Tales to Astonish

Soon after buying my first Hulk comics (Incredible Hulk #167 and Marvel Super-Heroes #38), I began collecting backissues of both series as well as any reprints I could find elsewhere. I eventually acquired reprints of those elusive first six issues (Mile High Comics was asking $30 for #1!), but that mean I got them in the order of their initial publication. The first one I found was a story from #3 reprinted in Giant-Size Defenders #1. Later, another story from #3 (a linking story retelling "The Origin of the Hulk") was reprinted in Marvel Treasury Edition #5, and I acquired #3's the "Ringmaster" story  in Marvel Tales #2 as a backissue.

At this far remove, I cannot recall in exactly which order I acquired the other five issues, but I know I was finally able to read #1 reprinted in Stan Lee's Origins of Marvel Comics. Before that, though, issue #2 and #6 I had serialized in Marvel Collectors' Item Classics (although I was missing the concluding chapter of #2 for a long time). I finally filled in the gaps with a little pocketbook edition which reprinted all six issues in their entirety. This is an example of what those of use who were not true "first generation" Marvelites had to go through in the '70s to fill in gaps. (I consider myself "a bastard son of the first generation" Marvelite.)

In 1978, Fireside Press released the volume I have already reference, which reprinted a large swath of Hulk serials from Tales to Astonish I didn't have, plus some other appearances as well. Before the Hulk was awarded a spot in TTA, he made a number of "interstitial" appearances (mostly) between Hulk #6 and TTA #60. Lest anyone doubt or deny we are living in a new Golden Age, allow me to remind you that all six issues of Hulk, along with the interstitial appearances from Fantastic Four #12, #25-26, Avengers #1-3, #5, Spider-Man #14, Tales to Astonish #59 and Journey into Mystery #112 are available in a single volume, arranged in release date order.

I'm going to skip those for now, but will soon begin reading the Hulk's series from when he shared Tales to Astonish with first Giant-Man then Sub-Mariner. 

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  • Lest anyone doubt or deny we are living in a new Golden Age, allow me to remind you that all six issues of Hulk, along with the interstitial appearances from Fantastic Four #12, #25-26, Avengers #1-3, #5, Spider-Man #14, Tales to Astonish #59 and Journey into Mystery #112 are available in a single volume, arranged in release date order.

    A very nice package, which I bought in 2016 (!). Officially it/s called Incredible Hulk Epic Collection: Man or Monster?

  • STEVE DITKO - (#60-67):


    Despite the Kirby cover, Tales to Astonish #60 begins not only the Hulk's tenure within the pages of the title he would eventually take over, but Steve Ditko's run as well (having previously penciled ol' Greenskin in Hulk #6 and Spider-Man #14). On the cover of my personal copy of TTA #60, the previous owner decided to practice his inking skills by "embellishing" the figure of the Hulk with a ball point pen!




    Beginning with this issue, ol'

    Greenskin and his fun-loving

    friends will be co-featured each and every month 

    (as long as you can stand it!)


    Starring the world's strangest mortal, who dares to ask the burning question: "Can a man with green skin and a petulant personality find true happiness in today's status-seeking society?"

    Up until now, the reasons for the Hulk's transformation have been erratic, but this issue sets up the conceit that the changes are triggered by stress: "the strain must set off a chemical reaction in my blood cells which causes them to change their basic atomic structure due to the fact that I was once bathed in gamma rays, the changing blood cells take on new characteristics, growing many times more powerful." But they don't have it quite figured out yet because, until #67, the Hulk's change back to Bruce Banner is also caused by stress. "And now that I know," thinks Banner (five panels before changing into the Hulk again), "all I have to do is avoid any strain, any undue worry, and I won't change into the Hulk!" 

    Dr. Banner has a number of inventions in addition to the gamma bomb in the works (as we shall see), this issue's being a robotic suit of armor designed to withstand an atomic blast. The suit is stolen by a spy and the story is unresolved because the Hulk changes back to Banner in the midst of battle. 

    #61 sees the introduction of Major Glen Talbot, the missile base's new security chief. Banner is under suspicion for the robot suit theft because of his frequent, unexplained disappearances. Ironically, the robot/spy is hiding in one of Banner's many secret caves. Hulk eventually fights the robot (the spy has become stuck inside by this point) and knocks it into a deep opit, never to be seen again. Just prior to that, however, the spy launched a missile at the base. Hulk destroys the missile but is knocked unconscious in the process and bound with special chains designed by Bruce Banner and manufactured by Tony Stark. The issue ends with the bound Hulk getting angrier, in danger of changing back.

