Sunday, January 8, 2017

The Incredible Hulk - The Toad Men!


After the highly emotional story told in the debut it's difficult to find the second issue of the original The Incredible Hulk series all that compelling. In one of the most common cliches in comics, our "hero" (protagonist)  repulses an attempted invasion of the planet by aliens, in this case weird looking little man-things who are dubbed the "Toad Men" (later to be called by the slightly more scientifiky name of "Tribbites").


The battle against alien invaders must have been the go-to story for Stan and Jack as they'd had the Fantastic Four do the same thing against the infamous Skrulls in the second issue of their comic. But whereas the Skrulls became a persistent threat in the Marvel Universe and one of its core alien species, the Toad Men were mostly forgotten, and properly so.


The most memorable thing about issue two is the delightful artwork, a blend of Jack Kirby's bravura penciling and Steve Ditko's atmospheric inking. The duo didn't work together that much, each having too much on his plate getting the Marvel Universe up and running, but when they did work together it was special. The Hulk is the one series at Marvel which both of its artistic fathers contributed important work to during their tenures and each has a significant fan base for his work. In the hands of these two giants, the Hulk looked the most like Boris Karloff's classic Frankenstein Creature (one of his clear inspirations) than he ever did.


The story is a pretty simple one, the Toad Men come to Earth and seeking to nullify threats kidnap Bruce Banner and Rick Jones.


But they bite off more than can chew when Banner becomes the Hulk and destroys the scout ship causing it to crash.


The Toad Men escape into tunnels beneath the crashed ship while Bruce Banner is arrested and blamed for threatening the world. The Toad King then makes an announcement to the whole world telling what will happen when their armada appears in the sky.


Bruce Banner turns into the Hulk escapes his cell, battles the troops of Thunderbolt Ross, and uses his invention, the Gamma Ray Gun which is able somehow to magnetically repel the entire Toad Man fleet. Bruce Banner is cleared, but the Hulk still exists in a lonely exile in his self-imposed prison in the desert.


The story for all the great art and some really powerful emotional set pieces, is just a little too goofy. As hair-brained as the FF's solution to the Skrull problem was (convincing the Skrull leadership that Earth men were too dangerous for attack) it seems downright prosaic compared to the nigh Big Red Cheese-likesolution in this story. It's just not the right tone for a Marvel story and I can understand why the Toad Men were ignored for so long after their initial appearance here.


In fact I don't think they resurface on one time late in the Hulk's second run and not really a memorable appearance until some fake Toad Men pop up in She-Hulk in which she is shown on the cover reading this very issue of The Incredible Hulk


And you know this will be Hulkinued next week.

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5 comments:

  1. What you say is undoubtedly true, Rip, but really only to adult eyes. At the time, kids wouldn't have been so analytical and just soaked up the great art by Kirby & Ditko. Funnily enough, I really like this story, mainly because of the time and place in my life with which I associate it, and also because I liked that Karloffian-Hulk look that was never quite repeated.

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    1. No doubt. But the change from the first issue (which is pretty serious really in many ways) and the second is notable. It's not the craft I challenge, only the odd change of tone.

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  2. The stories in much of the first run of Hulk are hard to defend, I'll grant you, and since it died at the box office there were obviously problems. But I keep coming back to what an anomaly the protagonist was in a world of squeaky-clean, code-approved superheroes. Banner gets arrested for being a traitor, but shortly before that he was (as the Hulk) contemplating "wiping out all mankind" with the captured space tech. Like the early Thing, the Hulk was a frightening figure. The shock of early Marvel heroes was how menacing and weird they were compared to the status quo. The comics themselves were very dark and ominous-looking compared to pristine, brightly colored DC and others.It's hard to convey how powerful this new line was in context.

    And,man,that Kirby/Ditko art is just insanely beautiful.

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    1. I was asked on a board recently to identify the most successful villain comic book and I said the Hulk. For most of his run he was the baddie, the nemesis of the society, the military, and even his own alter ego. It's hard to do a book when the bad guy is the protagonist and the Hulk does a grand job of it by and large.

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    2. That's the thing about the Hulk though, and what I wanted to post last night, but let it ruminate overnight. Is the Hulk a villain, sometimes he only seems to respect brute force. He is the embodiment of Darwin's survival of the fittest. If left unchecked he would destroy anything in his path. However, other times he seems to be a victim. He just wants to be left alone but the army, villains and villainous aliens keep chasing after him.

      That's why I never got into the comic because the Hulk seems to be different depending on the issue.

      And if Hulk is the bad guy, who is the good guy? Bruce Banner? Bruce usually takes the backseat in the comics so the reader can have lots of Hulk action. The hero usually wins in comics and Bruce always loses because he never manages to cure himself.

      In the TV show Bruce (David) was front and center and the Hulk just came in at the end. That was basically Marvel's answer to "The Fugitive."

      I've never been clear on if the Hulk if Bruce's dark side or if the Hulk is a person in his own right. That's why it makes me uncomfortable when Bruce's intellect becomes inserted in the Hulk because that means Bruce has "killed" the other personality.

      I've called the Hulk a "one trick pony" he's strong, the answer is always smash and if that doesn't work smash harder. I prefer more intellectual heroes that use their brains along with their brawn.

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