Lee, Lieber & Kirby: The Prototype for the Incredible Hulk

A few days ago in the post concerning the prototype versions of Aunt May and Uncle Ben that had appeared in an earlier Lee/Ditko fantasy story, I mentioned an actual prototype for the Hulk that Lee and Kirby worked on prior to launching that character in his own title in 1962. So I thought it might be worth taking a closer look at the story in question–apparently, it was this one from JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY #79

This story was only completed shortly before work on INCREDIBLE HULK #1 would have begun, and its subject matter would have been clear in Kirby’s mind, for all that it is a very different treatment of the same underlying idea. In interviews, Kirby occasionally made mention of the fact that the Hulk was spun off from a similar treatment in a one-off story, and “The Midnight Monster” appears to be that story. There are no credits on it, but I am guessing that it was scripted by Larry Lieber, as many of these pre-hero Marvel monster stories were.

It’s a fairly typical story of its type, wholly unremarkable apart from its tenuous connection to the more famous super hero series. The lead character, Victor Avery, is egotistical and awful–more villain than hero. And he’s not a victim of his own genius–he subjects himself to the serum which turns him into the Midnight Monster deliberately, willingly.

Still, this transformation over thre panels mirrors those that Kirby would typically depict for the Hulk (as well as whenever Ben Grimm would become human again in FANTASTIC FOUR). And the overall look of the Midnight Monster here pulls from the same Jekyll/Hyde and Frankenstein source inspirations that the Hulk would also follow.

I find it especially funny that the girl that Victor Avery is so obsessed with isn’t even given a name so far in this story–which in a way goes to display the superficiality of his interest in her.

This page in particular looks like something that could have appeared in an issue of HULK.

The combination here of the fake weapon and the challenge broadcast to the enemy were both tropes that would be turned to several times in early Marvel stories, including those featuring the Hulk. It’s somewhat astonishing that no later writer ever brought the Midnight Monster back again–though that speaks to how obscure and under the radar this story really was.

13 thoughts on “Lee, Lieber & Kirby: The Prototype for the Incredible Hulk

  1. Good find. Lee often gave the plot and writing duties to his brother in the early books as I remember too, so it could be Lee’s or Larry’s work (though no names having the same letter to begin the first and last, suggests it was more likely Larry), but I can see how Lee would have changed this to something more in keeping with the super hero genre they were creating at the time, and using radiation as a means to give people their powers – all of the those early hero books had powers involving radiation of some kind, which seems very much like a Lee thing. Kirby originally wanted Spider-Man to get his powers from a magic ring for example, but when Lee collaborated with Ditko, it was a radioactive spider. Just like with Ditko’s Aunt May and Uncle Ben, artists would often borrow from something they’d done before (Kane’s Abomination was very much like something he’d done at DC IIRC) – Kirby also borrowed from stuff he’d done before, so just like with the FF, reiterated similar aspects to go along with the story he was given. It was simpler and easier to do that, especially as no one then knew how successful these books were going to become, and the artwork had to be done quickly, so there was no point in reinventing the wheel so to speak. I think quite a few examples of earlier versions that ended up being tweaked into hero books, and as you pointed out before, those books are often valued higher as the ‘prototype’ for the character that was to become popular in the hero books.

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  2. What also is on show in this story is the dynamic that would develop between Dr. Doom and Mr. Fantastic a couple of months later in F.F. #5.


  3. I am always incredibly skeptical of the “prototype” argument (as I know you are), but I will give you the visual similarities here. Nonetheless, I always thought that “Gorgilla Strikes Again!” in Tales to Astonish #18 (April 1961 publication date, so probably drawn in January early February) was a better pre-Hulk candidate (if we really need one). The first Gorgilla story in TOA #12 was an “explorers go across the world to find the missing link and then befriend him” story, but the sequel (when Gorgilla comes to New York City) always struck me — again visually — like a fairly typical “Hulk pursued” story (although the final scene was clearly a rip-off of King Kong).


    1. It’s unclear to me how similar something needs to be in order to qualify as a “prototype”, which I’d say needs to have more than one common element. Man-into-rampaging-monster is something that comes up in various places, and is a core aspect of The Hulk. But in this story, the guy never transforms back to normal (though there’s a mention of finding an antidote, it’s a throwaway dialogue line, not any aspect of the story), and doesn’t appear to ever really want to do so. There’s no worry by the man-form about what’s done by the monster-form, or concern about how being the monster at times might ruin the man’s ordinary life. Maybe just “art prototype” is a better phrase here.


      1. I tend to discount almost any idea of any of these prototypes having a direct connection with the characters who would eventually succeed them, and I would do so in this instance as well except that Kirby mentioned more than once that the Hulk was an outgrowth of a prior story. So it’s Jack who indicated the connection.

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  4. Man, I’d have brought this guy back in a heartbeat.

    Banner, looking for a way to cure himself, finds files about the Midnight Monster, goes looking for his corpse to see what they can learn from his mutated tissue, but when he finds the guy, he’s still alive, just maddened at being trapped under a rockfall for years. And now he’s on the rampage again, and T-Bolt Ross and his men have to guard Bill Cooper and the missus (and kids?) while Banner has to split his time fighting him and finding a cure for him (that won’t work on the Hulk, so sad).

    Bam! Mighty Marvel Magic in the Making!

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  5. Warren Ellis gives a “tribute” to this in part of his Planetary series; that the Hulk stand-in was trapped in a missile silo and eventually starved to death after ten years.


  6. When Kirby referred to a “Prototype” for the Hulk I thought he meant, and I could be wrong, the “Hulk” from “Here comes the Hulk!” in Journey into Mystery # 62 and “The Return of the Hulk!” from JiM #66.


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