Title: “The Stage is Set!”
Credits: Written by Stan Lee, layouts by Jack Kirby, finishes and inks by Bill Everett, letters by Sam Rosen.
Supporting Cast: Rick Jones, General Ross, Betty Ross, Major Talbot
Villain: Boomerang, the Secret Empire, Tyrannus
Hulk Intelligence: Brute who just wants to be left the heck alone!
Plot: The issue opens at the headquarters of the Secret Empire (making their debut appearance) where they are watching a film secretly taken of the Hulk escaping from the missile base led by General Ross. As we watch with them, we see the Hulk leaping away, pursued by the new Orion Missile, which blows up 100 feet from its target to release a ring of ionic energy at the target, causing a shock wave to send anything or anyone to the ground! Yes, I know, we've never seen this happen before, it happens. Of course, the Hulk survived the attack, but this just shows the Secret Empire that they shouldn't consider using the Hulk, but instead focus on the Orion Missile. Empire agents number five, seven and one other (whose number isn't mentioned) decide to hire Boomerang for the job! Moments later, at the apartment of Fred, a former baseball star pitcher turned villain, aka Boomerang, receives the call on his high-tech walkie-talkie (which he passes off to his date as a normal citizen's band walkie-talkie) and accepts the assignment! He sends his date home, and then opens a secret panel to reveal his Boomerang costume and weapons! Meanwhile, far below the surface of the earth, the forces of the Mole Man and Tyrannus continue to wage war against each other, while Bruce Banner (who's missing the glasses we saw him in last issue – his pants also look appropriately torn) tries to make his way to find Betty Ross, Rick Jones, and Major Talbot, who are trapped down there too. Bruce runs into Tyrannus as he searches, but Tyrannus tries to shoot him with a raygun! Tyrannus misses (not having any idea who Bruce is, naturally), and Bruce takes the gun from him and demands to know where his friends are. Tyrannus eventually tells Bruce that since they were of no further use to him, he sent them to the surface via his Matter Transmitter. The aged Tyrannus drops the bust of himself in his youth on the ground, and his obsession with regaining his youth leads Bruce to walk away from him. Tyrannus then comes across some moisture on the ground, and is convinced it's what he seeks! He vows vengeance on the Hulk! On the surface, Rick, Betty and Talbot materialize and are found by Ross' soldiers. Talbot is told that Ross is concerned about the safety of the Orion Missile, and since Talbot is in charge of security, he verifies proper procedures have been followed. As the trio climb into a jeep, some distance away, Boomerang watches them! He pulls a metal disc from his uniform and throws it with deadly accuracy, shearing off the steering wheel of the jeep, and then he uses more discs to disable the soldier's weapons as well as put the soldiers out of action! Rick and Talbot decide to fight fire with fire, and pick up some rocks to throw at Boomerang! The villain, however, throws two more discs before the rocks can be thrown, knocking them out of the duo's hands! Boomerang then grabs Betty, planning to use her as a hostage, and flies off with his boot jets, first throwing an explosive boomerang at a nearby hill, shattering it and causing a rock slide, trapping Talbot and Rick. Meanwhile, Banner approaches Tyrannus' science building, but he's grabbed by the local Moloids! Banner begins to fight for his life, but the stress causes him to turn into... The Incredible Hulk! The Hulk easily breaks free, and continues to the Science Building, where the dim memory from when he was Banner causes him to get to the Matter Transmitter, where an automatic circuit kicks in, and the Hulk dematerializes!
Invention Exchange: The Orion Missile (inventor unknown), Boomerang's boomerang with electrical discharge, and the now renamed Matter Transmitter.
Reprinted In: Marvel Super-Heroes #36, Essential Hulk #1.
Notes: Adapted as episode 37 of the 1966 Hulk animated series. The reprint of this story in Marvel Super-Heroes may have been the first comic with the Hulk I ever bought! Notice that despite the fact that Talbot is a complete failure as security officer, nobody's been calling him a traitor or anything... in fact, nobody's mentioned Zaxon from a few issues back!