Saturday, 23 October 2010

Incredible Hulk #193. Doc Samson's back.

Incredible Hulk #193, Doc Samson, Herb Trimpe(Cover from November 1975.)

"The Doctor's Name Is Samson!"

Written by Len Wein.
Drawn by Herb Trimpe and Joe Staton.
Lettering by John Costanza.
Colours by Glynis Wein.

It was hard not to feel disappointed when Doc Samson was first written out of The Incredible Hulk. If ever there was a character whose potential'd been left untapped, it had to be the muscle-bound psychiatrist, a hero almost as strong as the Hulk but with a fully-functioning brain. Therefore I suppose it's ironic that the departure of my favourite Hulk artist coincides with the return of one of my favourite supporting characters.

Thunderbolt Ross has brought the psychiatrist in to try and retrieve Glenn Talbot's erased mind. To do it Samson needs two things; Gamma radiation and Bruce Banner. Why he needs either isn't exactly clear but of course no sooner have we been introduced to his mighty Gammatron than it goes wrong. It springs a leak and, hey presto, its creator's got his muscles back, his green hair back and is itching for another scrap with the Hulk. Unfortunately, having sent Samson flying with one punch, the Hulk departs before Samson can get back to the battle site, leaving him to crawl from a hole in the ground, vowing vengeance.

Maybe it's me but Samson seems more macho and gung ho than before. OK, he wasn't exactly short of confidence on his first appearance but this time he seems to have taken the self-belief up a notch. Maybe his mind is affected by the radiation after all. He also seems to have got more action-packed, his fight with the Hulk being much more mobile than it was on their first meeting, as the pair leap around, fling things about and end up slugging it out atop the World Trade Centre.

Joe Staton's inks are strong in more ways than one, giving the tale a drastically different look to that which we were used to for years. In some ways he's a great inker for Trimpe, lending Trimpe's work a visual depth and dynamism it might otherwise lack. In other ways he almost obliterates Trimpe's own style, leaving just hints of it showing through - however much Staton's modified the penciller's work, the Hulk's teeth for instance are still pure Trimpe. Regardless, there's no denying the result looks pleasing, even if Staton's inks were arguably better suited to Sal Buscema who succeeded Trimpe on the strip.

I suppose it would've been nice if Trimpe had gone out with a multi-part epic, featuring all the things he did best; tanks, planes, spaceships, monsters and giant robots. Instead he goes out with a tale whose main function is to set up future events. In that sense it's a little disappointing but, even if it's a mixture of prepping future events and rerunning past ones, it's entertaining enough and moves the strip towards the more action-packed style to come.

And that's it, the end of Herb Trimpe's run, and the end of the blog. Budd's pointed out to me there's one more Herb Trimpe issue, from around a year later, that I wasn't aware of. Sadly I don't yet have a copy of that. So, until I get my hands on it, the blog's done and dusted. I'd like to thank the people who've stuck with it to the end, no matter how gruelling it might have been for you. And, for anyone new, I might as well give a plug to my other blogs Spider-Man Reviewed and Maria McKee's Life Is Sweet, the latter of which has pretty pictures even if you don't want to read the text. Will I be back with another blog? Who can know? Right now, after reviewing over 90 issues of the Hulk, I need a break and, when my feeble mind's recovered, I'll see if there's the fuel in the tank to to tackle something else.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Incredible Hulk #192. The Loch Fear Monster

(Cover from October 1975.)

"The Lurker Beneath Loch Fear!"

Written by Len Wein.
Drawn by Herb Trimpe and Joe Staton.
Lettering by Ray Holloway.
Colours by Glynis Wein.

I think we've all at some point wondered just what'd happen if the Incredible Hulk met the Loch Ness Monster.

Well, OK, I never have but Len Wein clearly had, as at last we get that titanic tussle. Of course, as we all know, the Loch Ness Monster has very good lawyers, and so names have had to be changed. Thus it is that the Loch Ness Monster becomes the Loch Fear Monster and the Incredible Hulk becomes... ...well, the Incredible Hulk.

