Friday, November 18, 2011

Stepbrothers -- Fantastic Four #12

Fantastic Four #12 (March 1963)
"The Incredible Hulk"
Stan Lee-Jack Kirby/Dick Ayers

Doug: Karen and I have had so much fun in the past during our "Finding Silver in Bronze" features, that we just decided to go ahead and look at a few Silver Age books outright. So with apologies to our blogging friends at Silver Age Comics, Marvel Genesis, etc. we're going to try a little 3-parter spotlighting the earliest Thing/Hulk tussles -- what could have been better at the dawning of the Marvel Age than a heated discussion at the soda fountain as to which Marvel monster was the strongest? So be on the look-out for giant robots, Commie spies, and certainly a heaping dose of gender insensitivity from Stan Lee's pen!

Karen: Ah yes -the good old days.

Doug: Wha... wait -- was that sarcasm? Just a temporal note to our readers -- this issue of the FF hit the spinner racks (now there's a trivia question -- when was the spinner rack invented?) the same month the Incredible Hulk was canceled; his own sixth issue was for sale.

Doug: We open with a not-too-disguised Ben Grimm and his gal Alicia Masters exiting the New York Symphony. Suddenly there's a commotion (because in the Silver Age, you never got past a splash page without the need for some fisticuffs!), as a bunch of army men show up. Seems they are in downtown New York because of a nationwide alert. Hmmm -- anyone think that's odd, given that the Hulk-sightings were almost exclusively in the American southwest? Anyway, just as the boys in green are arriving, Ben gets into a little ruckus with another symphony patron. You guessed it -- his disguise comes off, he loses his temper and picks the old boy up, and the GI's go nuts. Ben tears off a fire hydrant, and then in what I really thought was an ingenious move, jumps up and belly-flops on top of the geyser, effectively spraying away the soldiers closest to him. But the army counters with a bazooka shell that sends out solid steel tendrils that hogtie Ben -- for about three seconds. They next attempt to slow him down with gas, but at about that time an officer arrives and tells his men to fall back -- the Thing has been recognized.

Karen: The Thing was still a bit dangerous in these days, even up til about the time Kirby left, in that he could at the very least be unpredictable. He would go on these mini-rampages, destroying property and generally making an ass of himself. But still, they were nothing compared to old Greenskin's escapades.

Doug: I think that's why Ben's such a great character -- Stan, or more accurately Jack, really put him through the wringer psychologically early on. Once back on his feet, Ben huffs away with Alicia. I presume that he drops her off somewhere, because we immediately see him at the Baxter Building, fidgeting for his special elevator key. Shoot -- can't find it. So in typical Ben Grimm fashion, he just rips the doors open and proceeds to shinny up the cables. It's no wonder these guys were always having landlord and/or financial problems! Arriving on the 35th floor, he's greeted by the rest of the team -- and in charming Silver Age fashion, Johnny's standing there in full flame-on mode! Impractical as heck, but ya gotta love it. Reed tells Ben that they are expecting a visit from a General "Thunderbolt" Ross -- and very shortly the old warhorse arrives. He gets right to it -- he wants to enlist the FF to take down the Hulk!

Karen: Boy, would we see this idea played out, with the FF and the Avengers, over and over...even as recently as World War Hulk we got essentially the same scenario!

Doug: This is really a seminal moment in the Marvel Universe -- correct me if I'm wrong, but this ties for the first crossover in the budding MU (Amazing Spider-Man #1 is also cover-dated March '63). It also shows that the Hulk was quite a mysterious character -- in fact, the FF is not even sure he exists. When a large image of him comes up on the screen, Sue "lost control of her invisibility powers" and does a fade out! I guess wetting her pants would have been too embarrassing? Once she recovers, each of the men fantasize about how they'll take out this Hulk character, all by themselves. Sue expresses that she'll be of no use -- Ross and Reed say she'll be good for morale! What a hoot.

