Friday, December 2, 2011

Stepbrothers -- Fantastic Four #25

Fantastic Four
#25 (April 1964)

"The Hulk vs. The Thing!"
Stan Lee-Jack Kirby/George Bell

Karen: I think we all felt a little cheated with Fantastic Four #12; we really didn't get the knock-down, drag-out fight we all wanted to see between the Hulk and the Thing. Well, get ready, because here it comes!

Karen: I have to say, I'm always taken back by how crude Kirby's art was at this stage. Although the dynamism is there, it is rough and, at times, I almost can't look at it. But the stor
y still proves to be an exciting one.

Doug: Certainly w
e're not too far removed from the Atlas era, and I think Jack's art was stuck there. But as we all know, those pencils would enjoy a meteoric rise once under the influence of Vinnie Colletta and Joe Sinnott (although Vinnie was not a good fit for Kirby on the FF).

Karen: As I mentioned in a comment on
another post the other day, it's like night and day once Sinnott started regularly inking Kirby. I like Colletta on Thor, but agree he was not the best fit for Kirby on FF. That was Sinnott. So, on with our story: we start at the Baxter Building, where Reed is trying to get the Thing to drink a serum he has "accidentally" developed, and which he believes will transform his friend back into Ben Grimm forever. But the obstinate Thing refuses to take it -he instead smashes it! Reed is furious with Ben, but Ben fears that his girlfriend Alicia loves the Thing, not Ben.
Doug: How about that opening splash, with Ben literally climbing the walls, and what the heck was Sue doing on the floor? Additionally, we see Johnny make a flame lasso -- that was a gimmick Kirby had employed in our previous review of FF #12. It's interesting that Ben's insecurities in these days oscillate between manifestations of rage, self-loathing, and intense depression. His character was really being molded in these first two years.
Karen: Who should show up but Alicia, carrying the day's paper. It says that the Avengers are seeking the Hulk, who has disappeared and been replaced by Captain America. Cut to New Mexico, where the green goliath carjacks a truck. Curled up in the back, the Hulk transforms back into - Bob Banner? Yes, Bob Banner! Hey, you try writing a whole line of comics and keeping all the names straight. After fleeing a road block, Banner agonizes over why he keeps turning into the Hulk -and then turns into the Hulk, and jumps off in search of his desert lab.

Doug: The only "benefit of the doubt" that I can toss Stan's way is this: wasn't the Hulk's alter ego Robert Bruce Banner? I know in the television series he was David Bruce Banner, but I'm thinking in the Silver Age his first name was at one point Robert. But really, no one caught that? And didn't Stan pound it into the ground in those first few panels?

Karen: If I recall correctly, they added the 'Robert' after this issue, to sort of explain away the mistake. I could be wrong but I thought that was the story. Next we look in on the Avengers, who have been tracking down thei
r former team-mate. They discover the truck he was riding in in New Mexico and wonder what he's up to. Rick Jones comments that the Hulk must be heading back to his lab, which elicits puzzled responses from Cap and Iron Man, who can't imagine the brutish Hulk doing anything that involves brain power. But indeed, the Hulk IS in his lab, and pretty much tearing up the place, due to his hatred of "Bob" Banner. He starts tossing things out of his pockets to rid himself of everything Banner. I had to chuckle when I realized two of the things were a book of matches and a pipe -all brainy types smoke pipes! Hulk is about to toss away a newspaper clipping but pauses to read it (remember -he wasn't an idiot yet) and becomes enraged when he discovers that the Avengers have replaced him with Captain America. Thinking that Rick has also deserted him, the furious brute decides to go to New York and destroy the Avengers.
Doug: The panel sample of Cap and Rick that you've provided is interesting to me -- I assume you snatched it from the FF DVD-ROM. I read this story from the book in which I first saw it -- Marvel's Greatest Superhero Battles (way back in the Origins of Marvel Comics series of tpbs). In that version of this story, Cap's headgear is just that -- it does not extend into his chain mail. Here it looks like he has fabric on his neck. So I was thinking just now that Kirby was drawing Cap as he had back in the War years.
Doug: What did you think about the Hulk bounding all the way from New Mexico to New York City? Tireless, maybe -- but that's almost 3000 miles!
Karen: Hey, he's the str
ongest one there is! Of course he can do it! Back at the Baxter Building, Reed collapses with a fever. We learn he has been working with viruses! Was there any area of science that Richards didn't excel in? He's like the Professor on Gilligan's Island. Sue and Ben tend to Reed while Johnny heads off in the Fantasticar to get a doctor. Flying over the city, however, he sees the Hulk on a rampage and foolishly decides to take him on. The Torch lands and attacks, but the Hulk shatters the ground and then grabs the Torch -whose flame has grown weak! Boy, it sure seems like Johnny could barely maintain his flame for more than a few minutes back in the early sixties. Johnny apparently passes out.

