Silver Age Saturdays: Tales to Astonish Issues #85-91, Featuring the Incredible Hulk

Tales to Astonish featuring the Incredible Hulk, Issue #85: “The Missile and the Monster!”

Written by Stan Lee; Penciled by John Buscema; Inked by John Tartaglione. Cover art by Bill Everett.

 Our first glimpse of the Hulk (in his own mag) sort of plops us in the middle of a story arc. Basically, there is this Orion Missile under development and it’s kind of a big thing. An evil organization called the Secret Empire hired a new villain named – Boomerang! – to go steal the plans for this super-weapon, and his MO generally ends up including many explosions and the capture of Betty Ross. In any event, Hulk ends up saving the day, the Secret Empire is apparently no more, and General Ross is finally able to set up a test firing of the Orion Missile. Hulk went to New York in search of smash, and Rick Jones rented a car from a shady figure to travel to the Hulk. The rental was pretty cheap, under the one condition that Rick doesn’t open the trunk…

Enter issue 85. General Ross finally activates the Orion missile testing site, and the new weapon sets off on its maiden voyage towards it’s set coordinates in a ‘safe zone’ above the Atlantic ocean. Probably right above Atlantis. Thunderbolt Ross and his crew cheer as the launch goes smoothly.

Rick Jones eventually catches up to the Hulk, and calms the angry jade giant down. They hang out in an abandoned ally near Jones’ rental car to cool off and catch up. I loved this scene.

Meanwhile, at the foreign spy Gorki’s hideout, the cops bust in. Gorki is the source of Rick’s wheels, and he’s installed a deadly trap for New York in the car’s trunk. The cops, not wanting to kill Gorki, allow him to press a button on his science machine before tackling him and taking him in. The spy chortles and cares not, for after activating the button, New York has already been doomed…

Back at Rick and the Hulk, just as the Orion missile is on it’s trajectory above New York City, the trunk of Gorki’s car pops open and a deadly robot that looks vaguely similar to the ‘OG Ultron’ hops out. The Gorki robot immediately sends a signal to the Orion missile, altering its course so that the missile turns straight towards the heart of the city. Hulk pulps the robot easily, and quickly realizes he’s the only one who can stop this missile before it destroys Manhattan. Leaping one of his silly almighty leaps, the Hulk intercepts the missile, but the change in blood pressure reverts him back into Bruce Banner before he can crush the missile himself…

Tales to Astonish featuring the Incredible Hulk, Issue #86: “The Birth… of the Hulk-Killer!”

Written by Stan Lee; Penciled by John Buscema; Inked by Mike Esposito.

The issue opens with Bruce Banner hanging on to the speeding Orion missile for dear life. Awesomely, Banner manages to maneuver himself towards a control panel on the side of the missile and proceed to redirect it back on course. Bruce Banner just saved Manhattan.

Still clutched to the missile, reality hit Brucey and he starts hyperventilating. Fair enough. With an increased heart rate, he turns into the Hulk once again and survives the detonation on the surface of the ocean off the coast. Resurfacing, the Hulk promptly comes under fire from a fighter jet — General Thaddeus Ross has made the assumption that it must have been the Hulk who was behind the whole incident.

Meanwhile, just as General Ross is ordering his army to take down the Hulk, they stumble upon an old hidden base of the Leader. Inside, they discover one of the villain’s latest creations – the Hulk-Killer. Thunderbolt for some reason decides that activating the Hulk-Killer is a good idea and after doing so, immediately comes under attack by it.

As this farce continues, we find that Boomerang hasn’t accepted defeat during his downtime. He’s been honing his skills and improving his weapons. He plans on showing the world that he’s no joke in the future.

Back on the Army’s front, they quickly realize that the Hulk-Killer is no joke, and it effectively fights off an entire army regiment to a standstill. The Hulk shows up and again saves the day by confronting the Hulk-Killer himself. They fight inconclusively into the cliffhanger.

“Hulkinued” next issue.

Tales to Astonish featuring the Incredible Hulk, Issue #87: “The Humanoid and the Hero!”

Written by Stan Lee; Penciled by John Buscema; Inked by Mike Esposito. Cover art by Gil Kane.

The issue starts with the Hulk getting plastered by the Leader’s Humanoid Hulk-Killer. There is some intense battle going on, with the Hulk on the receiving end for the most part, which I felt was really nice to see. While the two enemies are scrapping, General Ross and the Army are getting ready to nuke both of them with an all-powerful proton shell.

