Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Incredible Hulk #155. Captain Axis and the Shaper of Worlds

Incredible Hulk #155 Captain Axis and the Shaper of Worlds(Cover from September 1972.)

“Destination Nightmare!”

Written by Archie Goodwin.
Art by Herb Trimpe and John Severin.

Eye-patch wearing chanteuse Gabrielle once told us that dreams can come true. Well, Otto Kronsteig doesn’t wear an eye-patch - although he could do with one - but I’ve no doubt he’d agree with her sentiments, as the still-shrinking Bruce Banner lands on a world where the would-be Hitler’s re-staging World War Two. This time, Germany’s winning and in the process of invading the United States.

To achieve this, Kronsteig’s relying on the Shaper, a giant alien who looks like a cross between a skrull and a Meccano set. As well as being too full of himself, the Shaper has the power to make men's dreams a reality but has no dreams of his own.

Writer Archie Goodwin’s clearly been reading his back issues of The Fantastic Four because last month we had a reference to the time when Dr Doom shrank the FF to the size of atoms and now he gives us a villain, in Kronsteig, who helped Doom develop that technology, before it was used against him by the Latverian despot.

Inevitably the Hulk soon puts a stop to such shenanigans, by being stronger than Kronsteig could possibly dream and, when the Hulk refuses to live in a Shaper-created fantasy of being reunited with Jarella, the Shaper has no choice but to send him to the world of the real Jarella.

It’s another classic tale as we see a world ruined by one man’s megalomania and a bored alien’s desire to be entertained. The sight of Bruce Banner being strafed by a German plane in the streets of a bomb-ravaged New York’s especially memorable, as is a dead German pilot reverting to his real, inhuman, form, and there’s some great art by Trimpe and Severin throughout, not least a closing page in which the Shaper, finally bored with the world he’s wrecked, gives it and its “people” his farewell address before setting off in search of a dream of his own.

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Incredible Hulk #154. Ant-Man and Hydra

Incredible Hulk #154, Ant-Man and Hydra(Cover from August 1972.)

“Hell Is A Very Small Hulk!”

Written by Archie Goodwin.
Pencils by Herb Trimpe.
Inks by John Severin.
Lettering by Artie Simek.

I’ve always felt the loopier The Incredible Hulk gets, the better it gets.

And it doesn’t come much loopier than this, as the Hulk’s shrunk to the size of a Barbie doll and still gets to whup Hydra’s ass.

Out to be reunited with Jarella, he breaks into the lab of Henry Pym - otherwise known as Ant-Man - and drinks the experimental formula Ant-Man first used in Fantastic Four #16, the one that can shrink its user down to sub-atomic level.

Sadly, being somewhat unstable, it only shrinks the Hulk to doll size, whereupon he’s captured by the Chameleon who hands him over to his Hydra pay-masters who want to unleash a deadly plague on the world.

Happily, even then the Hulk’s too much for the ever-hapless Hydra to handle but, transformed back to Bruce Banner at the tale’s end, what can save him from death at the heel of the Chameleon?

Frankly I’d despair of anyone who didn’t love this, as the Hulk teams up with the world’s least impressive super-hero, to fight the world’s least impressive super-villain, and Hydra demonstrate that, no matter how much the odds might favour them, they still can’t get it right.

At heart it’s just fun to see the mini-Hulk still ripping things to pieces, albeit on a smaller scale, and you have to love his epic fight with a bunch of rodents which ends on a conveyor belt of doom. “No!” He declares, “Hulk will not be cheese for giant rats--!” It’s plain irresistible -- even if it does throw up a question that’s obvious but was never addressed at the time.

Just how, in issue #148, did they get Jarella back to her own world? Looking back at it, she’s there, on the planet Earth, in the penultimate panel of that tale but then, in the last panel, they tell us she’s been returned. This issue reveals that Bruce Banner asked Ant-Man if his know-how could do the job but it’s clear the answer was no. So, this revelation in mind, just how was it done?

Friday, 27 August 2010

Incredible Hulk #153. The trial of the Hulk

Marvel comics, Incredible Hulk #153, the trial of the Hulk(Cover from July 1972.)

“The World My Jury!”

Written by Gary Friedrich.
Pencils by Dick Ayers and Herb Trimpe.
Inks by John Severin.
Lettering by Jean Izzo.

Here’s a tale so memorable it inspired a TV movie.

Happily, this is a whole lot better than that was. And we don’t even have to endure the sight of Daredevil in a costume that genuinely looked like it’d been made by a blind man.

Instead we get to see more heroes than we thought could be crammed into one comic, and the trial of the century, as the strip that refuses to settle on a genre becomes a courtroom drama.

Captured, at the airport, by the Fantastic Four, the Hulk’s on trial and, unless his attorney Matt Murdock can come up with the goods, he's facing the death penalty.

But it’s an odd sort of trial, as the prosecution offers neither evidence nor witnesses against the accused, while it never occurs to Murdock to ask psychiatrists to judge whether the Hulk’s even mentally fit to stand trial. Happily, in the end, none of that matters as, whipping up another of his impossible devices, Mr Fantastic engineers the monster’s escape.

You can’t get round it, Reed Richards’ behaviour in freeing the Hulk can’t be seen as anything but what it is, irresponsible. We may all be glad to see the star of the comic we’re reading dodge the death penalty but you can’t ignore the fact he’s caused innocent deaths in the past and will no doubt do so again.