    #62 introduces the Leader, who runs a vast spy network and wears a helmet concealing his features. The spy who stole the robot suit, it is revealed, was in his employ. The Leader calls in another of his operatives, the Chameleon (see Spider-Man), to take the first spy's place. In a cameo appearance, Captain America bids farewell to Rick Jones, who had been hanging out with the Avengers, so that he may rejoin the Hulk. Coincidentally, Rick sits next to the disguised Chameleon on their commercial flight west. 

    Later, Rick helps Bruce escape unseen after the latter has slipped from his bonds when he transformed. Banner is still under suspicion, and the situation is made worse when the Chameleon disguises himself as the scientist and finds Banner's hand-held gamma grenade. He takes Betty Ross hostage, but meanwhile the stress of being held captive  has transformed Banner back into the Hulk, who rescues Betty, but the Chameleon gets away.

    In #64 the Leader removes his helmet for the first time revealing that he, too, is a gamma-spawned mutant like the Hulk. He sends his pink, flexible-but-indestructible Humanoid to steal Banner's Absorbatron (designed to absorb the radiation of the nuclear blast), which is being transported by train. Bruce Banner and Maj. Talbot are also on the train. I can see why Talbot is suspicious of Banner, but he continues to accuse Banner of one crime after another without a shred of evidence. I never did care for Talbot, but I'm liking him even less now than I ever did before. The Hulk thwarts the theft of the Absorbatron and Bruce Banner ends up in a jail cell.

    #64 finds Banner in Washington, D.C. being investigated for treason. Using his Avengers ID card, Rick goes to a high-ranking official (presumably President Johnson) and comes clean. Soon, Banner has been cleared by the Pentagon. By this time, the Absorbatron is on Astra Isle awaiting testing. This time, the Leader attacks with a "Horde of Humanoids." But it is not the Humanoids which cause Banner to transform... it is the constant badgering by Maj. Talbot! Banner manages to slip away to change unseen, but then is attacked by the Humanoids. The issue ends, in the midst of a lengthy battle, with Hulk running the risk of changing back.

    As a Marine task force arrives (in #65), the Leader orders his Humanoids to beat a strategic retreat, and the Hulk, too, swims away. He manages to make it a mile before transforming, but then is captured by a Soviet submarine prowling offshore. A patrol plane snaps a picture, which eventually finds its way into the hands of Maj. Talbot. Banner has been captured, but Talbot just assumes he has defected. 

    Banner is taken to a "captured European nation" and subjected to what we would now call "enhanced interrogation techniques." The stress causes him to transform, and the Hulk runs amok. (This is the first time, I think, the Hulk has used a handclap as an offensive maneuver.) As the issue ends, the Russian army is approaching.

    Hulk continues to rampage behind the Iron curtain in #66. General Ross, Maj. Talbot and Betty have assumed the roles of the ego, the id and the superego (in Freudian terms). In #67 the Hulk uses the handclap again as an offensive weapon. After more-or-less defeating the Russian troops, the Hulk leaps away "toward Mongolia" (I thought he was in a "captured European nation"?) and the Soviets are happy to let him leave. He ends up "in a lonely, isolated section of the towering Himalayas" where he falls asleep.

    "Then, with sleep, comes complete forgetfulness, as the storm within his breast stops raging, and the Hulk changes--back to the person of Bruce Banner," and he is captured by the bandit leader Kanga Khan, who decides to ransom him. When word gets back to the states, General Ross wants to rescue Banner if he's innocent, and have him stand trial if he's not. Maj. Talbot (the prick) is convinced he is a traitor. Ross assigns Talbot to bring Banner back. No sooner has Talbot (wearing civvies) tracked him down, however, than rival bandit Hakum Gantu attacks. 

    Talbot and Banner slip away and the issue literally ends on a cliffhanger as they both fall off a cliff. I wouldn't normally end a post in the middle of a story, but this marks the point at which Stainless Steve Ditko is replaced by Jolly Jack Kirby.

    NEXT TIME: The King.

  • I think this was where Marvel first used the "never ending story" approach to plotting.

