Hulk’s ultimate and antithetical nemesis…

The minor Spider-Man villain works well as a returning foe; his disguise abilities an obvious threat in a series based on a weapons scientist working for the US military during the Cold War. Even the Leader himself has dubious connections to the sinister Soviets – when he isn’t trying to conquer the world for himself.

Preceded by a titanic Jack Kirby Marvel Masterwork Pin-up of the Green Goliath, ‘A Titan Rides the Train!’ (Astonish #63, January 1965) provides an origin for the super-intellectual menace whilst setting up a fresh subplot wherein new cast addition Major Glen Talbot begins to suspect Banner of being a traitor. The action comes when the Leader tries to steal Banner’s new anti-H-bomb device from a moving freight locomotive….

‘The Horde of Humanoids!’ features the return of guilt-stricken former sidekick Rick Jones who uses his Avengers connections to obtain a pardon for the incarcerated Banner just by letting the American President in on the secret of the Hulk! Ah, simpler times!

Free again, Banner joins Talbot on a remote island to test his hotly sought-after atomic device only to be attacked by the Leader’s artificial warriors – providing a fine example of Ditko’s unique manner of staging a super-tussle.

The chaotic clash continues into the next issue when Ayers assumes the inking and Banner is taken prisoner by those darn Commies. ‘On the Rampage against the Reds!’ sees the Hulk go ballistic behind the Iron Curtain: a satisfyingly gratuitous crusade that spans three issues with #66 – ‘The Power of Doctor Banner’, inked by Vince Colletta and ‘Where Strides the Behemoth’ in #67, (inked by Frank Giacoia), cumulatively exhibiting the brute’s shattering might.

His Commie-Busting fury finally expended, the Hulk reverts to human form and is captured by Mongolian bandits who see a chance to make lots of ransom money…

Jack Kirby returned as illustrator – supplemented by Mike (“Mickey Demeo”) Esposito – in Tales to Astonish #68. ‘Back from the Dead!’ sees plucky Glen Talbot extricate the tragic scientist only to lose him again on the way back to America. Even so, Banner falls again into military custody and is ordered to activate his Atomic Absorbatron for one last test.

Yet again the process is interrupted by the Leader’s attacking Humanoids, but this time the Veridian Villain succeeds and the Hulk is ‘Trapped in the Lair of the Leader!’ …but only until the US Army bursts in…

Issue #70 saw Giant-Man benched and replaced by the Sub-Mariner, making Tales to Astonish a title dedicated to aggressive, savage anti-heroes. Increasingly the Hulk stories reflected this shift, and ‘To Live Again!’ sees the furious Leader launch a 500-foot tall Humanoid against the local US missile base, with the Jade Giant caught in the middle.

Kirby reduced his input to layouts and Esposito handles the lion’s share of the art with #71’s ‘Like a Beast at Bay’: a minor turning point with the Hulk actually joining forces with the Leader whilst ‘Within the Monster Dwells a Man!’ then has Major Talbot getting ever-closer to uncovering Banner’s dark secret.

‘Another World, Another Foe!’ (with the legendary Bob Powell pencilling over Kirby’s layouts) details how the Leader dispatches Hulk to The Watcher’s homeworld to steal an ultimate weapon, just as an “unbeatable” intergalactic rival arrives. ‘The Wisdom of the Watcher’ descends to all-out, brutal action with a shocking climax, and is followed by TtA#75’s conclusion: an abrupt return to Earth and to basics as the rampaging Hulk falls victims to one of Banner’s most bizarre atomic devices…

‘Not all my Power Can Save Me!’ sees the man-monster helplessly hurled into a devastated dystopian future, and in ‘I, ‘Against a World!’ (with pencils by Gil Kane moonlighting as “Scott Edward”), the devastation is compounded by a doom-drenched duel with time-lost Asgardian immortal The Executioner.

A true milestone occurred in Tales to Astonish #77 when the tragic physicist’s dread secret is finally exposed. Magnificently illustrated by John Romita (the elder, and still over Kirby layouts), ‘Bruce Banner is the Hulk!’ concludes the time-travel tale and reveals the tragic horror of the scientist’s condition to the military and the general public.

It didn’t make him any less hunted or haunted, but at least now the soldiery were in an emotional tizzy whilst trying to obliterate him.

