"...And Now, The Absorbing Man!"
Written by Roy Thomas.
Drawn by Herb Trimpe.
Inked by Herb Trimpe.
Lettering by Sam Rosen.
The Absorbing Man's always been one of my favourite villains. After all, with his ability to add his opponent's powers to his own natural strength, all he needs is something cleverer than a cabbage between his ears and there's not a hero in the world can hope to defeat him.
Sadly, he always had something less clever than a cabbage between his ears, and so had an alarming tendency to lose. Admittedly, the fact that in his early days he was up against Thor who, like Superman, kept producing super-powers he'd never mentioned before, from thin air, did put him at something of a disadvantage.
Happily for Creel, this time he's up against a foe with even less smarts than him and, unlike the Avenging Asgardian, one who isn't going to whip up brand new super-powers from nowhere. It means there can only be one outcome.
What's happening is the world's in a bit of a bind. It's going to be hit by a comet that's appeared from nowhere. There's only one man can save us and that's Robert Bruce Banner who volunteers to fly a rocket into the comet's tail to detonate a nuclear explosion that'll destroy it. Unfortunately, on the way down, Banner discovers the comet contained the Absorbing Man and he's hitched a lift on the rocket's exterior to get back to Earth. No one's going to be surprised that Creel and the Hulk promptly start bashing away at each other the moment they meet.
Here's a turn-up for the books, because logic says the Absorbing Man should beat the Hulk, and blow me down if he doesn't do exactly that. Admittedly it's not totally clear how he does it. Basically, he grabs the Hulk's arm and, within seconds, the Hulk's out cold. Why having his arm grabbed would knock the Hulk out I'm not sure. It's explained he was partially weakened by the fact he was about to transform back into Bruce Banner, although why he should be transforming into Banner so soon after turning into the Hulk in the first place isn't explained and you wonder if it was a case of Roy Thomas looking at Trimpe's artwork and trying to explain away the Hulk's somewhat baffling collapse. I do wonder if Trimpe was under the impression that the Absorbing Man drains, rather than mimics, his foes' powers, leaving his victim powerless, whereas comics' historian Thomas knew better?
Regardless, in victory Creel finds defeat because he uses the Hulk's strength to lift a mountain to bury his foe under but, unconscious, the Hulk turns back into Bruce Banner, the Absorbing Man loses his strength and is promptly crushed by the mountain.
I was always going to like this story because of my liking for the Absorbing Man and he's appealingly nasty here; like the Leader last issue, doing bad things purely for the sake of doing bad things. Like the Sandman in issue #114, he too suffers a memorably nightmarish bout of body horror, starting to crumble and crack as the weight of the mountain bears down on his now stone form. It's also good to see the Hulk lose. I mentioned in a previous review the tendency for jade jaws to actually lose the occasional battle in this era and how it's good for the strip that its hero isn't seen as being completely unstoppable.
It has to be said the ink job on the first half of this issue's terrible. I don't know if Herb Trimpe'd decided to experiment with a new style or if he'd bought some new brushes that were twice as thick as the ones he usually had but the inking looks nothing like his usual work and has a somewhat amateurish feel to it. Oddly enough, in the second half of the tale, his inking's back to normal. I suppose we just have to put it down as one of those mysteries in life we may never know the answer to.
But who are those strange and silent young people approaching the unconscious Bruce Banner at the very end of the tale?
It looks like we'll have to read next month to find out.