Long before Tony Stark created his Hulkbuster armor (Iron Man #304, May 1994), he had to face the Hulk clad in only his standard Iron Man armor. In their first encounter, in The Avengers #1, the Hulk disabled Iron Man’s propulsion battery with one “thunderous blow,” thereby grounding Shell-Head until he could repair his battery. A few years later, in The Incredible Hulk #131 (August, 1970), Iron Man was called upon by General Thunderbolt Ross to help merge the recently separated Hulk and Bruce Banner. In this fight, the Armored Avenger was barely able to hold his own against the rampaging Hulk before his invention – the Gammatron – succeeded in merging Banner and the Hulk back to a single entity.
It wasn’t until a full decade later, in Invincible Iron Man #131-132 (Jan-Feb 1980), that Hulk and Iron Man faced off in a brutal two-issue brawl that was ended by a super-charged Iron Man haymaker that knocked the Hulk out and almost killed Tony Stark. The story began with a chance encounter between the characters as a recently sober Stark gets stuck in a traffic jam on the Long Island Expressway caused by the Hulk. After suiting up in his armor, Stark is knocked around by the Hulk until a little kid calms the Green Goliath with some Micronauts action figures and he reverts to Banner before passing out. Stark takes the unconscious Banner back to Stark International where Banner awakens and the two geniuses meet – with Banner in a fuzzy woman’s robe and Stark in nothing but a towel – and talk science for the very first time. Together they design a pulse regulator that they hope will prevent Banner’s heart rate from increasing and triggering his transformation into the Hulk. With an assist from Scott Lang/Ant-Man, they construct and implant the device in Banner, but it ultimately fails and the Hulk begins rampaging once again.
As the Stark and the Banner clobber their way throughout Stark International, throwing trucks and planes and buildings at one another, Iron Man realizes he’s going to lose this battle if it continues much longer. After attempting to drown the Hulk Iron Man “channels every bit of his awesome power into straining arm thrust circuits” in order to “put everything that he and his incredible armor have into one punch.” And what a punch it was! With a huge windup and a massive “Fwa-wha-wha-BWOM!” Iron Man KOs the Hulk with a single blow, something that had never happened before and has never happened since. Stark’s triumph, however, is short-lived as he collapses and finds himself trapped in his now completely powerless armor. In danger of suffocating, Stark is eventually rescued by Ant-Man who manages to get inside and rewire the damaged armor, freeing Stark.
Fourteen years later, Stark created his Hulkbuster armor, but even in that massive suit he has never been able to knock the Hulk out with one punch, leaving this incredible Bronze Age story by David Micheline, Bob Layton and Jerry Bingham to stand alone in the annals of Marvel Comics history.
Next: Iron Man’s Hulk Cameo is Part of a Bigger, Secret Story