Friday, September 23, 2016

The Allies and The Avengers!

I wasn't collecting comics at the time, but I imagine readers of The Avengers from day one were curious to read its third issue, which followed up on the Hulk's unexpected exit from the team so soon after its formation. Granted, membership in the Avengers wasn't set in stone; unlike the Fantastic Four, the group wasn't required to stick to a set number of members, and characters could come and go at the writer's discretion.  Though in the Hulk's case, it would be like a job applicant who has assets that clearly benefit the company he wants to work for, passes muster in terms of being able to take on a challenging workload, is eager to start, and signs on the dotted line--only to realize his second day on the job that it's not for him and decides to leave, with zero notice, and slamming the door on his way out. In addition, there were only so many heroic characters in Marvel's stable in late 1963. Would writer Stan Lee leave the group pared to four? And if not, who would be approached for membership? Daredevil wouldn't make his debut for another three months. That leaves: Spider-Man? Dr. Strange?

It was an interesting development from a sales standpoint, as well. At the time, the book was the only exposure for the Hulk, his own title cancelled roughly eight months prior--and without the Avengers to wrap around the character, he would literally go nowhere. If Lee had wanted to reignite interest in a solo title for the Hulk, how would jettisoning him from the Avengers help? Apparently, that was a worry for another day--specifically, about 300 days down the road, when the Hulk would reappear as a feature in Tales To Astonish, sharing the book with Giant-Man (who was still part of The Avengers). For now, however, the Hulk would get a little more mileage out of his Avengers stint even without an Avengers I.D., as the team considered it imperative that they ascertain the status of their former member--a process that, given the book's bi-monthly publication, would take another six months, with the Hulk still remaining in the cover's corner box grouping for an extra issue after that, as if to squeeze the last drops of water from this stone.

It's his exit, of course, that begins a string of "guest star" appearances in the Avengers title for the Hulk, with the issue which follows up on his departure pulling double duty where he's concerned. In the story's first part, we find the Hulk has returned to the southwest, as the Avengers attempt to track him and... do what, exactly, if and when they find him? Try to convince him to return? Retrieve him by force if he resists? Determine whether he can be trusted to remain at large? Having a set goal would determine how they proceed with their former member, instead of playing it by ear depending on the reception they get from him. It's understandable that the Avengers should want to find him, given that they bear a certain amount of responsibility for him now that he's angrily left their ranks--but as we'll see, the team will work at cross-purposes when dealing with the Hulk, and having no real plan going in wasn't likely to accomplish much.

The story's second part is a little more straightforward, with the addition of a joker in this deck who has his own axe to grind with the human race and who, as it turns out, also wishes to find the Hulk.

Adding a heavy hitter such as the Sub-Mariner to the mix ensures that this issue will explode in battle. But there is the business at hand to take care of first--Avengers business, involving one of their own who presents a possible danger to mankind if left to his own devices. And so, the search for the Hulk is agreed on in short order.

Aside from Iron Man's knack for singing his own praises (as Tony Stark), the image projector that he uses to make an extensive sweep for the Hulk without leaving Avengers H.Q. is quite a piece of work, given that it's also capable of two-way communication at its destination. Strange that we've never seen this device passed on to the military, or in use by the Avengers at other times where it no doubt would have come in handy (the exhaustive search for Quicksilver after he disappeared during the team's conflict with the Sentinels, for instance). Here, however, Lee has another, more important use for it--a way to plug various other Marvel titles, as Iron Man checks in with the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, and Spider-Man.

Finally, though, the team settles on more conventional means for pinning down the Hulk's whereabouts.

As for the Hulk, he's wound up in New Mexico, apparently not giving a second thought to anything having to do with the Avengers or his decision to leave them; in fact, if we didn't know better, there would be nothing in either the Hulk's behavior or his words to indicate he ever spent any time with the Avengers or felt one way or the other about them. It's a rather one-sided follow-up issue that might disappoint those readers hoping for further words exchanged on the issue between both parties. It's established first thing that the Avengers have made their departed member their top priority--yet the Hulk has clearly moved on. What's to be gained, then, by a confrontation? It's not clear what the Avengers hope to accomplish--and the Hulk, aside from a brief scene where he again bitterly denounces his treatment by them, will simply battle them out of anger for being hounded. It all seems so pointless.

