I think it’s fair to say that, as a series, the original run of INCREDIBLE HULK was troubled. It wrapped up after a mere six issues, and had Stan Lee and Jack Kirby not had a creator’s affection for the character and started using him in the pages of AVENGERS and other titles, it’s doubtful that much of anybody would remember it today. Moreso than most, INCREDIBLE HULK evidenced dramatic shifts in editorial viewpoint, as though, having launched the series, Lee and Kirby couldn’t go in the original direction with it and were frantically seeking out some further way of making the character popular with readers. By the third issue, the original set-up of the series–that, when night falls, scientist Bruce Banner transforms into a malevolent powerhouse called the Hulk–had been discarded for a new status quo. Because of an accident in the Van Allen radiation belt, the Hulk was now the Hulk all the time, day or night, and was also psychically bonded with Banner’s protege, teenager Rick Jones. Jones could control the Hulk through will along–but whenever he fell asleep or unconscious, the Hulk would run rampant. (Oh, and the Hulk could now fly–or jump, depending on who you asked–as we covered here previously:
That piece caused a little bit of a stir when I reproduced an unused Jack Kirby page intended for, I believe, INCREDIBLE HULK #4. And in fact, I have a number of such pages, which form the basis of this piece. So what’s the story here? A number of years ago, during the legal action in which the Jack Kirby Estate was attempting to recapture the copyrights to most of the key Marvel characters, testimony was heard from a variety of people. One of those people was Larry Lieber, and he brought with him this astonishing bit of history, According to Lieber, he had been in the office on the day that Jack Kirby brought these pages in for editor Stan Lee, and he was also there when an irate Kirby stormed out of Lee’s office, tore the pages in half, and chucked them in the trash. Being a huge aficionado of Kirby’s work, Lieber took the opportunity to rescue them so that he could study Kirby’s technique–and they had been in a closet in Lieber’s apartment ever since.
There were five pages in total, labeled as Pages 8, 9, 11, 12 and 13 of a Hulk story that was never completed. Some immediately believed that this must have been intended for INCREDIBLE HULK #6, an issue which Steve Ditko ended up penciling. But that isn’t the case. A study of what’s on the pages gives us enough context to understand that this story could only have been intended for either INCREDIBLE HULK #3 or #4–and I believe the evidence makes he fact that it would have been #4 inescapable.
So what happened here? First off, this story is clearly set during the brief period in which Rick Jones had mental control of the Hulk. That status quo is done away with almost as quickly as it was established, in the opening story in INCREDIBLE HULK #4–Rick treats the Hulk with Dr. Banner’s gamma ray machine, resulting in a renewed Hulk that is not only is own person again, but who retains some vestige of Bruce banner’s intellect and personality (though he’s still rougher and more violent than regular Banner.) It’s a whiplash-quick reversal from the preceding issue, which worked so hard to set the new status quo up. And I honestly have no explanation for why this sudden reversal happened, outside of the fact that it clearly happened at this point. Given that these unused pages have Lee’s scribbled border notes on them–notes taken when Jack Kirby would have brought the pages in and walked him through them–I’d imagine that there may have been two trips regarding these pages, not one. It doesn’t make much sense to me for Lee to take all of these notes and ten decide summarily to change the direction of the series so suddenly. By that same token, it’s not out of the question.
ADDITION: Historian and author Will Murray mentions that at one point, Kirby said that INCREDIBLE HULK had been cancelled with issue #3 for a few days. If that’s the case, it may explain this mystery—if Kirby brought the pages in to learn that Goodman had cancelled the series and tore them apart in frustration, then they wouldn’t have been available when the series got a reprieve—and that reprieve would also help explain the sudden change of direction.
It also doesn’t help matters that it’s a pretty silly story, at least from the vantage point of today. Deciphering the border notes on the bad copies is difficult, but the upshot of the story appears to be that Rick Jones is the star player on his school’s basketball team. An eccentric millionaire gambler, very much a stock Simon & Kirby sort of a character, has placed a bet against Rick’s team with his midget associate–and in order to insure that he wins the contest, he first attempts to bribe Rick to throw the game, and then brings in a team of ringers disguised as the opposing team when Rick won’t go for it–criminal thugs who don’t care who they hurt. Meanwhile, the Hulk has suffered some manner of brain injury in the earlier pages of the story (or has undergone a procedure to try to bring out Banner’s personality, maybe?) , and he’s laid up in a nearby hospital–but when the gangsters start to get rough, Rick summons him mentally for help, and he rises from his sickbed to fly to the school to clobber the bad guys.
Given the page numbers we have to work with, it seems likely that this story was too early in the book to have been in INCREDIBLE HULK #3. The first story in HULK #3 is 11 pages long, and this one is at least 14 pages in length. It’s not impossible that this was replaced by the Ringmaster story and the retelling of the Hulk’s origin in HULK #3, but I think its more likely that it was intended as the opening portion of issue #4. if nothing else, the Hulk’s ability to fly isn’t established until the very end of INCREDIBLE HULK #3, and him clearly flying here on Page 11 doesn’t appear to be staged as a reveal of this ability–so I think it must have been done after that.
Lee’s border note beneath that last panel on PAGE 13, just about the only legible one, reads: CAREFUL – IF YOU INJURE ME I’LL GO TO HOSPITAL – NO BLUE CROSS –
It is pretty clear from context that Jack Kirby was likely never paid for any of this work, and that he tore the pages in half in a rage after having spent a week’s time on coming up with them, only to have to discard the story and start from scratch, and not having earned any cash during that process. This was the big downside of the Marvel methodology, where the artists were largely (and in some cases entirely) plotting out the stories as they were drawing them: if Lee didn’t like a direction they went in, or changed his mind, all of those efforts would have been for nothing. I believe that, in general, in this early period, the ability to chart the direction of the stories he was doing was considered a boon by Kirby (as opposed to his last stint at DC/National, where he would be given full scripts and expected to execute them to the letter, and yelled at when he deviated, even when his changes were improvements.) But this was a double-edged sword as well, and created a situation where it seemed likely that resentments were going to fester–as, indeed, they did.