First Published: February 1999
Contents: Incredible Hulk #1 (May 1962) to #6 (March 1963), Hulk stories from Tales to Astonish #60 (October 1964) to #91 (May 1967)
Key Creator Credits: Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Bill Everett, and Gil Kane
Key First Appearances: Dr. Robert Bruce Banner/Hulk, Rick Jones, Betty Ross, General ‘Thunderbolt’ Ross, Ringmaster and the Circus of Crime, Tyrannus, Major Glenn Talbot, Leader, Amphibion, Secret Empire, Boomerang, Abomination
Story Continues In: Essential Hulk Vol. 2
Overview: Dr. Bruce Banner is a research scientist studying gamma rays for the government. During a test, Banner is caught up in an explosion of gamma energy while trying to save teenager Rick Jones. Banner finds that in times of stress or when he becomes angry, his body undergoes a metamorphosis into a large, muscle-bound rampaging monster, known as the Hulk. The Hulk is a mindless creature fueled by rage and only reverts back to his Banner identity when the danger has passed.
Banner struggles to control his inner-monster so that he does not put others in danger, like the love of his life, Betty Ross. Unfortunately, Betty’s father, General Thunderbolt Ross, is bound and determined to use the full power of the U.S. Army to bring in the Hulk. And competing for Betty’s hand is the general’s right-hand man, Major Glenn Talbot.
Several classic villains with similar gamma-induced reactions are introduced in this volume: the Leader, whose intelligence is the equal of the Hulk’s strength; and the Abomination, a Russian version of the Hulk created during the heights of the Cold War. Other notable foes first featured in these issues include the Boomerang, Tyrannus, and the Ringmaster with his Circus of Crime.
This volume consists of two separate story runs: Incredible Hulk #1-6, which was issued in 1962-63 before being canceled due to low sales; and in Tales to Astonish #60-91, which were issued from late 1964 to 1967. In between the two runs, the Hulk made numerous appearances in other books, such as the Fantastic Four and The Amazing Spider-Man, and was a founding member of the Avengers. The Hulk’s growing popularity inspired Stan Lee and Jack Kirby to give the Hulk another chance, with a feature in Tales to Astonish.
What makes this Essential?: The Hulk is one of the most recognizable characters from the Marvel Universe. The Hulk was the second “major” character to be introduced by Lee and Kirby, following the introduction of the Fantastic Four. Along with Spider-Man, he was one of the first characters to really break into the mainstream consciousness of characters, crossing over into numerous TV shows, movies, toys, costumes and other material. The stories in this book provide the foundation for 50 years of Hulk stories. These are not the greatest of Hulk stories, but they should be read if you are a fan of the Hulk or an aficionado of the Marvel Silver Age of comics.
Footnotes: In the first issue of the Incredible Hulk, the Hulk was colored as a gray monster. Beginning with issue #2, the Hulk took on his more familiar green look.
In the comics, the Hulk’s alter identity is Dr. Bruce Banner. In the 1970s live-action television show, he was called Dr. David Banner. According to one story, the producer of the TV show opted to change the character’s name so that it did not feel like a comic book series, by eliminating the alliterative name of the main character, a go-to move that Stan Lee loved to use (Peter Parker, Reed Richards, Susan Storm, Happy Hogan, and others).
If you like this volume, try: a classic book such as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein or Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Both of these novellas provided inspiration to Stan Lee when developing the concept of the Hulk.