Script: Stan Lee
Pencils: Jack Kirby
Inks: Dick Ayers
Letters: Art Simek
In this third issue of The Incredible Hulk, our dubious hero meets The Ringmaster, but that’s just about the least interesting thing that happens in this story. The Ringmaster doesn’t even appear until page 15 of 24. He almost seems an afterthought. Because, at least in my estimation, fighting villains is not really what this story is about. I think this story is about Stan trying to figure out what the heck to do with Hulk, now that he’s created him. It’s almost like Stan suddenly realizes “Oh crap! I’ve created this ‘hero’ that has no redeeming social values. How can I bring him under control? How can I make him more hero-like?”
Think about it. In these early issues, the only thing about Hulk that is under control is that he appears at night, and reverts to Bruce Banner with the light of day. However, while he is the Hulk, he is just this raging maniac, mad at the world, out to get anyone and anything that crosses his path. Up to this point he really has no purpose, and there’s no way to predict what he’s going to do.
Well…Hulk, SMASH! That’s about all we can be sure of. But perhaps Stan was beginning to feel that issue after issue of Hulk smashing everything in his path, while all of mankind’s efforts to subdue him are to no avail, was going to wear thin after a while. Monster fight, monster escape, monster live to fight another day.
Hulk needs some direction. He needs purpose. I might be wrong in my interpretation, but that’s what I think is going on here.
When the story begins, Hulk is locked in the underground cell Banner built for him, guarded by the only person who knows the secret, “tense teenager” Rick Jones. Military Police track down Jones and bring him to General “Thunderbolt” Ross, who says they need Hulk to test a new missile rocket, because “there isn’t a man living who could stand the force of its G-pull…except the Hulk!” At first Rick declares “Cool it, Mister! Nothin’ can make me rat on the Hulk!” but after the General describes the situation as a matter of national security, Jones caves and goes to fetch Hulk.
The uncontrollable Hulk chases Jones on to the launch pad, and Jones tricks him into the rocket’s cabin, all the while thinking, “I sure hope I did the right thing, betraying him this way!” I thought that sentiment was a bit off…don’t you think? Is there ever a time when it’s a “right thing” to betray someone?
After the rocket is shot into outer space, we learn that General Ross is more full of trickery and betrayal than even Rick Jones. This is no “test,” and he has no intention of bringing Hulk back. “He’ll never return alive to menace the Earth again!” (Add, if you will, villainous laugh, “Muwahahaha!”)
Meanwhile, in the rocket, Hulk reverts to Banner and is subjected to another radiation bath of “those mysterious, powerful rays about which so little is truly known.”
Back on Earth, Rick Jones overhears General Ross bragging about what REALLY happened, and Jones leaps into action to save Banner/Hulk by fiddling around with the missile control panel. At the same moment he is touching the controls, a shock wave of radiation from the rocket zaps him (“OWW!”) and the capsule plummets back to earth.
Jones runs out to the crash site, fearful that, it being daytime, Banner will be found dead inside the capsule, but instead…
Yes, it’s daytime, and Hulk is still about. And he’s glowing. And he’s pissed. Jones runs away, and Hulk pursues, and seems about to kill the boy, until Jones stumbles upon an amazing new development:
Oh yes, what those radiation rays will do! Turns out Hulk is now the mindless servant of teenager Rick Jones, compelled to obey his every word. He’s like a trained dog!
But only while Jones is awake, apparently. As soon as he falls asleep, Hulk reverts to his usual berserk self. Jones finds him, pursues him, and returns him to the underground prison.
While Jones tries to stay awake and figure out what to do, Stan treats us to a retelling of the Hulk origin story—I guess for any readers who have come late to the party.
Then suddenly, our story now switches to The Ringmaster, the head of a traveling circus who uses the power of hypnosis to immobilize entire towns while his circus cronies rob everyone blind. Hmmm… sound strangely familiar? Remember the Miracle Man from FF#3? Are we running out of ideas for good criminals? Repeating ourselves already? Or was Stan, in fact, making a point that the villain of this piece is not what’s most important? That any old villain would do?
Of course because we are at the circus, we have a lot of interesting visuals involving clowns and elephants, even “The Fat Lady,” who is strong enough to carry away massive amounts of necklaces and bracelets.