With #78, Bill Everett began a short but vividly evocative run as penciler (Kirby remaining on layouts throughout). To his very swift and last regrets, megalomaniacal scientist Dr. Zaxon tries to steal the Gamma Monsters’s bio-energy in ‘The Hulk Must Die!’ Before his body is even cold, follow-up ‘The Titan and the Torment!’ propels the fugitive gargantuan into a bombastic battle against recently Earth-exiled Olympian man-god Hercules.

Losing a desperate war with fellow subterranean despot Mole Man, not-so-immortal Tyrannus resurfaced in ‘They Dwell in the Depths!’ Seeing the Hulk as a weapon of last resort, he abducts the man-brute to Subterranea, but still loses his last battle and when Hulk returns topside he shambles into a plot by the insidious Secret Empire in #81’s ‘The Stage is Set!’

The convoluted mini-epic spread into a number of other Marvel series, especially Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Sub-Mariner. Here, however, the monster is targeted by the Empire’s hired gun Boomerang as they strive to steal the military’s new Orion missile…

As the epic unfolds ‘The Battle Cry of the Boomerang’, ‘Less then Monster, More than Man!’, and ‘Rampage in the City!’ wove strings of sub-plot into a gripping whole which indicated to the evolving reader just how close-knit the Marvel Universe was.

Obviously such tight coordination between series caused a few problems as art for the final episode is credited to “almost the whole blamed Bullpen” (which to my jaded eyes is mostly Jerry Grandenetti). During that climax the Hulk is marauding through the streets of New York City in what I can’t help but feel is a padded, unplanned conclusion…

Everything’s back on track with #85 however, as John Buscema and John Tartaglione step in to illustrate ‘The Missile and the Monster!’ as yet another spy diverts the experimental Orion rocket onto the city. The obvious discomfort the realism-heavy Buscema experienced with the Hulk’s appearance has mostly faded by second chapter ‘The Birth of… the Hulk-Killer!’, although the return of veteran inker Mike Esposito to the strip also helps.

As General Ross releases a weapon designed by the Leader to capture the Grim Green Giant, the old soldier has no inkling what his rash act will lead to, nor that Boomerang is lurking behind the scenes to make things even hotter for the Hulk…

Issue #87’s concluding part ‘The Humanoid and the Hero!’ depicts Ross’ regret as the Hulk-Killer expands his remit to include everybody in his path and Gil Kane returns for #88 as ‘Boomerang and the Brute’ shows both the assassin and the Hulk’s savage power.

Tales to Astonish #89 once more sees the Hulk become an unwilling weapon as a nigh-omnipotent alien subverts and sets him to purging humanity from the Earth.

‘…Then, There Shall Come a Stranger!’, ‘The Abomination!’ and ‘Whosoever Harms the Hulk…!’ comprise a taut and evocative thriller-trilogy which also includes the origin of the malevolent Hulk counterpart who would play such a large part in later tales of the ill-fated Bruce Banner.

A new narrative tone comes with ‘Turning Point!’ (TtA #92, June 1967) by the superb and criminally underrated Marie Severin and inker Frank Giacoia, depicting the Jade Giant hunted through a terrified New York City as a prelude to a cataclysmic guest-battle in the next issue. Back then, the Hulk didn’t really team-up with visiting stars, he just got mad and smashed them. Such was certainly the case when he became ‘He Who Strikes the Silver Surfer!’; ironically battling with and driving off a fellow outcast who held the power to cure him of his atomic affliction.

Herb Trimpe, associated with the character for nearly a decade, began his tenure as Marie Severin’s inker with #94’s ‘To the Beckoning Stars!’: the initial instalment of a terrific 3-part shocker which found the Hulk transported to the interstellar retreat of the High Evolutionary to battle against recidivist beast-men on ‘A World He Never Made!’ before escaping a feral bloodbath in #96’s ‘What Have I Created?’.

Returned to Earth by the now god-like Evolutionary, the Hulk was gearing up to the next being change in his life.

To Be Continued…

Adding even more lustre and appeal to this tome are a bevy of intriguing extras, starting with a not-so-serious alternative back-story in ‘The Origin of Brucie Banter… and Friend’, by Gary Friedrich & Severin from spoof mag Not Brand Echh #3 (October 1967).

That outing of the “Inedible Bulk” then segues into rare pencil art from Ditko, original pages by Kirby & Everett, Buscema & Tartaglione, Kane and Severin & Trimpe; T-shirt and sweatshirt designs by Kirby, Sol Brodsky & Joe Sinnott from 1965 and 1966 plus house ads and Kirby’s cover from Tales to Astonish #77 modified by painter Richard Isanove and used to front Marvel Masterworks: The Hulk volume 2.

