Fred Hembeck’s Hero Complex: The Hulk (Part 1)

Feb. 18, 2009 | 6:35 p.m.

It was 70 years ago that Marvel Comics No. 1 hit the newsstands of America and all year long we’ll be celebrating that watershed moment in American publishing history with special features. Today it’s the third installment of "Fred Hembeck’s Hero Complex," where Fred Hembeck, the comics-fandom parodist, lovingly revisits classic Marvel covers. Which hero is it today? Here’s a hint: Hembeck smash!

Hulk_1Fred Hembeck back once again! And today, I’m here to praise the Marvel Universe, not destroy it (that was SO yesterday)! To help the mighty Hero Complex celebrate the 70th birthday of Marvel I’ve been digging into my vault of Classic Cover Redos (the likes of which can easily be commissioned, should you be so — ahem — inspired), and today we’re going to start a three-part retrospective featuring the fella who went green before ANY of us, the always-incredible Hulk!

"The Incredible Hulk" No. 1(May 1962)

Jack Kirby and Paul Reinman, original artists

"Is he man or monster?" A better question might’ve been: "Is he grey or is he green?" The answer out of the gate was "grey," but the big palooka didn’t make like the monster with the grey-flannel skin for long. From his second issue on, emerald has been his favored hue — well, mostly. Hey, you can’t blame a guy for wanting to mix it up every so often, can you? I mean, even Superman went the red and blue route — why not a crimson Hulk, too? (Just as long as he doesn’t turn yellow, we’re good…)

* * *
"The Incredible Hulk" No. 4 (November 1962)
Kirby and Dick Ayers, original artists
This is where I came in! Already familiar with the Fantastic Four by this time, how could I possibly resist that promise of "Fantasy As You Like It" splashed across a terrific split-cover by Kirby and from the self-same company? Hey, I may have been 9-years-old, but I wasn’t stupid — I grabbed this fourth issue off the stands eagerly. By now green, the star of the show wore a cute, little purple bathing suit and spoke like a 1930s-era, silver-screen gangster! Not quite the Hulk we’d come to know and love, that’s true, but also not someone you’d be likely to forget either.
* * *
"Fantastic Four" No.12 (March 1963)
Kirby and Ayers, original artists
Okay, so I bought the fifth issue, never saw the sixth, and the next thing I know, I’m reading on the Fantastic Four Fan Page that the Hulk’s book is canceled!! Huh? WHAT? Our grumpy gamma-guy, deep-sixed? Geez, what a bummer. Gone but not forgotten, though; Stan Lee had a plan, and that plan called for the big fella to go the guest-star route until Marvel’s managing editor could figure out just exactly what to do with him! And the first stop of this tour landed Bruce Banner’s cranky alter ego smack dab in the pages of the Fantastic Four — he was still wearing lavender briefs, still speaking Cagney-ese, but staring into the ever-lovin’ blue eyes of the Thing for the very first (though hardly the last) time!! And check out the way this cover tableau is frozen a mere split second before the REAL action begins! It’s pure genius, which is to say, it’s pure Kirby!!
* * *
"Amazing Spider-Man" No.14 (July 1963)
Steve Ditko, original artist
And just a few short months later, he gets the Ditko treatment!! In a lot of ways, the Hulk is largely incidental to this story — he doesn’t interact with any of the other characters featured in this issue, save for our web-bedecked star (the real headline here is the introduction of the Green Goblin). But in a number of subtle ways, this was an important turning point for the man-monster. As the cover vignette plainly indicates, the purple speedo was finally gone, replaced with fashionably torn purple Levis that pretty much became the order of the day from then on. Plus, this time around, though he shares a few choice words with Spidey during their punch ’em up, he was beginning to sound less like Little Caesar and more like the big, dumb, misunderstood and musclebound misanthrope we would all come to adore (and only then from afar). But still he had no regular series to call his own. WHERE, pray tell, would he turn up next…?
* * *
"Sgt. Fury And His Howling Commandos" No.13
(December 1964)
Kirby and Chic Stone, original artists
"Hulk smash puny Nazis!" Betcha you didn’t know the Hulk fought during WWII, huh? Well, um, okay, he didn’t. For awhile there, it seemed as if he was likely to turn up in ANY Marvel comic this side of Sgt. Fury — so one day I figured, hey, why not? I simply removed the figures of Captain America and Bucky from this cover and replaced ’em with Rick Jones and the Hulk (the latter’s pose lifted from the cover of 1965’s "Tales To Astonish" No.67, also the artistic handiwork of Kirby and Stone, making this a Marvel mash-up of sorts). Imagine if Fury had an outfit of HULKIN ‘ commandos, though? Hitler woulda been the one howlin’, lemme tell you!!
Well, that completes the first segment of our Hulk trilogy. Be with us next time to learn where our large lad lands — I ain’t tellin’, but the answer may well ASTONISH you!! For more of this sorta nonsense, I humbly direct you towards my very own website, — and as for something to hold in your very own two hands, may I suggest "The Nearly Complete Essential Hembeck Archives Omnibus."
See you again soon, fellow complex Heroes!!


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