It’s also a shame to see so little of Spider-Man at the airport. A couple of panels and he’s gone. Somehow it’s hard to imagine the infamously egotistical web head so easily agreeing to butt out of a fight - especially as, at that point, the Fantastic Four aren’t exactly setting the world alight. There is though an odd pleasure in seeing Daredevil get bashed against the tailpiece of a plane by the Hulk. Although you do wonder how he’s still alive after that. And of course we get to see yet another Hulk/Thing scrap.

But, despite the early action, the tale’s focus is on the trial and, with its grumpy judge, endless objections from the prosecution, and overall feel of a kangaroo court, it does what a legal drama should do which is make you sympathise with the accused and hate everyone else.

So, all in all, we get all we could ask of a Hulk tale. It’s good to see the strip still happy to veer away from our expectations of what a Hulk story’s like by having a tale dominated by people stood in a room talking - even though the whole way the court functions makes no sense in terms of how a real court'd do things.

That judge really does need to learn to relax a bit though.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Incredible Hulk #152. The Fantastic Four and Matt Murdock

Incredible Hulk #152, the Hulk vs the Fantastic Four and Daredevil(Cover from June 1972.)

“But Who Will Judge The Hulk?”

Written by Gary Friedrich.
Art by Dick Ayers/Herb Trimpe.
Inks by Frank Giacoia.
Lettering by Artie Simek.

Had an accident that wasn’t your fault? You need a lawyer. Caused a whole bucketful of accidents that were your fault? You need a great lawyer.

Sadly, in the world of Marvel Comics, there aren’t any great lawyers. There’s just Matt Murdock, a man who thinks it’s a good idea to give Bruce Banner a stimulant to liven him up a bit.

Yes, the Hulk’s been captured again and this time President Nixon - making yet another appearance in the strip - has ordered he be put on trial for his crimes. Thus Bruce Banner finds himself on a plane, headed for court, and Matt Murdock finds himself on board as his appointed legal representative.

It’s hard to know who’s stupider in this tale, Matt Murdock for ordering his client be given a gee-up, on a plane, thus inevitably turning him into the Hulk, or Thunderbolt Ross for instantly wrecking the truce Murdock sets up with the monster, thus sending the Hulk back on the rampage again.

Then again, there're other odd things afoot throughout the tale. Leaving aside the fact the issue has a different, writer, inker and penciller from normal, we get a guest appearance from both Captain America and Nick Fury, neither of whom do anything at all in the story before declaring their work is done and clearing off.

Fortunately, the Fantastic Four, who also guest in the tale, at least know what they’re there for, to fall out with each other and then arrive just in time for the story’s climax when the Hulk smashes out of the plane, delivers a line of dialogue he’d never deliver and sets himself up for a scrap with them.

Dick Ayers' and Frank Giacoia’s take on the strip stands out like a sore thumb, after Trimpe & Severin; less moody, more conventional and less sophisticated. But, although somewhat uninspired in its layouts, it does its job efficiently - and Herb Trimpe clearly had a fairly strong hand in page twelve at least. So, if we're not happy about the absence of our usual team, unlike the president we won't be calling in the lawyers just yet.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Incredible Hulk #151. It's all gone Quatermass

Incredible Hulk #151, It's all gone Quatermass, Herb Trimpe(Cover from May 1972.)

"When Monsters Meet!"

Written by Archie Goodwin.
Drawn by Herb Trimpe and John Severin.
Lettering by Artie Simek.

One of the things that strikes you when you read issue after issue of The Incredible Hulk is just how amorphous the strip is. One issue it's science fiction, the next it's fantasy, the next it's super-heroics. One month the Hulk's a hero, then he's a villain, next he's a catalyst and then he's just plain irrelevant.

To some degree this is true of all super-hero strips as - faced with deadlines - writers and artists filch from any source they can find but, perhaps because the Hulk as a character concept originally drew on strands from the worlds of Fantasy, Horror, Science Fiction, Fable, Fairy Tale and Super-Heroics, this approach seems to fit him better than any other. And, given this amorphous nature, it's perhaps appropriate that one of his strongest and most memorable tales features a truly amorphous foe, because it's time for The Incredible Hulk, the Horror Movie.

Exactly which horror movie's pretty obvious. It's The Quatermass Xperiment, the one based on the BBC Nigel Kneale TV shows of the 1950s. In that, an astronaut, upon returning to Earth, finds himself transforming into a shapeless mass, along the way losing all vestige of humanity. In The Incredible Hulk #151, it's the turn of congressman Morton Clegstead to do the same after trying to cure his illness by injecting himself with some of the Hulk's blood.

This really is a special tale, mostly for the mood Trimpe and Severin create as the events unfold in a Washington that can never have been so rain-swept. In panel after panel, rain pounds at characters and buildings alike, as though trying to wash them and the nightmare events of the night away, and the Hulk finds himself facing a foe that even he's completely out of his depth against.

Something that leaps out at you for a story of this era is the nature of Clegstead's illness. For once in a comic book, he doesn't have some vague unspecified malady that's never existed outside the pages of four-color land. You're told straight up he has cancer. I don't think I've seen a Marvel comic from this era or before that even acknowledges the existence of cancer let alone makes it a central feature, as the Congressman literally becomes a malevolent mass of Gamma powered cancer cells with the ability to eat away at the flesh of even the normally indestructible Hulk. The taboos and fears that still surround the disease all these years later make the bluntness of all this genuinely unsettling, as we're forced to face up to something that doesn't sit at all comfortably in the normally escapist realms of a comic book. The Hulk's vulnerability too is unsettling. I'm also fairly certain this is the first time we've ever seen him bleed.