At the same moment somewhere else, the Feds have fished Gorki’s full confession out. The spy claims – and I don’t know why he would be so honest – that Green-Skin had no part in the attack and the Feds, taking the foreign spy at his word – ??? – rush to get to the phone in order to contact the Army before they launch the deadly shell at the innocent Hulk. Talbot answers. In a moment of true humanity, Major Talbot informs the General that the Hulk in fact saved them all and that they were wrong to assume it was him behind the Orion Missile Crisis. Talbot gained some brownie points from me here, as he would have been rid of Banner and the foil to his love interest had he kept quiet a little longer. Good man.

Cut scene to Boomerang, who we saw training and enhancing his gadgetry last issue. This go around, he reveals that he’s got some new threadz! They are equally as terrible as before, maybe slightly better:

Old Boomerang Duds

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New Boomerang Duds

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Back on the battlefront, the Hulk and the Humanoid continue to fight inconclusively. Boomerang follows the fight whilst hidden in the shadows as Rick Jones makes a desperate break through the defensive cordon of the Army. He seeks to talk some sense into his friend the Hulk – and it could be argued that he succeeds – before he ends up getting slapped silly by the Hulk-Killer.

😀 That was great to see. Wouldn’t it just be just wizard if this became some sort of running theme? Sure would!

With the fight interrupted by the brash youth, the Hulk reverts back into Bruce Banner, who is like ‘oh shit!’ and dips the scene with his costarring cast members. Being the smart scientific cookie that he is, he makes for one of his science machines located conveniently behind a nearby wall. Explaining his thoughts to everyone – General Ross, Major Talbot, Betty Ross, Rick Jones, a rampaging Hulk-Killer and a handful of troopers included – Banner theorizes that since the machine makes science, it will most definitely incapacitate the Hulk-Killer, because it was created by science. This explanation phases no one; it all seems to make sense the rest of the ensemble. Instead, they’re stumped by an altogether much simpler problem: how to get the science machine that is attached to a wall and floor to the Humanoid…

Notably, Bob Bruce Banner seems to turn into the Hulk on his own volition here, willing himself into becoming “mad enough in the next two seconds…”

Hulk defeats the Hulk-Killer by zapping it with the science machine, but not before getting zapped himself and passing out. General Ross sends for the medics as Boomerang lurks in an old tower watching over his unconscious foe and happily biding his time, awaiting the proper moment to strike…

Tales to Astonish featuring the Incredible Hulk, Issue #88: “Boomerang and the Brute!”

Written by Stan Lee; Artwork by Gil Kane.

The Hulk comes to in a very confused, grumpy state and surrounded by General Ross and his Army contingent. I don’t blame the guy for being jumpy when cornered by dozens of toy soldiers who have basically tried to shoot him down ever since the Hulk showed up, and so when Boomerang tosses one of his minor explosives at the Hulk’s feet, it can be excused that he starts to rampage. Right before this happens, we get to witness the first ever “Hulk Smash” line drop. He says it to a photographer… It’s rather disappointing.

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Meanwhile at the White House, President Lyndon B. Johnson gets word that the Hulk wasn’t behind the Orion Missile Crisis and so he sends a telegram to General Thaddeus. This telegram arrives just as the Hulk’s rampage is triggered by Boomerang and so Thunderbolt rips it up and tosses it in the gutter, having decided that ol’ Purple Pants is too much of a threat to the city to be kept alive. Just like that, the Army is an enemy to the Hulk once again.

Retreating up the Hudson after smacking down Rick Jones with a backhand – 😀 – the Hulk is ambushed by Boomerang. The villain really puts up a decent fight, considering he has no powers and he’s fighting the Hulk. Boomerang gasses Green-Skin to weaken him, and then bombs a dam – hoping that it would drown the Hulk. Problem here is that his rocket boots get damaged in the explosion and he becomes a victim of his own trap as the Hulk manages to escape before reverting back to Bruce, weakened and exhausted.

Tales to Astonish featuring the Incredible Hulk, Issue #89: “Then, There Shall Come a Stranger!”

Written by Stan Lee; Artwork by Gil Kane. Cover Art also by Gil Kane.

Bruce Banner wakes up to find the Stranger doing cosmic science on him. The Stranger explains that he intends to use Bruce – as the Hulk – to wipe out all civilization so that the cosmic entity can install himself as the ruler of Earth and rebuild it in his own image.