This titanic tome of Hulk heroics is occasionally hit-and-miss, with visceral thrillers and plain dumb nonsense running together, but the enthusiasm and sheer quality of the awesome artistic endeavours should go a long way to mitigating most of the downside. These tales are key to the later, more cohesive adventures, and even at their worst the work of Kirby, Ditko, Everett, Kane, Buscema, Severin and the rest in full-on, butt-kicking, “breaking-stuff” mode is a thrill to delight the destructive eight-year-old in everyone. Hulk Smash(ing)!
© 1964, 1965, 1966, 1967, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Incredible Hulk Masterworks volume 2


By Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, Jack Kirby, John Romita, Bill Everett, Gil Kane, Bob Powell & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-5883-7

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Epic Evergreen Entertainment… 9/10

Bruce Banner was a military scientist who was caught in a gamma bomb blast. As a result of ongoing mutation, stress and other factors can cause him to transform into a giant green monster of unstoppable strength and fury.

After an initially troubled few years the gamma-irradiated gargantuan finally found his size 700 feet and a format that worked, becoming one of young Marvel’s most popular features. After his first solo-title folded, The Hulk shambled around the slowly-coalescing Marvel Universe as guest star and/or villain du jour until a new home was found for him and this second trade paperback (or eBook) volume covers his first few years as co-star of Tales to Astonish; specifically issues #59-79, spanning September 1964 to May 1966.

Way back then, the trigger for the Hulk’s second chance was a reprinting of his origin in the giant collection Marvel Tales Annual #1 (the beginning of the company’s inspired policy of keeping early tales in circulation and which did so much to make fervent fans out of casual latecomers). Thanks to reader response, Greenskin was awarded a back-up strip in a failing title…

Giant-Man was the star turn in Tales to Astonish, but by mid-1964 the strip was visibly floundering. In issue #59 – and kicking off the all-out action here with absolutely no preamble – the Master of Many Sizes is tricked by old foe the Human Top into battling the still-at-large man-monster in ‘Enter: The Hulk’.

Crafted by Stan Lee, Dick Ayers & Paul Reinman the clash is little more than a colossal punch-up, setting the scene for the next issue wherein the Green Goliath’s own feature began.

Following a full-page house ad for the debuting solo feature,‘The Incredible Hulk’ (TtA #60, October 1964)) opens with Bruce Banner still working for General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross, despite the military martinet’s deep disgust and distrust of the puny milksop who had won his daughter’s heart. Banner is still aloof and standoffish, keeping secret his astounding condition: an affliction which subjects him to uncontrollable transformations into a rampaging, if well-intentioned, engine of destruction.

The 10-page instalments were uncharacteristically set in the Arizona/New Mexico deserts, not New York, and espionage and military themes were the narrative backdrop of these adventures.

Lee scripted, Ditko drew and comics veteran George Roussos – under the pseudonym George Bell – provided the ink art. The first tale details how an anonymous spy steals an unstoppable suit of robotic armour built by the radiation-obsessed Banner, which concludes with a shattering battle in the next episode ‘Captured at Last!’

Cliffhanger endings such as the exhausted Hulk’s imprisonment by Ross’s military units at the end of the yarn would be instrumental in keeping readers onboard and enthralled. The next chapter ‘Enter… the Chameleon’ has plenty of action and suspense as the spy infiltrates Ross’ command, but the real stinger is the final panel that hints at the mastermind behind all the spying and skulduggery – the enigmatic Leader – who would become the Hulk’s ultimate and antithetical nemesis.

The minor Spider-Man villain works well as a returning foe, his disguise abilities an obvious threat in a series based on a weapons scientist working for the US military during the Cold War. Even the Leader himself has dubious connections to the sinister Soviets – when he wasn’t trying to conquer the world for himself.

Preceded by a titanic Jack Kirby Marvel Masterwork Pin-up of the Green Goliath, ‘A Titan Rides the Train!’ (Astonish #63, January 1965) provides an origin for the super-intellectual menace whilst setting up a fresh subplot wherein new cast addition Major Glen Talbot begins to suspect Banner of being a traitor. The action comes when the Leader tries to steal Banner’s new anti-H-bomb device from a moving train….

