After spending the better part of a year as a regular character in The Avengers, the Hulk was again awarded a series of solo stories, this time as part of the split-book Tales to Astonish. As Marvel was phasing out its sci-fi and monster stories, it converted its anthology titles into superhero double features. The Hulk was first paired up with stories featuring Giant-Man and the Wasp, and later with the Sub-Mariner. During this period, the Hulk seemed to finally hit his stride, and important characters such as Glenn Talbot and the Leader were introduced. The “secret identity” facet of the stories was also abandoned, as the dual nature of Bruce Banner and the Hulk was made public knowledge. The series was distinctive in that, rather than telling self-contained stories, or even two- or three-part story arcs, Stan Lee decided to try more of an ongoing “soap opera” approach, allowing each issue to roll into the next for an extended, rambling narrative.
Note: The following timeline depicts the Original Marvel Universe (anchored to November 1961 as the first appearance of the Fantastic Four and proceeding forward from there. See previous posts for a detailed explanation of my rationale.) Some information presented on the timeline is speculative and some is based on historical accounts. See the Notes section at the end for clarifications.
We now continue with... The True History of the Incredible Hulk!
January 1963 – Bruce Banner manages not to turn into the Hulk for two or three weeks by focusing on his research and restocking his hidden underground lab. He also tries to distance himself from Betty Ross, now that his transformations are unpredictable. One day, Giant-Man arrives at Desert Base in search of the Hulk. Feeling persecuted, Bruce’s frustration reaches the boiling point and he loses control, changing into the Hulk. The jeep he was driving is wrecked, and he goes off to attack Giant-Man. Hulk goes on a rampage in a nearby town, terrorizing the locals once again. Then, he encounters a strange spinning man, really the criminal known as the Human Top, who tells Hulk he can find Giant-Man in the next town. Sure enough, Giant-Man is there and Hulk attacks. After a battle in the main street of the evacuated town, Hulk and Giant-Man see a missile coming towards them. Giant-Man learns from the Wasp that the missile carries a low-yield atomic warhead, fired by the military after the Human Top told them the Hulk was alone in the deserted town. Cursing himself, Hulk intercepts the missile and hurls it into the hills outside of town. Although the others are saved, Hulk is caught in the ensuing nuclear explosion and blacks out. He crashes to earth and changes back into Bruce Banner. Betty is overjoyed when Bruce comes staggering out of the desert, and after a long rest, he resumes his research.
February–March 1963 – Bruce buries himself in his research for a few months, making tremendous strides forward in a variety of projects, primarily a device he calls the “Absorbatron,” which will protect a city from atomic attack by absorbing all the radiation. Also, perhaps inspired by Iron Man, Bruce develops a heavy-duty suit of robotic armor to be used for close observation of nuclear tests. Having realized that undue stress triggers his transformation, Bruce only turns into the Hulk a few times in this period, and Hulk, increasingly suspicious of humans, keeps a low profile out in the desert.
April 1963 – Bruce turns into the Hulk when a spy tries to steal his suit of robotic armor, but Hulk leaps off into the desert and the spy gets away with the armor. The next morning, as the spy is testing the armor, Hulk attacks him. However, Hulk begins changing back into Bruce and the spy gets away again. He discovers one of Bruce’s underground equipment dumps and begins constructing a crude missile to destroy Desert Base.
A day or two later, as Bruce is cobbling together a portable electronic scanner to track the robotic armor, Major Glenn Talbot arrives as the new security chief for Desert Base. Talbot has been suspicious of Bruce for some time, and was assigned to the base when General Ross finally made a full report of Bruce’s many disappearances over the last year. Later, while out in the desert tracking the robotic armor, Bruce changes into the Hulk and battles the spy, knocking him into a deep chasm inside a cavern. The missile has been launched, however, and Hulk intercepts it, but the resulting blast knocks him unconscious. Talbot finds him, and the Hulk is captured by the military once again. Rick Jones returns to New Mexico that night, having heard a report of the Hulk’s capture on the radio. Meanwhile, the dead spy’s employer, the mysterious figure known as the Leader, sends the master of disguise called the Chameleon to find out what happened. Disguised as General Ross, the Chameleon unwittingly helps the Hulk to escape unobserved. Having changed back into Bruce Banner, he easily slips out of the Hulk-sized shackles, and Rick helps him avoid the guards, get back to his quarters and get some fresh clothing. Bruce then turns up at a late-night emergency meeting and confronts General Ross and Major Talbot. Shortly afterward, the Chameleon attacks Bruce, ties him up, and assumes his identity. Bruce turns into the Hulk and attacks, causing the Chameleon to flee. Trying to escape, the Chameleon throws a gamma grenade he took from Bruce’s lab. Hulk shields the blast with his body, but the shockwave knocks the Chameleon out.
