Friday, 30 July 2010

Incredible Hulk #131. Iron Man

Incredible Hulk #131, Iron Man(Cover from September 1970.)

“A Titan Stalks The Tenements!”

Written by Roy Thomas.
Drawn by Herb Trimpe.
Inked by John Severin.
Lettering by Sam Rosen.

The Hulk gets “relevant” as his quest to kill Bruce Banner takes him to the tenements where he finds a new friend in homeless teenager Jim Wilson and meets an old ally in Iron Man.

Banner and Iron Man have decided the only way to stop the Hulk is to fire a Gamma gun at him to make he and Banner merge once more. But it seems there’s a problem, because, once it’s done, Bruce Banner appears to be permanently trapped inside the Hulk forever.

With Rick Jones off having adventures with Captain Marvel and having anyway outlived his useful purpose in the pages of The Hulk, we get to meet what’s effectively his straight replacement in Jim Wilson who, like the Hulk, is a homeless outcast and not white.

The fact he’s not white might not seem like it should be any big deal but this is the early 1970s, and so Jim can barely get through a sentence without mentioning his and other people’s skin colour. Looking at it through modern eyes, it’s a characterisation somewhat lacking in subtlety but I suppose we should at least credit Roy Thomas and Marvel for making an effort, and Jim’s humble origins do enable him to serve his purpose perfectly as the strip’s conscience.

His presence also does the comic a favour by bringing out the more human side of Thunderbolt Ross who, in his treatment of Jim in future issues, starts to reveal himself to be more than just the empty-headed blowhard he was once routinely depicted as.

So, John Severin's back on inks, the Hulk's got a new friend, General Ross is turning into a more rounded human being. It seems like everything's right with the world.

Apart from Bruce Banner being gone forever, of course.

Still, that can all be sorted out next issue.

Can't it?

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Incredible Hulk #130. The Hulk meets Bruce Banner

Incredible Hulk #130, the Hulk vs Bruce Banner(Cover from August 1970.)

“If I Kill You.. I Die!”

Written by Roy Thomas.
Drawn by Herb Trimpe.
Inked by Herb Trimpe.
Lettering by Sam Rosen.

You don’t know what a splitting headache is till you’re Bruce Banner. Determined yet again to cure himself of being the Hulk, Banner goes to visit old colleague Raoul Stoddard who just happens to have a secret cave at the end of a secret tunnel, which just so happens to contain a secret machine that can just so happen to be able to cure the Hulk.

The trouble is, when it’s used, it doesn’t cure him at all, it simply splits Banner and the Hulk into two separate people, with the Hulk determined to kill Bruce Banner.

It’s another corking tale that feels almost like some metaphysical fever as all logic’s defied and Stoddard has a complete personality change halfway through, suddenly turning into a raving madman for no reason other than it’s good for dramatic tension. The whole tale stretches credulity pretty much to its breaking point, with Stoddard’s secret tunnel, cave and machine - not to mention his sudden change from good guy to homicidal nut job - but this is the Hulk and all such objections are cast aside by the vaguely surreal horror of it all as the Hulk squares up to Banner and then sets about smashing his way through the United States, on a mission to kill his former alter ego.

Given its unlikely twists and turns, and the fact that what happens must be Bruce Banner’s worst nightmare, you wouldn’t be surprised if the good doctor woke at the end of the tale only to discover it had all been a dream.

But no, it’s not. At the end of the issue it’s all still real and we’re gonna have to wait a whole month to see how it ends.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Incredible Hulk #129. The Leader and the Glob

Incredible Hulk #129, the Leader and the Glob, Herb Trimpe
(Cover from July 1970.)

“Again, The Glob!”

Written by Roy Thomas.
Drawn by Herb Trimpe.
Inked by Herb Trimpe.
Lettering by Sam Rosen.

Never accept lifts from a stranger - especially one who’d give a ride to a man like you. It’s a lesson Bruce Banner should learn well as he inadvertently accepts a lift from the Leader who, to enact his latest plan, has reverted to his pre-mutation guise of a lowly truck driver. In this form, he’s a perfectly nice man and, remembering nothing of his alter-ego, strikes up a rapport with Banner, both of them being somewhat bewildered souls. From their conversation, however, the Leader learns the Glob was the one foe who might have defeated the Hulk and so, upon reverting to his high-headed guise, he revives the swamp monster and sets him on the Hulk.

Maybe it’s just me but as the long as the Glob’s in a story I’m happy. He’s like the Hulk pushed in a more extreme direction and it’s great to see our hero torn between the need to defend himself from the creature and the desire to make friends with it. It’s also good to see the Hulk defeat a foe by outwitting him. It must be conceded there aren’t many foes the Hulk could ever hope to outsmart but, in the Glob, he’s finally found one.

Herb Trimpe’s art’s much better this time out. He’s still using too thick a brush which gives the book too simplistic a look but it’s a huge improvement on the issue before, and the bolder lines suit the Glob well even if they’re not quite so ideal for normal everyday people. The impression you get is this is a period of experimentation for Trimpe as he tries different ways of doing things. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.

Needless to say, despite his self-declared genius, the Leader’s as big an idiot as ever, determined to over-complicate his attempts at revenge on the Hulk, to the point of spurning a perfectly good chance of bumping off Bruce Banner right at the start of the tale. It also has to be said that, with the passage of time, his motivation’s gone down somewhat in the world. Once he sought to rule that world, then he wanted to destroy it. Now his sole purpose in life seems to be to follow the Hulk around, trying to come up with ever more arch ways to defeat him. You have to dig his aircraft though, which he’s clearly copied from the 1953 George Pal War of the Worlds movie. He might be a bit of an idiot but at least he has good taste in special effects.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Incredible Hulk #128. The Avengers

Incredible Hulk #128, the Avengers(Cover from June 1970.)

"And In This Corner... The Avengers!"

