Hulk Best Comics (1961-1971)
Updated: Oct 1, 2021
The Hulk. One of the more well-known comic book characters, thanks mainly to the Marvel Cinematic Universe but also just because his look is so iconic and he is one of the most fascinating characters in popular culture. Bruce Banner, dosed with gamma radiation, now becomes an enormous green rage monster whenever his heartrate is elevated. Not your typical superhero as usually he is treated as a villain than a hero by everyone around him. The only thing the Hulk wants is to be left alone really, craving peace and solitude. Something that is continually denied to him. Hunted because of what he is and usually forced to fight battles he doesn't want to fight, the Hulk is definitely one of the better ideas Stan Lee had. Unfortunately, the execution of this idea leaves a little to be desired in this era. The Hulk himself is a great character, but the stories he's in are usually the same. Him fighting some great big threat that only he can fight. Him misunderstanding and getting enraged, battling other supeheroes. Now his stories are good in this era, just not yet groundbreaking for what the Hulk truly is. Even Stan Lee, who created him, never really got him to the same levels of greatness that he got on some titles. He certainly had fun with the character and his supporting cast, but it honestly seemed like him and his subsequent writers like Roy Thomas were just rehashing the same stories and ideas over time. Hopefully that changes from 1971-1981. Still, there are a few stories in there that shine better than others. So, here are the best Hulk comics from 1961-1971:
9. Tales to Astonish Vol 1. 83: Less Than Monster, More Than Man
The plot in this issue is pretty simple. A supervillain is trying to steal a missile for an evil organization. But what is the standout here is the moments between the Hulk and Betty Ross. See, in the last issue the Hulk rescued her from the supervillain and brought her to a cave. In this issue, Betty sees the Hulk in a new light as previously she only saw him as the monster inside the love of her life. Now she starts to see him as less of a monster and more another version of Bruce Banner. The introspective into their relationship and into the Hulk himself is what makes this issue special. You can see here a reflection of the scene in The Incredible Hulk (2008).
8. Tales to Astonish Vol 1. 87-88: The Humanoid and the Hero
This story presents one of the only times (so far) that General Ross, who is obsessively chasing after the Hulk, tries to save the Hulk. When a machine they created called the Hulk-Killer (not Hulkbuster, that comes later) goes on a rampage, the Hulk is the only one to stop it. And when he realizes the Hulk might die because of his actions, Ross actually feels bad for the big guy. It doesn't last long, but it's something. The people hail the Hulk as a hero and it looks like he might actually have a happy ending. But, nope, something comes along to ruin it and he's back as a monster in public eyes.
7. Tales to Astonish Vol 1. 63-74: The Leader
This long epic stands as the origin of Hulk's greatest foe: the Leader. Just as Bruce Banner was exposed to gamma radiation and gained superior strength, Samuel Sterns was exposed to the same radiation and instead gained superior intelligence. Using it for evil, the Leader comes up with many devious plots in these issues all to do with the Hulk who he sees as his one true equal. Thus begins the epic battle of brains vs. brawn with plastic humanoids, a clash with the Communists, and a guest appearance of Uatu the Watcher thrown in to boot. Along with all that, it also is the first appearance of Smart Hulk (as seen in Avengers: Endgame).
6. Tales to Astonish Vol 1. 90-91: Abomination
The first apperance of Hulk's second greatest enemy, Abomination. The main villain of The Incredible Hulk film and the only character who can match the Hulk punch-for-punch (so far). Exposed to gamma radiation as well, the Abomination actually got too much and can't transform back and forth like the Hulk can which makes him a little stronger so the Hulk has to find new angles to fight him. These two issues mark their first battle which is one massive brawl fest. The only problem I have is that it cuts off at the end. I guess they had some sort of budget issue or just ran out of ideas for the fight. All the same, still two great issues of pure action.
5. Incredible Hulk Vol 1. 115: Lo, the Leader Lives
After his supposed death in their last altercation (shown above), the Leader has returned after General Ross successfully captures the Hulk. Here, the Leader decides to help them by building a prison the Hulk can't escape from before reveling in the fact that he has trapped the one being that could stop his evil plan. Mwahahahaha. This issue is a lot of fun as it sees the return of one of the best Hulk villains (most of them are pretty much the same one-off enemies or borrowed villains from other comics), showing off how the Leader is a true threat. He doesn't use strength or giant robots to combat the Hulk like all the others, but his mind. And it is something to be feared.
4. Tales to Astonish Vol 1. 94-96: ...To the Beckoning Stars
These three issues are just pure sci-fi fun. The Hulk gets captured by some strange creatures and is then sent to another world out in the stars run by the High Evolutionary, a scientist obsessed with the study of evolution. In him, the High Evolutionary finds the key to everything and wants to use the Hulk to power his experiments a thousand-fold. And in him, the Hulk finds a place that maybe he can actually call home. But, stopping them, are the High Evolutionary's race of New Men who rebel against their creator. One of the best sci-fi stories released at that time as it was non-stop fun from beginning to end with many twists you won't see coming.
3. Incredible Hulk Vol 1. 1: The Origin
The origin of the Hulk. This issue tells it all. Introduces Bruce Banner, General Ross, Betty Ross, and Rick Jones. About to test his new invention, the Gamma Bomb, Banner suddenly sees a kid driving into the test area and rushes to save him. However, he is a little too late. He saves the kid but gets exposed and thus, the Hulk is born. Fun fact: the Hulk started out as a creature that only took over Bruce's body when the sun went down. Kind of werewolf like in a way. Eventually, it became due to heart rate and such, but still fun to see. This issue is the start of it all and a thrill to read.
2. Incredible Hulk Vol 1. 122-124: No More the Monster
One of the saddest Hulk tales as in these three issues, Bruce Banner is finally freed of the Hulk. After a fight with the Fantastic Four, Reed Richards is able to cure him. Thus, he restarts his romance with Betty Ross and the two plan their wedding. And yet, the Leader comes to ruin it. He reactivates the cells in the Hulk's body, bringing him back, showing that Banner can never have a happily ever after. Roy Thomas had taken over from Stan Lee at this point and while most of his stories didn't rise above any previous work, this story proved his worth as a storyteller of the Hulk as does Number 1.
1. Incredible Hulk Vol 1. 140: The Brute…That Shouted Love…At The Heart Of The Atom
One of the most interesting and unique Hulk stories ever written inspired by a science fiction short story Roy Thomas had read, this issue shrinks the Hulk down to a miniscule scale where he lands in a strange new world where there are other green people. Plus, Smart Hulk is back (Hulk with Banner's brain). There, he saves the life of a princess and they fall in love. Also, all the people hail him as a hero and accept him unlike the people of Earth who hunt and fear him. Here, he belongs. Of course, it doesn't last. With the Hulk, nothing good ever does. But truly the best story written in the Hulk's first ten years, and one that inspired the famous Planet Hulk storyline as seen in Thor: Ragnarok (2017).
And there we are. The top Hulk stories from 1961-1971. Hopefully better ones will come in the next decade as even these lacked something. Still, fun reads. Next up: Thor.