The next morning, the Chameleon recovers and reports to the Leader that the Absorbatron is being moved to a base on the west coast by train. Later that afternoon, the train leaves, with Bruce and Talbot aboard. The Leader sends one of his robotic Humanoids to steal the device. Hulk fights the Humanoid off, but the Absorbatron falls off the train. That evening, Talbot finds Bruce with the Absorbatron and places him under arrest on suspicion of espionage.
May 1963 – Several days later, Bruce is transferred from the military prison to Washington DC, to stand before a congressional investigation. Having been following the story in the newspapers, Rick Jones arrives and uses his Avengers connections to get a meeting with President John F. Kennedy. Desperate, Rick tells Kennedy the whole story of Bruce Banner and the Hulk. JFK agrees to keep the secret and arranges for the charges against Bruce to be dropped.
The next day, Bruce and Talbot arrive at Astra Island in the Pacific Ocean to test the Absorbatron. The Leader’s army of Humanoids attack, trying to steal the device. Hulk fights them while Talbot secures the device inside the bunker. Troops move in, and a grenade causes a landslide that knocks Hulk and the Humanoids into the ocean. Hulk swims off, changes into Bruce Banner, and is picked up by a Russian submarine.
A week later, Bruce arrives in the Soviet Union and is brought to a work-camp for kidnapped scientists. He changes into the Hulk and destroys the camp. The Soviet Army attacks, and Hulk defeats them. He leaps away, finally coming to rest in Mongolia, where he changes back into Bruce again. He is captured by a group of bandits, who contact the American government with their ransom demands.
A few days later, Glenn Talbot arrives at the bandits’ camp to pay the ransom and pick up Bruce. However, rival bandits attack, allowing Bruce and Talbot to slip away in the confusion. They are caught in an avalanche, and Bruce turns into the Hulk and saves the unconscious Talbot. Leaving the major behind, Hulk leaps away, finally returning to the New Mexico desert. After transforming back into Bruce Banner, he is arrested once again as a traitor.
Several days later, Major Talbot makes it back to the United States and has a special meeting with President Kennedy. Bruce is released from prison and returned to Astra Island for the Absorbatron test. The Leader’s Humanoids attack again, but this time the Hulk is defeated. The Leader steals the Absorbatron and takes it and the Hulk to his secret underground lab in Arizona. Hulk becomes Bruce long enough to transmit an S.O.S. to the Air Force. Rick follows the troops as they trace the signal. Hulk goes on a rampage and destroys the Absorbatron. The Leader escapes as the soldiers storm the base. As the Hulk is changing back into Bruce, one of the soldiers shoots him in the head. The bullet lodges in his brain, and Bruce appears dead, but Rick hijacks the ambulance and takes him to the secret underground lab. He turns Bruce back into the Hulk via gamma ray bombardment, and he revives. However, he now has Bruce Banner’s intelligence once more.
The next day, the Leader’s giant Humanoid attacks Desert Base, and the Hulk fights him. Rick warns Hulk that the military is about to launch their “Sunday Punch” super-missile at them. They escape as the Humanoid is destroyed by the missile. However, the soldiers manage to track Hulk back to his underground lab, where they destroy it completely with heavy artillery. During the bombardment, the Leader contacts the Hulk with an offer, and Hulk allows the criminal mastermind to teleport him away, to the Leader’s base in Italy. That night, the Leader’s Humanoids stop Hulk from escaping. The Leader discovers the bullet in his brain and dissolves it with a special technique.