  • I have been reading these in "omnibus" format, including "Mails to Astonish" which I have been reading as well. In #66, Steven Kelez of Talmage, CA writes: "With the addition of the Hulk to Tales to Astonish you made a remark at the end of one story that I would like to see become reality. As quoted, 'So, for more of the same, don't miss the next chapter of the only comic mag super-hero soap opera in existence.' Is this the start of a serialized comic story? I truly hope it is--there is nothing that I enjoy more than the old serials and if this type of story is introduced by the Hulk, this would be another triumph for the Marvel Age of Comics."

    The serial storytelling exhibited in Tales to Astonish does have occasional natural breakpoints which today we would call "arcs." The first arc (as I see it), which began in #60, comes to a conclusion in #74 (although I chose to break this serial story up by artist, Ditko and Kirby). (I will also be breaking the Kirby run up into smaller arcs.) 

  • As I have mentioned, my first two "Hulk" comics were Incredible Hulk #167 and Marvel Super-Heroes #38, but my third "Hulk" comic was Marvel Feature #11. I had no way of knowing it at the time, but MF #11 was actually the first issue of a new "Thing" team-up series. After two issues of Marvel Feature, it morphed into Marvel Two-In-One #1. For all intents and purposes, I wish Marvel had retained the MF name (or at least the numbering), making the next issue after #12 either Marvel Feature #13 or Marvel-Two-In-One #13. (If you were to buy Marvel Masterworks Two-In-One v1, it starts with the Marvel Feature issues.) But that's neither here nor there. All I knew in 1973 when I plunked down my two dimes (two dimes!) for MF #11, I got a really cool Hulk/Thing fight (my first and still my favorite) written by Len Wein, drawn by Jim Starlin and inked by Joe Sinnott.


    (I had no idea who "Nuff" was or what "'Nuff Said" meant until I heard it said aloud sometime later on an episode of All in the Family and it suddenly clicked.) 

    Also, Marvel Feature #11 introduced me to the Hulk's archenemy, the Leader.

    As soon as I determined Hulk was my favorite character, I began collecting his series in "both directions" (meaning I collected backissues and reprints as well as new issues), which brings me up to the first "Hulk" comic I acquired as a backissue. 

    JACK KIRBY - (#68-74):


    I cannot tell you how exited I was to find this comic book. It reprinted the Hulk stories from Tales to Astonish #68-74, all of which featured the Leader. A footnote in  Marvel Feature #11 pointed out that the Leader had appeared "in about a billion old issues of The Hulk," and here were some of them. I started reading with MSH #38 (reprinting TTA #83) so I knew I had a large gap yet to fill, but here were no fewer than seven stories featuring the Leader. But this earlier Leader was completely ambulatory, whereas the one in MF #11 was paralyzed head-to-toe and encased in a glass tube. How did that happen? (It would be a while yet before I was to find out.) What's more, the first story reprinted in Hulk Annual #3 began with Bruce Banner dead from a bullet lodged in his brain! (Current continuity has it that the Hulk is immortal and always returns to life after being killed, but we need not get  into that here.) But I am getting ahead of myself.

    We left off last time with Bruce Banner and Major Talbot falling to their deaths off a cliff. By the time #68 opens, Talbot has passed out "from the fury of the fall" and Bruce Banner has transformed into the Hulk. The Hulk saves his unconscious enemy, then decides he wants to go home. "Even the broad Pacific itself poses no problem, as he leaps from isle to isle, from passing plane to passing plane, never stopping, never tiring." Meanwhile, the Leader still has the Absorbatron on his mind. It is still on Astra Isle awaiting the test to be rescheduled. This time, the Leader shrinks his Humanoids to microscopic size and spreads them over the isle in a fine, pink dust to be activated by radio waves and grown to full size at the proper time.

    The Hulk eventually makes his way back to the missile base and lies down in Bruce Banner's cabin to rest. "Slowly, he sinks his massive frame into the couch, as his eyelids close for the first time in hours... and, as he begins to sleep, his heartbeat slows down, his blood pressure returns to normal, and... once again, the incredible chemical reaction of his bady begins to occur..." Finding Banner back in his cabin when he was last seen in the hands of the Reds only serves to make General Ross more suspicious.

