Before the Green Goliath, there was the Gray Gargoyle. Is he MAN or MONSTER… or is he BOTH? Your Major Spoilers (Retro) Review of The Incredble Hulk #1 awaits!
Writer: Stan Lee
Penciler: Jack Kirby
Inker: Paul Reinman
Colorist: Stan Goldberg
Letterer: Ray Holloway/Artie Simek
Editor: Stan Lee
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Cover Price: 12 Cents
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $100,000.00
Previously in The Incredible Hulk: Always a sucker for a literary reference, Stan Lee’s creation of Bruce Banner and his alter ego was reputedly inspired by ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’, with a touch of Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’. Add in the fact that the newly minted Thing of the Fantastic Four was clearly the fandom’s favorite FFer, and the concept of a monster/hero seemed like a natural. We open in the desert of New Mexico, where a strange tower bearing a device identified as ‘The Incredible G-Bomb’ awaits testing. A few miles away in an underground bunker the man behind the weapon awaits the go-ahead to test his life’s work, unaware that a Communist spy is part of his support team. Igor The Spy wants access to Dr. Bruce Banner’s secret formulas, but Banner refuses, until he is suddenly distracted by a car entering the testing zone! Banner orders Igor to hold the countdown and rushes out to find out what’s going on…
Banner awakens in quarantine, along with the young mand, Rick Jones, who thanks him for saving his life, the first person to ever do anything nice for him. Of course, the effects of a full-strength blast of gamma radiation is an unpredictable beast, and even though Dr. Banner seems fine, things change as night begins to fall.
There’s a very clear Frankenstein element to these first in-story Hulk panels, with Kirby’s art delivering the creature’s raw power effortlessly. You can also see the printing issues with the original gray color-scheme in action, which would lead to bright green skin in his second apperance, as his coloring is very odd and muddy here and throughout the issue. Smashing his way out of the bunker, the creature flees into the night, evading the police and the military in a paranoid run for the hills. Rick follows him, even helping him to find the cottage where the monster knows he can find the traitorous Igor.
I really love the three-panel sequence of the crushed revolver there, showing off the Hulk’s power once again and making a quick moment super-dramatic. The monster returns to his normal form just as dawn breaks and General Thunderbolt Ross’ M.P.’s storm the cabin, in search of the monster Ross has dubbed The Hulk. Ross’ daughter Betty realizes that something is wrong with Banner, offering to help if she can, but he’s too preoccupied with what might happen at nightfall, when his hulking alter-ego returns. And then, there’s the matter of young Igor.
Contacting his handlers, reports his failures, which enrages his spymaster, the twisted mutant known as The Gargoyle, who believes that his own power rivals The Hulk’s. (That’s a statement that will definitely require some attribution, by the way.) Gargoyle decides to take matters into his own hands, tracking down Banner and holding him at gunpoint in order to get the secrets of the Gamma-Bomb, enslaving the monster’s mind with his special bullets… or something? It’s all very unclear, but as they race across time zones in his supersonic aircraft, the sun triggers Hulk’s transformation back into Banner, who has an offer Gargoyle can’t refuse.
We also see an example of the comic-book style realism of the early Marvel Universe as, once he is no longer mutated, Gargoyle tells off his boss, the actual first secretary of the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev. Gargoyle sends Banner and Jones back to the U.S. in his rocket before committing gleeful, semi-heroic suicide by blowing up his lair and a horde of KGB agents with it. It’s a bit nonsensical, to be honest, and there’s a reason that later retellings would focus more on the body-horror and psychological trauma of Banner’s situation than the melodrama of the Communist spies. Still, The Incredibly Hulk #1 gets a lot of the tone right from the get-go, and Kirby’s art pairs with Stan Lee’s robust dialogue to make for a story well-worth its notoriety, earning 4 out of 5 stars overall. At this point, Kirby could make pretty much anything work visually, and Stan could make it fun to read, so there’s a lot to love about this comic.
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THE INCREDIBLE HULK #1
It's the era where everything Kirby does is fascinating, and for all the moribund melodrama of the Russian spy subplot, there's a lot to like here.