Karen: And that, sir, is exactly why I grew up more or less disdaining female super-heroes. Sure, it got better over time but that attitude was common in early Marvel books -even up to the early '70s.

Doug: This issue also featured the 1st appearance of the Fantasticar we all know and love. Reed tells Ross that it was designed and built by Johnny. That's pretty advanced for a 16-year old, don't you think? Hopping in, the team travels with Ross out to the desert (why would the General ride in this crate?), where they can set about this Hulk business. Once on base, the team is introduced to Dr. Bruce Banner, a Dr. Karl Kort, and Rick Jones. Banner reveals that he believes the troubles of military technology destruction are the work of "the Wrecker" and not the Hulk; Ross is hearing none of it. Kort excuses himself, but runs into the Thing, the Torch, and Sue waiting just outside. He's startled by Ben, and in his haste to leave drops his wallet. Johnny inexplicably picks it up with a "flame lasso" (??). Ben's had enough waiting, and wrecks his second door of this issue. Ross is mad, and Ben responds to him by taking bound volumes of every phone book in the USA and ripping them in two.

Karen: I can see that Johnny might have designed the look of the Fantasticar, because only a 16-year old could come up with something that bizarre and non-aerodynamic. One thing I love about these old books: how people suddenly just burst into exposition for the sake of the reader! We've got Ben explaining how the four sections come apart, Sue demonstrating the goes against everything you hear about how to write, but these little asides always made me feel like I was a real Marvel insider! Ben has another mini-rampage here. I love Reed telling General Ross he has to watch what he says to the Thing!

Doug: After everyone splits up, Banner and Rick head into some underground tunnels. There Banner muses over his mock-up of Project 34, which was destroyed by the Wrecker. Project 34 was essentially a system that would do what Ronald Reagan's fictional SDI ("Star Wars") system would do. Rick leaves Banner and decides to check out Kort's wallet, which had been given him by the Torch. Since this is a Cold War-era tale, you just know Kort's a Red. And you'd be right. He pulls a gun on Rick, and we got ourselves a hostage situation. At about the same time, Ben is test-driving a Rocket Sled, which of course is sabotaged. Banner tells the FF that Rick's been kidnapped, and this is heading south in a hurry. Banner is distraught by a nasty note he's received about Rick, and feels that becoming the Hulk is his only option. Putting himself in front of a gamma ray machine, the transformation takes place. Now the Hulk is on the move beneath the desert.

Karen: Don't you love how Kort is an actual card-carrying commie? That's not too bright of him. The rocket sled was a fun bit, once again stressing how tough the Thing is. And how about those panels of Banner becoming the Hulk? He actually put on purple trunks! I really like this depiction of the Hulk, by the way. He was really monstrous here, with his heavy brow and strange three-toed feet.

Doug: I don't know that I ever noticed the three-toed look, but even on the cover -- there it is! Not only is the Hulk on the move, but the FF are as well. Of course they encounter each other, and all of the bravado each of the male members of the FF has spouted off about doesn't come anywhere to close to reality. The Hulk sucker-punches Ben, douses Johnny's flame with sand and dirt, and flicks Reed away. Reaching the surface, Hulk topples a building on the FF -- in the days before Sue's forcefield. Leaping away, Hulk makes a bid to escape the conflict so that he can find Rick. But the FF move on him again, this time with a bit more success. Johnny, however, gets doused again by a thunder clap; Ben gets a solid punch in, but before anything can be settled a ray shoots out of the ground and fells the Green Goliath.

Karen: I like how the Thing and Hulk seemed to be much closer in strength back then, even if the Hulk was still described as being larger. When the Hulk strikes the Thing he exclaims, "It's like hitting a brick wall!" It's hard to remember, now that everyone's powers have all been juiced up to such impossible levels, that these characters were not so godlike when they first started out.

