Lee & Kirby: THE INCREDIBLE HULK: He can fly!

Okay, this is going to be another somewhat-strange piece, but I can’t help it if I’m fascinated by odd and inconsequential bits of comic book trivia and speculation. And this one cuts to the center of the often-disconnect that existed between Jack Kirby, who was largely plotting and drawing the early Marvel stories, and Stan Lee, who was editing and dialoguing them.

To wit: by its third issue, it was becoming clear to Lee that INCREDIBLE HULK as initially conceived wasn’t working, and so the first of what would wind up becoming a number of different new approaches and directions was undertaken in the third issue. As part of the story, the Hulk is lured into a space capsule that’s shot into the stratosphere and which is bombarded by cosmic radiation. Said radiation makes him the Hulk permanently, even during the daytime, but it also puts him under the direct control of his kid buddy Rick Jones.

None of that is what we’re talking about here.

Rather, it’s a new ability that the Hulk manifested as a result of that selfsame trip into space, one that I believe Kirby and Lee disagreed upon, at least during their time working together on the character initially. But just as the cover to INCREDIBLE HULK #3 has the soldier in the lower right corner exclaiming, I believe that Jack Kirby intended to have given the Hulk the power of unaided flight–and despite the fact that Lee from the start scripted the stories as though the Hulk was merely making enormous leaps with his powerful legs, that’s the way Kirby continued to approach and plot the character, all the way up through his appearances in AVENGERS.

Okay, let’s take a look.

The Hulk flies for the first time at the close of the first story in INCREDIBLE HULK #3–and in the caption, Lee takes a huge amount of space to explain just how the Hulk is doing this, making it a leap rather than actual flight. But ignore the text and just look at the image in that second panel–that feels like flying to me. The way Kirby handles the Hulk’s ability is almost more akin to levitation than the way most super heroes are depicted in flight, so that may have been what he was thinking.

In the third story in the issue, with his will sapped by the hypnotic Ringmaster, Rick summons the Hulk by mental control, and the green goliath comes in response. Here again, that third panel looks like a flying pose to my eye, rather than a leap.

At the end of that story, with the army moving in on them, Rick has the Hulk leap upwards through the tent to carry them to safety. And that takeoff is a leap, sure, but a slightly oddly posed one. But look at the Hulk’s stance and trajectory in panel 5. He’s practically posed like Superman, and appears to be changing direction mid-leap. That isn’t jumping, that’s flying.

This next page is a little bit of a cheat. It’s one of a number of pages from a rejected story intended for INCREDIBLE HULK #4. But just as quickly as lee and Kirby had settled on their new status quo for the Hulk, Lee (possibly with input from Martin Goodman) decided to revise it once again, and so this story was discarded–Kirby angrily tore the art boards in half and they were recovered by Larry Lieber, who kept them all these years. Here, the Hulk has been hospitalized with a brain injury of some kind, but when Rick mentally summons him (to deal with crooks who are acting as ringers in a high school basketball championship of all things) he rises from his sickbed and comes running. Here again, that doesn’t look like a leap to me in that final panel, but rather the Hulk soaring out of the window in response to Rick’s silent command.

In the story actually published as the lead feature in INCREDIBLE HULK #4, the army tests its new Iceberg Rocket on a flying Hulk dummy. While this isn’t meant to be the actual Hulk and the dummy doesn’t move, its motion in flight doesn’t seem materially different from the way Kirby would draw the real Hulk. The Iceberg Rocket would eventually be used against the actual Hulk in the following issue.

Same story. With the army looking for the Hulk, Rick urges him to flee upward into the sky. In that last panel, does that seem like a leap or like flight to you, Lee’s copy notwithstanding?

On the next page there’s an even more critical example. Let to his own devices, the Hulk is continuing to soar aloft, outracing a plant. but when he sees a us in danger below him, he not only changes direction and drops down to intercede but he moves the bus out of the way while in midair. Lee’s copy tries to make this all work with the leaping concept but the physics here just don’t work. And there’ll be other similar examples in the future.

Same story. Look at that takeoff in Panel 3 and especially the way Panel 4 is done.

Same story a page later. The Hulk can pick up Rick and ascend again without touching the ground, and his flight path can curve to enter their secret underground lair. Flight.