The next episode ‘The Horde of Humanoids!’ features the return of guilt-stricken sidekick Rick Jones who uses his Avengers connections to obtain a pardon for the incarcerated Banner just by letting the American President in on the secret of the Hulk! Ah, simpler times!

Free again, Banner joins Talbot on a remote island to test his hotly sought-after atomic device only to be attacked by the Leader’s artificial warriors – providing a fine example of Ditko’s unique manner of staging a super-tussle.

The battle continues into the next issue when Ayers assumes the inks and Banner is taken prisoner by those darn Commies. ‘On the Rampage against the Reds!’ sees the Hulk go wild behind the Iron Curtain: a satisfyingly gratuitous crusade that spans #66 – ‘The Power of Doctor Banner’ inked by Vince Colletta – and ‘Where Strides the Behemoth’ (#67, and inked by Frank Giacoia).

His Commie-Busting fury finally expended the Hulk reverts to human form and is captured by Mongolian bandits who see a chance to make lots of ransom money…

Jack Kirby returned as illustrator – supplemented by Mike (“Mickey Demeo”) Esposito – in Tales to Astonish #68. ‘Back from the Dead!’ sees plucky Glen Talbot help extricate the tragic scientist – although he loses him again on the way back to America. Even so, Banner falls again into military custody and is ordered to activate his Atomic Absorbatron for one last test.

Yet again the process is interrupted by the Leader’s attacking Humanoids, but this time the Veridian Villain succeeds and the Hulk is ‘Trapped in the Lair of the Leader!’ …but only until the US Army bursts in…

Issue #70 saw Giant-Man replaced by the Sub-Mariner, making Tales to Astonish a title typified by aggressive, savage anti-heroes. Increasingly the Hulk stories reflected this shift, and ‘To Live Again!’ sees the furious Leader launch a 500-foot tall Humanoid against the local US missile base, with the Jade Giant caught in the middle.

Kirby reduced his input to layouts and Esposito handles the lion’s share of the art with #71’s ‘Like a Beast at Bay’: a minor turning point with the Hulk actually joining forces with the Leader. Next episode ‘Within the Monster Dwells a Man!’ then has Major Talbot getting ever-closer to uncovering Banner’s dark secret.

‘Another World, Another Foe!’ (with the great Bob Powell pencilling over Kirby’s layouts) details how the Leader dispatches Hulk to The Watcher’s homeworld to steal an ultimate weapon, just as an “unbeatable” intergalactic rival arrives. ‘The Wisdom of the Watcher’ resorts to all-out, brutal action with a shocking climax, and is followed by TtA #75’s return to Earth and to basics as the rampaging Hulk falls victims to one of Banner’s most bizarre atomic devices…

‘Not all my Power Can Save Me!’ sees the man-monster helplessly hurled into a devastated dystopian future, and in ‘I, ‘Against a World!’ (featuring pencils by Gil Kane moonlighting as “Scott Edward”) the devastation is compounded by a fierce duel with the time-lost Asgardian immortal The Executioner.

A true milestone occurred in Tales to Astonish #77 when the tragic physicist’s dread secret is finally exposed. Magnificently illustrated by John Romita (the elder, and still over Kirby layouts) ‘Bruce Banner is the Hulk!’ concluded the time-travel tale and revealed the tragic horror of the scientist’s condition to the military and the general public.

It didn’t make him any less hunted or haunted, but at least now the soldiery were in an emotional tizzy when they tried to destroy him.

With #78, Bill Everett began a short but lovely run as art-man (Kirby remaining on layouts throughout). To his very swift and last regrets, megalomaniacal scientist Dr. Zaxon tries to steal and tap the Gamma Monsters’s bio-energy in ‘The Hulk Must Die!’ and before his body is even cold, follow-up ‘The Titan and the Torment!’ conclude proceedings here with a bombastic battle against recently Earth-exiled Olympian man-god Hercules.

Although some of these adventures might seem a bit hit-and-miss, with visceral suspenseful thrillers and plain dumb nonsense running together, the enthusiasm and sheer quality of the artistic endeavour should go a long way to mitigating most of the downside. These tales are key to the later, more cohesive, adventures, and even at their worst – or most anonymised – the magic of Kirby, Ditko, Everett, Kane, Powell and the rest in full butt-kicking, “breaking-stuff” mode is an unadorned thrill to delight the destructive 8-year-old in everyone.

Hulk Smash(ing)!
© 1964, 1965, 1966, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.