Doug: Ben smashes into the ground to find the source of the beam, and instead finds a giant robot. The FF quickly deduce that this must be the Wrecker; Ben makes very short work of it. Moving into a nearby chamber, Ben is greeted by Kort and a very large gun. But our lovely Sue had decided to turn herself invisible and trail her teammate -- and it's our "morale booster" who ends up saving the day. Kort's arrested, the Hulk gets away and reverts to Banner, Banner and Rick Jones are reunited, and after all of that -- the FF get to review a military parade!

Karen: How about that? Sue actually did something!

Doug: This was a fun issue, and I'll bet that 8-year olds around the world were chomping at the bit to see Marvel's two monster-heroes duke it out. But as we all know, these early superhero brouhahas were very non-committal; Thor's bout with the Hulk (Journey Into Mystery, January 1965) really wasn't even a fight. Maybe the bigger influence of this story was not the fight that did/did not happen, but the very idea of the crossover between major characters. We mentioned the Spidey/FF crossover earlier; in just five short issues Ant-Man would team with the FF. Over in the X-Men, they met the Avengers in their 10th issue. This unifying of the early Marvel Universe would eventually lead to such Bronze Age staples as Marvel Team-Up and Marvel Two-In-One -- and aren't we all better for those?

Karen: Most definitely!

Doug: Tune in next time, when we actually will see our two gargoyles throw down -- yep, it's in Fantastic Four #'s 25-26!


Redartz said...

Thanks for highlighting this issue, as it's one of the few early FF's I've never read!

Really enjoy Kirby's artwork from that period. More detailed than in later years, yet full of Kirby dynamism. Nice inking by Dick Ayers, as well.

Regarding the treatment of Sue Storm, much has been said about the limitation of female characters of the time. You called it, Doug; it is indeed a hoot! I recently read Fantastic Four 280-281, in which Sue becomes the threatening Malice ( due to the efforts of Psycho-Man). She proceeds to wipe the floor with She-Hulk; giving Sue a claim to actually be the team's most powerful member.

dbutler16 said...

Ben was just a downright jerk until he met Alicia. I didn’t find him at all likable for about the first 8 issues of the FF. I’m glad they slowly softened and changed his character. Yes, it’s funny that Johnny would be flamed on for no reason, especially as they mention several times in the early issues that he can only stay flamed on for a limited amount of time. Heaven forbid the a bad guy should show up after Johnny’s been flamed on in the Baxter Building for half an hour for no reason and is now out of gas!

This issue was interesting to read since, as Doug points out, the FF aren’t even sure the Hulk exists. I’m sure readers at the time must have had no idea if the Hulk or the Thing was stronger, though of course by now, we all take it for granted that the Hulk is stronger.

The page you show where Ross says that Sue will keep the boys’ morale up actually made me cringe – literally cringe! I almost cringe again recalling it! Gotta love those sexist Silver Age comics.

I find it funny the way these early FF issue have Johnny making all of these fire constructs, as if he’s Marvel’s answer to the Green Lantern.

It’s strange reading these old Hulk tales and seeing the Hulk actually well spoken.

This was a good fight between Ben and the Hulkster, but the one in #25 is even better, in my humble opinion.

Doug said...

dbutler --

Johnny's fire shapes being like Green Lantern's ring constructs is a good analogy, although certainly not in the power department. I'd never thought about that as a comparative visual before.



Inkstained Wretch said...

This post reminds me of the most jarring thing about reading the early Avengers issues: The Hulk being fairly smart and even articulate, albeit with a thuggish attitude.

I am so used to the Herb Trimpe/Sal Buscema version of the Hulk as monosyllabic dummy that it is a little startling to be reminded that he didn't start out that way. I guess will at some point begin tracking the transformation.

Was this ever acknowledged in the comics, or was the Hulk's change was so gradual that no one noticed? Any Hulkophiles out there know?

Having said that, I actually like the smarter, meaner Hulk better. My problem with the Hulk's comics is that the storylines always seemed too contrived, with things just seeming to happen to or around the Hulk. A smarter Hulik could be more proactive and more of a catalyst for plotlines.

