byzantine's The Avengers #3 - The Avengers Meet Sub-Mariner review

Fun issue, inconsistent characterization

This issue is considered one of the highlights among Hulk's early appearances and a pretty good 1960s issue for Namor. Personally I find a very enjoyable look at all major characters involved. But the characterizations are rather inconsistent throughout the issue. Particularly that of the Hulk himself. Stan Lee seems to be still experimenting here. 
  
Anyway, the issue begins with Iron Man convincing his fellow Avengers (Giant-Man, Thor, Wasp) of the necessity to locate the Hulk. Fearing that the former Avenger is "running wild". Then contacts other active superheroes to alert them of the threat. The reactions of the contacted superheroes are arguably the comedic highlight of the issue: 
 *Thing is about to go out on a date and has no interest in becoming the Avengers' "blood-hound". 
*Invisible Girl is heading for a fashion show. She dismissively promises to call if the Hulk happens to appear there.  
*Mr. Fantastic is testing out the powers of the Human Torch. He dutifully promises to call if he hears about the Hulk. Which would sound sincere... if he hadn't made it clear that the two would isolate themselves within the Baxter Building. 
*Spider-Man has his hands full with an entire group of armed opponents. He is rather annoyed at Iron Man's interruption and considers the Hulk someone else's problem. Pointing out: "Do I tell you my troubles?"  
*Iron Man's last hope are the X-Men. He counts on the Angel to repay a favor from their previous crossover in "Tales of Suspense" #49 (January, 1964). But Tony interrupts a training exercise and seems to have pissed off Professor X. Who basically tells him to get lost.  
 
Finally, it is Rick Jones who locates the Hulk for them. And the characterization problems begin: 
 
*Hulk is first seen calmly fishing a jeep out of a lake. Explaining that he accidentally scared its driver some time before. He is otherwise minding his own business and has "done nothing wrong". He is convinced to return to his cave and takes Rick with him. No further incidents occur. Rick uses a device to turn him back to Banner. Banner's own agenda. To have a restful night of sleep. Yep, you can feel the danger from the Hulk. The vile menace who minds his own business and hearts nobody.  
 
*During the night, Banner changes back into the Hulk. With no real explanation of what triggered the transformation. He goes into a rampage... and only destroys his own cave. He doesn't seem to recognize Rick, but doesn't hurt him either. Its not clear what his mindstate is at all. 
 
*When the Avengers arrive to face him, Hulk sucker-punches Iron Man. But then points out that he is motivated by his distrust for his former teammates. He thinks they are trying to destroy him. In subsequent scenes of this battle, Hulk is seen either calmly calculating their weaknesses or trying to escape them. Not actually rampaging by any means. For example he uses cactus thorns to target Iron Man's eye openings, uses a steel cable to tie up Thor and a smoke screen of flour to temporarily blind Giant-Man. He finally makes his escape. If anything, Hulk seems cunning and strategically gifted.  
 
*The following one or two pages have the Hulk stealthily escaping unnoticed, until reaching the Gulf of Mexico. From there he swims out to the Atlantic. He swims for days and is half-drowned by the time a passing ship rescues him. If anything, this Hulk is a fugitive. Not a rampaging monster. 
 
*Hulk recovers his strength and escapes one more. Only to meet Namor and attack him on sight as a "puny" human. Namor teaches him a lesson by dragging him to the bottom of the sea and almost drowning him. Once Hulk realizes gains some healthy respect for the Atlantean, the two enter an alliance against humanity. Their thought panels reveal that their is no trust in this alliance and bide their time until betraying each other. Typical super-villain characterizations of the 1960s. 
 
*In their fight against the Avengers,. Hulk is a bit player. Namor is doing most of the actual work. Hulk only gets the spotlight when he attempts to lift Mjolnir and fails. No rampaging monster, no cunning fighter either. He then suddenly reverts to Banner in mid-battle. He points to the "excitement" and "stress" causing this transformation. Let me get that straight, Hulk turns to Banner when stressed out? Staying in Hulk form when calm? Banner proceeds to run away scared. Wonder where he is running to. The battle takes place in Gibraltar and Banner is running half-naked a long way from home.  
 
*Isolationist desert-dweller, rampaging insomniac, cunning fighter, stealthy fugitive, super-villain and Namor's sidekick. All in one issue? Who exactly is the Hulk again? 
 
*Iron Man has me puzzled. He acts as de facto leader throughout the issue. Constantly trying to get Thor under control and ensure that nobody gets seriously hurt. But also acts pretty much as the "damsel-in-distress" of the issue. He gets bested by both Hulk and Namor, needing rescue by the other Avengers. At one point Hank and Janet have to revive him.He later is the one suggesting they capture Namor.  But Thor and Giant-Man convince Stark to let Namor go. For all his determination, Mr. Stark doesn't exactly have much influence over his teammates.  
 
*Thor acts both as the powerhouse of the Avengers and their greatest liability. Iron Man tries to reason with the Hulk. Thor lets his charming personality come through: "Hear me Hulk! I am not as merciful as Iron Man! I order you to return with the Avengers, or, suffer my wrath!" Namor throws a mortal shell at Thor. Thor tries to use Mjolnir to have it blow up. Not particularly caring that the shell could kill the Wasp, until Iron Man intervenes to protect her. He seems to be merciless and unthinking. Yet when it time to capture Namor, it is Odinson who lets the valiant foe go. Contradicting his actions throughout the issue. 
 
*Hank Pym offers even more of a contradiction. In the first battle between the Avengers and the Hulk, Pym dismisses the idea of using his strength in the battle. Instead he uses Ant-Man powers to get a colony of ants to overflow an underground stream. The water explodes to the surface, right beneath the Hulk's feet. Forcing the Green Goliath to retreat. A rather impressive show of strategy. For the rest of the issue, Pym uses the powers of Giant-Man. More or less making a fool of himself against stronger and more agile opponents. Does his intelligence diminish whenever he grows? 
 
*The Wasp doesn't really get much action in this issue. Flirt a bit with Thor, find oxygen equipment necessary to revive Iron Man, spy a bit on Hulk and Namor. Nothing out of the ordinary. The surprise is that Iron Man seems to be extraordinarily protective of her and she is the only Avenger to side with him in the finale. There is nothing contradictory in her depiction. But you would have troble believing Hank Pym is her love interest based on this issue. 
 
The Namor storyline continues in the following issue. Hulk is next seen in "Fantastic Four" vol. 1 #25 (April, 1964). 

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