    "Days later, having been rescued in the Orient by the Air Force [more on this later], Major Glen Talbot is granted a special audience in Washington, D.C.," and this time it is definitely with President Johnson. Marvel was playing coy in #64, but this time he uses his Biblical catchphrase, "Come, let us reason together." LBJ is committed to keeping Bruce Banner's secret, and puts Talbot off. 

    Soon, Banner and Talbot are back on Astra Isle to test the Absorbatron again. Banner is suspicious of the pink  dust everywhere, but Talbot dismisses it. The Leader activates his Humanoids who grow to full size and attack. Banner and Talbot are separated in the melee, and both are overwhelmed. But Banner changes into the Hulk. The Humanoids secret a powerful sleeping gas, however, which is I think the first time Hulk has been overcome in this manner. As the issue ends, the Leader is on his way to collect both the Absorabtron and the Hulk.

    In #68, the Leader himself arrives to supervise the loading of the Absorbatron and the abduction of the Hulk. Meanwhile, "as the evil genius... proceeds with his plan, his actions are seen by sharp-eyed observers of the Navy task force [more on this later] which is preparing to test the Absorbatron." A few years after I acquired Hulk Annual #3 traded for a stack of early Avengers which included #17, "The Search for the Hulk," which was released the same month as TTA #68 and included some panels from this story which explained why they were unable to find him. That's the kind of continuity that made Marvel Marvel.

    Later (we are told), "the same gas which kept the green-skinned Goliath asleep and helpless, also slowly transformed his body chemistry, slowing down his heartbeat, until... he who had been the Hulk finally becomes the brilliant, tortured Bruce Banner once again!" The transformations this issue and last indicate Stan is finally getting a handle on how the transformations work but, in this case, he should have left well enough alone because he goes on to have Bruce Banner monologue, "Luckily, the sleep gas which felled the Hulk is acting as an ati-toxin in the body of Bruce Banner, so it no longer affects me!" Whatever. There's also a bit of writer's fiat involved as Bruce Banner "awakens with the memory of what has occurred clearly impressed on his brain," but whatever it takes to move the plot along, I guess. 

    The Leader has taken the Hulk to his hidden base in the Southwest by now (I don't think I mentioned that), not too far from Ross's missile base. Rick Jones overhears General Ross give the order that Bruce Banner is to be shot on sight. Banner sends out an SOS which draws the Army [more on this later] to the Leader's base. The Leader has discovered the Hulk's absence by this point and floods the lab with gas which, in this case, triggers the transformation. the Hulk destroys the Absorbatron to keep it out of the Leader's hands, and the Leader escapes via an underground rocket sled. When the soldiers arrive, one of them fires at a shape in the mist. Rick Jones arrives on the scene just in time to witness a group of soldiers carrying Bruce Banner's lifeless body. Major Talbot examines the body and proclaims, "Gentlemen, the traitor is dead!"

    That brings me up to Hulk Annual #3, but it would still be some time yet before I was able to read TTA #69 reprinted in a backissue of MSH. Befoe moving on, however...

    MAILS TO ASTONISH: One Mike Paulokovich of Danville, VA writes in to complain about the serial nature of the Hulk's feature, to which Stan responds, "Mike, ol' Marvelophile, so far the mail is running about 50-to-1 in favor of keeping our jolly green giant as a serialized soap opera!"

    TTA #70: All right, this is where I came in! Bruce Banner has just been shot in the head by a fatal bullet, but before I get to that, I would like to point out that the splash page caption refers to the soldiers as "Army." They are all wearing green helmets and olive drab fatigues but are apparently under the command of General Ross and Major Talbot, both wearing blue uniforms. the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines have all been mentioned in these stories but, until now, they've never specifically been shown under Ross's command, per se. Most often they are referred to as (non-branch-specific) "soldiers" stationed at "the missile base." They are sometimes referred to as "Army" by not-necessarily-reliable narrators (such as the Hulk or a villain), but this is the first time Ross's command has be specifically referred to as Army.

    I might also point out that that same caption refers to this story as a "drama-packed soap opera."

    Rick Jones sneaks away with Banner's body and takes it to one of his hidden labs where he infuses it with "a thousand volts of gamma ray energy" in an effort to revive him. It works, and also establishes a new status quo. The procedure causes him to change, but the Hulk awakens with the mind of Bruce Banner! "I remember everything!" he says. "the bullet which is lodged within my skull must have affected my mind! My brain is no longer clouded! But, only the power of theHulk can keep me alive! If I become Banner again, the bullet will cause my death--forever!... My very life depends upon never changing back to Bruce Banner!" 