Written by Roy Thomas.
Drawn by Herb Trimpe.
Inked by Herb Trimpe.
Lettering by Sam Rosen.

Following his recent encounter with Tyrannus, the Hulk's still roaming the nation's underground caverns. You might think out of sight out of mind, but there's only one problem.

He's heading straight for the San Andreas Fault.

If he decides to use that as his punch bag it's bye bye California.

Happily, General Thunderbolt Ross has a plan. He calls in the Avengers to lure the Hulk above ground so he can try out his latest super-weapon on him.

I suppose it was always the danger, given his style, that Herb Trimpe would have trouble drawing the Avengers. Costumed adventurers were never his strength. But the truth is, for some reason, in this issue, he seems to be having trouble drawing everything - even the Hulk. His artwork looks terrible; not just his pencilling and inking but his layouts too. It's like he's trying a whole new way of drawing the strip, and failing. Gone is the heightened visual drama we're used to, replaced by a form of story-telling that seems both flat and juvenile.

He's not the only one. Whatever malaise is afflicting Trimpe seems to have overcome Roy Thomas too. A man more used than anyone to writing the Avengers seems to have lost all feel for them. Apart from the Hulk and Goliath no one in this story seems to be speaking the way they should be.

To make matters worse, the Avengers are plain useless. They're just there to divert the Hulk so he'll step into the path of some beam or other that Thunderbolt Ross and his men have whipped up. When the Hulk finally obliges, the beam doesn't work, so the Avengers simply give up and leave, congratulating themselves on the fact they've proven they can work as a team, seemingly not caring for one moment that the Hulk's still on the loose. The various Avengers' dialogue as they depart is like some sort of parody of how super-heroes speak.

I really don't know what was going on with this issue. The impression you get is it was knocked out in a hurry under pressure of a tight deadline. Then again, maybe everyone's brains just sprang a leak during the making of it but it really is one of the few tales from the era that you'd avoid letting anyone see if you were trying to turn them on to the Hulk.

It's a shame because it's the Hulk, and it's the Avengers and it should be great. But sadly that's the one thing it isn't.

Monday, 26 July 2010

Incredible Hulk #127.Mogol and Tyrannus

Incredible Hulk #127, Mogol, Herb Trimpe(Cover from May 1970.)


Written by Roy Thomas.
Drawn by Herb Trimpe.
Inked by Herb Trimpe.
Lettering by Sam Rosen.

A man of infinite wisdom (it was Tony Hatch) once said everybody needs good neighbours, who should be there for one another, because that's when good neighbours become good friends.

Well, the Hulk and the giant subterranean Mogol might not have become good neighbours but they do at least become good friends as The Incredible Hulk goes further underground than even Robert Crumb could ever hope to manage.

Tyrannus, that would-be Caesar of the underworld, is in deep doo-doo. His arch-enemy the Mole Man's yet again captured the fountain of eternal youth that's been keeping him alive and is now planning an attack on Tyrannus' city itself. Fortunately for Tyrannus, his servant Mogol's convinced the Hulk to join the fray.

This is one of my favourite Hulk tales. For a start it has Tyrannus in it. Apparently, Tyrannus isn't exactly popular with comic book readers but he's always grabbed me, with his roman garb and totally unjustified god complex. There aren't that many super-villains I'd quite like to be but supreme ruler of an underground kingdom sort of grabs me - as long as I could have weekends off. Admittedly, the Mole Man's also in the tale but at least for once he justifies his existence by giving the big T someone to fight.

But the story centres around Mogol, the giant being who can't remember where he came from or how he came to be in the service of Tyrannus. All he knows is he somehow owes the dictator his life. Sent to the surface to recruit the Hulk's aid, he and the brute quickly become bosom buddies as each at last has found a kindred spirit to relate to.

Sadly, this being the Hulk, the ending doesn't reflect well on our hero as, in the heat of battle with the Mole Man's forces, we discover Mogol is in fact a robot.

"So what?" you might think. "The Hulk's a bright green mutant. As Phillip Drummond could have told you, it takes different strokes to move the world."

Sadly, the Hulk doesn't see it that way and promptly destroys his best friend for not being "real" enough. This is actually quite disturbing and goes against the view we mostly have of the Hulk from this era as being a basically gentle soul committing acts of violence only when provoked. Bearing in mind Mogol is his only friend and refuses to lift a finger to defend himself against the Hulk's attack, it can't be seen as anything other than a form of murder. But that's what happens when you have the Hulk's lack of brains and surfeit of muscles.

And so, at the tale's end, having destroyed Mogol, the Mole Man's citadel and Tyrannus' troglotopolis, the Hulk finds himself alone.

And this time he's got no one to blame but himself.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Incredible Hulk #126. Night-Crawler, Dr Strange and the Undying Ones

Incredible Hulk #126, the Night-Crawler(Cover from April 1970.)

"...Where Stalks The Night-Crawler!"

Written by Roy Thomas.
Drawn by Herb Trimpe.
Inked by Herb Trimpe.
Lettering by Artie Simek.

For some reason, the Hulk and magic have always mixed well, possibly because of his thinly disguised roots in horror tales like Frankenstein, The Wolfman and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and here he gets flung well and truly into the world of sorcery as he gets to meet Dr Strange for what appears to be the first time (though don't quote me on that).

But before he can do that he has to be kidnapped, in his Bruce Banner guise, and sent spiralling by some HP Lovecraft types into a dread dimension where he has to fight the dread Night-Crawler. No, not the X-Man, who no one would call "dread". This one's a demon with attitude who's the only thing keeping the evil Undying Ones from invading our world.