Sent back to Earth by the Shaper, the green grappler finds himself in a version of Scotland that only exists in comic books, where everyone talks like Groundskeeper Willie and hangs around in castles. It seems that local fisherman Angus Mactavish is on a mission to kill the dreaded Loch Fear Monster but evil laird of the manor Black Jaimie Macawber (who's white) is out to stop him, fearing the deed would destroy a local economy that relies on the tourism the monster brings in. Needless to say the Hulk can't stand for such appalling behaviour as protecting the local tourist industry and is soon slugging it out with the chaotic kelpie while Mactavish tries to stick an explosive harpoon in it.

It has to be said there are two obvious problems with this tale. The first is its stereotypical portrayal of the Scots. The second is it has its ethics in a twist, as the man we're meant to see as the bad guy is clearly the good guy and the man we're meant to see as the good guy is a raving lunatic. Black Jaimie wants to keep the monster alive in order to save the village and its inhabitants from poverty, while Angus Mactavish wants to kill it because...

Well that's the problem. He doesn't seem to have any reason at all to kill the thing. Is it a threat to him? It doesn't appear to be. Has it killed anyone? If it has it's never mentioned. Because of this, it's hard to see why Len Wein seems to think we should be on his side. At least Captain Cybor, way back in issue #137, had some sort of reason for wanting to kill Klaatu, however demented.

There's also the problem that, for a modern reader, it's hard to read the tale without being reminded of the Simpsons episode where Groundskeeper Willie and Monty Burns try to capture the Loch Ness Monster. Obviously Len Wein can't be held responsible for that - The Simpsons wasn't even a gleam in Matt Groening's eye when this tale was written - but the ludicrous stereotyping of the characters and the OTT melodrama of its climax make it a difficult tale to take seriously. It should also be pointed out that loch monsters are a protected species under Scottish law, so Messrs Mactavish and Banner should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Incredible Hulk #191.Toad Men, the Shaper & Glorian

(Cover from September 1975.)

"Triumph Of The Toad!"

Written by Len Wein.
Drawn by Herb Trimpe and Joe Staton.
Lettering by John Costanza.
Colours by Glynis Wein.

Did Blondie singer Debbie Harry really know of what she sang when she said dreaming is free?

It'd appear not, as the Toad Men discover there's a high price to pay for trying to get yourself a handful of dreams. Having secured the Hulk and his friends, the Toad Men tell the Hulk that if he doesn't help them capture the Shaper so they can use his dream-weaving powers to conquer the cosmos, they'll kill Crackajack and Jarella.

So the Hulk takes a bomb to a meeting with the Shaper, and its detonation knocks them both out. But when the Hulk and Glorian go to the Toad Men's world to free the Shaper, the Toad Men react with their usual charm by killing Glorian.

The sight of his friend being killed so destabilises the Shaper that he loses control of his illusions, and the Hulk for the first time sees "Jarella" and "Crackajack" as the alien creatures they really are. The loss of his friends sets the Hulk off on a rampage that leaves the Toad World in ruins and the Toad King Torkon in a heap. The battle done, the Shaper sends the Hulk back to Earth while leaving the Toad Men to face their doom on their no-longer functional planet.

It's difficult to know what to make of this tale. It's certainly more imaginative than most but you can't ignore the fact that the Toad Men are inherently silly. Writer Len Wein certainly can't ignore it as he makes them ludicrous and nasty in evil measures, an inadequate race who get all their technology by stealing it from other, better races. It also has to be said that both the Shaper and Glorian come across as being so dim you're almost glad to see Glorian get shot, just to see the back of his inane brand of gentility.

So, a strange story overall that, in its mixing of the dramatic and ludicrous, reminds me of the kind of thing Steve Gerber might have done. In truth, if this was the first Hulk story I'd ever read, I've no doubt I'd be more than intrigued enough by its oddness to want to read more Hulk comics and, while I'm not sure I'd want to see more Hulk stories in this style, I suppose that means it must have done its job.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Incredible Hulk #190. Glorian, Toad Men & the Shaper

(Cover from August 1975.)

"The Man Who Came Down On A Rainbow!"

Written by Len Wein.
Drawn by Herb Trimpe and Marie Severin.
Lettering by John Costanza.
Colours by Glynis Wein.

Still blundering around behind the Iron Curtain, the Hulk meets a man called Glorian who travels by rainbow and takes him to a world that can only be called the Hulk's idea of paradise. It comes complete with the late Crackajack Jackson, Jarella and a whole host of lovely flowers.