So the circus theme works on that level. And of course, since it is a public performance, Rick Jones ends up at the circus, hypnotized by The Ringmaster. But before he is completely immobilized, Jones calls to Hulk in his mind, his thoughts stretching out over the miles to activate the mighty monster.
Hulk arrives on the scene, and…and what’s this??? The Army, the Navy and the Marines cannot subdue the Hulk, but a ragtag bunch of circus performers knock him out with a pressure hose, chain him up, cart him away, and make a mockery of him in their next show. (I guess the Ringmaster has hypnotized Hulk as well?)
Very quickly though, the FBI has follows the track, snapped everyone out of their hypnotic spell, and Rick Jones is along when they arrive at the next circus show, ready to arrest The Ringmaster. Hulk hears Jones’ voice, goes crazy, and “now under the control of a vengeful Rick Jones,” Hulk captures The Ringmaster.
Of course, no matter how much good Hulk ends up doing, as soon as the army arrives on the scene, they point their guns at Hulk. Rick commands Hulk to escape, and together they “fly” away, leaving a wrathful General Ross in their wake, swearing thusly:
So that’s the story. And it’s not a bad story. But not so much because of the villain. As I mentioned earlier, the villain almost seems beside the point. In fact I think the villain, and his hypnosis skills, is only interesting and significant as a mirror to what is the truly significant development in this story: Rick Jones’ sudden ability to control Hulk.
At best, Hulk is an unthinking toddler (albeit a very strong unthinking toddler). At best, he’s a monster. His only motivation, up to this point, is to “get away from it all.” He just wants everybody to leave him alone. And since people (i.e., General Ross and the military under his command) won’t leave him alone, he feels compelled to destroy the human race. Hulk is extremely volatile and self-centered. He’s all id and no ego. He has no purpose other than self-preservation. What kind of hero is this? I guess this is why I have never understood Hulk, never appreciated him as a “hero.” Some more stuff may happen with him down the road, but what we’ve seen of him up to this point in the comic series is fairly representative of how I perceive Hulk.
Was he like this in the TV series? I don’t know, because I never watched it. Having seen him now in a couple of movies, I haven’t altered my perception of him too much. Though in the Avengers movie, I think, we do see a glimmer of his being able to “play well with others,” be part of a team devoted to some ideal higher than simply “Leave me alone!”
A TEENAGER WITH POWER!
I think Hulk can evolve, and may evolve, but for right now, I am thoroughly enchanted by this idea of Rick Jones serving as his guidance system. Jones may not be the most ethical and heroic character ever, but he has at least shown some basic qualities one would like to see in a hero: loyalty and patriotism spring immediately to mind. Jones does not want to see good people get hurt. As an orphan boy, he really hasn’t had much opportunity to do anything heroic. But now that Hulk is under his control…well, I see all kinds of story possibilities opening up before us!
I don’t know how long Jones is going to maintain this control over Hulk. I’m not really sure what he’s going to do with this incredible power. I’m curious to see if the old adage will hold true: Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely. Will Rick Jones become overwhelmed by this sudden sense of power, and decide to use the Hulk to achieve his own personal goals? Maybe to knock out some rival who made fun of him in school? To smash the car of a teacher who gave him a D on a term paper? Will he send Hulk after General Ross, in retaliation for Ross’ evil plan to rid the world of Hulk?
From the beginning I’ve said that Hulk has not really interested me, but now in this issue, my interest is piqued. Hulk as an angry monosyllabic monster does not interest me. But a teenager with absolute control over that monster….now THAT’S good stuff!
My curiosity is also piqued as to why Hulk was still around in the daytime. Those gamma rays are messing with the mythology! But then not really, because the canon mythology of Hulk (“Don’t make me angry; you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.”) is not yet in place. In fact, when I saw Banner get bombarded with those rays in outer space, my first thought was “Ah! So this is how Stan is going to make that adjustment.” But then that didn’t happen. So it was a bit of a disappointment…but then not a disappointment, because I’m really on board with this idea of Rick Jones being able to control Hulk.
But as I’ve said before, it still doesn’t make sense that people are not able to figure out that when Jones is with Hulk, Banner is nowhere to be found, and Hulk is wearing rags that somewhat resemble the last outfit Banner was seen wearing. It doesn’t make sense that no one questions Jones about this.
Well, maybe in a future issue.