The main joy of the issue is it gives Herb Trimpe the chance to show he's equally at home drawing arcane horror as modern technology. The early scenes at the occultists' mansion are wonderfully melodramatic and, when he arrives, the Night-Crawler's great, a huge big demon with a bunch of tricks up his sleeves and an ego of galactic proportions. When the Hulk destroys his dimension, the Night-Crawler doesn't sit and sulk like the rest of us would, he just decides to help himself to the Undying Ones' dimension instead, blithely setting himself the task of taking on their entire world to get it. He might be a villain and I'm not too sure how many times he ever appeared after this but there's no getting away from it, while he lasted, he was a cool character.

A pre-Valkyrie Barbara Norris, meanwhile frees Dr Strange from the prison he's been in throughout the story, and Strange and the Hulk return to Earth.

I assume this tale was designed to tie-up loose ends from the cancellation of Dr Strange's own mag and it could explain his somewhat ungallant actions in happily leaving Barbara Norris in the Undying Ones' trap. Surely, being a hero, he'd make some attempt to free her but, instead, upon returning to Earth, he decides the world no longer needs Dr Strange and promptly retires, leaving poor old Babs trapped by the Undying Ones forever. There's gratitude for you. I wonder if her future incarnation The Valkyrie ever brought that decision up at any of their Defenders get-togethers?

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Incredible Hulk #125. The one with the Absorbing Man

Incredible Hulk #125, the Absorbing Man, Herb Trimpe cover(Cover from March 1970.)

"...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.

Doesn't it?

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.

Friday, 23 July 2010

Incredible Hulk #124. The Leader and the Rhino

Incredible Hulk #124, the Leader and the Rhino, Bruce Banner marries Betty Ross(Cover from February 1970.)

"The Rhino Says No!"

Writer: Roy Thomas.
Innovator: Herb Trimpe.
Illustrator: Sal Buscema.
Letterer: Sam Rosen .

Things that start as tragedy might end as farce. Nothing better demonstrates that than The Incredible Hulk #124. In all honesty, the tragedy, although planned, never quite arrives but the farce certainly does - and from a highly unlikely source.

Having been cured of his unfortunate tendency to turn green, Bruce Banner's now free to marry Betty Ross. Sadly, no one's told him that the wedding of any Marvel hero's doomed to be gatecrashed by at least one super-villain.

With him being the Hulk's arch-enemy, that villain's the Leader, who proves his love for over-egging his puddings by reviving the Rhino from his coma, to serve as his lackey. The Leader's genius plan is to show up at the ceremony and turn Banner into the Hulk so the Hulk'll kill Betty Ross.

That's the intended tragedy. The only problem is the Rhino and the Leader then fall out and the Leader has to flee the scene to escape his supposed ally, leaving the Hulk somewhat bemused as to what's been going on. However, thanks to the Leader's machinations, it does mean the end of Bruce Banner's ability to keep his own intellect when he becomes the Hulk,

For what set out out be such a dramatic tale, the last few pages really are surprisingly comedic as the Leader and the Rhino turn on each other in a way that makes the Leader look a complete and ineffectual idiot. "Stop shaking my Escape Module, you, brainless brute! It's powered by very unstable molecules!" Yes, who wouldn't power their emergency escape vehicle with very unstable molecules? I'm not sure if this is a good thing or not. It's undeniably entertaining and it's always nice to see the ridiculously self-regarding Leader taken down a peg or two but it does somewhat undermine him as a menace. Still, I'm sure it's nothing his next grandiose scheme can't put right.

For whatever reason, Herb Trimpe doesn't draw this issue. He's credited as, "Innovator," while Sal Buscema's credited as, "Illustrator."Normally you'd assume that meant Trimpe did the layouts whilst Buscema did the pencilling. In truth, the layouts for the most part look like pure Sal to me. Regardless, a few lapses in scale aside, John's younger brother does a great job on the issue.

It's a shame the storyline that's seen Banner able to retain his normal intellect while in the Hulk's form ends here. While it was inevitable the old order'd be restored eventually, it would've been nice to see it last a few more issues. There was definite potential to the idea of the Hulk operating as a more conventional super-hero for a while. Sadly we barely had chance to get used to the development before it was taken away from us.

The thing that makes me happiest about this tale is the Leader's Giant Super Humanoid makes his return. As the last we saw of him was him being flung into an exploding volcano, presumably he's not the one we saw before. What makes me less happy is he's barely back before he's trashed by the Rhino. Exploding volcanoes, charging Rhinos, it seems life's no fun when you're a Super Humanoid.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Incredible Hulk #123. The Leader and his tripod

Incredible Hulk #123, The Leader and the Murder Module tripod(Cover from January 1970.)

"No More The Monster!"

Written by Roy Thomas.
Drawn by Herb Trimpe.
Inked by Herb Trimpe.
Lettered by Artie Simek.

Sometimes a man needs a new direction in life. Perhaps he needs to take up stamp-collecting or bird-watching. Maybe he needs to spend long hours in his shed, smoking a pipe and building crystal radio sets.

Of course, more often than not, he simply needs to stop being a homicidal green monster.

And so it's time for a whole new direction in the life of Bruce Banner, as the Fantastic Four cure him of being the Hulk. Not only that but, thanks to Banner's own tweaking of the formula, he can now become the Hulk at will and retain his original intellect. Thunderbolt Ross takes advantage of this by asking Bruce to guard the military's new super-weapon, the three-legged Murder Module, and the Leader decides to steal it. Banner decides to stop him, only for the Hulk's mind to reassert itself under pressure.

Why do I get the feeling this isn't going to end happily?

There are two obvious questions raised by the Murder Module. One is why you'd design a weapon to have three legs, a notoriously unstable method of locomotion? The other is why does the Leader want it in the first place? Obviously he wants it so he can kill people. The only problem with that is a man of his genius could easily create one for himself rather than wasting time trying to steal it and, given how quickly the Hulk reduces it to a pile of scrap, it clearly wouldn't have been much use in his plans for World conquest anyway. I think you have to conclude the Leader just likes to do bad things for the sake of doing bad things, which is fair enough when you're a gamma-ray mutated villain of questionable sanity who probably doesn't get out much.