The resolution's something of a cop-out, as the wounded Hulk rams a flagpole into the thing in a last ditch attempt to save himself and, at that moment, lightning just happens to strike the pole and destroy the creature Clegstead's become. That aside it's a great tale. I'd say that, thanks to its literally creeping horror, blunt intrusion of real-life illness into a comic strip, and the genuine helplessness of the Hulk, one of the best that Trimpe ever worked on.

It's also good to see Thunderbolt Ross getting more or less centre stage in this story as he goes to Washington to defend his activities at Project Greenskin and we get to see his willingness to sacrifice his career to save the project and also his motives for doing so. I hate to admit it but I'm starting to grow quite fond of the old warhorse. Whoever would've thought we'd be saying that one day?

Monday, 23 August 2010

Incredible Hulk #150. Havok and Polaris

Incredible Hulk #150, Havok and Polaris, Hulk lifts a cliff(Cover from April 1972.)

“Cry Hulk, Cry Havok!”

Written by Archie Goodwin.
Art by Herb Trimpe and John Severin.
Lettering by Sam Rosen.

Sometimes a comic can be defined by just one panel, and Incredible Hulk #150’s just such a case as the Hulk lifts an entire cliff face while the helpless Lorna Dane kneels atop it. It’s a glorious image by Trimpe and Severin, the kind that might linger in the memory long after the rest of a comic’s forgotten. Fortunately, the rest of the issue’s not in the mood to be overshadowed and gives us an atypical but memorable tale.

Fleeing Thunderbolt Ross’s Project Greenskin, the Hulk finds himself in the desert where he encounters a green-haired woman he thinks is Jarella. In fact it’s Lorna Dane otherwise known as Polaris of X-Men near-fame but that doesn’t stop him doing the King Kong thing and abducting her, prompting sometime boyfriend Alex (Havok) Summers to take him on.

It may say The Incredible Hulk on the cover but this story’s well and truly about Lorna Dane and Alex Summers and how Summers comes to find himself. We’ve seen the Hulk as a supporting character in his own mag and now we’re seeing another use for him, as a catalyst in the life of others. I’m not sure if he’s played this role before - I can’t think of an occasion when he has - but, given his intellectual limitations and his force-of-nature disposition, it’s a role that suits him and the comic well.

Meanwhile, Betty Ross finds out something that definitely doesn’t suit her well as she finally finds out about Jarella. With this, and Thunderbolt Ross summoned to Washington, it seems Alex Summers isn’t the only one about to have a turning point.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Incredible Hulk #149. The Inheritor

Incredible Hulk #149, the Inheritor, giant cockroach(Cover from March 1972.)

“…And Who Shall Claim This Earth His Own? The Inheritor!”

Written by Archie Goodwin.
Drawn by Herb Trimpe.
Inked by John Severin.
Lettering by Sam Rosen.

I complained that the events of last issue didn’t advance the overall story of the Hulk in any way, shape or form and could be excised from the strip’s history without anyone noticing.

Well, the same’s true of this one.

The big difference is, while last issue was a fairly low key tale that by rights should therefore have explored and developed the characters, this outing's just an excuse for a slug fest between two monsters and therefore, as such, doesn’t actually need to advance anything.

Somewhere in the woods, a space ship crashes. A strange and huge creature emerges. It calls itself the Inheritor.

And it’s out to conquer the world.

It turns out the Inheritor’s one of the High Evolutionary’s beast men, exiled years ago by its creator but now returned to Earth. To avoid regressing to whatever its original form was, it needs radiation - and Thunderbolt Ross’s Project Greenskin base just happens to be the nearest source of that. It’s also where Bruce Banner’s working on a cure for himself. I doubt it’d take a psychic octopus to tell you that, confronted by such a menace, Bruce Banner becomes the Hulk and we get a punch-up in which tanks are crushed and concrete and steel are treated like tissue paper.

I love this tale. After a couple of issues that’ve been somewhat flawed, it’s great to see the strip get back on track with a return to its very basics. At heart it’s just the set-up to a fight, followed by a fight. In terms of plotting, you’re going to struggle to get less sophisticated than that but, after the somewhat unfocused offering last month and the overly rushed one the month before, the return to roots is welcome. Plus, it’s The Incredible Hulk and the sight of two monsters hitting each other rarely goes down badly in such a setting.

I also have to say that, being a bit on the dim side, I didn’t guess just what kind of creature the Inheritor was until the big reveal in the final panel. It’s a neat ending and nicely handled by Trimpe and Goodwin, using just one little symbol to do a job that would've been corny if done through dialogue.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Incredible Hulk #148. Jarella’s back

Incredible Hulk #148, Jarella returns(Cover from February 1972.)

“But Tomorrow-- The Sun Shall Die!”

Written by Archie Goodwin.
Plot assist by Chris Claremont.
Drawn by Herb Trimpe.
Inked by John Severin.
Lettering by Artie Simek.

Far be it from me to suggest someone do the obvious and send Bruce Banner to anger management classes but it’d be a whole lot cheaper and, you suspect, more successful than all the high-tech attempts to cure him put together. Just about everyone else in the Marvelverse has had a go and this time it’s down to space boffin Peter Corbeau who wants to harness the rays of the sun for the task.

Like all the other attempts, it works.

And, like all the other attempts, it fails.

