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The return of the Hulk (Monsterbus p.540)

It's been a while since we saw Stan Lee's fingerprints on a story. But there are all over this one. Take Lee's trademark repetition, which appears whenever tension is high. Here the tension beings on page 6:
(p.6): "None of you shall escape the mighty hulk! None of you!"
(p.8) "Where did it go? Where?"
(p.10) "I was wrong! Deadly wrong!"
(p.11) "My plan must work! It must!!"
(p.12) "Which one would it be? Which one?"

There is also Lee's trademark redundancy, describing what we can already see (e.g. p.7), or explaining a word for younger readers (e.g. "disintegrated, reduced to nothing" on p. 12), without adding anything to the drama or plot.

The broad outline (hypnotist monster comes back, he is defeated with a mirror) fails when we think about it: the monster has to be much weaker than before and the mirror is tiny and can only be used for a second. In contrast, the details are dramatic and plausible in context (the meteor, tricking the townspeople, the final chase). That is, the broad plot is like the plots in Lee's solo work, whereas the details are like the details in Kirby's solo work.

I did wonder if perhaps Kirby had suggested the outline after all. Because there is evidence that Kirby wanted a returning character. But I don't think he wanted this character to return. There is no story engine: no reason to care about either the hero or the monster, no development to make us more interested than before (quite the opposite: the monster is weaker), and the reason for his return is contrived and unexciting. Finally, he is removed in a very permanent way, as if Kirby was keen to get rid of him.

So my hypothesis is that Lee suggested the broadest outline ("the hypnotist monster comes back and is defeated with a mirror") and Kirby did the rest, but the plot outline was a bad one so his heart wasn't in it.

The lost Marvel heroes

Marvel could has started eight months earlier.

Here I discuss three candidates for the first Marvel superheroes: all in 1961, all apparently shot down by Lee. What follows is a chain of speculation, so could easily be wrong. But I think it's worth pointing out some patterns and coincidences.

I just suggested that Lee told Kirby to bring back the alien Hulk (the hypnotist, not the later Frankenstein character) in Journey Into Mystery 66 (March 1961). This was highly unusual: 90 percent of monster stories show very little involvement by editor Lee. So why would Lee say "bring back the hypnotist character and defeat him with a mirror" when Kirby was routinely producing much better plots on his own?

The obvious reason is that Kirby kept on suggesting radical ideas that Lee didn't like. Lee would have looked at the latest comic on his desk and suggested bringing back that character instead. Here is evidence for exactly what Kirby would have been suggesting:
  1. Recent stories had been getting longer: double length two parters. This month (March 1961) we had the first full length story (the Colossus).
  2. Over the previous year Kirby had experimented with bringing back characters. We know that financially he needed a hit, and that means a continuing character.
  3. That first full length story read like the start of a series. The Colossus was a monster that came to life in times of need, helped by his scientist creator. (Kirby had previously written several other golem characters like that: the idea was on Kirby's mind, fuelled by the cold war and need for a cold war hero.) The story engine was good: the dissident scientist provided the human angle, and living in the soviet block, brother to a senior official, his life was always in danger. And the mysterious aliens could always be in the background. The series had legs.
  4. The story after that, also the same month (March 1961) would have been even better: "The Thing called It" was a monster trapped in a human scientist body, and would be hated and feared if only people knew. The monster is very moral and is discovering the evils of the world. Basically the Incredible Hulk meets the Silver Surfer. Meets Dr Doom (the mad scientist in the castle - what if his consciousness took over again?), and called "The Thing".
  5. The following story, The Brute, was another Incredible Hulk prototype: skinny scientist accidentally turns into powerful monster. In monster form his thinking is clouded, he is driven by emotion, by passion. At the end of the origin story he's like Dr Jekyll, thinking he can say goodbye to the monster. You just know the monster will come back in the next episode, when the scientist is placed in extreme danger.
  6. This is the same year (1961) that Kirby finally persuaded Lee to let him do a continuing monster series: The Fantastic Four.

That day in Lee's office

My guess (and of course this is just a chain of speculation) is that Kirby needed permission from Lee to go the next step: to use one of these characters as a continuing superhero. After refusing all the ideas, a frustrated Lee would have looked at the current books on his desk. The alien Hulk, from four months previously, would be in the middle of the production process, or maybe even just printed. Lee would then say "there isn't a market for superheroes. If you want to bring back a monster do that one, I liked him." Maybe Kirby pointed out why that was a bad idea (the alien was unstoppable, could hypnotize the world, and would not be fooled twice). So Lee would reply "he's a hypnotist: use a mirror to hypnotize himself! I'm so good at twist endings!" And Kirby would sigh and leave the office, to fight the battle again another day...

If Lee liked the alien Hulk, that would explain how Kirby finally got the Jekyll-Hyde monster idea past Lee, "look, I'll call him the Hulk, and send him into space in issues 2 and 3"! Note how the alien Hulk was jolted to life through electrical power, and the Banner Hulk was jolted into existence by turning on gamma ray machines.

This is just speculation built on speculation. But any of those three characters between alien Hulk 1 and and his return would have made much better continuing stories. So Lee's involvement in bringing back the alien Hulk instead? Seems like a red flag to me.