Doug: So as a plot vehicle, why do you suppose Stan and Jack chose to hold Reed out of the fight? Was it just to show us that Ben could fight o
n his own without Reed calling all the shots? Johnny was about worthless, wasn't he? Maybe he should have used the flame lasso...

Karen: Yeah, I think all the other FFers were put on the sidelines just so we could have a one on one match-up. I'm always surprised when I read these early issues just how weak certain characters were -mainly the women, but here Johnny as well. I t
hink Iceman also was treated pretty badly early on. I would suppose it is because they are youngsters, but I don't recall Spidey getting that treatment, unless he was sick. The city summons the FF to fight the Hulk, but Ben tells the authorities they need a doctor for Reed. Reed tells both Ben and Sue to go, warning Ben that "The Hulk's strength has never been measured! I'm afraid he's far stronger than you, old friend! You'll need your wits...don't let him grab you..." Ben and Sue jump in a police car (!) and head off to face the Hulk. Johnny is up again, but his flame is still weak -only his hand is aflame - and the Hulk grabs the youngster in one hand and looks ready to hurl him away! Sue surrounds Johnny with a force field but the Hulk jumps high into the air, and Sue passes out from the effort of maintaining the field! It seems that both Storm siblings were fairly limited in their abilities back in the old days. The Thing tells a soldier to take care of Sue, and then goes to face the Hulk -now it's getting good!

Doug: By the way, that was one ugly police car. If memory serves, Sue's force field came around in issue #13 (EDIT: Well, memory doesn't serve. As pointed out by faithful reader/commenter Edo Bosnar, Sue's abilities to make other objects/people invisible, as well as to use her powers to create forcefields, was first shown in Fantastic Four #22. I am getting too old for this...), which was right after the last story we reviewed. So this is a new wrinkle. However, as she'll eventually
become arguably the most powerful member of the Four, here she's still Silver Age fodder for Stan's sexism.

Karen: One thing I noticed is that a lot of words are exchanged between our two combatants -I expect that of the Thing but not the Hulk. Of course this was a Hulk that was basically of normal intelligence. Still, I don't expect him to say things like, "Fool! You're just a muscular freak! But I'm the Hulk!" Ben lands the first blow and knocks the Hulk off his feet. Naively, Ben thinks that his best bet is to wear the Hulk out. Boy is he in for a surprise. Ben bobs and weaves like the boxer he is, but ultimately, the Hulk grabs him. As Reed warned, this is not a good thing, as old Greenskin leaps into the air and tosses Ben right at a building. Ben grabs onto the roof edge, only to hang on for dear life as the Hulk rocks the building back and forth! Yes, it's incredibly silly, but fun.

Doug: In the preface to this story (again, in Marvel's Greatest Superhero Battles), Stan does mention that the Hulk is perhaps the Marvel character who has changed the most since his inception. The Man credits writers and artists who came after he and Jack for said evolution, and doesn't besmirch them. What do you think -- change for the better in making the Hulk dumb? I was somewhat amazed throughout this story at how strong the Hulk was portrayed. I know I've read many stories of him doing impossible feats, but there was a real sense of hopelessness for Ben in this tale. And yes, that was one tough building. Sheesh...

Karen: The Hulk o
f my youth was indeed the childlike, 'dumb' Hulk, so that was all I knew. But when I began to read older stories I really appreciated the non-dumb version more. I think the writers of the dumb Hulk were very limited with what they could do with him. It seems to me that a lot of his stories tended to revolve more around his supporting cast. I think there's more options with the normal intelligence, tough guy Hulk.

Karen: Ben decides to just let gravity work for him and lets go of the building, planning to crash down on the Hulk. But the H
ulk is faster than he thinks and once again takes hold of him, this time stuffing him through a manhole. Unknown to the Hulk however, Ben is right next to a thick electrical cable, and he uses it to shock his foe momentarily. But nothing stuns the Hulk for long. Across town, Reed struggles to get to his feet, hearing of the battle from the TV newscast. He bemoans the fact that the Hulk is too strong for Ben, but there's nothing he can do about it. I like the way he's drawn here, with his arm elongated but in a weird S shape. He really looks out of it.