For the second issue running, the Hulk shows himself willing to commit murder, failing to crush the Leader to death only when Banner's intellect prevents him. It's a far angrier, more destructive version of the Hulk than we've seen before and one whose arrival's coincided with the tenure of Roy Thomas whose view of the character seems far less benign than Stan Lee's ever was.

In a certain other blog I could mention, I pointed out the strange tendency for people in comics to only ever refer to each other by their surnames, and it goes into overdrive here. Despite the fact they've done him the biggest favour ever, Bruce Banner repeatedly and exclusively refers to the members of the Fantastic Four by their last names and they only ever refer to him as "Banner." Is there really no room for friendship in the world of Marvel heroes? Still, at least we should be grateful he doesn't insist on calling his fiancée "Ross" and she in turn doesn't call him "Banner."

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Incredible Hulk #122. The Fantastic Four

Incredible Hulk #122, the Fantastic Four(Cover from December 1969.)

"The Hulk's Last Fight!"

Written by Roy Thomas.
Drawn by Herb Trimpe.
Inked by Herb Trimpe.
Lettered by Artie Simek.

There are two things in life whose magic never fails you. One of them is randomly shouting the word, "Exterminate!" and the other's watching the Fantastic Four fight the Hulk. Leaving aside the fact it always gives us a green man vs an orange man, there's just something about it that's always going to grab you. Maybe it's the contrast between the Hulk, all alone and driven by brainlessness, and the more tactical team-play of the FF, or perhaps it's just because the Hulk and the Fantastic Four were Marvel Comics' first heroes of their post-monster age.

Realising it's only a matter of time before his alter-ego kills someone, Bruce Banner heads for the FF's Baxter Building, having read in a newspaper that Reed Richards claims to have found a cure for his condition. Needless to say, on the way, Banner has one of his turns, and the obligatory carnage breaks out before Mr Fantastic manages to stop the brute, with a sonic gun.

The start of this tale's genuinely disconcerting as the Hulk, for no good reason, annihilates a train. It turns out to be a freight train, with no passengers, and the handful of crew are somehow unharmed - although, given the way the Hulk flings the thing around, it's hard to see how - but the point is the Hulk has no way of knowing there are no passengers and, for all he knows, he's killing people on an industrial scale. It's one of those rare occasions when you can suddenly see why Thunderbolt Ross is so determined to stop the Hulk no matter what.

That aside, the main concern about this issue was always going to be how Herb Trimpe coped with drawing the FF. Whatever his strengths, Trimpe was never a natural super-hero artist and, at times could produce the least heroic-looking heroes you ever saw but he does fine here, mostly because he has the wisdom to repeatedly copy Jack Kirby poses. It's easy to knock artists for copying each other but, in this case, I'd see it as Trimpe merely acknowledging that he can learn from the master.

It's a bit worrying that, once he realises he can't out-muscle the Hulk, the Thing's master plan for dealing with him is to send him flying from a window and down onto the streets below. I don't like to teach my granny to suck eggs but I would've thought it'd be the first instinct of any good super-hero to protect the public from a menace like the Hulk, not send him flying right into the thick of them in an enraged state. Happily, this being the sparsely populated town of New York, there's no one around.

But you do wonder where the Fantastic Four get their security guards from. The staff they hire here really are a complete shower. They have only one job, to let Bruce Banner into the building without hassles. Needless to say, when Banner shows up he's promptly confronted by a guard who's positively itching to start using his gun at the first possible opportunity. It's explained he's filling in for a colleague at short notice and therefore isn't fully aware of the situation but, really, bearing in mind he was likely to come up against the Hulk, you would've thought someone would at least have told him what he was there for.

Monday, 19 July 2010

Incredible Hulk #121. At last it's the Glob

Incredible Hulk #121, the first appearance and origin of the Glob(Cover from November 1969.)

"Within The Swamp, There Stirs... A Glob!"

Written by Roy Thomas.
Drawn by Herb Trimpe.
Inked by Herb Trimpe.
Lettered by Sam Rosen.

If we all know that the angrier the Hulk gets the more powerful he gets, I can't help feeling that the stranger he got the more compelling he became and he didn't get much stranger than The Incredible Hulk #121 where the green goliath comes up against the Glob for the first time.

Hanging around in the Florida swamps, our anti-hero loses his rag and kicks some radioactive barrels into the water. Within moments they've created a swamp monster possessed of the muddled consciousness of a long dead criminal who escaped the local prison in an attempt to be reunited with his dying lover. Being as muddled as he is muddy, the Glob abducts Betty Ross, in the belief she's the woman in question. That of course leads to a fight between Hulk and Glob which only ends when the Glob re-enters the swamp's waters, to be dissolved by a radiation-destroying liquid General Ross's men have flooded the swamp with, leaving the Hulk to ruminate on the fact he's just lost what could have been a friend.

Despite featuring plenty of action, it's a wonderfully eerie and slow-burning tale, capturing the alienness of the swamp. And the flashback to the dead prisoner's escape from jail's beautifully done, never giving us even a hint as to his identity, bestowing a dream-like feel to proceedings. You could just imagine this tale filmed in the style of one of the more esoteric 1930s horror movies and, indeed, its climax does have hints of Boris Karloff's Mummy. As a monster, the Glob's a genuinely strange and haunting presence, presumably based on Hillman Periodicals' Heap but providing a precursor to the Man-Thing and Swamp-Thing.

I love this story. For its off-beat nature and otherworldly pathos it has to be one of my favourite tales of the era, and a number of its themes clearly became the basis for various Hulk stories that followed. Rightly so because it's simply an example of the strip at its very best.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Incredible Hulk #120. More from the Inhumans

Incredible Hulk #120, Maximus the Mad and the Evil Inhumans(Cover from October 1969.)