Why? Because, in search of Bruce Banner, Jarella’s come to our world to try and take him back to hers. Unfortunately, the two events combined have destabilised the sun and if she doesn’t go back sharpish, minus the Hulk, it’ll go supernova. Meanwhile, an assassin of Lord Visis has followed her here and, in order to save Jarella from him, Banner finds himself having to transform back into the Hulk.

We can hardly claim it’s unfamiliar territory. Yet again Bruce Banner gets cured only, the first chance he gets, to turn himself back into the Hulk. If you were suspicious you’d start to think that, for all his complaining about being the Hulk, he actually likes it.

It’s pleasing to see Jarella back, although I can’t say I find her world and its political turmoils overly interesting and we barely get to see Lord Visis, the true villain of the piece. Dramatically it would’ve been much stronger if it’d been he, rather than a lackey who’d followed Jarella here.

In the final analysis it’s an issue that doesn’t change anything. At its conclusion, Bruce Banner’s still the Hulk, and Jarella’s back in her own world. It also probably suffers from being a single-parter, meaning we don’t get to see enough of Bruce Banner with Jarella and we don’t get to see what Betty Ross makes of this sudden appearance of a love rival she never knew existed. That should, after all, be the main source of human conflict in the story but instead it's nowhere in sight.

It’s not a bad tale but, in its unwillingness to change anything, it feels like a solid piece of filler rather than a vital tale. In the end, for all its readability, it’s a story you could remove entirely from the strip’s history and no one would ever notice.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Incredible Hulk #147. The Leader and Richard Nixon

Incredible Hulk #147, the Leader, Richard Nixon, and the 'death' of Doc Samson(Cover from January 1972.)

“The End Of Doc Samson!”

Written by Gerry Conway.
Drawn by Herb Trimpe.
Inked by John Severin.
Lettering by Sam Rosen.

Some people have plans more convoluted than a bag full of eels. The Leader has enough for a whole aquarium.

I’ve complained before about the fact he seems to do things purely for the sake of doing them, and this issue he climbs the Mount Rushmore of such futility. Frankly, assuming he actually has one, I don’t have a clue what his plan even is.

It seems he wants to replace then-president Richard Nixon with an android who, presumably, will do his bidding and give him control of the United States. To do this, he lures the president to General Ross’s new base. Then he brings the Hulk to the base. And then he has an army of androids descend on the place to turn themselves into a giant android which blunders around telling everyone how great the Leader is.


Why does he need the Hulk there? Why does he need an army of androids there? Why does he need a giant android? Why does he announce to all present that he’s behind it all? All he’s doing is drawing everyone’s attention to the fact he’s there and up to no good. Wouldn’t a plot to replace the president depend on not getting noticed?

One of the problems with the story is that, at just twelve pages, it’s simply too short to do all the things it needs to in order to tie-off the events of last issue, meaning too much has to be crammed into too few pages, thus sacrificing all sense.

You would’ve thought it’d be perfectly easy to get a full length issue out of the Hulk vs the Leader, the Leader trying to take over the United States, and the “death” of Doc Samson. In fact, you could probably get two issues out of it if you really wanted to. So why the decision to cram it into just a dozen pages? It’s no surprise that ultimately the thing feels as though everyone concerned is making it up as they go along. It’s exciting and vigorous and the android multitude combining to become one huge android is a classic image but ultimately the tale feels like a rushed attempt to get things over and done with as quickly as possible. And a great set-up like we had last issue deserves better.

“Heaven Is A Very Small Place!”

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

The truth is this issue’s back-up tale’s more interesting and better thought out than its main one, as, roaming the desert, the Hulk encounters a mirage in the form of a small town. Being none too bright, the Hulk thinks he’s in a real town and, delighted that no one’s trying to kill him, decides this is where he’s going to live from now on.

Sadly, this being the Hulk, his happiness is short-lived as the mirage soon fades, leaving him alone and abandoned.

It has to be said it’s a very odd town where everyone seems to be smiling and waving all the time but, that aside, it’s one of those tales that, once read, lodges in the mind, and a welcome reminder that not all Hulk stories have to follow the well-tried formula or be about smashing things up. I’d also personally say that, aesthetically, it marks the high watermark of the collaboration between Herb Trimpe and John Severin.

So, a Hulk story in which nothing much happens triumphs over one in which pretty much everything happens. Who would've thought we'd ever be able to say that about a Hulk comic?

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Incredible Hulk #146. The Leader the Body Snatcher

Incredible Hulk #146, the Leader goes Invasion of the Body Snatchers(Cover from December 1971.)

“And The Measure Of A Man Is… Death!”

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

The Hulk goes Invasion of the Body Snatchers as Jim Wilson discovers the Leader’s been merrily replacing everyone who matters with killer androids. Meanwhile, the Hulk’s in the Middle East, fighting the Israeli army.

It’s all good stuff. While the Hulk’s busy doing his usual smashing and trashing, the focus of the story’s on Jim and his discovery of the Leader’s activities at General Ross’s spanking new base. As Jim’s the nearest thing to a normal person in the comic - and a natural outsider in such military surroundings - it’s pleasing to see him getting centre stage for the first time since issue #132, and he’s more proactive and resourceful than we’ve ever seen him before.

Granted he doesn’t exactly come across as Einstein in going back to the base to tell Thunderbolt Ross that the man he assigned to give Jim a lift has turned out to be an android but I suspect this is more down to confusion between artist and writer than anything else. I’m pretty sure Herb Trimpe’s pictures are meant to show Jim is aware Ross knew about the android all along. The look on Jim’s face throughout the scene where he and Ross discuss it in Ross’s office tells its own story but, for some reason, writer Gerry Conway’s captions and dialogue don’t have the youth become suspicious till after he leaves the building.

