Marvel 616 has a great history of introducing amazing and powerful super villains. Spider-man has the best rogues gallery outside of Batman comics with memorable menaces like Dr. Octopus, Kraven the Hunter, and the Vulture. The Hulk on the other hand, one of the most powerful beings in all of Marvel, has hardly any enemies worth remembering. However, there are occasions when we can see some experimentation with villains right in Hulk’s pages.
In The Incredible Hulk issue 6 we see what can only be considered a first pass at what Magneto will be in the pages of the X-Men comics down the line. Make no mistake, this “Metal Master” is no where near as interesting as Magneto but it is a first crack at an enemy who can bend metal to his will.
The issue starts (as so many Hulk stories do) with a missile test. General Thunderbolt Ross is waiting on Bruce Banner so he can test his newest rocket. Banner is already 15 minutes late and Ross is none too happy about it. Betty Ross worries something might have happened while Rick Jones realizes Banner’s had enough time to change back from being the Hulk.
Betty worries Hulk has taken Banner. Rick wishes he could let her know his secret but he knows how upset that would make Bruce.
When we see Hulk, he wants to get into his secret lab to change back but there’s a whole infantry of troops doing practice maneuvers there. He’s aware if he’s seen, the secret location of his lab will be exposed. However, it seems it’s also becoming harder for Hulk to go back to being Banner at all. If he doesn’t change he might be stuck in the form of the green monster.
He’s saved from having to fight the troops when the emergency alert from the base sounds and the soldiers all scramble back. Hulk is then able to use the machine to turn himself back into Banner but before he does it he says, “I hate havin’ to become that weakling Banner all the time!” I find this interesting because Hulk has most of the brain function of Bruce Banner at this point (he can speak in full sentences and make logical decisions so he’s not just a rage machine) yet he clearly sees himself as two distinct people. This further establishes the multiple personalities Bruce Banner will come to have. While this is pretty much a direct comparison to The Strange Case ofDr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde right now, it becomes much more complicated in the future.
In addition, changing from one form to the other seems to become more painful for both of them as time goes on. Oddly, this time when Bruce changes he retains a bit of Hulk’s strength so they are sort of merging together a bit at this point.
After the change is complete and Bruce loses all the strength of the Hulk he checks in on the base through a video monitor and sees Ross and Betty in major distress. He sees the test rocket he invented completely melted. In the narration of the panel we see this it says, “Bewildered, the trembling viewer switches on the sound portion of his amazing set, and hears…” I point this out because it’s a reminder cameras were not common, and color cameras with sound were exceedingly rare at best, in the 1960’s. In other words, Marvel could sometimes be predictive about the future, much the same way Star Trek predicted automatic doors.
We get our first glimpse of the Metal Master, an imposing figure with yellow skin and a strange red outfit who hails from the planet Astra. Basically, Hulk fights two kinds of enemies in most of his books, either aliens or communists. Or sometimes aliens who sympathize with communists. Don’t hold your breath waiting for something better because it takes a while for Hulk to get past this.
Anyway, The Metal Master demonstrates some of his powers while telling everyone how most people on his planet are artists but he was deemed a criminal because he wanted to use his mental control over all metal to conquer. Ever since, this dude has been on the lookout for a planet with plenty of metal resources. He comes across Earth and the lightbulb goes off.
Despite having just destroyed a weapon and demonstrated his powers Ross just says, “Someone grab him! He’s nutty as a fruit cake!” You would have thought the military would have already opened fire on this guy but this is a kids comic and they needed Hulk to fight the guy. Plus, bullets wouldn’t be that effective considering there is metal in them.
The Metal Master melts some guns and helmets and then goes big time by melting a whole tank. One of the soldiers realizes this guy is, “the single most powerful force on Earth!” Of course that soldier must not have met Thor, or the Hulk if he thinks that.
Next, the villain traps Ross and company in a cage of his own making. He demands control of the base and subsequently of the planet within 24 hours. The Metal Master leaves using a steel plate as a flying platform (a move Magneto will definitely use in the future). They try to stop him with rockets but those are also made of metal so it doesn’t work.
Rick Jones realizes the only hope for humanity is the Hulk. Bruce is already changing when Rick gets to the secret lab. But for some reason, this time Bruce’s face doesn’t change. Luckily Banner made some plaster cast molds of Hulk’s face so he throws one on. (Don’t ask me how he got Hulk to sit still long enough to do that)
Hulk goes into action saying, “I can’t fly like a blasted Human Torch–but these muscles ain’t just for show!” He leaps into the air and lands right where the Metal Master is.