There is also Bruce Banner to consider, a crucial aspect to the Hulk that the Avengers aren't even aware of, and who really has no interest in the Hulk's stake in the team or even wishes any involvement with them. (You have to wonder when or how he even realized he had become a charter member of a super-team.) As a result, Rick is likely torn between wanting to help the Avengers, vs. wanting to help his friend. But circumstances beyond his control will force his decision.

Iron Man is first to reach the site, only to be ambushed by the Hulk; and as the others arrive, the battle begins in earnest. There is no reasoning with the Hulk; he responds irrationally to Iron Man's efforts to reach him and appeal to him once more to become part of a team. Simply put, the Hulk doesn't trust the Avengers--while the Avengers are looking to keep the Hulk on a tight leash, rather than regard him as a member in his own standing. Both the Hulk and the Avengers want to settle this their own way--and thus, neither can hope to see eye to eye.

Nor, unfortunately, is Thor interested in taking a diplomatic approach with the Hulk, preferring to subdue him first and iron out the difficulties of keeping him in the Avengers once he's in custody. Yet even given his brief time with the Avengers, the Hulk knows these fighters, and he's no slouch at giving a fight to those who come after him.

Yes, it seems even the Hulk can open the door to another example of

Despite the evidence to the contrary presented in our favorite side-splitting Warner Bros. cartoons, leaping into the air does not allow one to control when or how fast you begin to descend again--that's completely up to gravity to decide. You can work with gravity by, say, taking a short hop and thus reaching the pinnacle of your leap and beginning your descent sooner--but counteracting gravity by suddenly halting and reversing your leap in mid-air, essentially choosing the point where you plunge back to Earth, is something beyond even the Hulk's incredible power.

We don't know how far Thor and Iron Man soared into the sky before they stopped wondering how the heck the Hulk did that and turned around themselves--but the Hulk gains enough time by this maneuver to tunnel beneath the ground and use an abandoned mine shaft to escape far enough away to hitch a ride on a passing train. The Avengers, needless to say, are in hot pursuit--but the Hulk remains a canny foe, making excellent use of the tools at hand to not only keep the Avengers at bay, but to divide their efforts long enough to ensure his escape.

As long as the Avengers are spreading the blame around regarding their handling of the Hulk, perhaps the place to start would have been evaluating this brute's commitment and temperament while the Avengers were in the midst of ratifying their charter and making sure they were all on the same page in terms of being part of a team. "Hulk, why do you want to be an Avenger?" would have been a fair question to ask right off the bat, the answer to which would have spoken volumes as to whether the Hulk was a risk for this team.

As the manhunt continues for the Hulk, he again shows his cleverness in evading detection by eventually making his way to the gulf stream, finally being picked up by a ship in the Atlantic and deciding to let himself off at a deserted island to get his bearings. But his progress has been monitored--not by the Avengers, but by a being very much at home in the depths of the sea, and who has his own agenda in mind regarding the Hulk.

Naturally, where these two are concerned, there's a certain amount of posturing that has to take place before they're able to come to terms. The Hulk, however, learns an important lesson for the first time--the fact that Namor's strength appears to outstrip his when he's in contact with water. It's in that environment that their brief skirmish takes place--and with the Hulk finally subdued to an extent, Namor is able to convince him of the merits of his reason for seeking him out.

Obviously not a match made in heaven, for either of these beings. As to why the Sub-Mariner has it in for the Avengers, that's not at all clear. Namor has enmity for the Fantastic Four from several prior encounters, but has never even crossed paths with the Avengers--yet his language suggests that he longs to attack the Avengers without mercy. Perhaps he only means to placate the Hulk, in order to ensure his cooperation in further campaigns against the human race. In any event, it isn't long before the challenge is issued to the Avengers--and once they've likely finished asking themselves "Namor who?", their course is set.

There is no preamble, no subtlety in the subsequent battle that takes place at Gibraltar, with the Hulk and the Sub-Mariner lying in wait for their foes and attacking on sight using World War II weapons left behind by the British when stationed there. It's an unusual approach by Lee to have these two characters, of all people, resort to weapons, rather than pit their might directly against the Avengers (though you could make the same argument for Iron Man)--employing artillery shells, emery dust pellets, even the blast of an air raid alarm. Yet while these preliminaries play out, there are many indications of trouble in paradise when it comes to the partnership between Namor and the Hulk. This is an alliance in name only, and neither of these two believes otherwise.

Eventually, things come down to hand-to-hand--and again the Avengers seem to work at cross-purposes, with Thor having no problems with brawling at close quarters and giving no quarter but Iron Man looking for ways to defeat their foes rather than seriously harm them. And while that jury is still out regarding the Hulk, Namor is out to destroy his foes by whatever means necessary.