    Meanwhile, with the Absorbatron destroyed, the Leader sends his 500 ft. tall Humanoid against the missile base. The Hulk tries to stop it, but accidentally deflects a missile sent from the base (more circumstantial evidence against him). The Humanoid squeezes Hulk in its giant fist and the Hulk says "...the madder I get the stronger I get" for the first time. General Ross authorizes the use of the "Sunday Punch Super Rocket" against it, in hope it will take out the Hulk as well. Rick Jones overhears and runs out to warn the Hulk.

    MAILS TO ASTONISH: This issue of TTA (#70) is the first one to co-feature the Sub-Mariner instead of Giant-Man. Also, future pro Don McGregor has a letter printed in support of the continued story format.

    TTA #71: Rick arrives with his warning in time for the Hulk to leap them both to safety and the "Sunday Punch" missile destroys the Humanoid. (I was nine or ten at the time and I think story is where I learned the terms "shockwave" and "mushroom cloud".) Last issue's new status quo is tweaked a little bit as rick Jones observes, "Even though the Hulk now has Bruce Banner's brain, he's changed! He's colder, fiercer, more violent than Dr. Banner ever was!" The Hulk had acquired Bruce Banner's intellect once before (Hulk #3), but it eventually faded. In effect, his personality is now much the same as it was in issue #-6 of his own mag and when he was with the Avengers. A modern reader might even recognize this as his "Joe Fixit" personality.

    Unfortunately, Hulk was spotted entering the cave and Ross's soldiers are on the way. They bomb the $#!t out of his equipment which, unfortunately, he needs to use every 48 hours to keep from changing back to his human self. Hulk forces Rick to flee to safety, then Ross really lets loose. The Leader appears and makes him an offer: join him or die. "The choice is yours."

    In TTA #72, after three pages of being bombarded, the Hulk agrees, and the Leader transports him to another of his secret lairs, this one "on the outskirts of Rome [in] an innocent-looking building which houses an expensive art gallery." The Leader gasses him again, which first knocks him out but then, after the Leader has left, starts to cause him to revert to human form which will kill him. The Hulk begins to destroy things in his frustration, causing the Leader to send some Humanoids (disguised as statues) to subdue him. He's holding off the transformation through sheer willpower, but he can't keep it up for long.

    In TTA #73, the Leader arrives on the scene just before the fatal change. It is proximity to Leader himself which saves the Hulk's life (due to "the gamma ray energy from [the Leader's] own body"). The Leader x-rays the now-unconscious Hulk and discovers the bullet lodged in his skull. Using a gamma ray laser, the Leader dissolves the bullet without damaging the Hulk's brain tissue. Then the Leader subjects the Hulk to "a full-intensity shower of gamma rays to bring him back to his full strength." This has the desired effect, with one unforeseen tweak to the new status quo, however. 

    "I always feared if I received such a staggering amount it would seal my identity! I'd never be able to become Bruce Banner again! What irony! Now that it's safe for me to revert to my normal form--I can't! I'm destined to remain the Hulk--forever! With Banner's brain!" Next, the Leader subjects the Hulk to a series of tests (which I thought was a really cool  sequence when I was nine or ten). Then he reveals what he wants Hulk for in the first place.

    He has discovered the Blue Area of the Moon, where the Watcher lives and wants the Hulk to go there to steal the Watcher's "Ultimate Machine". (Actually, according to the story, the Leader sends the Hulk to the Watcher's home planet, on the other side of the galaxy, at the speed of thought, but I choose to interpret this as Stan's artistic license. I prefer to think the Leader sent Hulk to the Moon, which is much more believable. Besides, if he had gone to the Watcher's home planet, that wouldn't have been Uatu he met.) 

    Now, I've got to tell you, this wasn't my first encounter with the Watcher (Uatu or not). It's difficult to remember but, by the time I acquired Hulk Annual #3 I'm sure I would have already have read the "Galactus Trilogy" reprinted in Marvel Treasury Edition (Fantastic Four) #2, and probably his first appearance as reprinted in Marvel Collectors' Item Classics #7 (another backissue). The cliffhanger (and why the Leader didn't simply go himself, because the Watcher wouldn't stop him) is that the Leader knows a powerful alien is also after the Ultimate Machine.

