Barry and I have been discussing whether it’s accurate to call Captain America the first Avenger. We tend to agree that there is no first Avenger. Being a team, the Avengers are like Pringles: you can’t have just one.
But it’s a lot like discussing sports statistics. The question of “first” raises the question, “first to do what?” For example, who holds the NFL record for most yards rushed in one season? Well, Eric Dickerson rushed for 2,105 yards in a 16-game season. But how does that compare to O.J. Simpson rushing for 2,003 yards in a 14-game season?
I don’t know. But I do know that if your team’s running game needs a blocker, you couldn’t do better than the Incredible Hulk. Here I will make a case that if we’re going to talk about the first Avenger, we should give due credit to the Jolly Green Giant. The purple-panted powerhouse paved the way for the Avengers on a number of fronts, in comics and other media, and played no small role in assembling the Avengers for the big screen.
The First Avenger to Get His Own Silver Age Comic
A glimpse at our handy-dandy Avengers timeline reveals that the Hulk was the first Avenger to get his own comic book during the Silver Age (or as Barry prefers to call it, the Marvel Age). In May 1962 (Marvel cover time) Hulk became Marvel’s second major superhero strip, on the heels of the Fantastic Four. Hulk appeared before fellow future Avengers Thor, Ant-Man, Iron Man, and Wasp. He also appeared before Captain America got thawed out of the ice he had been frozen in since the Golden Age (or the Cold War, depending on which Marvel continuity you’re following).
The First Avenger to Appear in Another Silver Age Comic
In The Fantastic Four #5, published the same month as The Incredible Hulk #2, we find Reed asking Johnny about “A great new comic mag” he’s reading. An issue earlier, Johnny’s reading habits had helped revive the Sub-Mariner from Golden Age obscurity. This issue, Johnny is reading The Incredible Hulk #1. Johnny observes, “Say! You know something–! I’ll be doggoned if this monster doesn’t remind me of the Thing!” This provokes Ben into a fight that destroys a future collector’s item.
The First Avenger to Lose His Own Silver Age Comic
Despite Johnny’s promotional push, initial sales of The Incredible Hulk were not strong enough to convince the publisher to continue the comic. At that time it took comic book publishers one year to get sales figures back. Hulk was being published every two months. Accordingly, the title was canceled after issue #6 came out in March 1963, and Hulk became the first Avenger to lose his own Silver Age comic.
The First Avenger to Survive Cancellation
But as all Universal movie fans know, you can’t keep a good monster down. Unable to be contained by his own comic, Hulk invaded The Fantastic Four #12 in March 1963, the same month the busy FF were helping introduce Spider-Man’s first issue. The nucleus of the Marvel Universe had begun to form around Marvel’s first team. It was time for Marvel’s next team to assemble, and this time the Hulk would be not a guest star, but front and center.
The First Avenger to Be Attacked by Loki in Avengers #1
The Avengers #1 hit the stands in September 1963 (again, Marvel cover time). After a splash page featuring a profile of Loki, on page 2 we find Loki hunting vengefully for Thor and locating him in the form of Don Blake. Deciding that defeating Don Blake would mean nothing without conquering him as Thor, Loki goes in search of a menace to provoke Blake into becoming Thor. The menace he finds is Hulk, who becomes the first target of Loki’s plot at the bottom of page 2. Hulk unwittingly becomes the agent that brings the Avengers together. Hulk even becomes the first Avenger to raise the question of what the team will be calling themselves, in the second-last panel of the issue.
The First Avenger to Get His Own Tuesday Cartoon
Now Hulk was almost the first Avenger to get his own cartoon, but he was beat out in this category by Captain America–barely. Cap and Hulk were both part of the rotating lineup for The Marvel Super Heroes cartoon that premiered on weekdays in September 1966. Cap got the Monday slot, and Hulk got Tuesday, with Iron Man, Thor, and Sub-Mariner rounding out the rest of the week. So while we have to give the First Avenger to Get His Own Cartoon Award to Cap, we can at least give the green guy The First Avenger to Get His Own Tuesday Cartoon, which is almost as good as an Oscar, or at least a No-Prize. Hulk would go on to appear in several more cartoons, both as a star and as a guest. Disney is reportedly developing a new Hulk cartoon for release in 2013.
The First Avenger to Get His Own Live-Action TV Pilot and Show
Hulk continued his multi-media march, becoming the first Avenger to get his own live-action TV show, following a two-hour pilot movie premiere in November 1977. The show was launched concurrently with Marvel’s first prime time Spider-Man live action TV adaptation (which followed an earlier daytime children’s adaptation on The Electric Company). Spidey wasn’t ready for prime time, but Hulk was, surviving as an ongoing series until 1982 and spawning several TV movie sequels.
Hulk’s live-action TV career outlasted both Spidey’s show and a live-action Captain America adaptation that briefly aired in 1979. In fact, Hulk remains the only Marvel character to successfully cross over to TV so far. Disney TV partner ABC is currently developing a new Hulk TV show under the guidance of Battlestar Galactica executive producer David Eick and former Hobbit director Guillermo del Toro.
The First Avenger to Inspire a Pro Wrestling Phenomenon
Hulk’s TV fame soon spread beyond comic book fandom into pop culture at large. In 1978 pro wrestler Terry Bollea appeared on a talk show with Hulk actor Lou Ferrigno. After the host commented that Bollea looked bigger than Ferrigno, other wrestlers starting calling Bollea “The Hulk”, and he began wrestling as Terry “The Hulk” Boulder. When Bollea joined the World Wrestling Federation in 1979, owner Vince McMahon, Sr. renamed him “Hulk Hogan.” Hogan developed a Hulk-inspired ring routine that came complete with a shirt-ripping “hulking up” transformation.
Hogan’s long-time nemesis and sometime tag-team partner “Macho Man” Randy Savage would later play the pro wrestler squaring off against Spider-Man in Spidey’s first movie.
The First Avenger to Get His Own Movie Reboot
In 2003, Hulk became the second Avenger to get his own big-budget movie, called simply, Hulk. Once again, Hulk had been beaten out by Captain America. Cap had previously starred in a 1944 Republic serial movie. Originally budgeted at $182,623, Cap’s movie went over budget to $222,906 and became the most expensive Republic serial ever made. So Hulk was not quite the first Avenger to get his own big-budget movie.
But Hulk still managed to become the first Avenger to get his own big-budget movie reboot. Hulk‘s box-office reception was not as much as the studio had hoped for, but merchandising revenue offset this enough to spawn a sequel. The Incredible Hulk, released in June 2008 a month after Iron Man, outperformed its predecessor. In the process it became the first big-budget reboot of a movie starring an Avengers character. Captain America almost upstaged Hulk again, but thanks to inflation and release delays, Cap’s $10 million 1990 reboot doesn’t count in this category.
Of course some of you may not agree. I’ll let you argue with the Hulk about that. I’m not going to be the one to take his award away and make him hungry–er, angry.