Back at Missile Command HQ, Betty Ross and Rick Jones – two unauthorized civilians – rush up to Thunderbolt Ross and demand that he not seek to destroy the Hulk, claiming that since Bruce Banner is an innocent and good person, he should not be sentenced to death by atomic deconstruction. It’s a fair argument. The General agrees to think about it, but states the the Hulk’s good intentions are his own to prove.

Unfortunately for Banner, the Stranger’s plan kind of works and that does not bode well for Rick and Betty’s hopes. After hearing the Stranger’s plan, Bruce gets angry. As the Hulk, he can’t even touch his foe. The Stranger very clearly wins this battle and the issue ends with the Hulk on his way to go destroy Earth while the Stranger excuses himself, as he has other, more important matters to attend to in the cosmos.

 Tales to Astonish featuring the Incredible Hulk, Issue #90: “The Abomination!”

Written by Stan Lee; Artwork by Gil Kane.

As you can see in the image above, we start this issue with the Hulk ripping apart a suspension bridge in his Stranger-induced rampage. For some reason, instead of causing relentless unadulterated carnage, the Hulk beelines across the country towards “a distant missile base…” Obviously, this is the missile base where Thunderbolt Ross and his crew are always hanging out. Meanwhile the Stranger, who has been watching the destruction, finally leaves Earth pleased, having “other matters in far-distant galaxies that require [his] presence!”

When Hulk arrives at the missile base, he changes to Bruce Banner. Banner, remembering what the Stranger has planned, sneaks into the base, intending to end the threat of the Hulk once and for all with a gamma science machine that he developed in his early days. Banner doesn’t know that there is an intense search going on for a foreign spy in the midst of the missile base, and so it isn’t surprising when Glenn Talbot busts into Banner’s old lab and finds him just before he can kill himself. The twist: the spy was actually in the room while Banner was giving his monologue, and uses the machine on himself to become the Abomination!

Banner gets angry, turns into the Hulk, and gets smacked down hard by the Abomination – who is much stronger than the Hulk at this point. Victorious, the Abomination grabs Betty Ross and escapes with her as his hostage.

Tales to Astonish featuring the Incredible Hulk, Issue #91: “Whosoever Harms the Hulk..!”

Written by Stan Lee; Artwork by Gil Kane. Cover Art also by Gil Kane.

Abomination retreats victoriously with Betty Ross in his arms and General Ross and Major Talbot are grieving the Hulk’s apparent death, as he is the only one with the power to stop the Abomination. Enter Rick Jones, who breaks through the Army cordon again and explains his idea of using another one of Banner’s inventions to save the Hulk from dying. Thunderbolt Ross agrees to try it out and the troopers carry the Hulk back to one of Banner’s labs en masse.

The invention works, and the Hulk wakes up angry. He wants everyone to leave him alone – even backhanding Rick Jones again! 😀 😀 😀 – and doesn’t let up until the stubborn Jones mentions Bruce’s love interest, Betty. This brings the Hulk back to Banner form.

Banner quickly builds himself another science machine that ends up attracting Abomination back to the missile base using infra-gamma beam technology, and the monstrous beast arrives with Ms. Ross still clutched in his arms.

Gil Kane draws some very Kirby-esque machinery. I like it.

Banner leads the Abomination into a trap, using yet another science machine to weaken Abomination greatly. All the excitement turns Banner back into the Hulk. The two greenies fight for just one page; the Hulk the clear victor.

In the meantime, the Stranger has been keeping tabs on the deeds of Hulk/Banner, and sees too much honour in his original choice of minion. He decides he likes the Abomination much more; he figures that the Hulk is too “valorous” to be a servant to anyone. He zaps the Abomination away from Earth to his side, and departs the solar system for “other interests — in other worlds!”

At the missile base, the Hulk wants to be alone, ignoring Betty Ross and Rick Jones. Thunderbolt Ross declares an uneasy truce with the Hulk, and the purple pant-wearing hero trudges away to the horizon.

My Thoughts

Gil Kane is overall underwhelming. I like his machinery and his Betty, but that is about it.

Buscema was nice, on the other hand. It would have been cool to see him do a bit more work here.

The first appearance of the Abomination was also quite underwhelming. I loved how quickly he dispatched the Hulk, but for Banner to so easily defeat him in the second issue of the arc felt very thrown together. The Stranger’s interference here really took me out of the story as well.

We did however get to see a side of the Stranger we never have before, but it still left me confused. He seems to change his mind and whims much like his creator Stan Lee.

This huge chunk of the Incredible Hulk was no better and no worse than the average magazine coming out of Marvel’s bullpen at this point.

2/5.

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