Today on my journey through comic book history, I read The Avengers #2, from November, 1963. This issue is significant for two reasons. First of all, it features the first appearance of The Space Phantom, secondly, it marks the depature of The Incredible Hulk as an Avengers (that’s right, he was an Avengers for only 2 issues!)
Our story begins as a mysterious invader from outer space - The Space Phantom - lands in a NYC back alley, and plots the downfall of The Avengers, reasoning that if he can defeat Earth’s mightiest heroes, the way will be clear for his people to invade (again, every month there was an imposing invasion that first year!). Pointing his hands at a man on the street, the Space Phantom send the man to Limbo, at which point The Space Phantom takes on the man’s form.
The story shifts to Avengers HQ, where the Avengers are having a meeting; with Hulk and Thor bickering between themselves, when they are alerted to an intruder - the now-disguised Space Phantom! The impulsive Hulk goes off to investigate on his own, and just as quickly as the man on the street was, he is sent to Limbo, while The Space Phantom similarly takes on his mighty green form!
As the phantom goes storming off, wearing the Hulk’s powerful form, the Avengers wonder what’s gotten into their team mate. In New York, the counterfeit Hulk begins a small-scale (for the Hulk) rampage, terrifying on-lookers, until he is confronted by The Hulk’s teenage sidekick, Rick Jones.
Realizing Rick knows The Hulk, The Space Phantom takes the young man out of town to brag about his true identity (why he did this, as opposed to simply squashing him like a bug, since he apparently gains the powers of anyone he takes the form of). Abandoning Rick, The Space Phantom returns to his rampage, destroying one of Tony Stark’s experimental anti-missile systems during a test run. Naturally, this brings the attention of Iron Man, and the two engage in battle.
Returning to Rick Jones, the young sidekick makes his was to the home of one of his “teen brigade” members, and uses their ham radio to contact Giant Man, filling him in on the phony Hulk. Now aware of what they’re dealing with, The Avengers begin battling The Space Phantom, who jumps from Avenger to Avenger, taking on the forms of each member in turn, until he makes one critical mistake: he attempts to take the form of Thor. Apparently, The Space Phantom’s alien-born ability is strangely specific - it only works on humans. When he attempts to take the form of the Asgardian prince, he is sent to limbo instead, with no way of returning.
The threat had passed, but the damage was done. When the Hulk returned, the other Avengers voiced issues of trust, and the offended Hulk bounded away, leaving the team.