    In TTA #74, the two fight for a good six+ pages before the Watcher declares Hulk the winner. The Ultimate Machine is a golden, transparent sphere which contains "all the knowledge of the known universe." The Hulk dutifully turns it over to the Leader (as payment for saving his life). "At last!" the Leader cackles. "I can feel the knowledge teeming into my brain! the knowledge of a thousand long-dead civilizations... a million planets... a billion years..." Then something goes wrong. In the space of three panels, the Leader clutches the machine in agony, then drops dead. I guess even the Leader's brain wasn't big enough to absorb all the knowledge of the known universe. 

    The death of the Leader, as I see it, brings to an end the arc of stories begun back in #60.

    MAILS TO ASTONISH: Bud Plant writes to complain about the "Pop Art Productions" masthead.

  • The stories covered above make up my favorite Hulk run of all especially the Ditko material. We always think of Spider-Man and Dr. Strange when it comes to Ditko's Silver Age Marvel work but he did a great job co-plotting and penciling the Hulk. I wish he had stuck with it longer.

  • Jeff, I was in high school when all of these TTA Hulk stories were published, and I read them all. My first Hulk story was Fantastic Four #25.

    At the end of the second Hulk movie (the first one was terrible) they had a janitor gamma irradiated. I haven't seen it since, but I think he started to transform into The Leader, like in the comics, I was disappointed that this wasn't followed up.

    In the TTA stories you've been rereading, do they include Talbot's ulterior motive of wanting to take Betty away from Bruce? I don't remember if that was evident in the beginning.

  • The stories covered above make up my favorite Hulk run of all especially the Ditko material.

    Before moving on, here's what my favorite comics guide has to say about the Hulk's run in Astonish:

    "These early Hulk tales were very different for the time as they featured many continued stories; in fact he spent 25 of his 42-issue run fighting three villains (Leader, Secret Empire and Boomerang). Although he created the Hulk, like many others writers, Lee seemed to have no idea what to do with him. He has probably had proportionately more fight scene pages than any other character and the rest of each issue consisted entirely of General Ross' attempts to kill/capture him. There were no outstanding issues, but 73, 74 (last two Leader issues) and 93-96 were the best."

    [I disagree with much of that assessment.]

    My first Hulk story was Fantastic Four #25.

    I read Fantastic Four #25-26 early on, soon after Marvel Feature #11 as a matter of record, in the 1974 Marvel Treasury Special "Giant Superhero Holiday Grab-Bag." I will admit this two-parter impressed me much more at the time than the so-called "Galactus Trilogy" reprinted in Marvel Treasury Edition #2. One thing that strikes me as odd, years later, when put in context, is the FF's nonchalant acceptance of Captain America's return. "The Avengers Take Over" (FF #26) takes place between Avengers #4 and #5, Soon (very soon) after Captain America was unthawed. Reed Richards and Ben Grimm were both WWII vets, but Reed doesn't react at all. I would be tempted to speculate that he simply assumes that this is another Captain America, but Ben says to him, "Hey, that's right! You used to have a sidekick named Bucky, didn't ya?"

    I don't remember if [Talbot's ulterior motive of wanting to take Betty away from Bruce] was evident in the beginning.

    Oh, Talbot started hitting on Betty from the very first panel in which they met: "This is indeed a pleasure, Miss Ross. It's rare to find such beauty on a military base!" General Ross, too, thinks, "Perhaps Glen Talbot can take her mind off that milksop Banner." By #64, Talbot is scheming, "With Banner out of the way, I'll do everything I can to win her heart!" Stan loves his soap opera elements.

    JACK KIRBY - (#75-77):

    During this stage of Marvel's history, in addition to his own penciling duties, Jack Kirby was assigned "layouts" for other artists to follow. Also known as "breakdowns," layouts are much looser than full pencils, and that's what Kirby has been supplying for the Hulk feature in TTA since he replaced Steve Ditko, mostly for Micky Demeo, but also for Bob Powell (#73-74), Scott Edward (#76), and even John Romita (#77). Although Marvel didn't have a "house style" per se, Stan often assigned Kirby to work in this capacity until newer artists learned the "Marvel Method." 


