"Where Fall The Shifting Sands?"
Written by Stan Lee.
Drawn by Herb Trimpe.
Inked by Dan Adkins.
Lettered by Sam Rosen.
If you should never build a house on sand, it seems you should never build a life of crime on it either as the Sandman finds yet another hero to try and be the arch-enemy of. First it was Spider-Man then it was the Fantastic Four, now he's up against the Hulk. Will he have any more success against the mightiest foe he's ever faced than he did against those others? I think we can guess the answer.
The Sandman wants to steal a space-warp ship so he can release Blastaar from the Negative Zone and have another fight with the Fantastic Four. He decides it'd be a good idea to enlist the Hulk to do the dirty work for him. The Hulk decides it'd be a good idea to punch the Sandman in the face. At the end of the tale, despite his best attempts having failed to do anything more than irritate the Hulk, the Sandman's already planning his next encounter with Jade Jaws and boasting about how it's only a matter of time before he kills him. Er, yeah, right. You'll be doing that how exactly?
Actually, the characterisation of the Sandman's my main complaint about this issue. Not only that he's too stupid to know he's wasting his time looking for a rematch with the Hulk but that he just sounds too classy. Maybe it's just me but I expect the Sandman to talk like a low-level crook who just happened to get super-powers. Instead, he's flinging words like "enmesh" around with abandon.
That aside, it's an inspired move to bring him into the strip. Not because he's able to pose any real threat to the Hulk. He's not. But neither is the Hulk's brute force able to hurt him. It means we can be treated to page after page of the pair flinging everything they've got at each other as the villain constantly changes shape and approach. On top of that, those who've read other Hulk stories from this era know this first encounter's only the start of a string of events that'll reverberate through the strip and its plot lines for years to come. Because of that, in many ways the Sandman can be seen as the pivotal villain in this era of the Hulk's history.
He's not the only one pivoting because Thunderbolt Ross, who's been demonstrating the intelligence of a carrot lately, finally develops a brain and comes to realise the Hulk isn't a bad guy. It's a welcome development in the General's character and one that starts to move him away from a the one-dimensional ranter he once was into a character you can actually start to respect, understand and even feel fond of. On the downside, he does seem somewhat confused. While everyone else knows he's guarding a, "space-warp ship," he seems to be under the impression he's guarding a missile.
Finally. Can it be? Has the Hulk been cuckolding Spider-Man? On page 11, he declares he can't attack the missile base that's the Sandman's target, because Betty Brant's there.
Whatever will Betty Ross say when she finds out?