It's not real of course. Unknown to the Hulk it's the handiwork of the Shaper who's been convinced by Glorian to use his powers to fulfil the dreams of others in order to bring them happiness.

Well, because it's paradise, everything's fine and dandy for a spell, as the Hulk gets to spend time with his newly-rediscovered friends. But every Eden must have its serpent - or in this case an amphibian - and so it's not long before it all goes wrong, as old foes the Toad Men show up and, looking for slaves, abduct the Hulk and his companions.

Writer Len Wein seems to have set himself a challenge to see how many old characters he can get into one issue of a comic book without it getting over-crowded, and so we get the return not only of the Toad Men (whoever thought they'd be showing their faces ever again?) but also Crackajack Jackson, Jarella and the Shaper. The one new face is that of Glorian who I believe made his debut in an issue of The Fantastic Four. I have to admit I've never read that particular tale and so my knowledge of the character beyond what we see here's somewhat limited. He seems a nice enough bloke, though possibly a little too perfect to be someone you'd actually want to meet.

Another returning fave is Marie Severin who, several years after she departed the strip, returns just as the Herb Trimpe era's drawing to an end. I have to say I can see more of Severin's hand in the artwork than I can Trimpe's, although there's plenty of pointing going on by the various characters so, in that at least, Trimpe's style shows through.

Leaving aside the hints of a gay subtext running through the tale, it's hard to avoid the feeling the strip's moving into a new era. Neither last issue nor this feel like Hulk tales had previously. There seems to be more concentration on the Hulk as a character and more of a stylised feel, as though Wein's looking for a new direction for the title. While, on the art front, Trimpe seems to be gradually becoming more marginalised. In the last few issues, Joe Staton's influence on the look of the strip had become increasingly heavy and now we have Marie Severin's involvement.

In a way, it's a reversal of how Trimpe started on the strip, where he seemed to be being eased into it over a number of issues. He now seems to be being eased out of it the same way. It's a shame. It would've been nice to see Trimpe going out with a full-blooded bang rather than sliding his way sideways out of it but those of us who're Trimpe fans can at least take heart that there's still a few more issues to go before he's receded from the strip completely.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Incredible Hulk #189. The blind girl and the Mole Man

(Cover from July 1975.)

"None Are So Blind...!"

Written by Len Wein.
Drawn by Herb Trimpe and Joe Staton.
Lettering by Artie Simek.
Colours by Glynis Wein.

Yet again the Hulk demonstrates his uncanny ability to speak any language known to man, as he finds himself in a Siberian village and understands everything everyone says to him. Just where did such a stupid character get such an incredible gift for speaking so badly in so many tongues?

Having easily survived the destruction of the Gremlin's stronghold last time out, the Hulk meets a blind girl - Katrina - and befriends her, only to learn her village is raided every night by a horde of strange small creatures who turn out to be the Mole Man's subterraneans. It seems Katrina's scientist grandfather's developed a cure for her blindness and, being all but blind himself, the Mole Man wants it.

The Hulk's not having any of that and, venturing into the Mole Man's underground kingdom, he takes on the villain's diminutive hordes to retrieve the now-stolen medicine. That done, he returns it to the village where, being a comic book cure, it removes Katrina's blindness within seconds.

But here's the rub. When Katrina sees him for the first time, she sees our protagonist not as the Hulk, an ugly and frightening brute, but as the man he really is inside - Bruce Banner. This prompts the Hulk to leave the village behind, tears streaming down his face because, while Katrina may look into his eyes and see a man, the Hulk can see only a monster.

It's a lovely little story that, not for the first time in the strip's history, draws on its Frankenstein roots to engage our sympathies. While that trick might not be new, what is new is the story's told entirely in the First Person by the Hulk. It's a bit of a surprise, given his notoriously foggy memory, to discover the Hulk can actually recall an entire adventure, let alone retell it coherently, but it's a conceit that works and, along with its oddly fairy-tale like mood, lifts the tale well above recent offerings.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Incredible Hulk #188. Droog & the Gremlin

(Cover from June 1975.)

"Mind Over Mayhem!"

Written by Len Wein.
Drawn by Herb Trimpe.
Inked by Joe Staton.
Lettering by Artie Simek.
Colours by Glynis Wein.

Incredible Hulk #188 might be memorable for many things but the one that leaps out at you like a sore sauropod is the introduction of Droog, the murderous poetic triceratops of terror.