    At some point during my childhood, I somehow acquired on original copy of Tales to Astonish #75 (as opposed to a Marvel Super-Heroes reprint). Hulk Annual #3 had already been burned into my brain by that time, and I remember being quite excited to find out what happened next. The story begins with the Hulk standing over the lifeless body of the Leader and holding the Ultimate Machine. 

    "Even though I turned into the Hulk," he monologues, "I still have Bruce Banner's brain... but why is it so hard for me to think now? It's as though the limitless power of my body is overshadowing my mind! Bruce Banner's thoughts seem strange to me... shadowy... as if they're slowly fading away... getting harder to hang onto...!" Just as Banner's intellect eventually faded from the Hulk's consciousness the last time he acquired it (Hulk #3, as I mentioned yesterday), so too does it begin to fade now. I used to think there was no clear demarcation point at which all trace of Banner's personality was wiped from the Hulk's mind, but I think I have identified such a point during this read-through. (Not yet, though.) the Hulk begins to leap across the Italian countryside until he alights "on a ledge atop a remote peak in the towering Alps."

    Meanwhile, back in the states, General Ross has order the construction of the "T-Gun" from a set of plans Bruce Banner was working on before he "died." They have no idea what the purpose of this weapon is, but they're going to build and fire it, anyway, just to find out. the soap opera elements come to the fore as Betty Ross comes to Banner's defense. Rick Jones is being held in military custody in Washington, D.C., but the soldiers refuse his request to contact the white House. 

    Back in the Alps, the Hulk tries to put the Ultimate Machine on his head, just to prove he can. It starts to overload his brain as well but, before he takes it off, a vision of Rick in prison spurs him into action. The vision was caused by the Watcher, observing from afar, in a little white violation of this noninterference oath. After the Hulk leaps away, the Watcher retrieves his machine. How the Hulk crosses the Atlantic is glossed over, but soon he is shown approaching Washington, D.C. Ross has had enough advance waring to move the T-Gun into place, and fires it as the Hulk aproaches the National Mall.

    The part of the Hulk's mind that is still Bruce Banner immediately recognizes the effects of his Time-Gun! Suddenly Hulk finds himself still in Washington, D.C., but in the far distant future. A group of futuristic soldiers gather to attack and the Hulk prepares to meet them in kind.

    TTA #76: The forces arrayed against the Hulk are those of King Arrkam. The Hulk is initially subdued by the Captivator, a weapon which controls gravity. Arrkam tries to enlist the hulk's help against the "Evil One" but, as soon as Hulk learns Arrkam has no time travel technology, he leaves. 

    "Sometimes," a caption informs us, "the clouded brain of the bestial titan forgets that he and Bruce Banner are truly one and the same--for, little by little, the original normal identity of Banner is submerged by the stronger, more brutal essence of--the Hulk!" (That hasn't quite happened yet, though.) As the Hulk flees what he thinks is pursuit, he realizes that the Evil One is attacking and King Arrkam's forces are actually arrayed against him. The Hulk approaches the Evil One to see if he has the means to send him home, and the Evil one is revealed to be... the Executioner! (I was thinking Kang when I first read it.)

    MAILS TO ASTONISH: Jerise Newton of Placerville, CA suggests that Betty Ross be exposed to gamma rays and become a She-Hulk Hulkess. 


    TTA #77 was both penciled and inked by John Romita, but still over Jack Kirby's layouts. It's interesting to compare the art on this story to a Spider-Man Romita drew entirely on his own. 

    Being an immortal from Asgard, the Executioner could quite likely have lived to this far-flung future time, but I'm not sure that's exactly the case. I may be getting ahead of myself, but the next time Hulk comes face to face with the Executioner, in the present (Hulk #102), the Executioner remembers him: "BEHOLD! Before my very eyes the Earthman hath turned into the green-skinned behemoth with who I did do battle once before!" How could the Executioner from the present "remember" something that hasn't happened yet? Surely Stan didn't make a mistake and simply forget that TTA #77 took place in the future! What's more, readers of Walt Simonson's 1980s run of Thor know that the Executioner doesn't survive to see the future. (Whoops... "spoiler.") My theory has always been that, somehow, in a story yet to be told, the Executioner, too, had travelled in time to the future. This read-through has given me some verbal evidence I had forgotten that that might, indeed, be the case. The Executioner says, "I have the power... the knowledge to bridge the gap of time... to span the ages... at will!"