But that's not Conway’s main sin. He’s got Jim back to mentioning skin colour at every possible opportunity, and reveals the typical Marvel writer’s in-depth knowledge of black culture by having him gratuitously name-check James Brown, just to let us know Jim’s like, black, you know. Conway’s not alone in that. Superfly guy Roy Thomas was in the habit of doing exactly the same thing when he was writing the strip.

There’s also the sight of Conway putting the word, “Cripes,” into Jim’s mouth as he’s being shot at; something he used to do with Peter Parker in Spider-Man mags with a regularity that became laughable. I could be totally mistaken but I for one am not totally convinced people of any sort - let alone street kids - say cripes when confronted by life or death situations.

Still, it’s a well-structured tale, nicely balancing the twin story lines against each other, and the bit-by-bit reveal of what’s going on at the base is nicely handled. Let's face it, you can never beat a bit of good old-fashioned paranoia when it comes to story telling.

Highlight of the issue has to be the scene where the character we think is Glenn Talbot is revealed to be none other than the Leader in disguise. I assume this wasn’t just a matter of coincidence but is a visual pun on the fact that - green skin and huge forehead aside - the Leader and Talbot have always looked virtually identical.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Incredible Hulk #145. The Sphinx, Colossus and Egyptian gods

Incredible Hulk #145, the Sphinx, Colossus and Egypt
(Cover from November 1971.)


Written by Len Wein.
Drawn by Herb Trimpe.
Inked by John Severin.
Lettering by Jean Izzo.

It seems like at some point every Marvel hero has to get signed up to do a movie - and this time it’s the turn of the Hulk who, after destroying large chunks of southern Europe, finds himself in Egypt and blundering onto a film shoot. The genius of a director decides the Hulk's just the thing his historical epic needs (Ancient Egypt presumably having been full of mono-syllabic green monsters) and so the Hulk finds himself on set and in costume.

There’s just one problem.

A bunch of aliens who resemble the Egyptian Gods have turned up, looking to animate two stone titans for a duel that could devastate the Earth. And one of those titans is the Sphinx!

It’s a strange tale, eerie in places, that feels more like a bizarre dream Bruce Banner’s having than any kind of reality. Little in it makes sense. It’s hard to see just why the aliens take Banner aboard their ship. They don’t seem to need him for anything. They just do it for purposes of exposition. Having read Banner’s mind and learned nothing from it that seems to be of any interest to them (even though they’ve learned he’s the Hulk), they then leave him unattended on their ship where he can - and does - sabotage their plans. Beamed back to Egypt, the Hulk then proceeds to routinely tear apart a giant living statue called Colossus who declares that nothing has ever faced Colossus before and survived, despite the fact he’s only just come into existence and therefore nothing has ever faced Colossus ever.

There’s also the problem of events early in the tale where the Hulk sinks a Russian warship and presumably drowns the whole crew then causes a tidal wave that destroys an entire town. Leaving aside the fact I’m not sure Soviet warships ever patrolled the Mediterranean, logically the Hulk must have caused hundreds and possibly thousands of deaths in these two incidents but the story takes no consideration of this at all and both events are instantly forgotten about by both writer Len Wein an artist Trimpe.

The tale also has a fair amount of padding, with a near four page recap of the Hulk’s origin and a three page scene where Thunderbolt Ross tells Glenn Talbot and Betty about his plans for his new Project Greenskin base.

So it’s a story that makes no sense, is arguably 33% padding, ducks the moral issue of the Hulk being a mass-murderer, has a set of villains who do things for no reason at all and, in Colossus, has a monster that poses no threat whatsoever to the Hulk. The Sphinx is a no-show thanks to Banner’s interfering.

The odd thing is that, having said all that, the sheer strangeness of the tale carries it along. And if its multiple flaws mean you couldn’t exactly call it a classic, it is at least odd enough to stick in the memory for as long as a story that was a genuine classic would.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Incredible Hulk #144. More Dr Doom

Incredible Hulk #144, Dr Doom
(Cover from October 1971.)

“The Monster And The Madman!”

Written by Roy Thomas and Gary Friedrich.
Drawn by Dick Ayers and John Severin.
Lettering by Artie Simek.

That great philosopher of our times Boy George once shocked us all by revealing that war is stupid. He then went on to tell us that people are stupid and that love means nothing in some strange quarters.

Well, it seems even Dr Doom’s quarters aren’t that strange as, smitten by his childhood sweetheart Valeria, he does what any man would while trying to impress the love of his life - causing nuclear Armageddon. Never one to under-do things, Doom gets the now brainwashed Bruce Banner to build Latveria a Gamma Bomb with which Doom might smite its enemies. Then he gets the Hulk to carry it to where foreign forces are waiting to invade, so he can wipe them out.

Sadly for him, that treacherous peacenik Valeria’s messed up the Hulk’s brainwashing, causing our green-skinned gargantuan to detonate the bomb over an unpopulated area. The question of what’s now happened to the would-be invading forces isn’t addressed.

Then again the question of what’s happened to all the Gamma Bomb’s nuclear fall-out’s not addressed either, and so I can only assume that, straight after this story’s over, Latveria finds itself at war with whatever unnamed country it is it borders and also dowsed with radioactive particles at the same time.