Doug: Agreed. Despite
the sometimes clumsy-looking art, Reed's illness is well-played. By the way, as you've mentioned the art at the top, I'd add that in this issue Ben really seems like he's at his Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe-listed height of 6'0". However, he's not bulky at all! C'mon, Jack -- feed the boy!

Karen: For some crazy reason, the Yancy Street Gang decides the best way to help out the Thing is to roll a truck down a hill at the Hulk. However, although
the Hulk gets knocked into the bed of the runaway pickup, so does the Thing, and the two of them wind up in the river. Ben manages to swim to a motor boat and take off, giving him some time to figure out a new plan. He thinks he's lost the Hulk, but suddenly a huge green fist comes up through the boat! The two of them wind up at the George Washington Bridge and Ben manages to wrap a huge cable around the Hulk, temporarily immobilizing him. But Ben now realizes that although he is nearly exhausted, the Hulk keeps getting stronger. The Hulk strains and snaps the cable, and pounds Ben down to the ground. Then he takes off, saying he's going to find the Avengers.

Doug: I guess it was never said exactly in what part of the city the battle p
layed out, but that truck from Yancy Street rolled a potentially very long way!

Karen: Picking himself
painfully up, the Thing is stunned by his defeat. "He beat me! That big, brainless, muscle-bound creep beat me!! happened before!" Shaking off his shame, the Thing bravely heads back to face the Hulk. So here in this early tale, we're seeing the situation that would continue even to today: The Thing as the never-say-die underdog in his match-ups against the more powerful Hulk.

Doug: Ben Grimm, the original Rocky Balboa... love it!


William said...

This has always been one of my favorites. And even though there have been many others I still consider this to be THE OFFICIAL Hulk vs. Thing battle of the century.

Edo Bosnar said...

I first read this in that oh-so-awesome Super-hero Battles book as well (damn, I wish I still had that!). This is such a wonderful issue, from it's wonderful cover - love the way it portrays a much smaller Thing boldly taking on a monstrously huge Hulk - to the very last panel. In my view, it was when this epic 2-part Thing-v-Hulk story appeared that the Lee/Kirby FF really started to get good. And I also agree with both of you that Kirby's art only really began to shine with Sinnot's inks.
By the way, didn't Sue's force field powers only emerge in issue #22 or 23? It certainly wasn't as early as #13.

Doug said...

Edo --

Ugh. Thanks very much. If you check the original post, I've made a correction -- and even tossed a kudo your way!

Thanks again, and my apologies for my sloppiness. You are a reason why this is such a great "water cooler" community!


Anonymous said...

I originally read this in a UK reprint, and I had the 2nd part (‘the Avengers take over’) before the first. I remember really wanting to see part one, and I wasn’t disappointed when I got it.

Karen – I detect an undertone in your comments that I feel myself, which is to say that I feel a strange.....well, not loyalty exactly....but the dumb Hulk was the first Hulk I knew, and even though making him more intelligent opens up a lot more storylines and possibilities, the dumb Hulk is somehow the ‘real & correct’ Hulk. I remember enjoying all the paraphernalia coming into play: boats, trucks, buildings, cables, power lines....and in part 2, a construction really have the feeling that they’re trashing the city and using everything to hand.

Doug – I agree with you about Reed. It always amused me that he was a scientist who seemed to ‘specialise’ in absolutely everything from microbiology to astro-physics. Mind you, he did smoke a pipe, so maybe that’s all it takes. ( You’ve got to wonder how he & Ben ever hit it off).

William – I definitely agree, but for some reason I have very fond memories of Marvel Feature 11. I must re-read that. Or, given that it’s Starlin, we could just ask Karen.

Regarding Sue being a bit of a damsel, I guess we should remember we’re barely out of the 50’s here, so actually, although we’re rightly accusing Stan of sexism, a couple of years earlier, she would have been standing on a chair and screaming if a mouse came into the room. 1964, and here she is fighting the Hulk hand to hand. I venture to suggest that we had actually already come a long way in a couple of years.