With his love of flinging rhyming couplets at you as he tries to kill you, Droog has to be the strangest creation the strip had yet come up with and, bearing in mind this is the comic that once brought us a giant killer mouth in space, that's quite a boast to make. What the thinking was behind Droog's conception is anyone's guess but you can only suspect Len Wein may not have been totally serious when he first proposed it.

Still, however bizarre the thing may be, it does guarantee that, once read, the story'll never be forgotten, as the attempt to rescue Glenn Talbot from the Gremlin's fortress continues.

Thanks to Clay Quartermain happening to have a bomb concealed beneath his fingernail, the rescue party bust free from their cell and confront the Gremlin who summons Droog to deal with them. As the Hulk fights Droog, the good guys make their escape, just before SHIELD blast the fortress to smithereens.

You can't ignore the fact that SHIELD's actions in annihilating the fortress seem somewhat irresponsible, as they have no way of knowing whether Ross and his gang have actually got out of the place first. In all honesty, I'm not sure SHIELD overall come across as the most reliable organisation in the world. Every one of their agents that we see this issue seems perhaps a little too "flamboyant" and gung ho for the sake of professionalism.

Still, this is a comic book and we know the good guys win through in the end.

And so, minus the Hulk, our gang return to the US with Glenn Talbot's body.

His mind however is another matter, as the Gremlin had swapped it for that of one of his own agents before sending it back to the US in the exploding impostor we saw in issue #185. Because I don't have the intellect of a master-criminal, I don't have the slightest clue why the Gremlin did the mind-swap in the first place. Why didn't he just send Talbot back in his own body? And why was the loyal Soviet agent who now occupies Talbot's body being kept in one of the Gremlin's cells?

So, overall, it's a tale that no sense makes,
But in its insanity, entertainment it never fakes,
And proves there was some creative steam still,
With Wein and Trimpe's hands upon the till.

Blimey, it's infectious.

Friday, 15 October 2010

Incredible Hulk #187. The Gremlin's back.

(Cover from May 1975.)

"There's A Gremlin In The Works!"

Written by Len Wein.
Drawn by Herb Trimpe and Joe Staton.
Lettering by Artie Simek.
Colours by Glynis Wein.

Anyone with a functioning brain could see why a man who turns into an uncontrollable monster whenever he gets excited isn't the man to take along on a life-or-death mission to free Glenn Talbot from a Soviet fortress.

Bruce Banner isn't that anyone.

Told he can't go, by Thunderbolt Ross, he stows away on the plane and, inevitably, before the flight's even reached its destination, he's got over-excited and turned into the Hulk.

Exactly what Banner thought he could contribute to the mission is anyone's guess. Leaving aside the Hulk thing, he's a scientist, not a commando and hasn't even had access to the fortress schematics.

Happily, the weapons pod he was hiding in's been jettisoned by this point, meaning Ross and SHIELD agent Clay Quartermain can carry on with their plan.

And it's a plan that works flawlessly right up until the point where they're about to leave the stronghold with the newly liberated Talbot. That's when Ross hands him a gun, and Talbot promptly points it at them to reveal he's not Glenn Talbot at all. He's a Soviet agent and they're now prisoners of the Gremlin.

After some relatively dispensable stories this is something of a return to meatier ways. That's not to say it's original; re-running as it does The Incredible Hulk #164-165 in which Colonel Armbruster and co freed Thunderbolt Ross from Soviet captivity - while the Hulk's run-in with the Gremlin and his armour-clad Super-Troupers re-runs the events of issue #163. There's even a parallel in Clay Quartermain being introduced for the mission, just as Jack Armbruster had been for the Thunderbolt Ross rescue.

Like Armbruster, Quartermain seems rather full of himself and has an annoying gimmick. With Armbruster, it was his pipe-smoking. With Quartermain, it's his rictus grin. Not knowing anything of Quartermain's history before his introduction to the Hulk strip, I don't know what the story is behind it but it don't half make you want to punch him in the face.

Still, despite annoying grins, Bruce Banner's stupidity and a noticeable lack of new ideas, the concentration on the penetration of the Gremlin's fortress makes this a stronger and more focused tale than some we've been getting lately and can therefore be seen as a return to earlier form - even if it rediscovers that form mostly by an act of regurgitation.


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