Such considerations aside, it’s a stronger tale than last month’s offering. Not that that wasn’t enjoyable but, in the end, that was mere set-up. This trumps it mostly because the Hulk’s again reduced to little more than a supporting character, as the real drama and conflict’s between Doom and Valeria, Doom determined to conquer and crush all opposition to impress her, Valeria wanting him to stop trying to crush and conquer all opposition to impress her.

Needless to say the man who didn’t listen to Reed Richards all those years ago when he warned him his calculations were a bit off and he was going to blow himself up doesn’t listen to any mere woman and so comes a cropper because of it, ultimately beaten with no great difficulty by the creature he’d sought to enslave.

But here at least Doom shows some dignity as, facing death at the Hulk’s hands, he refuses to surrender. Preferring death to disgrace.

Sadly, upon being released by the Hulk, who can no longer be bothered to fight such an irrelevant foe, Doom then shows his less dignified side by refusing to accept he’s been defeated, and trying to start the fight all over again, failing to accept how far beneath the Hulk’s notice he now is.

And so, like the Littlest Hobo, the Hulk bounds off to wherever his next adventure will be, as Doom kneels there, ranting futilely for him to come back, having failed to learn a single thing from the encounter.

So, Boy George was right. War is stupid and people are stupid. And none are more stupid than Dr Doom, a genius too dense to see he’d never have had any problems in life if his own flaws as a human being hadn’t created them in the first place.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Incredible Hulk #143. Dr Doom

Incredible Hulk #143, Dr Doom
(Cover from September 1971.)


Written by Roy Thomas.
Drawn by Dick Ayers.
Inked by John Severin.
Lettering by Sam Rosen.

Given his somewhat ubiquitous nature, it seems amazing it’s taken so long for Dr Doom to finally make his appearance in The Incredible Hulk but, at last, he's here and doing exactly what you’d expect him to do - trying to invade Europe. It’s somewhat ambitious for the ruler of a country that seems to be composed of one village, one castle, one graveyard and not much else but, like Draxon before him, Doom’s not a man to let such trifles as common sense override egomania and, with both Bruce Banner and the Hulk now in his custody, he feels he has the perfect weapons for the job.

It’s a relatively ordinary tale by the standards of the strip’s recent form, lacking the oddness and quirkiness we’ve grown used to, and we’ve seen the, "mad dictator trying to use the Hulk as a super-weapon," plot before, most notably from the Mandarin and Tyrannus. But Dr Doom always brings a touch of class to proceedings and there’s something appealing about the scientific genius Bruce Banner meeting the scientific genius Dr Doom, two men cursed by the results of their own experiments.

Dick Ayers is no Herb Trimpe but his story-telling’s good, and John Severin’s inks mean you almost don’t notice the difference, but I would like to know why Dr Doom dresses his lackeys in such silly clothes. Just what are those strange bobbly things on their hats?

Best moment is when our regular cast of characters think the Hulk’s dead and reflect on the event and what it means to them. It’s a nice bit of insight into their heads and reflects well on them that none are happy, not even General Ross who’s devoted his life to destroying the Hulk.

It also makes you realise what a man-magnet Betty Ross is, reminding us that Glenn Talbot, Doc Samson and Bruce Banner were all competing for her affections at the same time. Just how did the girl do it?

Not such a good moment is when Doc Doom arrives back in Latveria and the locals greet him with a quick outbreak of the old Nazi salute. I think we’ve all spotted the Hitler analogies with Doom. Showing us the salute does feel like we’re being somewhat bashed over the head with it.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Incredible Hulk #142. The Valkyrie

Incredible Hulk #142, the Valkyrie
(Cover from August 1971.)

“They Shoot Hulks, Don’t They?”

Written by Roy Thomas.
Art by Herb Trimpe and John Severin.
Lettering by Artie Simek.

The Hulk enters the world of social satire as, while having a nap on the Statue of Liberty, the muddled mass finds himself “adopted” by the Radical Chic, a bunch of people whose heads are empty but their wallets full. It seems they like to show off their love of good causes in order to boost their popularity and bank balances and, right now, because he’s not been “done” before, the Hulk’s the goodest cause they can think of.

The chance to send-up then-fashionable social mores also gives writer Roy Thomas the chance to bring back everyone’s favourite warrior woman the Valkyrie. This time, thanks to the Enchantress still mithering over her most recent defeats by both the Avengers and the Hulk, the spirit of the Valkyrie takes possession of socialites’ daughter and Women’s Lib activist Samantha Parrington who promptly sets out to defeat the Hulk as a blow against the forces of male chauvinism.

As with her debut in The Avengers #83, it’s a somewhat different version of the Valkyrie to the one we’re used to from the Barbara Norris years, full of slogans and aggro, living just for the chance to beat up any bloke she doesn’t take a shine to (which is all of them), and because of that it’s all good fun.

It’s also good to see the Valkyrie knock the Hulk out with basically no effort at all, although it’s also good to see her and the Hulk transform back to their normal identities just as the fight’s about to enter Round Two, leaving Samantha Parrington and Bruce Banner stood there in the street, both clueless as to who the other is and just what it is they’re doing there. It has to be said, considering he doesn’t know who she is and has no reason to be hostile to her, Banner’s rather rude to Parrington in this brief encounter. It’s more of that socially dubious behaviour from the doc I was bemoaning last time out.

But I love this tale, the Valkyrie’s block-headed brand of feminism (“Up against the wall, male chauvinist pig!”) is irresistible fun and the Hulk’s total incomprehension of what she’s on about with her feminist rants make him the ideal counterfoil to her. It also features probably my favourite Hulk cover of them all.