In terms of might, there's really no reason why the Hulk and Namor couldn't follow a prearranged plan that takes down the Avengers one by one. The threat from the Wasp is negligible; Giant-Man can be taken out by either foe with one punch, two at the most; and Iron Man, as we've seen, is vulnerable to brute force directed against his chest plate. The only real unknown factor is Thor, who could take the heat off his allies but can't be everywhere at once. Namor is convinced that separating Thor from his hammer is the key to defeating him--and in a sense he's right, though he's only thinking of the sheer power Thor's hammer gives him and doesn't realize the nature of the necessity of Thor's contact with his weapon. It would be conceivable to see both Namor and the Hulk double-team the Thunder God in such a way that prevents that contact for just long enough to witness Thor's transformation to Donald Blake--and the moment that occurs, that's the ball game.

Finally, at the point where the Avengers appear to be regrouping, it's the unpredictable nature of the Hulk's transformation that decides this battle--while Namor, who has neglected to heed his own strategy for choosing a site with water close at hand, is weakening from prolonged lack of contact with it. A stroke of luck would change that--but with the apparent desertion of the Hulk, the odds are against him, and he postpones his battle with the Avengers until another day.

That day would come in the next issue, as Namor returns to viciously battle the Avengers at the side of Atlantean troops, with the newly discovered Captain America offered and accepting Avengers membership at the end of the conflict. And again the notion of the Hulk's return to the Avengers is floated, as Rick wonders, "He's sure to return some day... and when he finds out that Captain America has replaced him--will anything be able to stop him then??!" It's a teaser that seems preposterous, given that this story has made it clear that the Hulk could give a rat's behind about what the Avengers do with their membership roster, and in fact would like nothing better than for them to forget all about him. But he'll have to take that up with Stan Lee, who isn't quite finished with having the Hulk and the Avengers cross paths.

The Avengers #3

Script: Stan Lee
Pencils: Jack Kirby
Inks: Paul Reinman
Letterer: Sam Rosen

The PPC reviews some related stories that have trickled down from this classic battle.

What th...? While Namor was tangling with the rest of the Avengers, it looks like Thor and the Hulk slipped away for a little private fight of their own.

Four years later, the Sub-Mariner spots the Hulk and concludes he would make an ideal ally! Talk about a short-term memory...

"Find the Hulk"? Nuts to that--the Avengers decide to break up following the Hulk's departure! And the battle at Gibraltar goes on to end in tragedy.


George Chambers said...

I had the same reaction to Stark's image projector: owning the patent to something as useful as that could make one a billionare by itself, but I guess it's covered by the same reason why the Melter used his melting beam to rob banks instead of licencing the technology to Stark for some real money: comics hi-tech might as well be magic, in that the common man just can't use it.

Anonymous said...

Again the readers of PPoC are presented with the "Weird Science" graphic, a sure sign that we are facing some bizarre physics and head-scratching problems.
My only attempt at justifying the Hulk's ability to control his flight after he jumps off the ground is some hithertofore telekinetic power given him by gamma radiation, the same energy that turns his pants purple and makes him paranoid.
That's all I can come up with.
I actually have never seen this comic in it's entirety before, so this is a treat for me!
M.P., Renowned Gamma Expert

Comicsfan said...

M.P., your explanation came darn close to qualifying you for a no-prize, except... if gamma radiation could do all that for the Hulk's airborne talents, then what would the Harpy need with wings??

Anonymous said...


Fred W. Hill said...

Hank Pym's mental problems accelerated when the tag team of Hulk & Namor squeezed him & Jan out of the mag he had once starred in all by his lonesome for a bit before Jan joined him. He didn't even have a 2nd home like Johnny Storm did when he was kicked out of Strange Tales by Nick Fury. Instead, he had to go and ask for his old place back in Avengers Mansion. Fortunately, Cap and the new gang were fairly accommodating, although Hawkeye was rather snitty about one of the old guys coming back.
All kidding aside, tho', appears Stan hadn't quite yet gotten the knack for coming up with clever, poetic titles for his stories yet. "The Avengers Meet the Sub-Mariner" just doesn't have the magic ring of, oh, say, "By My Hand Shall Die a Villain!" Maybe, "The Mighty Avengers Battle the Sub-Mariner and the Hulk!" or "The Well-Dressed Avengers Meet and try to Beat a Couple of Half-Dressed Big-Macho Men". Might need some more tweaking...