"On The Side Of... ...The Evil Inhumans!"

Plotted by Stan Lee.
Scripted by Roy Thomas.
Drawn by Herb Trimpe.
Inked by Herb Trimpe.
Lettered by Sam Rosen.

If those cartoons were right and love means never having to say you're sorry then being the Hulk clearly means never having to decide whose side you're on.

At the close of last issue, we were left with the jade juggernaut having to choose whether to throw his lot in with the Evil Inhumans or the US military. Here, he quickly decides to trash the military. Having done that he then decides to trash the Evil Inhumans. Maximus sets his giant robot on him, he trashes that, and the Evil Inhumans flee and then so does the Hulk.

It's a tale full of action as the Hulk flings tanks around and knocks planes from the sky. It also gives Herb Trimpe the chance to showcase his remarkable ability to draw military hardware and to portray aircraft simply hanging in the air but again the Evil Inhumans seem an inadequate set of foes for him, especially as their plan, to gradually conquer the world by placing mind-controlling statues in various lands, is such a long-term strategy that it offers no natural time limit to events here. There's no race against the clock, no sense that the Hulk must deal with the threat before it's too late, and therefore it has far less tension than the somewhat similar Umbu story. It's just a case of the Hulk smashing things - first the American soldiers and then Maximus' robot - till there's nothing left to smash.

That's not to say it's a bad tale. I don't think there were any bad Hulk tales in this era but, by the standards of its time, it feels like a holding operation till something better comes along. Happily something better does come along next issue.

Still, at least in this issue, unlike the last one, Maximus suddenly remembers he has a giant robot, which he promptly sets on the Hulk, and the Hulk flattens by throwing the Inhumans' entire fortress at it. "Hulk will not give up!" he declares while struggling to lift the impossible weight as the robot bombards him with its strength-sapping rays. "He can never give up! ...He does not know how!!" It's moments like this that make you realise why you love the strip so much.

Most bizarre moment is when Maximus the Mad tells Thunderbolt Ross and his gang that it's he and not the Hulk who's just defeated his men, which totally contradicts everything we've seen in the last few pages where he did nothing whatsoever as the Hulk was flinging tanks and planes around. If love means never having to say you're sorry, self-love clearly means never having to say you're irrelevant.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Incredible Hulk #119. Maximus and the Evil Inhumans

Incredible Hulk #119, Maximus and the evil Inhumans(Cover from September 1969.)

"At The Mercy Of -- Maximus The Mad!"

Written by Stan Lee.
Drawn by Herb Trimpe.
Inked by Herb Trimpe.
Lettered by Artie Simek.

Bruce Banner has to be the unluckiest man alive. Admittedly the fact that he once opened his wardrobe and found it filled with nothing but purple trousers is a king-sized hint but, beyond that, it seems like he can't go anywhere without blundering into trouble. No sooner has he arrived in the little known country of Costa Salvador than he finds its people in a trance, controlled by a giant statue in the nearest town square.

It's all the work of Maximus the Mad and his band of Evil Inhumans. Being the modest soul he is, Maximus has a plan to take control of the world and has started with this town. Just to up the Hulk's bad-luck quotient for the day, as his fight with the Inhumans approaches its climax, the American military turn up and he has to decide what to do. Who does he side with? The Evil Inhumans or the soldiers who seek to destroy him?

Of course, there's the third option; that he just leaps away and leaves the Inhumans and the military to slug it out without him.

Sadly, such thinking's beyond our "hero" and we finish the issue with him getting distinctly confused about it all.

There's actually not that much I can say about this tale. It's nicely drawn and it does what you'd expect the first part of a Hulk story to do. But then again, the Evil Inhumans are clearly not within a million miles of being a match for the Hulk and the fight'd clearly have been over very quickly had it not been for the arrival of the US forces. Most of that problem's down to the fact that, amazingly, Maximus doesn't seem to have any tricks up his sleeve, no ray guns, no machines, no hostages. He just keeps ordering his Inhumans to attack the brute. We're so used to Marvel arch-villains like Dr Doom and Kang the Conqueror having more tricks than a bag full of weasels that, bearing in mind his Inhumans have no way to best the Hulk, it's an oddly futile version of Maximus we're getting and makes him and his gang feel like they're on a par with such second-raters as the Ringmaster and his Circus of Crime.

Highlight of the tale has to be Falcona setting her birds of prey on Maximus' lackey for daring to point out his mind-control robot isn't infallible. It's genuinely nasty and highlights the would-be dictator's megalomania that he'll have his most faithful servant killed for trying to warn him that his plan's in danger.

Friday, 16 July 2010

Incredible Hulk #118. The one with the Sub-Mariner

Incredible Hulk #118, the Sub-Mariner(Cover from August 1969.)

"A Clash of Titans"

Written by Stan Lee.
Drawn by Herb Trimpe.
Inked by Herb Trimpe.
Lettered by Artie Simek.

Btam! Rzok! Throp! After the overly-drawn out events of the last few issues, the strip suddenly goes volte face and opts for twenty pages of almost pure action. The Sub-Mariner's squeeze, Lady Dorma, finds Bruce Banner floating unconscious in the ocean. Not knowing who he is, she takes him back to Atlantis for treatment.

However, thanks to Dorma's scheming love rival, Fara, Namor gets the wrong end of the stick, thinks the Hulk was threatening his girl and, as sure as night follows day, Marvel Comics' two most short-tempered characters are going at it like there's no tomorrow.

Because the plot's so straightforward - a quick set-up and then a fight - it feels like an incredibly short tale. Is it really twenty pages? On top of that, the action's piled higher than Scooby Doo's sandwich. In panel after panel, we're left in no doubt we're seeing a scrap of epic proportions between two beings of immense power as they literally hit each other with everything they can find. Entire buildings collapse from the shock waves of their encounter, nearby islands are hit by tidal waves, mighty ships are tossed around like toys.