They have a pretty typical fight where the villain is throwing stuff at Hulk and Hulk is jut breaking it. That is until Metal Master offers to team up with the Hulk. Hulk considers it for a moment, realizing the human race has been hounding him forever and isn’t going to stop. He decides not to team up with Metal Master, not because he likes humans but because he figures the Hulk doesn’t need any help from anyone. While Hulk is ranting, Metal Master knocks him out.
A few minutes later a group of soldiers find Hulk and realize he has a mask on. They take it off to reveal… the same face as the mask. Banner’s secret is still safe. The soldiers manage to catch Hulk and put him in a special stone building made to hold the creature.
Betty is still worried about Bruce but Rick Jones realizes Hulk is the only chance against Metal Master. Rick goes to talk to the Hulk but the Hulk blames Rick for the soldiers taking off the mask. Hulk really starts to display some rage at both Rick and all of humanity here. This upsets Rick so much he asks about enlisting. Ross won’t let him though because he is only 16.
Meanwhile Metal Master goes on a rampage throughout the world destroying a bunch of metal stuff like oil rigs and bridges.
We check back in on Rick who is shown a ham radio by his friends. He then has the idea to form a club called The Teen Brigade who will keep in radio contact to help out the army, the police, and basically any good guys who could use a hand. I know it sounds cheesy but the formation of this group is actually important in the history of Marvel 616 and gives a bit more of a voice to the teenage audience.
Of course, Hulk busts out of his inescapable prison. Ross and Betty are talking and Betty realizes she cares pretty deeply from Bruce. They still haven’t found him so it’s upsetting her. Ross gets the news of Hulk escaping and Betty thinks Hulk has captured Banner.
Hulk goes back to the secret lab and changes back to Banner. This leaves him exceptionally weak this time but luckily Rick happens along. Bruce tells Rick he has a way to stop Metal Master but he needs help. Rick gets his teen brigade on the case.
While they gather supplies, Bruce recovers enough to turn back into the Hulk.
As this is happening Metal Master is stopping missiles and aircraft from all kinds of nations that are attacking him. When he destroys a group of airplanes he pulls a pretty odd move saying, “By merely melting the engine section of each plane, I permit the helpless pilots to bail out and float to safety!” Strange move for a guy trying to rule a planet but I guess he has a conscience? He says what he wants is for every living thing to serve him but I’m not buying that. The real reason is comics codes were fairly strict back then and you couldn’t actually show anyone in uniform (police, military, etc.) being killed or defeated. For that reason there were a lot of strange workarounds during what would likely be armed battle.
Hulk and Rick put together the device Banner cooked up while the rest of the Teen Brigade wait outside. The Brigade spots Metal Master heading to Washington. D.C. and the setup for the final battle begins as Hulk heads there. Hulk is armed with what looks like a huge gun. Metal Master tries to break it with his powers but nothing happens. The antagonizes the Metal Master and he gets closer to the Hulk.
Ross and Betty are still trying to find Bruce but obviously with no luck. Ross gets word of the showdown in D.C. and heads over there.
Hulk gets close enough to the villain to grab Metal Master and pretty much tells him he can get pounded by his fists or clean up everything he destroyed. Metal Master gets on his ship and heads off Earth.
Of course, the gun was just a decoy and not made of metal which is what tricked Metal Master. Hulk has moment where he actually gives credit to the Teen Brigade, proving Hulk doesn’t hate all humans. But the army moves in.
Hulk leaps off with Rick before anything can happen. The Teen Brigade tell Ross how Hulk saved humanity. That’s not likely to sway Ross but it’s some food for thought for him.
Hulk tries to use the machine to change back but he stays in Hulk form. He realizes the machine may have been used too much and now knows he is stuck in a form that will be relentlessly hunted by humans.
Betty is determined to find Bruce but still is having no luck. Hulk gets word he is getting a pardon because he saved the world. He’s unhappy because it’s not enough and he starts smashing stuff. And he suddenly changes back to Bruce Banner.
Bruce goes to see Betty but her father answers the door. Ross is enraged Hulk got a pardon and demands to know where Bruce has been. He says he felt under the weather so took a few days off in Bermuda. (Great excuse, definitely use that next time you miss a day of work)
Betty is overjoyed at seeing Bruce but Ross still thinks Bruce is a “milksop.” Betty knows there is some connection between Hulk and Bruce but he says he cares about her too much to tell her everything. Bruce hopes Hulk is gone for good but we all know that’s not the case.
After this issue Hulk loses his own title for a while and shares the pages of Tales to Astonish with Ant-Man for a while. But this is by no means the end of Hulk and his stories.
Next up in the reading order we’ll be introduced to a new hero, one who has his very own suit of iron, in Tales of Suspense #39!