Friday, December 16, 2011

Stepbrothers -- Fantastic Four #26

Fantastic Four #26 (May 1964)
"The Avengers Take Over!"
Stan Lee-Jack Kirby/George Bell

Doug: Welcome to the conclusion of our foray into the Silver Age Thing/Hulk tussles. Today's review actually brings to six the number of such brawls we've reviewed. The LinkWithin feature below this post should take you to at least five of them. Well, no sense delaying further, so it's on to the feature!

Doug: When we left off two weeks ago, Brother Benjie had been summarily trounced by the much larger and much stronger Hulk. The Green Goliath was in Manhattan, looking for the Avengers. Since he'd found out that Captain America had "replaced" him on the team, he was hellbent on exacting some revenge. Funny, though -- I don't recall that the Hulk left in a state of mind such that he'd care that he'd been replaced. By the way, the release of Fantastic Four #26 coincides with Avengers #5, Cap's second issue with the team.

Karen: It's just like the guy who dumps a girl, but then gets all upset when she starts dating somebody else.

Doug: As we get back into today's action, Ben has caught up to the Hulk and immediately engages him. As we saw last time, Ben is able to stay ahead of the Hulk by using his superior intellect as well as the agility and speed his smaller frame allows him. Even as the Hulk pounds Ben literally into the ground, the Thing responds with a forceful shower of crushed rock which temporarily blinds his adversary. Stan then gives new readers (and forgetful ones alike) a quick rehashing of just why the rest of the Four are not present for this skirmish. Reed is still suffering from the virus he contracted last issue (while trying to find a way to change the Thing back to his Ben Grimm form), Sue is at the Baxter Building to assist the doctors, and Johnny is in the hospital with wounds from an ill-advised solo attack on the Hulk last issue. I had to laugh at the use of all of the asbestos around Johnny. You wouldn't get away with that today!

Karen: I'm sure the other patients in the ward could file a lawsuit. Even though Ben is an honorable guy, he's not above occasionally fighting dirty, as in this bit with the dirt in Hulk's eyes. I love the fact that Lee and Kirby show us TV camera crews up on the roof tops, filming everything. It was just another touch of realism that they brought to comics.

Doug: How about the amount of and size of the equipment that the reporters are using? It's a bit more cumbersome than an iPhone or a Flip camera, ya think?

Doug: Johnny feels well enough to get out of bed, and once shedding his pajamas (whoa, whoa, whoa -- do you suppose his backside had been hanging out of that gown?), he flames away and finds our combatants. Ben doesn't want his help, but the two teammates eventually try to fight together. The Hulk is having none of it, though, and turns a fire hydrant against Johnny. Both our heroes are able to evade the water. The U.S. Army has gathered, and launch a warhead against Jade Jaws. Catching it, the Hulk hurls it into the sky where it detonates; he then gets away.

Karen: I guess we'll have to chalk the Torch's disappearing/reappearing FF uniform to the unstable molecules. When he flames on he suddenly seems to be wearing it. But where in the heck do you get asbestos pajamas? It's typical Ben that he doesn't want Johnny's help, and honestly, Johnny hasn't seemed too effective against the Hulk in any case. But Ben's also shooing him off over his concern for the kid, which was nice to see, as the two spent so much time bickering you could forget that they really liked each other. I was a little surprised that Ben tried to talk the Hulk down -"Why don't you just calm down and let's talk this over?" - but it was kind of refreshing.

Doug: We see the Hulk next in the subway tunnels when the unthinkable happens -- the Hulk commandeers a train, and conducts it himself! Now I don't doubt that Bruce Banner could drive, but this just seemed really weird to me. Chalk that up to our worldview of the Hulk as being the 1970's "dumb Hulk". Anyway, he jumps off the train right under the site of the Avengers Mansion, and enters. It doesn't take him long before he encounters the line-up of that period: Thor, Iron Man, Captain America, Giant-Man and the Wasp, and Rick Jones! The Hulk lunges for Rick, and it's (of course) GAME ON! The rest of the issue is basically one huge battle, and it's for the most part a fun ride. Cut back to the Baxter Building, where Reed's fever has broken. With Reed healed and Johnny still on the mend but at nearly his full strength, the reunited FF head off in search of the Hulk.

Karen: That train sequence seemed really odd to me as well. Did you notice that when the Hulk busts in on the Avengers, it's in a room totally devoid of any details -no furniture or nothing, just a box! There is a lot of that in this issue -no background art. I'm thinking that drawing so many characters probably pushed Kirby, time-wise, and something had to give, so it was the backgrounds. In those tight quarters, the Hulk has the advantage, and he takes off with Rick in tow.