    On page five of TTA #77, the Hulk is hit with a stun beam followed by two double-fisted blows from the executioner himself. "with that," we are told, "the green Goliath's words become hopelessly unintelligible! So consumed with rage is he, that he cannot speak... he cannot think... he can only... hate!" This then (as I see it), is the point at which Bruce Banner's psyche becomes completely subsumed by the Hulk's (if it hadn't been already). Thus ends the status quo established back in TTA #70, but a new one is waiting to take its place.

    Back in the present, Rick Jones has been released due to lack of evidence, but Major Talbot is following him. Morosely, the teenager wanders to the cave where he was forced to leave the Hulk behind. Inside, his memories virtually come to life, and Major Talbot is there, eagerly waiting to hear  his "confession." In order to ease his conscience and clear Bruce Banner's name, Rick reveals to Talbot that Banner and the Hulk are one and the same. I don't think this revelation has the impact Marvel had hoped for (judging from the cover blurbs); at least it didn't with me. I was reading these stories wildly out of publication order and, by the time I read TTA #77, I had long since read the much more significant TTA #87 (reprinted in MSH #42). But I'm getting ahead of myself. True, in the Hulk reprints I had read up to that point, Rick Jones openly maintained Bruce Banner was the Hulk, but no one believed him so TTA #77 didn't end up making all that much difference; for me it was just, "Oh, so this is when that happened." 

    "Meanwhile" in the future, the effects of the T-Gun wear off, and Hulk appears in the cave immediately after Rick and Talbot depart. 

  • They have no idea what the purpose of this weapon is, but they're going to build and fire it, anyway, just to find out.

    That’s pretty stupid.

    Ross has had enough advance waring to move the T-Gun into place, and fires it as the Hulk aproaches the National Mall.

    It would be stupid to fire it in the desert. This is even stupider.

    (For those unfamiliar with the term, the National Mall is the area between the White House, the Lincoln Memorial and the Capitol Building)

    The vision was caused by the Watcher, observing from afar, in a little white violation of this noninterference oath.

    I think he violated his oath more than he observed it.

    How the Hulk crosses the Atlantic is glossed over, but soon he is shown approaching Washington, D.C.

    It’s more or less the same distance to cross the Atlantic as it is between California and Hawaii. If he was bouncing off passenger jets along the way I think his “kick off” would have downed them. There are no Pacific Islands between California and Hawaii. If Stan wanted it to be more interesting the Hulk should have crossed the Aleutians. When he got to Siberia he could have played with the Red Army.

    “BEHOLD! Before my very eyes the Earthman hath turned into the green-skinned behemoth with who I did do battle once before!" How could the Executioner from the present "remember" something that hasn't happened yet? Surely Stan didn't make a mistake and simply forget that TTA #77 took place in the future!

    This is why Stan had to give up scripting in addition to his editing. Too much work for one guy. Heck, in the original Hulk series he forgot that Banner’s first name was Bruce.

    This read-through has given me some verbal evidence I had forgotten that that might, indeed, be the case. The Executioner says, "I have the power... the knowledge to bridge the gap of time... to span the ages... at will!"

    If this was after the above it was probably Stan's way of correcting his mistake after someone pointed it out.

  • If Stan wanted it to be more interesting the Hulk should have crossed the Aleutians.

    I think the Hulk did take a northerly route as the first time he is shown entering North America it is "at a far north coastal radar tracking station." I agree with you about him bouncing off passenger jets along the way. What would be the point? And why would more than a single jet be flying in the same general direction in such close proximity? (Could be different airlines, sure, but they still wouldn't be that close.) Again, what would be the point of changing jets? How would the Hulk (of all people) know which jet to take... from the outside. More likely, once he picked a jet he stuck with it... as indeed he was shown doing later in his own series. 

    Heck, in the original Hulk series he forgot that Banner’s first name was Bruce.

    I haven't mentioned it, but twice now (once Rick Jones and once Major Talbot) someone  has referred to the General's daughter as Betty Brant

    If this was after the above...

    No, it was in TTA #77; the mistake didn't occur until Hulk #102. I think somewhere there a story of why the Executioner travelled in time just waiting to be told. (Maybe Kang the Conqueror was involved somehow.)

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