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.