I notice for example that this is essentially the characterization they use for the Hulk in The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes and I think it works well there.

Inkstained Wretch said...

Regarding the relative strengths of our two monster heroes, it was always my understanding that the Hulk was the stronger of the two, but not by that much.

The Thing was always portrayed as strong enough to go toe-to-toe (three toes-to-three toes?) with the Hulk. It was the Hulk's ability to get stronger as got angrier that gave him the edge.

The Thing on the other hand was the better fighter having seriously trained as a boxer and a wrestler in his youth.

If you want to get really, really nerdy about this, my old copies of the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe list -- I am quoting from memory here, God help me -- the Thing as being able to lift 85 tons and the Hulk as being able to lift something in excess of 100 tons.

david_b said...

Yep, these were wonderful issues. Kirby really set the tone in the attitudes in both Hulk and Ben, which'll be featured for all the matchups to come.

Despite the changes mentioned regarding the Hulk's cognizant verbal abilities, I enjoyed the later commaradarie of Ben and ol' Hulkie later on, making for rich Bronze Age fodder.

I don't have all the stories, my favs are both the classic Marvel Feature 11 (showcasing outstanding Starlin art..) and the later Graphic Novel #29 (again Starlin..). Here's where the two come across more as a Martin-Lewis comedy duo, complete with the traditional wry ending.

Super-Stars #1 was another enjoyable slugmatch with a kooky setup, unlike the more straight-forward FF #112.

Fred W. Hill said...

I've gotta get that graphic novel you mentioned, David, but that MF #12 was a favorite Bronze Ago goodie! As for FF #12 (hmm, pure coincidence on the numbering, I'm sure!), I read this in the Fireside collection from the early '80s. Very nice, moody cover from the King! Otherwise, well, lots of those typical goofy moments that cluttered the earliest Marvel mags, but also bits of the magic that made Marvel special. This was even before they hit on the formula of having poor Bruce turn big & green every time he got overly excited, and the Hulk getting stronger as he got angrier (I strongly suspect Ditko came up with that idea while doing the 2nd Hulk series in Tales to Astonish, but don't know for certain).
Although Sue got to capture the real baddie in this yarn, it's obvious she needed more power to be a more equal participant in the heroics; fortunately Stan & Jack finally came up with something for her within the next year, although it would be left to others to really boost her potential. Anyhow, a fun and significant Marvel milestone. As for Johnny and the Fantasitcar, I think Stan & Jack really meant for the readers to beleive the 16 year old hot shot mechanic designed and put the whole thing together himself, which in context of the usual silliness of the era wasn't too outlandish for the typical comic-book kid to take but certainly seems absurd in mature retrospect. But then, we are talking about a guy who routinely walks around while on fire and manages to not set the whole building aflame. Far as I can recall, Johnny's next most famous (or infamous?) vehicle was the Spider-Mobile, and wasn't that a hoot!

Dougie said...

Dear Wretch: I just read the Hulk King-Size Special no. 2 from 1969 this morning- the first time I've re-read some of the Ditko stories for many years. The Hulk's dialogue becomes more monosyllabic by TtA 66 "The Power of Dr. Banner". I blame the Reds.

david_b said...

Fred, I was referring to MF #11 with the Hulk/Thing matchup (with the Leader and Urgo..), excellent dialog, start to finish. It was my first issue of Starlin art, and it was so gorgeous.

MF #12 (Thing/Ironman) was awesome as well.., leading into the MTIO series.

The graphic novel is more light-weight but beautiful Starlin art and very funny.


Anonymous said...

"And how about those panels of Banner becoming the Hulk? He actually put on purple trunks!"

I always thought that was funny! Since he can control the change now not only does he not want to ruin any more pairs of pants but the shy Banner also doesn't want to be out there adventuring in his tighty whiteys (what would the prim Miss Ross think!)

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