June 1963 – Over the next few days, the Leader makes a detailed study of the Hulk, and puts him through a battery of tests. With the bullet no longer in his brain, Hulk’s personality soon becomes dominant once more. Then, the leader makes the Hulk honor his part of the bargain and teleports him to a planet inhabited by one of the enigmatic Watchers. Hulk fights off an alien champion and retrieves a globe called “the ultimate machine.” After returning the Hulk to Earth, the Leader puts the globe over his head in order to absorb all the knowledge of the universe. However, it is too much for him, and he keels over, apparently dead. Hulk takes the globe and heads into the Alps. He tries it on, and the Watcher allows the Hulk to hear Rick Jones’ thoughts as he waits in military prison. The Watcher retrieves the “ultimate machine” as Hulk leaps away, heading for Washington, DC, where he plans to seek help from President Kennedy. However, General Ross and his troops are waiting for him by the time he arrives, and they blast the Hulk with Bruce’s “T-gun,” which creates a time displacement that transports the Hulk 500 years into the future.
Soon after, Rick Jones is questioned again by the military and then released, though Talbot keeps him under surveillance.
July 1963 – Talbot follows Rick into the caverns, where he finally breaks down and tells Talbot that Bruce Banner and the Hulk are one and the same. As Talbot reports this revelation to General Ross, Rick tells his story to Betty, who is incredulous. The story soon leaks, and before long, all the world knows the truth about Bruce Banner and the Hulk.
September 1963 – The Hulk, who has been fighting with the Executioner in the distant future, finally rematerializes in the present day. Meanwhile, General Ross’s new chief scientist, Dr. Konrad Zaxon, reports for duty. Hulk soon returns to the base and is captured. That night, Dr. Zaxon frees the Hulk in an attempt to use him to conquer the world, but his folly costs him his life. During his escape, Hulk is hit with the Air Force’s new Orion missile, which is secretly filmed by an agent of the subversive organization called the Secret Empire.
The next morning, the Air Force tracks down the Hulk. He nearly wrecks a train during the fight—a train on which Hercules is traveling to Los Angeles. Hercules battles the Hulk and drives him off, carries the train across the damaged tracks, and continues on his way. That night, Hulk is kidnapped by Tyrannus, who now needs his help in his subterranean war against the Mole Man.
The next day, when Hulk proves uncooperative, Tyrannus kidnaps Rick, Betty, and Major Talbot. Hulk goes into battle against the Mole Man’s forces, but changes into Bruce Banner again. Meanwhile, Tyrannus returns Rick, Betty, and Talbot to the surface, where they are attacked by an agent of the Secret Empire calling himself Boomerang. They are no match for Boomerang’s weapons, and he kidnaps Betty. However, Bruce manages to transport himself back to the surface, despite becoming the Hulk again. He materializes in the middle of an artillery test, then fights off Boomerang and rescues Betty. That night, Hulk brings Rick and General Ross to where Betty is waiting in the desert. Meanwhile, Boomerang tries to steal the Orion missile, but Major Talbot and the Air Force troops fight him off.
October 1963 – Hulk arrives in New York City, intent on finding the Avengers. He passes the Sub-Mariner in a crowded movie theater, then wanders around the city for a few days. Finally, Rick Jones arrives in town while the Hulk is shambling around causing property damage. Meanwhile, the Orion missile is hijacked by the Secret Empire and aimed at New York. The saboteur is captured by the military, and Hulk leaps aboard the missile, changing into Bruce long enough to change its course and save the city. Turning into the Hulk before crashing into the ocean, he swims ashore. Rick finds him and they go into hiding. Meanwhile, the Secret Empire is defeated by S.H.I.E.L.D., and their surviving agents are all jailed.
November 1963 – Hulk is still lurking around New York City when Spider-Man comes looking for him. Hulk tries to drive him away, and their fight takes them into a Gamma Ray Research Center in Manhattan. Hulk destroys an experimental device and is bathed in gamma radiation, which causes him to change back to Bruce Banner for a few minutes. Bruce and Spider-Man have a moment to discuss his situation; and after he changes into the Hulk again, Spider-Man decides to leave him alone.
December 1963 – The NYPD discovers one of the Leader’s abandoned laboratories, and General Ross is called in to take over. They find a dormant Humanoid built to take on the Hulk, and Ross orders it activated. Shortly after midnight, the Humanoid is brought to life, but it proves uncontrollable and goes on a rampage. Hulk attacks it, and their battle rages through the night and into the next morning.
