Right now the Incredible Hulk is one of the most famous comic books of our time. But like the X-Men, it was not famous at first. Hulk's first series was crushed after only six issues. After that he was stuck in guest star limbo for about a year(but he got a major role in the early issues of the Avengers) until he was brought back in Tales to Astonish #60, but the stories were only half as long to make room for stories about Ant/Giant-Man (and later the Sub-Mariner), which were also halved. It wasn't until Tales to Astonish became the Incredible Hulk(Volume 2) with the 102nd issue that Hulk was back in his full-length comic. But I'm getting ahead of myself there- ah yes, the premise.
Dr. Robert Bruce Banner was an atomic scientist working at a New Mexico missile base when he was caught in the test-explosion of his very own invention, the deadly G-Bomb. Irradiated by the gamma rays, Banner know possessed the ability to transform into the Hulk under conditions which vary throughout the series. As Banner, he is an intelligent yet weak human. As the Hulk, he is a large green monster-like person with bulging muscles and a limited vocabulary. Unlike other superheroes, Banner often cannot control the Hulk or his transformations(except when Banner's mind winds up in the Hulk's body at times). As the Hulk he is also hounded by the military and General Thaddeus "Thunderbolt" Ross, father of the woman Banner loves. His only confidant early in the series is Rick Jones, whose life Banner saved before he was caught in the G-Bomb's explosion. At times Rick is the only person who can control the rampaging Hulk except for maybe the beautiful Betty Ross.
This anthology contains all six issues of The Incredible Hulk (Volume 1) as well as issues 60-92 of Tales to Astonish-but only the Hulk's stories are collected. For the other, non-Hulk stories you'll have to check Ant-Man Essential or Marvel Masterworks: Sub-Mariner.
The Incredible Hulk (Volume 1) is one of the only problems with these stories. After a sensational first issue the series starts to degenarate. Changes are made to the Hulk in nearly every issue which are changed later(for instance in Isuue 3, Hulk is exposed to more radiation which allows him to fly and gives him a mind link with Rick Jones. The mind link disappears by Issue 5, and the flying is later retconned into just wide leaps.) The villains are weak too. I enjoyed Gargoyle, but the Toad Men and all the Communists(these comics were made during the cold war in the 60's if I forgot to mention) bring down the first issues. The only ones who become ongoing villains from the first six issues are Tyrannus and the Ringmaster's Circus of Crime. Don't get me started on the Metal Master.
Tales to Astonish fulfills its name, as it's filled with cliffhangers, fresh villains and less commies (they get REAL annoying after a while). There's Hulk's greatest nemiseses, the Leader and the Abomination. There's guest stars like the Chameleon and Hercules. The first appearances of Boomerang and the Secret Empire, who move on to be pains in other people's asses. There's also the Leader's wide range of mechanical Humanoids. The story also evolves into one that may be more familiar to modern day readers: a man fighting the monster within him while on the run from the military. It also intriduces Major Glenn Talbot, a charming soldier who hates both Banner and the Hulk and falls in love with Betty Ross instantly. And it gets much better in the second volume.
Classic stories by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. But if you bought the Marvel Masterworks Incredible Hulk Volume 1, you'd get it in color and see that the Hulk was colored gray instead of green in the first issue, which makes way for a vital retcon much further down the road. You also would have paid more money, but you would have gotten it in a more durable format with clean, crisp pasges unlike the Essential's flimbsythird-grade pages. But then agian you only would've gottne the first six issues of the Hulk, and no Tales to Astonish to make up for it! And there isn't a volume 2 yet that I know of, so I reccomend the Essential in this case.