Now if only I'd ever read anything by this issue's guest star Tom Wolfe...

Friday, 13 August 2010

Incredible Hulk #141. Doc Samson makes his debut

Incredible Hulk #141, Doc Samson, first appearance and origin
(Cover from July 1971.)

“His Name Is… Doc Samson!”

Written by Roy Thomas.
Art by Herb Trimpe and John Severin.
Lettering by Artie Simek.

Something that strikes me, reading this tale, is that almost a decade in we still know next to nothing about Bruce Banner. We simply haven’t seen enough of him to know how his mind works or what kind of man he is. He’s the protagonist of a comic book and a scientific genius and therefore we assume that, like the early Reed Richards, he’s noble, wise and mature.

But last issue we saw him happy to be dictator of a land he barely knew and, this issue, when confronted with what he thinks is a love rival, instead of doing what anyone in the slightest bit well-balanced would, which is talking to the object of his affections, he instead refuses to have anything to do with her and sneaks into a laboratory to turn himself into the Hulk. What he expects to gain from such an action is anyone’s guess but that combined with his dictatorial tendencies of the last issue and his history of getting over-excited at the drop of a hat, suggest the man we know so little about might actually not be quite right in the head.

If I was into blatant links between paragraphs, I might say he needs a psychiatrist, but there’s one at hand, and he’s the root of it all.

Dr Leonard Samson’s come up with a device to drain the Hulk of his energy, thus curing Bruce Banner of his affliction while using that energy to cure Betty Ross of the vitrification that’s afflicted her for the last few issues. How a psychiatrist came up with such a scheme - which is as far out of his field as a sheep would be on Jupiter - is anyone’s guess but blow me down if the plan doesn’t work.

Showing he’s just like the rest of us, Samson then uses the remainder of the Hulk’s energy to turn himself into a super-hero. Possibly not so like the rest of us, he then takes a shine to Betty Ross. Cue jealous strangeness from Bruce Banner and the return of the Hulk.

Whatever Bruce Banner’s mental state, it’s another classic as we get to meet a new, though unsuccessful, super-hero whilst the distancing of Bruce Banner from Betty Ross - which began with the introduction of Jarella - continues.

The story’s only failing is did Roy Thomas really have to christen Doc Samson “Dr Samson” before he got his powers - especially as his hair grows long in the process of gaining them? I’ve heard of nominative determinism but some coincidences stretch credulity to a breaking point that even Bruce Banner’s trousers couldn’t endure.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Incredible Hulk #140. Jarella makes her debut

Incredible Hulk #140, Jarella's first appearance
(Cover from June 1971.)

“The Brute That Shouted Love At The Heart Of The Atom!”

Plot by Harlan Ellison.
Script by Roy Thomas.
Layouts by Herb Trimpe.
Art by Sam Grainger.
Lettering by Artie Simek.

After the Hulk’s descent into Lovecraftian horror last time out, it’s now time for him to get stuck into the battling realms of Sword and Sorcery.

Not that a man of his strength needs a sword of course as he finds himself in the sub-atomic land of the beautiful Queen Jarella where, thanks to her sorcerers, he now has the mind of Bruce Banner.

I complained about how the last time the Hulk had the mind of Bruce Banner he didn’t retain it long enough for the idea to be fully explored, cheating us of what could have been an intriguing and refreshing set of stories, so it’s good to see him getting another crack at that whip and, though his lucidity, again, lasts for just one issue, we see enough to know it was an idea that could have worked, as he gets betrothed to the green-skinned Jarella and becomes protector of her equally emerald subjects. Needless to say, such happiness doesn’t last and by the end of the issue he’s back to normal size and normal “intelligence”.

For some reason, all through this cross-over, Roy Thomas keeps doing in-jokes about the original Captain Marvel. In the tale’s first half - The Avengers #88 - he has Iron Man crack a joke about seeing a line of weird statues in an abandoned subway tunnel. In this, two of Jarella’s sorcerers are called Holi and Moli, not to mention the out-and-out reference to Billy Batson he throws in. My knowledge of the original Captain Marvel’s somewhat incomplete but, from what I’ve read of it, the feel of it didn’t seem to tie in at all with the style of these stories, so I can only assume Thomas must just have had some sort of bet going on as to how many references he could cram into one story.

But despite such affectations, it’s a great, if truncated, tale that at last introduces a bit of romance into the Hulk’s life - and a potential love rival to the rarely interesting Betty Ross. I’m not sure I’d have wanted to see more than one consecutive issue set in Jarella’s fairy tale style kingdom. It’s just too far away from the Hulk’s normal milieu but, as a one-off, it works, and highlight of the issue has to be Psyklop’s giant hand smashing through the domed ceiling to reclaim the Hulk, as the locals flee in panic.

My one worry is Bruce Banner takes a little too easily to the idea of being a king, not seeming to question for one second his right to be what’s basically a dictator of a land he’s only just arrived in. You’d think a man used to living in a democracy would have at least some concerns over the political system of Jarella’s land. It is, after all, a place where a man might rise to power through assassination and the accused can be found guilty and sentenced with recourse to neither judge nor a jury.

Then again Bruce Banner was a man who once made a living out of blowing up atom bombs. Maybe social responsibility never was his strong point.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

The Avengers #88. Harlan Ellison, Psyklop and the Dark Gods

Avengers #88, Harlan Ellison,the Hulk, Psyklop and the Dark Gods
(Cover from May 1971.)