After daybreak, Hulk suddenly transforms into Bruce Banner, and he quickly devises a plan to stop the android. After he changes back into the Hulk, his plan succeeds and the Humanoid is destroyed. Reporters are on the scene, and it seems the Hulk has saved the city a second time. Seeing the coverage on the morning television news, President Lyndon B. Johnson offers the Hulk amnesty, at General Ross’s discretion. However, Boomerang is lurking in the shadows and tricks Hulk into causing a panic. As the Hulk leaps away, General Ross decides he is still a menace. Boomerang catches up to the Hulk at a dam as Hulk heads west again. During their fight, Boomerang destroys the dam, but is swept away in the ensuing flood. Hulk turns back into Bruce and passes out. Hours later, the Stranger appears, intending to use the Hulk as his instrument to destroy the human race. He alters the Hulk’s mind with an alien machine, and sends him on a rampage. All that night, Hulk heads west, wreaking havoc and destruction in his path, such as demolishing a bridge over the Mississippi River.
Finally, the next morning, Hulk reaches Desert Base, where his transformation into Bruce Banner frees him from the Stranger’s influence. Desperate, Bruce realizes his suicide is the only hope for humanity. He steals into his lab and sets the gamma ray bombardment machine for a lethal overdose. However, the troops discover him and place him under arrest. Unknown to them, a spy by the name of Emil Blonsky was hiding in the laboratory. Believing Bruce’s device will make him super-powerful, Blonsky turns it on himself, and is immediately transformed into a scaly green monster, which will soon come to be called “the Abomination.” Seeing the Abomination from his prison cell, Bruce turns into the Hulk and attacks him. However, the Abomination is too tough, and he knocks Hulk out with a crushing blow to the head. The Abomination kidnaps Betty Ross and leaps away, and with the help of Rick Jones, the base personnel are able to revive the Hulk. However, Hulk just wants to take off, but Rick begs him to stay and help rescue Betty. Hulk calms down and becomes Bruce again, and quickly devises a strategy to defeat the Abomination. He lures the monster back to the base and subjects him to a ray that weakens him. However, the excitement is too much for Bruce and he turns back into the Hulk, wrecks the machine, and fights the Abomination to a standstill. Suddenly, the Stranger intervenes, having changed his mind about destroying humanity. He teleports the Abomination to his base somewhere in outer space. The danger passed and Betty safe once more, Hulk wanders off into the desert—alone.
January 1963 – There was something of a tradition with these Marvel split-books that a character about to be given his own series would guest-star in the lead feature the issue before it started. Thus comes this story from the Giant-Man series in Tales to Astonish #59.
April 1963 – The commencement of the Hulk’s solo stories, by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, from Tales to Astonish #60 and following.
May 1963 – The President of the United States is not clearly shown in these stories, as was often the case, and appears to be the sort of “generic” president often seen in fictional stories. Occasionally Marvel took this approach, and occasionally they made him look like the sitting president at the time the stories were published. These are what Marvel continuity pioneer George Olshevsky dubbed “topical references,” meaning they were based on people or events current when the stories were created, but can be discounted during chronological analysis as literary / artistic license. Watch for an upcoming post about the Presidents of the United States in the Original Marvel Universe.
June 1963 – While it is debatable, I don’t believe the Watcher depicted in this story is Uatu, the familiar Watcher who lives on Earth’s moon, despite the listing on the Marvel Chronology Project. The trouble with the Watchers is that they all pretty much look alike.
September 1963 – As suggested in Thor #372, the Hulk is returned from the future by the Time Variance Authority.
November 1963 – The Hulk is hiding out in New York City when President Kennedy is assassinated. It is unclear how much of this time he spent as Bruce Banner and how much as the Hulk, for he was in the city for several months, keeping a low profile as best he could.
December 1963 – During this appearance, the President of the United States is actually drawn to look like Lyndon Johnson, courtesy of artist Gil Kane. This is one of the few times in the Original Marvel Universe that the President looks like the man who was in office according to the date on the timeline. As usual, it is pure serendipity. This takes us up to Tales to Astonish #91.
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