Although both Marvel and DC both publish superheroes, their approaches during the Silver Age were very different. DC treated its heroes like the legends that inspired them, but Marvel’s were more fallible. And nowhere is that more shown than in the case of one of their most well-known anti-heroes, the Incredible Hulk.
In creating the Hulk, Stan Lee drew from two literary classics. He believed that in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the monster wasn’t evil; he was merely misunderstood. He also drew from Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and made both Dr. Banner and the Hulk one and the same. Right from the start, the Hulk was capable of heroism, but he was more feared and hated than admired. He even saved Rick Jones (who would become an important character in his own right) from the gamma rays that resulted in his creation.
In the first six issues of his comic, there was something that is referred to as early installment weirdness. The Hulk was a nocturnal creature, much like Mr. Hyde was in Stevenson’s story. In one story, Rick Jones himself controlled the Hulk. But the comic also introduced the Hulk’s nemesis General “Thunderbolt” Ross, and Banner’s girlfriend Betty Ross, the general’s daughter. At first, Hulk was gray instead of green. Lee chose gray to mimic Frankenstein’s monster, but a printer error changed it to the more familiar green we know today. He also talked more like a tough guy than that “Hulk smash!” stuff that he’s more famous for.
The are two reasons Incredible Hulk was cancelled after sux issues. First was low sales. By this time, the cover price of a comic had risen from 10 to 12¢, and yes, that difference did matter. Another reason was that at the time, Marvel and DC used the same distrubutor, International News. To even the playing field, Marvel was limited to eight comics a month. Marvel got around this by publishing some titles monthly, and others bimonthly.
After his comic was cancelled, the Hulk was far from gone. He’d challenge other heroes as well. Most notably, in Fantastic Four #12, he began his rivalry with The Thing, which has continued for years. He even joined the Avengers, only to be thrown out because of how unstable he was.
After his comic was cancelled, the Hulk found a new home in Tales to Astonish, beginning with the 60th issue, alongside Ant-Man. His new artist, Steve Ditko. It was Ditko who helped establish the Hulk into what we know today. Now the transformation was triggered by anger, and Hulk’s rising frustration would revert him to “puny Banner”. Ditko also believed the Hulk should have a more primitive form of speech, creating the famous “Hulk Smash!” persona.
Tales to Astonish also introduced Hulk’s true enemy, The Leader. While both gained their abilities from gamma radiation, they were actually polar opposites. The Leader would use his newfound superhuman intellect against the Hulk, making him a more formidable opponent. Eventually, Hank Pym would leave Astonish, to be replaced by Namor, who had recently returned as an enemy of the Fantastic Four. But the comic had gained popularity, particularly with college students. This newfound popularity caused him to finally take center stage, beginning with #102. (Even though Astonish was now The Incredible Hulk, the numbering was continued. This is still true today with his current comic, The Immortal Hulk. If you look at the issue box, you’ll see the letters LGY, which is the “legacy number”. The legacy number uses the numbering that started with Astonish.)
The Hulk just can’t be kept down. When I get to the 80’s, I’ll discuss his best period, when Peter David was at the helm.
Next: The Flash of Two Worlds