The late 60s was an interesting time for Hulk fans. This book collects issues originally published between 19676 to 1969–a full 10 years before the hit TV show aired–but you can already see the influence this comic would have on the show. This was a Hulk who was semi-intelligent, and helped others, but was also a victim too. It’s a character who fought new enemies nearly every issue, but also did the right thing. It’s a version of the Hulk that wasn’t quite a monster or a hero, but something in between. It also served as an important time for artist Herb Trimpe.
So what’s it about?
The official summary reads:
I smash, you smash, but nobody, nobody, smashes like Hulk smash! Leaping out of TALES TO ASTONISH and into his own title again, the Incredible Hulk has twice the space to shake the Earth with his mighty rage. He’ll travel far and wide and, believe it or not, he won’t make too many friends along the way! His travelogue of destruction leaves the Mandarin, the Inhumans, the Sandman and the entire Savage Land rubbing a sore jaw. And when the Leader returns, all bets are off as iconic Hulk artist Herb Trimpe – who makes his debut in this very volume – and Stan Lee pull out all the stops.
Can I jump in easily?
Much of this 488-page collection features Tales to Astonish issues, which were designed to be easy jump-in adventures. Nearly every two issues serve up a new villain and calamity for Hulk to overcome, making it quite easy. There’s also less melodrama with Hulk’s girlfriend or her dad, Thunderbolt Ross.
Reason 1: So many scenarios, so many villains.
One of the joys in reading the “Epic Collections” is how many stories are packed into the 400 plus pages. Hulk takes on villains of all shapes and sizes, like the classic Leader, to the more lower tier Rhino. Stan Lee loved to throw in some alliterative villains like the Living Lighting Legion which add to the era of wackiness. There’s also a fantastic Namor section with some impressive fight scenes to enjoy. Hulk takes his fists into space fighting off baddies like the Galaxy Master and the Space Parasite. Ka-Zar even pops up in this collection. Overall this collection has a very wide assortment of villains for Hulk to pop in the jaw.
Reason 2: Herb Trimpe brought a new age of art to the series.
There’s no doubt Trimpe’s art was inspired heavily by Jack Kirby, leaning into the more dynamic, in-your-face style, but his style was also detailed enough to set itself apart from other artists. His style grabs your attention like Kirby, but also humanizes the character in a way that is relatable. This relatability is seen throughout his work here (he draws about half of the stories) making Bruce Banner a character you sympathize with, or draw you into the thoughts of Hulk who is more introspective in his choices. So often in older comics heroes shrug off attacks, but here you actually feel Hulk’s pain as rocks shatter over his back or bombs go off. He feels more heroic for it and that’s in large part to Trimpe’s work here.
Reason 3: If you can’t punch Hulk in the face, trick him!
The first third of this book is basically the same story over and over, which is to say he’s tricked into thinking he’s helping the good guys. The Puppetmaster, Living Lightning and Loki all have a go with Hulk. The poor guy is already a victim (see above) but these just highlight the hero’s inability to catch a break on top of being a green, Goliath monster. This volume highlights the kindness of the hero too, further making him relatable and tragic. All of these elements add up to the ongoing narrative that he wants to be left alone and actually give credence to his desire, which can sometimes seem forced.
Reasons to be wary?
Per the Stan Lee era of comic book writing the book can be very overwritten. Lee’s verbose captions can drag the plot down to a slow pace and it’s actually impressive how many words he can get onto some pages.
This collection can also get quite repetitive, especially in the first third when Hulk is constantly being duped. The character seems to go from one big mess to another never really getting developed. This was a time in comics when you opened with a tricky situation and then ended on one and that shows in the lack of complexity.
Is there a rationale to the reasons?
This is a collection of comics where you can start to see the modern era emerging. The art by Trimpe’s is part of that, but also how Hulk is depicted as something more than a rampaging monster. It never loses sight of fun however, packing in a wide variety of villains from space to the seas.