Title: “Trapped in the Lair of the Leader!”
Credits: Written by Stan Lee, Penciled by Jack Kirby, Inked by Mike Esposito (as Mickey Demeo), Lettered by Art Simek.
Supporting Cast: General Ross, Major Talbot, Rick Jones
Villain: The Leader
Hulk Intelligence: Angry Brute, But Well-Intentioned
Plot: Gassed by the Leader's Humanoids last issue, the Hulk is the unconscious captive of the Leader! The Humanoids put the limp Hulk into the Leader's ship, which landed on Astra Island to pick him up, while other Humanoids load up the Absorbatron, which will keep anyone safe from nuclear attack. Off the shore of Astra Island, on the deck of a battleship, General Ross sees the Humanoids through binoculars and calls off the test of the Absorbatron, and orders a landing party to investigate. Before they can land, however, the Leader sprays his Humanoids with a special acid gas that instantly dissolves them into nothingness (I guess he didn't want them walking back underwater?). The Leader then leaves with the Hulk and the Absorbatron! Seconds later, the landing party arrives and finds Major Talbot, who fears the worst when he hears that a strange craft just left the island. When it's mentioned that the Hulk was seen on Astra Island, took, Talbot is convinced that Banner and the Hulk are working together. Meanwhile, the Leader's ship arrives at his base, hidden in a mesa in the southwest. The Leader places the Hulk in an airtight chamber, keeping him gassed just enough to keep him out while his instruments scan the Hulk. However, the Hulk's skin is too tough for the Leader's instruments, so he gets different instruments from a lower level. While he's gone, the Hulk turns back into Bruce Banner again, and Bruce awakens instantly (oh, there's some babble about why the gas that knocked out the Hulk doesn't affect Banner, but why quibble?) and sees that the Leader has the Absorbatron. Banner quickly modifies some of the lab equipment to send out a distress signal. Meanwhile, at Ross' base, Ross and Talbot ponder their next move, overheard by Rick Jones. Rick heads to the hidden cave lab, where he discovers the radio there (still working!) receiving Bruce's SOS. Within the hour, Ross, Talbot and a few platoons of soldiers are also following the signal! Inside the Leader's base, the Leader sees that the Hulk is not on the table (Bruce is hiding off to the side), but since the Hulk couldn't have escaped, the Leader decides to pump in a double-strength dose of sleep gas, which somehow causes Bruce to change back into the Hulk! The Hulk breaks out of the cell, and the Leader runs to fetch his molecule ray, which he believes will stop the Hulk, but the best he can do is graze the Hulk. The Hulk, meanwhile, recognizing the Absorbatron, decides to destroy it rather than risk the Leader keeping it. As the Leader escapes on an underground rocket sled, the soldiers invade the base, and assume that the Hulk is responsible for all of this, and they open fire! Rick bursts onto the scene, demanding that they not shoot Bruce, but they won't listen, so Rick breaks free and searches for his friend. But seconds later, Rick finds that the soldiers have already found Bruce (apparently he changed back from the Hulk), and he was fatally shot. Talbot announces that Bruce Banner, the traitor, is dead.
Invention Exchange: The Leader's acid gas and molecular gun (which hits the target with the power of a trillion concentrated molecules).
Reprinted In: Marvel Super-Heroes #32, The Incredible Hulk (Simon and Schuster, 1978), Essential Hulk #1.
Notes: Adapted as episode 14 of the 1966 Hulk animated series. Avengers #17 takes place simultaneously with this issue, as the Avengers (now Cap's Kooky Quartet of Captain America, the Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, and Hawkeye) are enjoined by Iron Man to seek out the Hulk to get the brute to rejoin the team. This was the last issue of Tales to Astonish that featured Giant-Man with the Hulk, as the following issue Sub-Mariner took over the co-billing. Now, so far as this issue goes... I have a feeling that when Stan and Jack talked about the issue, some of the original details might've gotten a bit confused. Certainly, when the Hulk gets gassed, he tends to change back to Bruce... but there's no reason that Bruce wouldn't have been affected by the gas! And then a second, double-dose of gas not only changes him back to the Hulk and lets the Hulk stay conscious? Still, there was a lot happening in this issue – the Hulk himself barely appears, compared to the Leader!