One of my regular stops whenever my family would make a weekend shopping trip to the Smith Haven Mall was one of a number of book sellers. It’s hard to imagine today, when finding locations that are devoted to selling nothing but books is a difficult proposition in a lot of places, but in the 1970s there was still enough demand for reading material that more than one chain could set up in a given mall and still flourish. If I’m remembering correctly, at that time the Smith Haven Mall contained a B. Dalton’s and a Walden Books–and for a period, a third bookseller. None of these places sold comics, though–they each had deep magazine sections but didn’t bother with the small return on individual comic books. But they did have Humor sections–and amidst all of the Peanuts collections and MAD Magazine paperbacks, this is where most chains would stock any books remotely related to comics. And so, it was there, in the B. Dalton, that I came across this paperback collection, the latest Marvel release from Pocket Books, devoted to the Incredible Hulk.
I was already a massive fan of this format thanks to the previous titles in the line that I’d already bought: the first FANTASTIC FOUR volume and the second AMAZING SPIDER-MAN volume (the first ASM book continued to elude me. They were small paperback volumes, each of which reprinted the contents from approximately six issues of a given title, in sequence. As a fan and a budding comic book historian, these things were like the Dead Sea Scrolls to me. True, their size made the reprinted pages tiny, but I actually preferred this treatment to others (like the similar line of DC paperbacks that was coming out in this period) where they would slice up the pages to run only a panel or two on each page at a larger size. That let a reader see the material better, but it destroyed the flow of the story for me. I wanted the reading experience to be as close to the original one as possible.
That said, the volume did take some liberties–the most profound of which was changing the coloring on the reprint of INCREDIBLE HULK #1, eliminating the Hulk’s original gray hue in favor of making him green right from the very start. This is an understandable decision, albeit one that I disagree with. But given that nowhere in the text is the color change ever mentioned–the Hulk simply starts issue #2 green, and nobody ever indicates he was any different–it was a simple enough thing to overlook. Although i does mean that, in my memory, the Hulk is green on those INCREDIBLE HULK pages, even if he really wasn’t.
The interesting thing about this volume is the fact that the inaugural run of INCREDIBLE HULK only lasted 6 issues, so the entirety of that freshman effort was collected in this volume. Given the character’s popularity in the 1970s and since then, it’s somewhat hard to believe that the book was a failure, lurching wildly from approach to approach in a vain attempt to find something that would work. It was only after a few years showing up as quasi-villain in other titles that the Hulk got a series of his own again, in half of TALES TO ASTONISH every month. And when that book split in two in the great Marvel expansion of 1968, INCREDIBLE HULK became one of the better selling books of the next decade for some reason. The character’s moment had finally come.
Now, I had never been a huge fan of the Hulk. My younger brother Ken was the one who initially took to the Green Goliath and who started buying his book. And eventually, when his interest waned, I continued on with it, because by that point I was a regular Marvel reader. But I was much more fascinated by these early Hulk stories delivered by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko. I had read one of them before–the Tyrannus story in INCREDIBLE HULK #5, which I had experienced previously in an issue of MARVEL COLLECTORS’ ITEM CLASSICS I had bought as a back issue. But I also just connected with the material of this period better, and so this version of the Hulk became my preferred version of the Hulk–even though it was a version that switched gears every issue or two. But I liked my Hulk smarter and more literate, as he was herein, whether he was possessed of the mind of Bruce Banner or not. That version was a bit closer to the Thing, and so hit the mark for me a lot better than the waifish, childlike Hulk who had been the norm for several years.
I can’t say that this collection turned me into a huge Hulk head, but I did thoroughly enjoy it, and felt as though it had filled in another important small piece of Marvel’s history for me. These stories were weird and crazy and fun, and just serious enough for me to be able to approach them as high drama while not being so sweeping and unending that I couldn’t connect with them. They were pitched right at my level at the point in which I encountered them.