Doug: Let's interlude here for a bit and discuss the Hulk's role through these first three stories we've covered, where he's encountered the major heroes (sans Spider-Man and Dr. Strange at this point) of the Marvel Universe. Are you seeing him as a tragic or sentimental character? I am not. I'm seeing "dangerous", "unpredictable", and perhaps even "menace". I know General "Thunderbolt" Ross has a reputation as a blowhard with a short fuse, but I'm thinking that if I were in his national security role I'd be eager to destroy the Hulk as well. If all I had to go on was his public persona in these early stories, then he should have been blasted off to the moon (or wherever).

Karen: No, I think your perception is spot-on. The Hulk is really dangerous and wild at this point -maybe worse than later on because he actually still has most of his wits about him. He's not the 'misunderstood' character we grew up with in the 70s. I'm assuming that they had to soften his personality and make him more sympathetic when he starred in his own feature. I have some of those old Tales to Astonish (and of course the reprints in Marvel Super-Heroes too) and I would say it was a slow transition from the more brutal version to the 'gentle giant' we got later on. I sort of like him with an edge, but here, he's just a raving nut.

Doug: The Wasp is able to trail the Hulk, and attacks him by getting into his ear. The buzzing almost drives him mad, but he's able to bang the other side of his head like a swimmer would and dislodge the tiny heroine. The rest of the Avengers show up and it's Captain America who engages the Hulk first. What a hero -- this is why you always root for Cap. He's fearless, he leads tactically, and he leads by example. But of course this is a Marvel mag, and nothing ever goes as simply as it might. The FF arrive at the same time things are heating up and of course begin tripping all over their counterparts. The Hulk had to be laughing at the ineptitude of all of these heroes. As Iron Man and Reed argue, the Hulk grabs Rick again and leaps away to an under-construction skyscraper.

Karen: There's some great gags here, with Iron Man getting caught in Mr. Fantastic's lasso arm, Giant Man jumping in the path of Invisible Girl's force field, and let's not forget the Thing getting thumped by Thor's hammer. It made perfect sense -with that many super-powered folks around, somebody's going to be in the way. Then, when Hulk gets away, the Avengers and FF start arguing with each other over which team is going to go after him -now that's a Marvel comic! Eventually, Thor and The Thing make peace and the rest follow suit.

Doug: It's Captain America who again makes the best impression when attacking the Hulk, but probably the best visual is the battle between ol' Purple Pants and Hank Pym. And in the end, the strongest being on the planet is done in by ants. And by Rick Jones and an anti-gamma pill. Hey, how about that -- Rick saved the universe long before the Kree/Skrull War! As the Hulk staggers toward the river to stop the itching of the ants, he also begins to change back to Banner. And as he disappears below the surface of the water, the two teams of heroes basically just retreat to whatever it is they needed to do. No search, no debriefing, just fini.

Karen: Cap uses judo against the Hulk -you would just never see that today!

Doug: Sheesh -- even with judo, do you really think he could flip 1000 lbs?

Karen: Of course, the Hulk of the modern comics is far more powerful than the Hulk we have here. But it gave me a chuckle when I saw that. Giant-Man's rapid size changing seemed to throw Hulk for a loop, but I'd worry that he'd just get angrier. But aren't we all lucky that Rick carried around a gamma ray pill? Hey, if that thing was radioactive, and he kept it in his pants pocket all this time...well, maybe there's a reason Rick never had kids!

Doug: This issue had to be a pain-in-the-butt to draw with so many characters, but Kirby lets it all hang out. There is energy, dynamism, and power on every page -- Jack really delivered the goods. This two-parter would have made a great Annual, and certainly today would have been a crossover between the two teams' books. If I have any complaints at all, it's that too much time was spent on Iron Man's powers, and Thor was a total non-factor. Of course, given his real power, Stan and Jack had to keep the God of Thunder on the sidelines. Overall, I'd give this story a B+ -- Kirby would hit his stride just less than two years later once he and Joe Sinnott began to click.

P.S. -- Doug: Don't you think Kirby was "aping" himself on the FF cover above, as he'd drawn an oh-so-similar pose just a month earlier?


dbutler16 said...

There's a lot of great action in here, but the heroes acted like morons, in typical Marvel Silver Age fashion, and I thought Rick popping an "anti-gamma ray pill" into the Hulk's mouth to suddenly end the fight was a bit of a cheap cop-out. All in all, a good issue, but I like #25 better. I think the FF really hits their stride around #44, though.

david_b said...

Agreed! These are fun issues (can't WAIT to read this via a Masterworks book soon..), but 'the stride' for FF didn't hit until Mr. Sinnott wandered by Jack's desk.

Kinda like Ditko's Spidey..: I appreciate the original stories and characterzations, but greatly prefer the Romita/Andru years.

LOVE seeing the Avengers in the FF mag, arguably one of the earliest team cross-over appearance issues.

Edo Bosnar said...

