Re-reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Both the cover and the front page proclaim issue #25 to be “The battle of century.” (Note: I’ll be doing a bunch of these FF posts throughout February to make up for weeks I’ve missed. If all goes according to plan, that’ll put the blog on track to reach Galactus at the one-year mark!)
The issue begins right in the middle of high drama, as Reed wants Ben to try another cure, to turn Ben back into a human. Ben refuses, because he thinks becoming human means Alicia won’t love him. Reed argues that it’s not Ben’s appearance Alicia loves, but Ben himself. On cue, Alicia appears with a newspaper, hoping one of them will read it to her (this comes off a lot more sad than I think Stan and Jack intended). The article is about the Avengers, recently returned to the U.S. after battling both the Hulk and the Submariner out at sea. It also announced Captain America as the newest Avenger.
Meanwhile, in New Mexico, a couple of truckers have a run-in with the Hulk. He hides out in the back of their truck, calming down and turning back into Bruce Banner. The truck stops at a roadblock, where police are in the midst of a Hulk manhunt. Banner makes a run for it. The cops don’t pursue because he’s obviously not the Hulk. Bruce runs out into the wilderness where, conveniently, he has a secret underground lab set up. Along the way, though, he transforms back into the Hulk. Hulk finds the lab and, in his rage, trashes it. He also finds the same newspaper Alicia had (they sell the New York Times in New Mexico?) and he’s furious about being “replaced” in the Avengers by Captain America. He heads off to New York to confront the Avengers. Along the way, we get a quick of Avengers searching for the Hulk. The lineup: Cap, Thor, Iron Man, Wasp, Giant Man, and squeaky-clean teen sidekick Rick Jones.
At the Baxter Building, Reed collapses, falling unconscious. It’s bad timing, because that when the Hulk shows up and starts trashing NYC. Johnny tries to fight the Hulk, but the Hulk is pretty much fireproof and he puts out Johnny’s flame. Ben and Sue don’t want to leave Reed’s side, but he wakes just long enough to insist that they stop the Hulk, for the good of the city. Sue uses her force fields to protect Johnny from the Hulk’s fists, and then Ben jumps into the fray. We’re on page 11 at this point, and the next 10 pages, almost the rest of the comic, are nothing but the Hulk and the Thing going at it.
After exchanging blows, a bus gets between them, which they use as a weapon against each other, destroying it in the process. Hulk throws Ben up to the top of a building, and then topples that building, sending Ben back down to earth. The fight moves underground, where the Hulk gets electrocuted thanks to some exposed wires. Once they’re above ground again, Hulk and Thing run afoul of those jokesters from the Yancy Street gang, who send a driverless truck at them. It scoops them up, takes them down the street, and drops them in the Hudson River. Ben climbs aboard a convenient abandoned boat and tries to escape, but the Hulk catches up and smashes it. Ben makes it to the Washington Bridge, where he manages to tie the Hulk up with one of those huge bridge cables. Thing fears that he’s not strong enough to contain the Hulk, and sure enough, the Hulk breaks free. The Hulk beats down the Thing and demands to see the Avengers, or he’ll tear the city apart.
Back at HQ, a doctor has no idea what’s wrong with Reed, except that Reed spends all his time in his lab, exposed to potentially dangerous “strange microbes and untested formulae.” On the bridge, the Thing comes to, gets back to his feet, and proclaims that, despite his weakened, battered condition, he’ll stop the Hulk, no matter what it takes. “That’s the only way he’ll stop me now,” Ben says, “by killin’ me!”
To be continued!!!
Unstable molecule: Reed still wants Ben to be human, despite Ben’s change of heart about his “condition.” This shows that Reed carries around guilt about what became of Ben, something that will be explored in great depth by other writers and artists years later. His illness is an intriguing mystery, and opens the door for Ben to take center stage.
Fade out: Sue rescues Johnny from the Hulk, and then immediately returns to Reed’s bedside.
Clobberin’ Time: It’s a showcase for Ben, revealing that he and the Hulk are not equals in strength. Despite being outclassed by ol’ Greenskin, Ben perseveres, and keeps fighting. Real big-time hero stuff.
Flame on: Johnny is the first to try fighting the Hulk, but doesn’t last long before the Hulk knocks him out.
Trivia time: The Hulk last guest-starred in issue #12. The continuity between this issue and The Avengers is pretty air-tight. The Hulk was a member of the team for the first two issues, quitting in Avengers #2. The others didn’t just let him go, however, and pursued him in Avengers #3, where he fought with and then had a temporary alliance with Namor. His disappearance at the end of that issue makes way for Captain America’s return in Avengers #4 and easily leads into the start of this FF issue.
The Hulk’s alter ego is referred to as “Bob Banner” throughout this issue, instead of “Bruce Banner.” You know, back when the 1970s Incredible Hulk TV show renamed him “Robert Banner,” Marvel allegedly responded by saying the character’s name is “Robert Bruce Banner,” but he goes by his middle name most of the time. The use of the name “Bob” has me wondering if that was a thing long before the TV show, or if Stan and company simply screwed up.
Fantastic or frightful: Jack Kirby is often praised for his ability to draw huge action, and this issue is a perfect example. This Thing/Hulk brawl is the standard-setter for all future Thing/Hulk brawls.
Next time: Avengers assemble!
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