Two more from the same story. The Hulk now has Bruce Banner’s mind in control, but he still seems plenty buoyant.

From the second story in INCREDIBLE HULK #4. This one’s a bit inconclusive in that the action probably works whether we’re talking about leaping or flying–though i would argue that it would take the ability to add thrust to cause the Hulk to land with greater impact than when he took off. But then again, we are talking about comic book physics here.

One final example from INCREDIBLE HULK #4. The Hulk leaps or flies up to attach a cadre of bad guy Communists to their fleeing helicopter.

Lead story in INCREDIBLE HULK #5. In that center panel, the Hulk is clearly flying down that cavern. Incredibly, despite the fact that Lee has been writing these actions as leaps for two issues now, Kirby still draws the action as flight consistently. So either they haven’t had any conversation about this, or they have and it simply doesn’t take.

Here’s the opening of the second story in INCREDIBLE HULK #5–and here comes that Iceberg Rocket again! In the second panel on the first page, it looks to me as though the Hulk’s zip-trail has been reworked to add in that bounce, and so make it seem as though he’s leaping. From the composition of that shot and the way the Hulk is motoring in the opening panel, a straight trajectory from left to right was likely there originally, similar to Panel 4 on the third page.

Here’s the rest of the flying/leaping from this story; there’s a lot of it. The Hulk can soar away from a commercial jet–and that middle panel on Page 6 looks like it was done by other non-Kirby hands. On Page 11 he can hover and drop missiles down from the sky (despite the speed lines that have been added in to make it seem as though he’s jumping up.) Tat bounce on Page 12 looks unconvincing and like an add-in to me as well. And on Page 13 the Hulk once again changes direction in mid-flight.

Kirby doesn’t draw INCREDIBLE HULK #6, Steve Ditko does–and Ditko has no problem hewing to Lee’s conception of the character’s ability as leaping. Kirby next draws the Hulk in FANTASTIC FOUR #12, the first crossover of the Marvel Universe. On Page 7, the Hulk sure seems to be flying in all of these panels. On Page 19, in Panel 3, I’d guess that the bounce behind the Hulk was added in the inks at Lee’s direction–same thing for the bounce upon takeoff at the bottom of Page 22.

This brings us to AVENGERS #1. It’s a number of months later–but still Kirby is plotting and drawing the Hulk with the power of flight. In this opening scene, in a reprise of the sequence in INCREDIBLE HULK #4, the Hulk sees Loki’s illusion of dynamite on the tracks below and changes his direction in order to try to grab it. The leaping from the ground portion of his trail in the first panel of Page 3 looks like an add-in in the inks to my eye again–Kirby just has him flying over the railroad tracks that Loki will imperil to get his attention.

More flying from AVENGERS #1. Despite being entangled in Ant-Mans net, the Hulk can create enough additional upward thrust to pull the whole circus tent away with him. And on the top pages of Page 14, those motion lines look suspicious to me–what I think was penciled here is the Hulk stopping on a dime and dropping straight down, then rising up again after Iron man has passed by to attack him from behind. Even the Hulk’s hands and Iron man’s boots in Panel 2 look a bit strange–I wonder if perhaps the Hulk hadn’t already grabbed Iron Man’s legs in the original pencils here.

Flying/leaping from AVENGERS #2. On both Pages 8 & 10 it looks as though Lee has had a bounce trail added into what was clearly intended to be a standing take-off. Same thing with that last panel on Page 11, where Iron Man and the Hulk soar towards one another.

Flying/leaping from AVENGERS #3. Kirby still plots and draws the character his way, as possessing the power of flight. On Page 11, in Panel 4, there seem to be conflicting action lines delineating the Hulk’s movement and direction–it’s a bit of a mess. On Page 12, the Hulk not only rises as in flight, but then immediately reverses his direction to plunge down as Thor and Iron Man pursue him. And look at Panel 7 on that page–he’s positively buoyant beside that train.

From there, Kirby takes the Hulk’s story into FANTASTIC FOUR #25, for a big rematch with the Thing. Throughout this issue, zip-trails are adjusted to try to make teh Hulk appear to be leaping, but some of the action simply doesn’t work if the Hulk isn’t capable of self-levitation (such as Page 13, where he hovers above the Ting, lifts him up, and throws him.)