And of course it all ends in a draw.

Actually it doesn't. I'm sure it's meant to be taken as a draw. This is Marvel Comics after all, in which all super-hero battles must end in a stalemate. But there's no getting round it. When all's said and done, the Sub-Mariner's still conscious after their head-on collision, while the Hulk's out cold. Doesn't that make Subby the winner? It's actually not the only tale in this era in which the Hulk loses in his own comic. I'm not going to spoil it for anyone right now by naming the others but there does seem to be a willingness to have the Hulk defeated that's absent from other Marvel Comics of the time. Was this down to Trimpe exploiting the freedom he was given by the Marvel Method? Was it an editorial decision that the strip would lose its dramatic tension if we know the Hulk never loses?

Then again, was it just an accident?

Interesting that this issue ends the same way as the previous one, with the Hulk falling from the sky, only to be overlooked by his foe-of-the month as he becomes Bruce Banner again. I assume this is coincidence, as there doesn't seem to be any kind of thematic reason for it.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Incredible Hulk #117. The Leader's still back

Incredible Hulk #117, the Leader and his giant android(Cover from July 1969.)

"World's End?"

Written by Stan Lee.
Drawn by Herb Trimpe.
Inked by Herb Trimpe.
Lettered by Artie Simek.

After a couple of sedate issues, our tale finally goes into overdrive as the Leader goes nuclear.

That's right, the only man you'll ever meet who daren't paint his face red, in case people mistake his head for a post box, finally gets round to launching the atomic missiles whose firing he spent the whole of last issue talking about.

Of course, being a master-villain, he can't do it quickly. He has to spend as long as possible talking about it some more, with every second increasing his chances of failure. It's times like this that make you realise the Leader really is a fool. "Blather blather blather," that's all you get from him for pages, "No one can stop me," this and, "When I rule the world," that. Just shut up and press the button, you buffoon!

Then again, Betty Ross isn't much better. She just stands there going, "Oh no, someone has to stop him," when, as far as I can make out, all she has to do is grab a spanner and bash him over the back of the head with it.

Happily, if there's one person in the comic who doesn't waste time standing around, it's the Hulk who finally breaks free of his rubbery prison, has a short but epic battle with the Leader's Super Humanoid and then destroys the Leader's missiles before they can impact.

I'm not sure there's a lot of logic to this tale. How does the Hulk leap from an island in the middle of nowhere, to the mainland missile base, in the matter of mere moments? How does he even know in which direction the missile base is? How does the Hulk dramatically change the flight of a nuclear missile by tugging at it while sat on it? Surely he'd succeed only in pulling it to pieces, not sending it flying off at a sudden right angle? At times the events we're watching don't seem real. It's almost like we're watching some sort of nightmare the Leader's having where a monster called the Hulk keeps doing impossible things to thwart him.

In truth, this three-part tale hasn't been the best advert for the strip. The Hulk's pretty much been an irrelevance till its concluding part and there's been endless repetition, with the Hulk captured then escaping then being recaptured then escaping then being recaptured then escaping. Nor does it have the noticeably warped imagination of other tales of the era, and its plot, revolving around the Leader trying to start a war between the major powers so he can emerge at the end of it as ruler of the world, is lifted straight from You Only Live Twice.

Still, when it finally comes, the fight between the Hulk and the Leader's Super Humanoid is gloriously enjoyable, especially its use of that strategically placed volcano. I do wonder if it's the one the FF trapped the Super Skrull in? If so it deserves some sort of medal for services to mankind.

For the first time, we get to see Herb Trimpe inking himself - and doing a great job of it. There's a theory that artists are always their own best inkers. Having seen some examples of artists inking themselves, I'm not totally convinced about that but Trimpe certainly does nothing here to wreck the claim.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Incredible Hulk #116. More from the Leader

Incredible Hulk #116, the Leader(Cover from June 1969.)

"The Eve Of --- Annihilation"

Written by Stan Lee.
Drawn by Herb Trimpe.
Inked by Dan Adkins.
Lettered by Artie Simek.

Ambitions, we all have to have them. Mine's to get across those big red balls in Total Wipeout.

The Leader's is to start World War Three.

That's right. The only man you'll ever meet who can wear a top hat as a baseball cap wants to reduce the planet to a radioactive wasteland occupied only by himself and his giant humanoid. By these means will he at last rule the world. Given that ruling a radioactive wasteland without even a set of big red balls to its name seems a bit of a waste of time, I think my ambition's more viable.

At last, after last issue's preamble, the story kicks into gear as the Leader starts to take over the base, and Betty Ross and Glenn Talbot try to do something about it. Needless to say, General Ross is too dim to realise the wanted criminal's up to no good, and he won't hear a word of it until he accidentally blunders in and sees a bunch of his troops out cold on the floor as the Leader rants on about how he's going to destroy humanity. Given the way Ross has been acting lately, it's a wonder he doesn't immediately blame Bruce Banner.

Then again, despite his boasting, the Leader's not the sharpest knife in the drawer either. He decides to immobilise the entire base with his mental energy but, for no reason whatsoever, other than the plot needs it, the high-headed heel gives Betty a magic tiara to block out his mental emanations. He then lets her go running off to do whatever she wants.

Now, you and I can figure out she's going to head straight for the Hulk and free him. For some reason this never occurs to the, "world's mightiest mind." In other words it's an issue where no one acts even vaguely like a rational human being ever would. In fairness, none of these stories would be possible if they did, so, the unforgivable silliness of Betty Ross's tiara aside, maybe we have to turn a blind eye to such quibbles.

If it's a make-or-break day for humanity, it's another quiet issue for the Hulk. He's barely seen in it. Thanks to Betty, he escapes from his rubber cell for a few panels and then, thanks the Leader, he's back in it again. Rarely can a super-hero have been so comprehensively sidelined in his own comic. It is possibly a bit worrying that the strip really doesn't suffer from his absence.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Incredible Hulk #115. The Leader's back.

