"Between Hammer and Anvil!"
Written by Len Wein.
Drawn by Herb Trimpe.
Lettering by John Costanza.
Colours by Glynis Wein.
Hammer and Anvil may sound like a bad comedy double-act but they're no laughing matter - as the Hulk discovers when he meets Crackajack Jackson.
Jackson's a travelling musician/tramp who's on his way to visit his son in jail. The trouble is his son's one half of Hammer and Anvil, two escaped convicts who bump into an injured alien and, in shooting it, accidentally save its life whereupon it gives them super-strength by energising the chain that links them. Showing no ambition at all, the pair head straight back to the prison they've just broken out of, in order to fling their weight around a bit.
In the meantime, Crackajack's encountered and befriended the Hulk, and the pair set off for the prison together. Once there, Jackson's accidentally killed when he touches Hammer and Anvil's chain, and the enraged Hulk defeats the duo by snapping that chain, the loss of which sends them spiralling into total and hopeless madness, leaving the Hulk with nothing to do but bury his late friend.
It's arguably the most successful of the Hulk's human interest stories so far. It can be argued that Crackajack Jackson's something of a stereotype, especially in his earliest exchanges but he's also got no agenda. For once the Hulk's befriended someone who isn't a teenager and, for once, the military don't show up to mess it all up. Instead it's the cruel hand of chance that robs the Hulk of arguably the best friend he's ever had. The fact that the Hulk's spent a fair amount of time with Jackson, and is even taught to read and write by him, makes the story more poignant than usual, especially as the Hulk then uses that knowledge to crudely carve Crackajack's name on his tombstone, ensuring that a man who would otherwise have been totally forgotten has a memorial.
The story's also helped by its villains. In the overall scheme of things, Hammer and Anvil may not amount to anything, but the fact they don't like each other and that they cause Crackajack's death by accident rather than design gives them a greater interest than they might otherwise have held. Also, the fact it becomes clear Crackajack's been a negligent parent and is to some degree responsible for how his son's turned out adds depth to his character. He might be the best friend the Hulk's ever had but is clearly deeply flawed. Stories like the Wolverine tale that directly proceeded it may be higher profile and fetch an awful lot more money on Internet auction sites but I'd argue that this is the superior tale and that it's the strongest and most memorable Hulk issue in a long while.