My favorite line from this issue: the Thing to Thor, "Hey Curly, is that get-up of yours for real?"
Despite the ending, still a great conclusion to a really fun, action-packed story.

J.A. Morris said...

Thanks to Doug & Karen for another great write-up!

Imagine being a kid and seeing this issue at a drug store in 1964. All those heroes on the cover!

I first read this via reprint in FF Annual #4, where it was reprinted back-to-back with #25.

I agree, Hulk isn't very sympathetic here, this isn't the Hulk that refuses to kill a deer in Hulk #170.

The "anti-gamma" pill really feels like Stan Lee painted into a corner. Why didn't Ross have access to those pills? Why didn't Banner take them so he could control his "Hulking up"?

Anonymous said...

Karen – regarding Hulk’s IQ and sympathy - I think you’re right, but I think much more than that, it’s that the 70’s dumb Hulk mostly just wanted to go & live somewhere quiet and for everyone to leave him alone. This ‘smart’ Hulk is actually Hell-bent on a mission of what is basically petty jealousy and revenge and he doesn’t care who gets hurt along the way. Not much sympathy there.

I also agree that the resolution is a bit strange, which kind of reinforces the fact that this story was just an excuse for a big slugfest and to trash a few city blocks. Also, if Banner had such a simple way to cure himself of being the Hulk, why didn’t he just take one of those anti-Gamma multi-vitamins every morning?

Karen - Regarding the lack of backgrounds, I think Jack was getting a bit overwhelmed already by this point. Not only was he drawing so many books, but also team books which we know are a killer. In May 64 (or rather FOR May 64, as we know they were done 5 months in advance) he was doing FF, Avengers and Xmen, but also these issues ALL featured teams VERSUS TEAMS, so a massive cast list to work with. The X men were perpetually fighting Magneto and the Brotherhood, and in this same month Subby guested. Meanwhile, over in the Avengers, they were fighting Zemo and the Masters of Evil in issue #6 and at the same time you have the Avengers and the Hulk guesting in the FF. The next issue of FF features the Xmen guesting as well. In addition, at this point he was drawing the FF annual on top of everything else, and Thor was facing off against the Cobra and Mr. Hyde, so in this month there was literally no one-on-one stuff at all, every super hero comic was a cross-over or 3,4,5... 10-way free for all. I guess he was also doing Millie, and various romance & westerns as well.

If you look at other comics that came out that month, you can feel Jack’s absence. Daredevil had just started, which significantly Kirby was not drawing, and Bill Everett had taken 6 months to deliver the first issue, but even with need for a different artist clear, Kirby was still too busy and they asked Joe Orlando to do DD #2. Over in Strange Tales, the Human Torch was being drawn by..wait for it.... Carl Burgos ( .....wrong Torch, surely, you think?). Don Heck was doing Iron Man in TOS, and Dick Ayers (never really an artist, more an inker to my mind) had taken BOTH Giant Man in TTA and Sgt Fury off Jack’s hands.

Considering that when he & Stan sat down to do FF#1, he didn’t know where his next job was coming from, they certainly had some impact, those boys.


Fred W. Hill said...

While Stan & Jack weren't quite at their peak yet, this was still a fun issue -- essentially the sort that Marvel's younger fans were sure to enjoy just for all those characters, 9 superheroes, one mad man-monster and Rick Jones, in a free-for-all, tripping over one another, with Kirby action and visual gags and Lee's verbal bombast. The FF cover wasn't one of Kirby's best, but I still like it for being unique and getting all 11 stars of the story in it, even if Kirby was doing a twist on his previous cover (and, ahem, somewhat aping King Kong posters). The amount of work Kirby put in at Marvel in those days is amazing, with not only several regular titles, but also most of the covers, many layouts and fill-in jobs. His work did get much better and far more detailed when he was working on fewer mags just two years later but from the get-go he was re-earning his monicker "the King" over and over again.
Anyone else think all that pill-popping by Hank & the Hulk may have had some psychological side-effects? Maybe that explains why Banner quit using them to control his Hulk-outs and Hank's later mental breakdowns.

Anthony said...

I think Fred qualifies for a No-Prize for explaining the discontinued use of the anti-gamma ray pill. Bronze Age rules for winning a No-Prize required someone to not only point out a writer's mistake but to come up with a plausible reason why it wasn't actually a mistake.

Rip Jagger said...

These are some dandy action-filled covers, but artistic license is pretty well in force. The skyscaper the Avengers and the FF battle on against the Hulk is pretty tiny, but it doesn't glare at you.

That isn't the case with the Rawhide Kid cover. That guy hanging out the window must've gotten hold of proto-Pym particles or that's perhaps the set from "Terror of Tiny Town".

All that said, this bust up is one of the great fights in all of Marvel. I prefer the Avengers #3 frolic, but this one has the Thing and that's not bad at all.

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