The fight continues into FANTASTIC FOUR #26, with the Avengers getting involved as well. There’s very little leaping or flying from the Hulk in this issue, apart from these top two panels. There’s something a bit weird about the Hulk figure in Panel 2, though–I think the position of his legs has been adjusted from what Kirby originally drew.

Finally, the Hulk shows up briefly in AVENGERS #5, and there’s only one panel with any flying or leaping to it, here on Page 8. Here again, something looks awry to my eye about those bounce-lines in the background, though.

After this, it would be a few more years until Kirby again tackled the character–and in those cases, it was most often to provide layouts and story breakdowns for other artists to finish. Even there, he seemed really uncomfortable with the idea that the Hulk was leaping from place to place–there’s one sequence where he has the Hulk jump the span of the ocean, and Lee has to cover it by writing that the Hulk has leaped from island-to-island following some strange animal instinct that allows him to locate and home in on them. It’s a bunch of nonsense that frankly doesn’t work–but then again, so much of these 60s books are covered in that.

So it seems as though Kirby never quite came to terms with Lee’s conceptual change to the Hulk’s power set, and whether by accident or design, he continued to undermine it by ignoring it and proceeding to use the power the way he had conceived it.

9 thoughts on “Lee & Kirby: THE INCREDIBLE HULK: He can fly!

  1. Hi Tom – I submitted a very similar article to the Kirby Collector some years back – even referencing the torn up pages that Lieber recovered. Sadly it wasn’t published. I agree that it seems pretty clear that Kirby wanted the Hulk to have the power of flight after exposure to those cosmic rays…and perhaps Lee did too until he saw what it looked like. The new power certainly would have facilitated the Hulk having adventures in more distant locations, away from the desert locale. In later years Lee would say that he disliked the idea of characters like Superman who could fly without any obvious explanation, so this makes sense. In my article I speculated that the rejected Kirby pages had something to do with Lee’s displeasure at the flying Hulk…perhaps this was linked to the reason the feature was turned over to Ditko? It was certainly evident from comments in the letter pages that readers were confused about the apparent flight and that Lee thought the idea of a flying Hulk was silly (referencing his comments would add a lot to your article). I think Lee gave Kirby a lot of leeway on the Hulk and this was probably the best example of obvious differences in the way he/Kirby perceived a major Marvel character. Ditko would later term the Lee/Kirby version a failure, while noting that ideas from him and Lee would make it a success.


  2. well, it seems pretty obvious to me that most of those panels were meant to show he could fly… but I guess that kind of thing happens when you have such a lose working style and give the artists as much freedom as Lee did back then. Though after a few issues, you have to think Kirby was aware Stan was wanting to go in a different direction. but as an artist, I know it is hard to change direction when you are convinced your idea is better. It’s funny to look back now and see them trying to figure out who the Hulk will be… you get so used to him as he is now… you forget how many steps, and missteps it took to get here.
    Very interesting article.


  3. IMO, Lee’s instincts were right — giving the Hulk the capacity to fly was just silly. Of course, so was idea of Thor flying by throwing and grabbing on to his hammer, but then Thor had supernatural powers. The Hulk, however, was massively strong through weird science, and his strength kept amping up so that by issue 3 he already comes off as much more powerful than in his debut. I think Lee was trying to keep his characters somewhat more realistically grounded despite all the fantastical elements and although in the early years there were many more very absurd fantastic elements, most of those were toned down considerably by 1965 or so, such that most characters were not constantly pulling out new powers out of their hat as they had been doing in earlier stories. Having the Hulk capable of bounding across continents and oceans in a manner of minutes was absurdist enough but still reasonably in keeping with his basic power of vast strength. Being able to fly just wouldn’t fit. Of course, it didn’t really fit with Superman as originally conceived either. From what I’ve read it was really animators of his 1940 cartoon who started him flying, mainly so that they wouldn’t have to keep drawing him jumping and would have more time for other story elements, and that aspect found its way into the Superman comics, along with a variety of other powers that made Superman ever more absurdly overpowered.


  4. Great analysis. I was shocked to have my older cousin tell me that the hulk could fly originally, until I read these issues for myself. Good research on this, Tom. Please submit this to the Jack Kirby Collector mag.


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