Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Incredible Hulk - The Metal Master!


Following the Hulk's guest shot in Fantastic Four he moved onto what proved to be the sixth and final issue of his own comic for a very very long time. Stan Lee was still writing but the art chores switched over from Jack Kirby and Dick Ayers to Steve Ditko. Ditko had inked the second issue and some years later would continue to pencil the Hulk's adventures when he landed his own series as part of Tales to Astonish. But that's in the future.


For the first times since the second issue we have a tale which occupies the entire comic. And like the second issue the menace descends from the depths of outer space. The Metal Master is an alien from the planet of Astra where apparently the denizens can mentally control all forms of metal. This power, a souped up version of what the X-Men villain Magneto could do proves at first to be too much for the forces of Earth. When Bruce Banner sees the menace he uses his advanced equipment to turn himself into the Hulk but this time the change is different as all of his body transforms save for his head.


But he has full-head masks on hand, and off he goes to be soundly defeated by the Metal Master.Thankfully he has full transformed when the army takes him prisoner and removes the mask. Rick Jones tries to help his buddy but is rejected. Then he finds some of his old comrades and they strike on the idea to create "The Teen Brigade" who will use shortwave equipment to keep contacts around the Earth as Metal Master has his way. Metal Master has the world at his feet when the Hulk escapes and Bruce Banner thinks up a scheme to trick the alien invader with a plastic gun. Demoralized by his inability to manipulate the weapon the Metal Master hikes to his space ship and leaves Earth. But that leaves the Hulk who has just saved the planet and receives a pardon for his trouble. Transformed back into Bruce Banner he finally takes Betty Ross on a date while Rick Jones ponders the future.


The sense of whimsy in this story is really strong. The premise of alien invasion is fine, but the outlandish and grandiose manner of the Metal Master's powers make this story a flight of pure fancy more akin to the less developed monster stories of the earlier Atlas period. After the more down-to-earth adventure in the Fantastic Four this one is a real change in tone.


Ditko offers up some really eye-catching graphics but his energetic art is in service to a story which lacks some of the emotional power of a typical Marvel effort. The creation of the Teen Brigade though is a crucial detail (pointing the way to yet another premise change I suppose) but that aspect will have play itself out in a new book -- The Avengers.


More to come when the Hulk assembles with other heroes of the Marvel Universe. Despite the cancellation of the book, this will be Hulkinued.

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4 comments:

  1. It's a pretty nutty story, but it also includes Ditko's innovative idea about emotional stress causing the transformations.(On page 23, and Lee misunderstood what was in the images and explained it by saying there was a delayed reaction to the Gamma Ray machine). It gets more explicitly spelled out in the first story in Astonish, also by Ditko. Like all brilliant ideas, it seems blindingly obvious in retrospect, but by establishing that rage creates this unstoppable monster, the Hulk becomes more iconic and more easily identified with. It was probably the solution to the character Lee and Kirby had been struggling to find in the earlier issues.

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    1. The trigger for the changes had been altering from issue to issue, with machinery taking the place of night as originally stated. The sense I get from this issue is that Bruce Banner was genuinely uncertain and so even more fearful of what might happen moment to moment. His sense of control, always an illusion, but something which he rather toyed around with came back to bite him.

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  2. And, as the rage idea seems to have been Ditko's, that suggests that Kirby's story of the creation of The Hulk was a 'retroactive re-imagining' - I'll be kind in putting it like that.

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    1. I think the Hulk as rage-metaphor is ultimately a limiting idea. I find the original idea of a night monster, a creature created by science run amok a more compelling notion. The later additions that the Hulk is an expression of childhood abuse left me cold, it seems an elegant solution but somehow doesn't sound legit.

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