Out of all of the early Marvel 616 comics the one that feels the most soap operatic to me is The Incredible Hulk. The comic has a consistent storyline with the same characters showing up every issue but more than that all of the characters in these pages have fates that seem to be intertwined. Bruce Banner is fated to save Rick Jones just as Rick Jones is fated to stay loyal to both Hulk and Bruce Banner. Meanwhile, Betty Ross is fated to love Bruce but fear the Hulk and she knows there must be some connection with Hulk, Bruce and Rick. And we can’t forget General “Thuderbolt” Ross who loves his daughter and wants to protect her from the Hulk, can’t stand Bruce but puts up with him for his brilliance and because his daughter loves him, and also knows there has to be something more to Rick Jones who just happened to be at the site of a major gamma bomb test. The dynamic of these people will be recycled, reused and looked at in a myriad of ways throughout the continuity of the 616 universe. A lot of times it is endlessly fascinating but there are times when it drags and can be dull. But to make a great Hulk story you need all of these pieces. I think that’s why there has never been a standout Hulk film. How can you show the complexity of Bruce Banner without his connection to Rick Jones? He’s like, the most Marvel character ever, and he has been in exactly zero Hulk movies. He may not be the best character Marvel has but he is downright necessary. This issue continues to cement that, especially in the first story in this issue.
As far as the fourth issue of The Incredible Hulk we get two stories. The first is fully focused on Hulk and Rick. There’s a small recap where Betty Ross thinks about Rick, Hulk, and Bruce but soon we move to the secret lab where Rick is still able to control the Hulk. A little while back, Rick was able to give Hulk mental commands. These come in handy when General Ross tries to track down Rick, possibly even suspecting Rick murdered Bruce. Rick allows Hulk to escape and then gets Hulk to come back and save him from Ross’ clutches. Bruce has a machine which can transform him from Hulk to Bruce and back again. Rick operates the machine but doesn’t quite do it right and Bruce ends up weakened. Bruce then adjusts the controls and gets the idea to have his own brain be inside the powerful form of the Hulk. This is the first time we see this done but it will be far from the last. Even while Bruce has his own thoughts inside Hulk, he gets a bit reckless and aggressive even towards Rick. Rick does lose his ability to control Hulk when this happens. Thus we start questioning where does Bruce stop and Hulk begin? It’s a question the best Hulk comics of all time will also attempt to answer. Of course, in the long run, Bruce goes back to being himself but he’s always been someone who is willing to go too far with science and the reader gets the impression he will not stay Bruce for long.
The second story is a bit of an oddball one. There is an alien named Mongu who comes to earth to challenge Hulk to a fight. A lot of the previous Hulk stories have been about either aliens or communists so this is nothing new. Of course, Bruce changes into the Hulk, but now he can control his own transformation with his machine and doesn’t need Rick to operate it. Hulk goes down to fight the alien to find out… it’s a communist in disguise. So yeah, the alien stories and the communist villains were getting stale so the Marvel solution here is to have communists disguise themselves as aliens. The Hulk straight up destroys these guys with hardly any trouble. In the end we do see Hulk transform back to Bruce and for the second time in the issue Bruce seems really exhausted after his transformation so it clearly signifies that the transformation takes something out of him.
I would say this issue is worth reading but the second story in it is really not that great, although, it’s still fun to see Hulk smash helicopters and whatnot so there is that.
Next on the reading list we’re going back for a visit with the first family of heroes in Fantastic Four #8!
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