Sunday, 26 September 2010

Incredible Hulk #173. The Cobalt Man

Incredible Hulk #173, the Cobalt Man(Cover from March 1974.)

"Anybody Out There Remember... The Cobalt Man?"

Written by Roy Thomas.
Art by Herb Trimpe.
Lettering by Jean Izzo.
Colours by Petra Goldberg.


Bruce Banner just doesn't know how to stay out of trouble. No sooner has he, in the form of the Hulk, stowed away on a ship than it turns out its owner Ralph Roberts wants to sail it into the thick of a nuclear explosion as a protest against atomic testing.

As if that wasn't enough, there's more to Roberts than even that.

Once upon a time he was the Cobalt Man, a scientist in Iron Man style armour who, driven mad by wearing it, had to be stopped by the X-Men. Now a reformed character, he's created himself a new suit of armour which he claims'll protect him from the explosion.

But then doesn't use it.

This being a comic book, Roberts quickly turns blue, grows some muscles and puts on his brand new armour, just in time for a fight with the Hulk. A fight the Hulk wins, but the Hulk turns back into Bruce Banner as the ship starts to sink, with him trapped below deck.

It's nice to get a change of scenery as we leave behind the Hulkbuster Base and Thunderbolt Ross' problems with Colonel Armbruster, and so it's a shame that Ross shows up in a scene where he protests to a French counterpart about the atomic testing. Leaving aside the fact the scene serves no real purpose other than to keep Ross in our minds, after two consecutive issues on Hulkbuster Base, it would've been refreshing to get a story with no Hulkbuster involvement at all.

Roberts cuts a rather ambiguous figure. His motives in wanting to protest against atomic testing suggest he's a good guy but his method, sailing unprotected into a nuclear explosion, suggest a certain mental instability and egomania even before the radiation starts to mutate him. It makes him an intriguing - if slightly mystifying - presence in the story.

If it's not clear at this stage whether Roberts is hero or villain, something else I'm not sure about is his armour. It has to be said that every time you see him he looks like he should have an American football in his hand. If the Cobalt Man was supposed to be some sort of all-American square-jawed cornball, it might make sense but, as far as I can make out, he isn't and you wonder if there was really any need for the armour at all. Writer Roy Thomas could've explained Roberts' new-found power simply by putting it all down to the radiation and not even bothered with a suit that, under the circumstances, seems an irrelevant detail.

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