Incredible Hulk #115, the Leader returns(Cover from May 1969.)

"Lo, The Leader Lives"

Written by Stan Lee.
Drawn by Herb Trimpe.
Inked by Dan Adkins.
Lettered by Artie Simek.

Hang onto your hats, it's the return of the only man you'll ever meet whose head's a danger to low-flying aircraft.

That's right, the Leader's back and he has a spiffing wheeze for capturing the Hulk. All he needs is the co-operation of General Thunderbolt Ross and Major Glenn Talbot.

Because, as has been said before, the two soldiers' combined IQ's lower than the number of toes on the Abomination's left foot, they go along with his plan and the Leader traps the Hulk in a big rubbery cave made from a substance whose title doesn't sound at all like "Plasticine". At the end of the issue, the Hulk seemingly trapped forever, our regular cast depart to leave the Leader alone to gloat over his victory and to talk to himself about how nothing can stop him now! Nothing!

In truth it's a relatively uneventful issue. Basically, the Hulk's strapped to a trolley, then he escapes for a few panels, to give us our quotient of action, and then he's strapped to a trolley again, then he's strapped to a trolley in a big rubbery cave. Then he's not strapped to a trolley but is still in the big rubbery cave. The issue's really there to reintroduce us to the Leader who, although we might think of him as the Hulk's arch-enemy has been absent from the strip for a surprisingly long time. So long in fact that we need two recaps - one from the Hulk and one from the Leader - to remind us just who he is/was.

All in all, it's competent tale but it probably says it all that the first panel of the next issue generates more of a buzz for the reader than the whole of this issue put together. But then that's the great thing about comic books. If this month's offering doesn't quite set your soul slight, there's always another one along in thirty days' time.

Monday, 12 July 2010

Incredible Hulk #114. The Sandman and the Mandarin

Incredible Hulk #114, The Sandman and the Mandarin(Cover from April 1969.)

"At Last I Will Have My Revenge!"

Written by Stan Lee.
Drawn by Herb Trimpe.
Inked by Dan Adkins.
Lettered by Artie Simek.

If the definition of "intelligence" is the ability to learn from past mistakes, the Mandarin's clearly named after the literally brainless fruit of that name and not the traditional Chinese bureaucrat.

Having failed miserably last time out, the Gobi Gob decides that what he needs in order to defeat the Hulk is to team up with the Sandman. Having recruited his new ally, he then instigates a plan that in no way shape or form requires the presence of the Sandman. Needless to say, it all goes horribly wrong and it turns out neither villain has a Plan B, suggesting the Mandarin isn't quite the tactical genius he claims to be. For that matter, just what the Mandarin's Plan A was is anyone's guess as he makes exactly the same mistake as he did last time. Basically, he kidnaps the Hulk then takes him to his secret lair, enabling the Hulk to smash it to pieces.

But, of course, the Mandarin's stupidity aside, what this issue's most memorable for is one scene, where the Sandman's flung by his partner in perfidy into what seems to be a gigantic deep-fat fryer. Why the Mandarin has such a thing in his dread HQ's never explained. Maybe he likes his Mars Bars like his super-heroes; well-battered. Regardless, poor old Sandy emerges from it having been transformed into glass, meaning, in the space of one panel, he's gone from being a foe no one can harm to one who can be killed by anyone with a lump hammer. It's a wonderfully macabre and nightmarish fate for our villain and you have to congratulate either Herb Trimpe or Stan Lee (depending on which came up with it) for its shock value.

Argh! Thunderbolt Ross is at it again. Having finally got it into his thick head last issue that the Hulk isn't a bad guy, this issue he's droning on about, "That traitorous Bruce Banner!" Traitorous how? Why? When?

Still, at least his idiocy's equalled by Glenn Talbot who doesn't seem able to predict for one second that confronting Bruce Banner with a bunch of soldiers and threatening to shoot him might not be the best way to prevent him from turning into the Hulk.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Incredible Hulk #113. The one with the Sandman

Incredible Hulk #113, the Sandman(Cover from March 1969.)

"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.

Betty Brant?

Whatever will Betty Ross say when she finds out?

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Incredible Hulk #112. More of the Galaxy Master

Incredible Hulk #122, the Galaxy Master(Cover from February 1969.)

"The Brute Battles On!"

Written by Stan Lee.
Drawn by Herb Trimpe.
Inked by Dan Adkins.
Lettered by Artie Simek.

The Pointingometer goes into overdrive as, on an alien world, the Hulk takes on the nefarious Galaxy Master, as absurd and as inspired a foe as has ever stalked the world of comicdom. As I said last time out, he's basically a giant mouth in space, created by a race of evil in order to do evil. Now he's out to destroy every planet that might pose a threat to him.

Well, the Hulk's not a planet but he poses more threat to the mouth almighty than any who've ever lived. And that means it's punch-up time. Happily for the Hulk, he has allies in the locals, who take the jade behemoth's arrival as their cue to rebel against their all-powerful master. Unhappily for the Hulk, they're about as much use as a chocolate parasol. Still, not to worry. As everyone knows, there's not a foe yet that can't be beaten with a big enough smack in the kisser.

Something that strikes me is that no one in this comic, apart from the Hulk and the Galaxy Master, is ever named. There's a princess and her uncle and a messenger and various other minor characters, not to mention an entire air force but, at the end of it all, I don't have a clue what any of them are called. I also don't know what their planet's called. I don't know what the original home world of the Galaxy Master is or what the name of the race that created him is.

The fact that it doesn't matter is a reminder that comics really do work differently from other forms of story telling. If someone tried it in a novel, you'd fling it at the wall in frustration at the pretension of its author. In a movie you'd feel you were watching an exercise of style over substance.

