Hulk Splash!

As much as I love old comics -- the actual physical items, I mean -- the decades-old paper and staples, the classic ads, the fascinating letters pages -- I have to admit I often prefer reading the stories in the “Essential” format, i.e., in glorious black & white. I find the vintage coloring jobs to be distracting, more often than not, and quite frankly, the scenes usually look much better in my mind’s eye than they do on the printed page.

For example, let’s take Incredible Hulk #4, since I have it out. When reading the story in Essential Hulk v.1, the main panel of the splash page looks more or less like this in my imagination:

But when I read the original comic book from 1962, what I see is this:

While I mean no disrespect to the issue’s uncredited colorist (either Stan Goldberg or one of his assistants), who actually did quite nice work overall on this story, still the coloring jobs of this era were necessarily crude, slap-dash affairs that favored bright primary colors over mood, atmosphere, or realism. Here especially, the dark tone of the story -- a tale of desperation, fear, and risk -- is ill-served by the over-reliance on yellow and white as background colors.

The fascinating intricacies of the machinery Jack Kirby drew are all but lost when the whole thing is colored a uniform gray. But the primitive color-separation process of the time -- sometimes described as a room-full of old ladies with X-Acto knives -- did not allow for much detail. Highlights and shading were basically out of the question. In essence, the simpler, the better. So, the colorists at Marvel did what they could within the limitations of the technology.

But when I want to immerse myself in the Original Marvel Universe, it’s often easier when the bright, sloppy colors are stripped out and I can imagine how the scene looks for myself, based on the line art alone.

So bring on the Essentials!


What Gray Hulk?

While looking at my copy of Incredible Hulk #4, I noticed the following exchange on the letters page.

I was somewhat surprised to see Stan Lee telling a big, fat lie to this poor fan.

Stan makes it sound like he intended the Hulk to have green skin but somebody “goofed” and made him gray instead. That’s not really what happened. Despite Stan’s assertion here, when Marvel introduced the world to the Hulk in early 1962, he was supposed to have gray skin. It just didn’t work out very well.

As has since been revealed, Stan Lee’s initial idea was to have a gray-skinned Hulk, and as both editor and de facto art director of the tiny comic book company, it was his decision to make. Giving the character gray skin probably seemed like a good idea in the abstract, as it would make him look monstrous and inhuman without being outré. However, with his many years of experience, Stan should have known this was not a practical choice.

Comic book coloring was a rather limited undertaking in those days, and colorist Stan Goldberg had a very restricted palette available to him. He could not even use real gray, since gray-tone was achieved by putting little black dots on the white paper, and that was the province of the inker, not the colorist. Goldberg had to choose from different combinations of cyan, magenta, and yellow to approximate gray. It was really sort of a muted purple that stood in for gray in standard comics coloring.

Plus, in those days, Marvel printed on the cheapest newsprint they could get, and probably used cheap inks at a cut-rate printing shop. Comic books were considered a low-end product and Marvel was a small-time operation. They had to cut costs wherever possible. All that compounded the problem, so that the final result was wild variations in the Hulk’s hue throughout the first issue. It looked like a mess. After seeing it, Stan Lee decided to switch to a nice, reliable shade of green.

It may have been too late to really work it into the story at that point, so the Hulk just suddenly appeared with green skin in the second issue. Naturally, some concerned fan would write in and ask what the heck happened.

Stan admits that “we” goofed, which is probably the editorial we, suggesting he’s accepting responsibility for the mistake. But then he tells the little white lie that the Hulk was supposed to be green, which is not the case.

To maintain that lie, the Hulk was colored green in all subsequent re-tellings of his origin for decades. And the story grew to suggest that the gray Hulk was really somehow the printer’s fault. But after the “Gray Hulk” was brought back into continuity in the 1980s -- and proved to be very popular -- Stan Lee reversed himself and was happy to take credit for the idea. Now he says the Hulk was supposed to be gray.

Being caught in a lie doesn’t exactly bolster one’s credibility. In fact, it makes Stan Lee seem rather… incredible.


Hulk Hungry

I feel this way sometimes.

From Incredible Hulk #4 by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Dick Ayers.