Thor: Ragnarok may not have “Hulk” in the title, but it’s clear the character is a big part of this week’s big Marvel release from all the promotional materials. Not only that, but we’re seeing a Hulk who can talk and actually hold a conversation, which is the sort of Hulk who is featured quite a bit in this collection out in comic shops this week.
So what’s it about?
The official summary reads:
Marvel’s green goliath is pulling no punches! After the cancellation of his debut series, the incredible Hulk returns in Tales to Astonish…and he means business! Dr. Robert Bruce Banner’s alter ego battles General “Thunderbolt” Ross, the Leader and his Humanoids, the Executioner, and more communists than you can shake a tank at. And if that’s not enough, round two pits the Hulk against Hercules, introduces classic villain the Abomination, dives into the intrigue of the Secret Empire, and goes cosmic with the Silver Surfer and the High Evolutionary! Featuring stories by Stan Lee and art by a who’s who of Marvel greats – Steve Ditko, Jack Kirby, Gil Kane, Bill Everett and John Buscema – these are the tales that made the Incredible Hulk a global icon!
Why does this matter?
This is a 432 page book collecting Tales to Astonish #60 through #96 which covers the Hulk portion of the series from 1964 to 1967. Originally a double feature comic this collection nixes the other stories to focus on the Hulk. That’s a big chunk of Hulk’s life and these are some of his earliest stories with art by the likes of Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby with the ever lovable Stan Lee writing. This is a primo collection in that it shows much of the inspirations that make Hulk who he is today.
Fine, you have my attention. What’s good about it?
It’s interesting how he turns into the Hulk when he’s worried and not angry. An element that Lee shifts away from over the course of this collection.
This collection has many first appearances from characters like The Leader and his Humanoids, and even the Abomination. It’s always fun to see how Stan Lee first unveiled these characters and you know it’s going to be with a lot of hyperbolic narration and over the top drama. The first half of this collection focuses on The Leader and his plotting (with help surprisingly from The Chameleon) who attempts to contain Hulk and learn about his abilities. The one advantage of Hulk, however, is that nobody knows he’s also Bruce Banner. Lee utilizes this element quite well and it’s interesting to see how Bruce can anticipate the change and loathes it, but the Hulk also can anticipate changing back to Bruce. This ends up occurring at the worst of times for both characters. Lee weaves in plenty of drama when it comes to Bruce’s friends like Betty Ross and Rick Jones as they attempt to slow down Thunderbolt Ross’ incessant desire to lock Bruce Banner up. There’s a Spider-Man vs. J.J. Jameson vibe going on in the first half of this book that’s quite fun in a golden age comic sort of way.
Speaking of connections to other Marvel properties, Lee shifts how he writes Hulk’s dialogue throughout this volume with a big portion giving him an almost Thing-like voice. He also goes into his dumb beast sort of voice and for a period Hulk ends up having the intelligence of Bruce and must pretend he’s not so smart.
Boomerang originally had magnet discs on his costume. Oh, and he looked like a clown!
Big time characters like Silver Surfer (they straight up battle) and The Watcher (so much great cosmic coolness here) also appear, which gives this title a bigger scope than just any ordinary Hulk story. Hulk must go up against other villains too like Mole Man and even Boomerang, who also gets the first appearance in this collection. Boomerang is a great example of why reading old collections like this is so great as his costume is completely different and in this iteration, he wields the power of magnets! He’s of course introduced with the bravado and over the top narration that Lee is known for and that somehow gives his outrageous costume and powers a certain nostalgic vibe that’s endearing. He also works for an often unused organization called the Secret Empire who done red hoods and are delectably over the top.
The art in this volume is done by some of the greatest and most influential artists of all time. Steve Ditko kicks off this volume with the art through most of the first third and he does not disappoint. His style is of course from an older time, but his layouts are something to marvel at. There’s no doubt the art in this collection inspired thousands of future artists as there’s always a great facial expression, angle, or pose that’ll make you go “Wow.” Jack Kirby takes over for a portion and his customary technology-heavy backgrounds and gadgetry is a welcome addition. Other artists like Bill Everett (with Kirby doing layouts), Gil Kane, John Buscema, and Marie Severin all seem to add their own flair and style. It’s interesting to see how the art changes over this collections 3 year period with a more updated look evolving across the pages.
The Watcher portion is out of this world good.
It can’t be perfect can it?
The last third of this collection devolves the Hulk persona to an angry beast which reduces the drama and makes the plotting rather repetitive and simplistic. It’s interesting to see how a lack of Bruce Banner and his supporting characters ends up turning the Hulk into a creature of the week feature as it’s all about monster vs. monster. That forces the art to carry things and there’s only so much smashing you can read before it gets boring.
Then there’s, of course, the old school way of writing, particularly hard to get through in the first few pages. Lee seemed to be addicted to adding his yellow backed captions, which end up taking up real estate in every single panel. It’s downright comical how often he stuffs in his overblown narration and makes the early pages hard to get through. Then there’s the old school writing style with characters saying out loud their feelings and other over the top nonsense. These elements might bother some folks, but if you give them the respect and allow the nostalgic feels to flow over you it shouldn’t be too hard to get through.
Is It Good?
It’s amazing how a random collection like this one ends up having so many golden nuggets of character origins and interesting Hulk character drama that has inspired generations.