I think the thing about early super-heroes powers ‘running out’ is just a general plot device to obviate the Superman problem (if someone is literally invincible, there’s no way to imperil them and therefore no story). Certainly, Johnny used to fall out of the sky on a semi-regular basis. Having said that, in Strange Tales 101 (I don’t mean ‘a Beginners Guide to Strange Tales’, I mean literally #101), we see Johnny’s apartment in the suburbs (no, really) in which EVERYTHING is made of asbestos, so it’s a bloody miracle he’s even alive.


david_b said...


I too have fond memories of MF #11. Starlin did outstanding art IMHO on both ol' Greenjeans and Mr. Grimm. I'd agree this ish, along with the boxing match in GS Superstars and FF #112 as the best.

I too notice when Benjy's not looking as bulky as he should. I know some early Buscema/Sinnott stories (like against Thundra) had him a bit too trim until the Shaper and Miracle Man stories came.

Inkstained Wretch said...

I just noticed something I had overlooked before in the very early Hulk stories. At this stage the Hulk was drawn with chest hair. I guess when his intellect began to decline the hair fell out as well. Funny.

Inkstained Wretch said...

I think the change to a more simple-minded, childlike Hulk helped to make him more sympathetic. Here he is too much of a thug.

The problem with the simpleminded version was that it limited him as a character. Too many of his stories seemed contrived as the writers strained to find a way to involve him in the plot. The dumb Hulk mostly just reacted to the things around him. He wasn’t very proactive.

I liked him best in the Defenders, where he actually seemed to fit in well. Funny he should work so well in that team and not in the Avengers. Then again, the Defenders were the “nonteam” so I guess that makes sense.

By the way, the last time that we looked at the Hulk vs. the Thing, I asked if anyone knew when in the comics the Hulk began to switch from articulate thig to monosyllabic oaf.

Commenter Dougie responded with, "The Hulk's dialogue becomes more monosyllabic by TtA66 'The Power of Dr. Banner'. I blame the Reds."

Edo Bosnar said...

Aw, shucks, Doug. Anytime...

Anthony said...

It's funny that Karen mentions the Professor from Gilligan's Island in relation to Reed because isn't that the reference Alex Ross used in the Marvels mini series ?

As to the Robert Bruce Banner issue Stan explains in The Incredible Hulk from Fireside books, " When the strip started I called him Bruce Banner. Then, in my usual bumbleheaded way, I started erroneously referring to him as Bob Banner in occasional scripts. In answer to the flood of irate letters we received, I took the cowardly way out by explaining that his name was really Robert Bruce Banner.

Fred W. Hill said...

I first read this story (as well as the next issue) in one of the giant Treasury editions, one of the Christmas specials, I think. I was a bit put off by the crudeness of the art, a far cry from the polished sophistication that would become more prominent when Sinnott came on board, although Colletta did some fine work too. I recall reading elsewhere that the inking on these stories was rushed and it shows, but we still get plenty of Kirby's characteristic dynamism, if nowhere near the sort of detail that would mark much of his later Silver Age work.
Anyhow, it's clear that the main point of this issue, as emphasized on the cover, is to present a one-on-one brawl between Marvel's two biggest, freakiest powerhouses and naturally Reed, Sue & Johnny had to be put out of commission so Ben would be left to tackle the Hulk on his own. Within the next year, Marvel would also pit the Hulk against Spider-Man, Thor and Giant-Man before he got his own (half)mag again, but this was really the big event in a season when Stan & Jack were just rolling them out one after the other, with this two-parter and Avengers 3 & 4 all tied together in one of Marvel's greatest early epics!

B Smith said...

This story was parodied in the fifth issue of Marvel's own "Not Brand Ecch" title.

davesharon said...

this is one of my all time favorite comic book stories. The cover of FF #25 is also one of my top ten faves too!

John said...

Sue Storm as Silver Age fodder for Stan Lee's sexism? Now that is a line I have never seen before.... Then again, perhaps back in the Silver Age and at times even in the early Bronze Age, we should have nicknamed the comic "The Trials of Susan Storm"?

the stiKman said...

The crudeness of the art is primarily due to extremely rushed inking by George (Bell) Roussous. Hastiness that would make Vince Coletta blush. Roussous continued as inker through #27. The inking in #27 looks like he inked it with his feet while riding the subway. It's said that this issue was inked in less than two days! Kirby pencils during this time tended to be simpler than we are accustomed from Kirby, and somewhat lacking in backgrounds due to his tremendous output (at times over 100 pages in a month), but never sloppy.

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