Second Union

Second Union


Writer: Stan Lee
Penciller: Jack Kirby
Inker: Paul Reinman
“The Coming of the Hulk” 
March 1, 1962

Stan Lee was a master of words, but even sometimes his words failed him as he uses, pretty much the same title here, that he used in the previous Fantastic Four #4, albeit with a different character. Despite that, we have something unique here in terms of a “hero” book. The Hulk was Marvel’s first anti-hero. He is thrown into his situation by a quirk of fate and finds himself trying to maneuver his way through a world that shuns him.

One might make that argument with Ben Grimm, but Ben is not shunned by all. He has a family in Reed, Sue, and Johnny to support him. The Hulk has no one, save Rick Jones, who he will turn on from time to time when he misunderstands what the teen is trying to do for him. And yet, despite it all, there is something within the Hulk’s core that causes him to try to do good, even when his good is rejected and he is attacked.

And so it is we open this first issue, the origin of the Hulk.

Most people know of the Hulk’s origin, but do you know why the Hulk was originally gray instead of the more familiar green of today? It’s pretty simple, actually – a misprint. The Hulk was supposed to be grayish green, but when the comic returned from the printers, he was all gray. Stan Lee made sure he was his more Jolly Green Giant self with the second issue moving forward.

The characters, as we’ve come to know them, are pretty quickly established:

  • Bruce Banner – the brilliant, but cautious developer of the gamma bomb. He detests “men who think with their fists.”
  • Thunderbolt Ross – General in charge of security for the project. His brash behavior comes to the forefront as he berates Bruce for taking so long in detonating the bomb.
  • Betty Ross – an admirer of Bruce’s obviously as she comes to defend him as Ross hangs over the scientist.
  • Rick Jones – a teenager who is saved from being killed by Banner when the bomb goes off. He was in the wrong area at the wrong time and now devotes himself to helping the man who saved him.
Edvard Munch inspired image?

We know the details of the bomb and all, but one image that always stands out to me is that of Bruce, hours after the bomb has gone off, still screaming with a frozen face as he slowly comes around. I thought it odd that he wasn’t placed in contamination since he absorbed so much radiation, but there you have it.

They do seem to have enough sense to leave a Geiger counter in the room with Rick and Bruce as Bruce feels they are waiting for him to die. Indeed, he thinks the end is approaching as night falls and he feels his head throbbing. And then the first transformation begins. Ripped clothes, grayed skin, bigger build – the Hulk. He even speaks with eloquence, of sorts, as he swats Rick aside, calling him “an insect”.

This Hulk, at least at this point, is more like Mary Shelley’s Monster in Frankenstein. He didn’t want to be created, but here he is, trying to understand and be understood, and dealing with a world that fears him simply because of the way he looks.

But there is one person who doesn’t fear him, or at least doesn’t allow his fear to rule him – Rick Jones. He follows after the Hulk, even after he is tossed aside, even after the Hulk smashes through a wall, even after a jeep crashes into the creature and doesn’t faze him. He said he owed Bruce and he’s following through with his promise to help him.

And we also see how the Hulk gets his name. One simple soldier, using the word to describe the creature, and a legend is born. It’s Shakespeare come alive as the bard created many words in his plays that caught on with his audience and then became part of our vernacular. The same happens here.

The Hulk is driven to return to Bruce’s home to get the formula for the gamma bomb. We never know why he has this urge, but he arrives to find Bruce’s assistant Igor trashing the place in a quest to find it. The Hulk quickly knocks him out and in their scuffle, Rick finds the formula.

And in a moment that is quite revealing, the Hulk sees a picture of Bruce and is angered by it. He calls Bruce soft and weak, mimicking the thoughts of Ross at the start of the story. I have not done an extensive dive into the story of the Hulk and I know that many writers have strived to explain the Hulk and his psyche, but I have to wonder if the Hulk is a manifestation of Bruce’s frustration at Ross, almost as if to say, “Who’s a milksop now?”

But we get a scary moment then as the Hulk realizes he likes being who he is and the power he controls which he can use to get whatever he wants. The only one who knows his secret is Rick, who he advances on as the sun rises, triggering the transformation back to Bruce.

The MPs arrive and take Igor away. Bruce himself breaks down and cries at all that has happened, clearly showing the line between him and the Hulk. He worries as he knows when night falls again, the Hulk will rise.

And you would think that was the end of the issue, but there’s Igor, who has a radio unit in his thumb, that he uses to contact Russia where the Gargoyle resides. He reads the details of the Hulk and he is determined to have the monster under his control. He slips into America with the use of a downed rocket.

Meanwhile, Bruce changes back into the Hulk as he and Rick ride away from the base. And here’s where we get one panel that shows us what the Hulk was meant to look like with his more green hue.

It all leads to a convergence of our characters as the Gargoyle finds the Hulk and Rick, who have run into Betty, out for an evening walk to clear her head. She has fainted at the sight of the Hulk as the Gargoyle confronts them.

He takes down the Hulk and Rick with a weapon that saps them of their will. They follow the Gargoyle to his waiting raft that takes them to the sub and then the jet back to Russia. But as they travel and the sun rises ahead of them, the Hulk reverts back to Bruce.

Someone want to explain why the Hulk is so stylish here?

As Bruce, he offers to help the Gargoyle become human as his condition is different from Bruce’s. In less than a day, Bruce manages to work out the problem, change the Gargoyle back to human, escape then thanks to a grateful Gargoyle, and return to America where it is still daylight so he is safe from changing, at least for now.

Now there’s something, why didn’t Bruce just always stay on the move, ahead of the daylight? He could have traveled around the world, searching for a means to cure himself while taking catnaps.

I love this story, even with the sometimes faulty mechanics of how things work in terms of the number of hours in a day in order to accomplish things. It doesn’t matter. What matters is the eloquence of the Hulk and how I think I like this version of him best over all the ones that have come and gone since then.

It’s going to be a while before the second issue comes out. In fact, we’ll see a new issue of The Fantastic Four and the premiere of several other Marvel stalwarts before the Hulk returns, but when he does, he will be green.

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