As I mentioned before, the first solo Hulk story I read in Marvel Super-Heroes #36 (My'73) which reprinted Tales To Astonish #81 (Jl'66). I wasn't even eight yet. Henry superbly has been recoloring those classic covers here. TTA #81 is the first appearance of longtime Marvel villain Boomerang now featured in Thunderbolts. Captain Boomerang debuted in The Flash #117 (D'60). I don't know if Ol' Digger inspired this Boomerang but Batman was using batarangs for decades at this point.
I reread this story from Essential Hulk Volume 1. "The Stage Is Set" is by Stan Lee (script), Jack Kirby (layouts) and Wild Bill Everett (artwork). Kirby had been doing layouts for months with mediocre results from Bob Powell and an unusual Hulk tale from John Romita. But Everett brought his "A" game here. He drew a powerful, brutish, slightly cartoonish Jade Giant. His action sequences were dynamic and Betty Ross looked real good!
The split-books of this era were very much episodic in nature. This one is no exception as we are thrusted into several storylines at once. There is a war going on underground between the Mole Man and Tyrannus. In the 90s, this would a company wide crossover EVENT but here, it's a Hulk story! And a ten-pager at that. In fact, the Mole Man appears in one panel and Tyrannus on one page. But what a page! Now an old man, Tyrannus cannot defeat Bruce Banner! Sadly carrying a bust of his youthful self, he searches for his enchanted fountain to rejuvenate himself. Frightened and bitter, he vows vengeance to all!
As one battle ends, another begins. The Secret Empire, another Marvel criminal cartel, are after the Orion missile and hire Boomerang to steal it. Now Boomerang is revealed to be a handsome, wealthy, suspended baseball pitcher with an expensive apartment and beautiful girlfriend. Hardly "the seeds of crime bear bitter fruit!" But this, he hopes, is the big score that allows him to retire very comfortably. Unfortunately Boomerang has one of the worst outfits of the Silver Age. A white and magneta, puffy sleeved mess with a helmet that he appears to have borrowed from Galactus!
He stalks Betty Ross who with Major Glen Talbot and Rick Jones have just rematerialized from the down below! They are found by an army patrol who suddenly seem more worried about the Orion missile than any subterraean war. Boomerang strikes using a multitude of metal discs apparently velcroed to his puffy sleeves! But he is effective taking out the soldiers, slicing a gun barrel in two, and incapacitating Talbot and Rick with Lone Ranger-like non-lethal accuracy! He grabs Betty to hold captive until he gets the missile plans and blasts off in his funky, bulky retro-boots! Man, he has all the extras! Oh, and he does throw a boomerang....that causes a rock slide!
Meanwhile, an unshaven Bruce Banner searches for Tyrannus' matter transmitter so he can return to the surface. He gets piled on by Underground Troops and guess what happens? "He's changed!! He's grown larger....more powerful!! And his skin...it's become....GREEN!!" After some much-needed smashing, the Hulk subconsciously finds the machine Banner was looking for and teleports himself back to the surface!
Except for a flashback at the beginning, the Hulk doesn't appear until the last page.
Also this story happens after Rick tells everyone that Bruce Banner is the Hulk (Good one, Rick!) but before that's actually confirmed as Betty's not 100% sure.
I wonder if Boomerang was visually based on Whitey Ford? Now of course, suspended baseball players are sadly not shocking anymore.
The scene with Banner confronting an elderly Tyrannus stayed with me. Simply stunning.
Boomerang strikes at knees and elbows! OUCH!! "If only my arm would stop throbbing!"
The Hulk's rage on that final page, tearing down Tyrannus' statue and demolishing hated machines, show a lot about his mindframe!
Unfortunately next issue's battle with Boomerang is predictably disappointing. As skilled as the Terrible Thrower is, he's no match for the Hulk! He would have been better used fighting Captain America or Daredevil!