But comics are different.

Unlike novels, comics work in the visual rather than the verbal realm. Unlike movies, we can get directly into the characters' heads, and so their names become superfluous, as far truer identities are revealed by their thoughts. It's also a reminder that the story simply has no time for such niceties as details, as what's basically a tale of epic proportions is crammed into just twenty pages.

When we get to see it, the core of the Galaxy Master is both pathetic and bathetic. It looks like like some old stair rods around a car engine. It could be Herb Trimpe's imagination ran out just at the most vital moment or it could be that he liked the irony that a creature that, from the outside, could pass for an evil version of God is in reality so feeble and flimsy. Given that the Galaxy Master's so totally helpless to defend himself once the Hulk gets past what's at heart a Wizard of Oz style facade, I prefer to believe the latter.

Friday, 9 July 2010

Incredible Hulk #111. The Galaxy Master

Incredible Hulk #111, the Galaxy Master's first appearance(Cover from January 1969.)

"Shanghaied In Space!"

Written by Stan Lee.
Drawn by Herb Trimpe.
Inked by Dan Adkins.
Lettered by Sam Rosen.

If there's one person in this world you don't want to go to for a medical opinion, it's Ka-Zar. At the end of Amazing Spider-Man #57, he declared Spider-Man to be dead, only, at the start of the following issue, for Spider-Man to turn out to be alive. At the end of Incredible Hulk #110, he declared Bruce Banner to be dead.

And, guess what?

Admittedly, he's only just alive and he only makes a full recovery because he's abducted by the aliens who created last issue's Umbu. Happily, they have a gadget for every occasion and one of those is for reviving people who're nearly dead.

Unhappily, having done that, they decide to kill him.

Cue page after page of insane, logic-defying action as the Hulk stands on the outside of a starship, in space, and pre-empts Star Wars by nearly a decade by taking on a whole squadron of fighter craft. He does it with aplomb, the highlight being when he enters the mother ship's rocket tube - while it's firing - and promptly smashes its engine to smithereens, causing the vessel to crash on the nearest planet, as he hops off with a certain insouciance. The Hulk's strength and endurance have reached insane levels by this stage and it seems nothing's allowed to be regarded as beyond him any more. Gone are the days when he used to get exhausted after knocking in a few thousand fence posts for Tyrannus.

Unfortunately, at the tale's climax, that's when the Hulk's problems really begin because now he has to face the brains behind the operation, a character who really is all mouth and no trousers, a giant mouth in the sky who goes by the name, "Galaxy Master".

I now know why I never grew up to draw American comics. It's because I was always taught it was rude to point. Clearly no one's told the characters in this tale, as there's barely a page goes by without someone pointing melodramatically at something.

I blame Stan Lee.

Apparently, the reason Frank Giacoia did layouts for issue #109 was Lee was unhappy with Herb Trimpe's own layouts, which he didn't feel were suitably dynamic enough. Clearly, Trimpe took it on board because this issue's so melodramatic it's mind boggling. I swear not one person in this tale has ever stood with his feet less than a yard apart at any point in his entire life. It should be ludicrous, the sheer over-the-top dynamism of every panel, of every pose, of every facial expression but this is the Hulk and the more OTT it gets, the better.

My only complaint is Thunderbolt Ross is still going on about how Bruce Banner, or the Hulk, or both, must've been behind the recent bad weather. Give it a rest, man. You clearly know as much about character assessment as Ka-Zar does about medicine.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Incredible Hulk #110. Umbu.

Incredible Hulk #110, Ka-Zar, Zabu, Umbu and the Savage Land(Cover from December 1968.)

"Umbu, The Unliving!"

Written by Stan Lee.
Drawn by Herb Trimpe.
Inked by John Severin.
Lettered by Sam Rosen.

Gilbert O'Sullivan once said, "What's in a kiss?" and William Shakespeare once said, "What's in a name?" While I can't comment on the wisdom or otherwise of Gilbert, I can tell you the bard should've known better because one mention of the name Umbu and you know straight away you're not up against a nine stone weakling. That's right, it's Hold Onto Your Hats time as we enter the senses-shattering conclusion to the Hulk's first ever foray into the Hidden Jungle.

And what a foray it is as he has to fight first Ka-Zar and his sabre-tooth tiger before taking on the might of Umbu, the Unliving. Umbu's a classic creation, a giant stone robot with a deadly tuning fork, created by aliens to guard the machine, from last issue, that's threatening to destroy the Earth. Happily, before it's too late - and mostly thanks to Umbu - the Hulk turns back into Bruce Banner who manages to destroy the machine before the lumbering robot can blast his way into the cave to protect it.

Maybe, given how slow-moving he is, it might've made more sense for them to place Umbu next to the cave that houses the machine he's supposed to be guarding, rather than miles away from it. Still, that's aliens for you. When it comes down to it, they're only human.

The aliens are a mildly annoying point. In themselves they're fine, what little we see of them but we're not told when they set up their machinations. Was it last week? Was it last year? Was it centuries or even millennia ago? It's a minor point but one that's always annoyed me. Otherwise, it's another top-notch story, in which Stan Lee's background in creating giant monsters whose names end with a "U" meets the strip's future direction. The Hulk'll be facing an awful lot of gigantic foes in the years to come but, frankly, none will ever manage to top Umbu and his tuning fork of death.

My one gripe would be that Ka-Zar simply seems too strong in this tale. Don't get me wrong, he's shown as clearly being out of his depth trying to take on the Hulk but, when the Hulk tries to crush him in a bear hug, instead of Ka-Zar coming out of it as the world's first super-hero purée - as he should - he survives completely unscathed and even manages to stun the Hulk with a karate-style chop to the neck. Frankly, there's no way Ka-Zar, who's really no more than a very fit human being, is ever going to be able to hit the Hulk hard enough for our anti-hero to even feel it.

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