But then again, there were several things in this issue that did not make sense. The military police that pick up Jones do not investigate his whereabouts to find the secret cave where Hulk is being contained. After Jones meets with General Ross, there are apparently no orders given to keep an eye on that kid and follow him and find out where he goes and everything he knows. Because “after convincing himself that the troops have not followed him, and that the secret of the hidden cavern will remain his secret, Rick Jones sets out to free the Hulk.”
Now. Did they really let him get all the way to the cavern without watching what he’s doing? We know that eventually Hulk will chase Jones to the missile site, and there “tight-lipped troops with weapons cocked” follow Hulk’s every move as Rick Jones leads him on to the launchpad. Well…maybe they figured if this plan works, Hulk will be gone, and there’ll be no need to know where he HAD been hidden?
Okay. Maybe that can be explained. But there’s no explaining this: after Jones overhears Ross bragging about how he got rid of Hulk, he is able to sneak in to the missile control panel (“This is my chance! No one’s looking!”) and pull the switch that sends the capsule back to earth. Now surely THAT was not in General Ross’ evil plan! That oversight of having no one at all manning the control panel so that a stray teenager can just sneak in and start pulling switches, that one act is what unravels General Ross’ plan altogether!
And then the capsule crashes, and no one else knows about it, and no one else is there, and Rick Jones is close enough to run right out to the crash site. Huh??? Is this the way the military did business in the 1960’s? Or perhaps only in comic books. Remember, in the first issue of Hulk, Banner’s team included a Soviet spy, and a bunch of minimum wage mall cops who could not keep a kid in his jalopy off the testing grounds. So, the incredibly shoddy way these space flights and scientific tests are being run may not be consistent with reality, but they do at least seem to be consistent within the Marvel comic book world.
When it comes to the Villain Valuation, I am hard pressed to decide who exactly is the villain in this story. Of course, our first thought is the hypnotist in the goofy outfit with the whirly-twirly mind control gadget on his top hat. So I will say a word or two about The Ringmaster. As I’ve already mentioned, I find him disappointingly similar to the Miracle Man. However, Miracle Man used his powers of mass hypnosis in order to carry out his plan for world domination. The Ringmaster just wants your wallet. He’s a petty thief. He’s got a power, but doesn’t appreciate all he could do with it. He’s base, he’s low, he’s actually kind of stupid.
That’s the Ringmaster. But what about our other villain…General “Thunderbolt” Ross? What? You say. Ross is not a villain! Well, probably not. Probably no more than…Hulk is a “hero.” Right? And if Hulk IS a hero, then Ross is a villain, with a plan to “get him” and destroy him.
I think at first Ross was acting in the capacity of General of the armed forces, sworn to protect the American people, but by the bottom of page 24, I would swear it’s now personal. Hulk has evaded his capture at least a couple of times by this point, and this makes the General look like a fool, and weak. Not only is Ross annoyed, he’s been humiliated. How is he going to show his face in the General’s Club if he keeps letting the big green monster and his teenage sidekick outsmart him?
I won’t put Ross on my “Villain Valuation” list (which by the way, I hope you are visiting, at the top of the page, to see how the villains I’ve met so far are stacking up), because other than his animosity towards Hulk, he’s really a decent guy. Well, except for one more flaw: even though Dr. Bruce Banner is this super-intelligent rocket scientist (remember, the Toad Men thought he was the smartest man on the planet), still General Ross doesn’t think Banner is good enough for his daughter Betty. If Banner isn’t good enough for Betty, then who is? Ross is being mighty selective, if you ask me. He probably wants JFK to marry his daughter! (But I think he was already taken.)
ARE WE GOING SOMEWHERE WITH ALL THIS?
Speaking of Betty, we didn’t see her in this one! We didn’t see much of Banner, either. I felt like this story was mostly a set-up for new kinds of Hulk stories that are coming down the pike. It seems that Hulk is slowly being molded into something that is more like the “super-hero” that will someday be part of the Avengers. Now he can “fly” (which is not really flying, by the way, it’s just that he can jump really really high) and it seems that Rick Jones will have a little more to say about what kinds of activities Hulk will undertake. At the very least, in this new arrangement, Hulk won’t be running after his only friend, trying to kill him. That wasn’t really going to work for too long, was it? I think Stan did a nice job turning things around a bit, to get this story going in the right direction. The more I read of Hulk, the more I am looking forward to future issues.
Join me next time for an important first in Marvel’s Silver Age. It’s double the fun–and double the trouble for our heroes–when the odds are four against two!
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