Thursday 5 January 2012

Incredible Hulk #2 - the Terrible Toad Men!

Incredible Hulk #2, the Toad Men
As I roam the streets of Sheffield, people often say to me, "Steve, why are you roaming the streets of Sheffield with giant magnets strapped to the sides of your head?"

And I say, "Poltroon! Know you not that magnets are the mightiest weapon known to man? Why, if I had just one more fridge magnet glued to my forehead, humanity itself would face extinction."

And it's true!

If you don't believe me, just take a look at Incredible Hulk #2, in which the treacherous Toad Men from somewhere or other decide to use their mastery of magnetism to invade the Earth.

As they explain, with their magnets they can suck the water from the oceans and make people's feet stick to the pavement. Who ever thought feet and water could be so magnetic?

But that's not the only trick because, ignoring the fact that the moon has no magnetic core, with their magnets they have the power to yank it out of Earth's orbit. Clearly they get their laws of magnetism from the same place as Magneto.

I must make a confession. This is the first Hulk story I ever read, way back in the pages of Mighty World of Marvel #4. In fact I only read the second half at that time, as I'd missed the first three issues, but just one glance at the opening image - Bruce Banner stood in the wreckage of a crashed alien spaceship - was enough to hook me. I didn't care that the Toad Men were silly villains. Let's face it, the Skrulls - also in that issue - were even sillier and that didn't stop them becoming arguably Marvel's main alien menace to humanity over the years.

Incredible Hulk #2, the arrival of the Toad Men, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko
Revelations about the unexpected power of magnetism aside, the thing that's always stood out for me about this tale is it's drawn by Marvel's two defining Silver Age artists, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, and I've always loved the combination on this tale, with Ditko laying his moodier style over Kirby's dynamism.

Incredible Hulk #2, the Hulk rises from the swamp, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko
Still, the problems of the early Hulk comics leap out at you. The first being that the Hulk's a bad guy and as much a threat to humanity as the Toad Men. He at one point muses on the possibility of using the Toad Men's weapons to destroy all mankind. Then, that plan scuppered, he sets out to kill Betty Ross and Rick Jones. It's only him turning back to Bruce Banner as the sun comes up that stops him.

That transformation highlights the other problem the strip had; the fact that Bruce Banner only used to change into the Hulk when it was dark. On paper it seems a great idea, adding a sense of nocturnal menace and tragedy to the proceedings but it proves to be an unwieldy conceit that manages to make the Hulk ultimately irrelevant to the tale, as he plays no part at all in the Toad Men's demise. There's also the fact that, once the Hulk's irrelevant rampagings are over, there's only space left in the mag for Bruce Banner to defeat the Toad Men with ridiculous ease.

Incredible Hulk #2, the Toad Men fire at our hero, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko
But perhaps what most strikes you is that the whole story feels like a B movie, combining 1950s alien invasion flicks with The Wolfman and Frankenstein.

This probably all makes the story sound terrible and, in theory, it possibly is. But, one, it was the first Hulk story I ever read, so I'm bound to have a fondness for it and, two, I'm a fan of 1950s invasion flicks and Universal horror movies, so its mood is always going to appeal to me.

In the end, I don't suppose anyone reading it'd be shocked to be told the title was cancelled within a few issues of this one but it has a charm to it that those of us who love the corny and hoary can't resist and it is oddly enjoyable to speculate just how the comic would've developed had the early concept of the Hulk never been ditched.


Kid said...

I always liked the more pronounced 'Frankenstein' look to the Hulk in this issue. Ditko's inks really added something to Kirby's pencils. Along with the Tyrannus story in #5, this has always been one of my favourite Hulk stories.

Boston Bill said...

The Hulk comic clearly lacked direction. With issue 3, the day/night deal was abandoned and eventually Banner made a Gamma Ray machine to turn himself into the Hulk at will. It took Ditko to come up with the emotional transformations that made it work!

But the book was cancelled not because of bad sales, but to make room for Amazing Spider-Man. Marvel had a deal with DC that limited their books per month. Martin Goodman took a while to catch onto the whole super-being thing and cancelled the Hulk rather than one of his many Anthology comics. This was the same guy who cancelled Amazing Fantasy right AFTER the first appearance of Spidey, only to backtrack once the sales came in!