“The Summons Of Psyklop”

Plot by Harlan Ellison.
Script by Roy Thomas.
Drawn by Sal Buscema.
Inked by Jim Mooney
Lettering by Shelly Leferman.

It’s ironic that one of my favourite Hulk tales of the era isn’t a Hulk tale at all and barely even features him. It’s an Avengers tale but it ties directly into the Hulk mag’s continuity and that gives me all the excuse I need to include it here.

My love for it’s also ironic because I hated the Hulk’s last meeting with the Earth’s mightiest heroes which could only be called a wasted opportunity.

This, however, is a whole other kettle of Cthulhu. It might be because it’s plotted by Harlan Ellison. It might be because it draws heavily on the work of HP Lovecraft or it may just be that, as it’s the Avengers’ own mag, they get a bit more room to spread their wings and therefore impress us. Contrast Thor - effortlessly taking out a giant caterpillar of death with one blow of mighty Mjolnir - with the Avengers’ hapless blunderings in The Incredible Hulk issue #128.

So here’s the deal. The Hulk’s been captured by Reed Richards and Charles Xavier who knock him out with a massive dose of electricity. Unfortunately, just as they’re about to enact Part Two of their plan, the Hulk vanishes, only to reappear in an underground chamber belonging to a compound-eyed being called Psyklop, servant of the Dark Gods. Meanwhile, above ground, after a tip-off from a dazed voodoo priest, the Avengers are closing in on Psyklop’s lair. I think we could all guess that a fight ensues. What we might not have guessed is that by the end of the tale the Hulk’s been shrunk to the size of an atom, and the Avengers are back in New York with no memory of any of it.

Being a bit of a sucker for HP Lovecraft, I was always going to love this outing, as the Avengers find themselves slap bang in the middle of one of his tales, complete with secret occult rituals, Dark Gods and creatures that time forgot.

I also have to praise the artwork. There are certain parallels between Sal Buscema and Herb Trimpe, the most obvious being that both have had a tendency to be criminally underrated over the years but also that it’s hard to think of many pencillers whose finished work was more dependent on who was inking them. Just as a change of inker could dramatically alter the whole look of Trimpe, so could Sal Buscema seem like a different artist in different hands. At times he could look like Don Heck, at times like big brother John. In Sam Grainger’s hands, he could even in places resemble Steve Ditko. In this issue he’s inked by gentleman Jim Mooney who does a fantastic job of it, his variety of line thickness giving a weight and solidity to Buscema’s pencils that could sometimes be lacking under other inkers.

Really, my only quibble with the tale is Psyklop’s motivation for shrinking the Hulk. Clearly he has no good reason to do so and only does it because Ellison wanted to shrink the Hulk. Oh well, what’s it matter? In the end it leads us into the next issue of The Incredible Hulk and yet another classic tale.

I tell you those classics are coming thick and fast now.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Incredible Hulk #139. The Leader and just about everybody else the Hulk's ever fought

Incredible Hulk #139, Many foes has the Hulk...
(Cover from May 1971.)

“Many Foes Has The Hulk!”

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

Give them their due. Thunderbolt Ross and Glenn Talbot aren’t men who need a brick wall to fall on them twice.

They’re men who need a brick wall to fall on them a thousand times - and even then they might not get the message. After having seen proof, time after time, of the Leader’s pathological need for treachery, when he approaches them with his latest scheme, guess what? That’s right, they fall for it.

This time he wants to kill the Hulk by making him, in quick succession, fight imaginary recreations of his greatest foes, thus dealing him a fatal heart attack. To do this the Leader needs the military who just happen to have a machine lying around that’ll enable him to do it. Needless to say, having gained their co-operation, he then betrays them, just in time for the normally dim-witted Jim Wilson to show more sense than everyone else put together and sabotage the machine.

Despite the stupidity of Ross and Talbot it’s yet another of those tales I love. Granted its plot’s basically purloined from The Fantastic Four issue #100 in which the FF had to face a whole string of fake versions of their greatest foes but while that story was a bit of a random mess and a sad reminder of how far Jack Kirby’s run had declined since its mid-1960s’ heyday, this tale works beautifully because, unlike that outing, it has a defined endpoint to give it focus. Each of the Hulk’s “fights” brings him inexorably closer to the place where the now glass Betty Ross is, meaning that, when he gets there, the vitrified victim’s likely to be smashed to pieces by the tremors from his fighting.

It also boasts a much stronger and better thought-out climax in which, thanks to Jim Wilson’s tinkering, the Leader’s machine back-fires and leaves him thinking he’s being pursued by a whole bunch of Hulks until his mind snaps and he’s left in a vegetative state of total mental shut-down.

Of course, if the Leader had any sense, he’d have set all the Hulk’s imaginary foes on him at once.

But it seems the Leader has even less of that quality than Thunderbolt Ross and Major Talbot do.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Incredible Hulk #138. The Sandman and Glass Betty

Incredible Hulk #138, The Sandman. Betty Ross turns to Glass(Cover from April 1971.)

"...Sincerely Yours, The Sandman!"

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

Marilyn Monroe didn't know she was born. She might have spent half of Billy Wilder's Some Like it Hot complaining she always got the fuzzy end of the lollipop but she should have tried walking in Betty Ross's shoes for five minutes because yet again life throws nothing but trouble at the girl.

It all kicks off when the Hulk returns to Earth with a splash, and the Sandman returns with a gun. In fact he should arguably be called Glassman as he's turning back into that substance, having been temporarily cured by the Wizard of the affliction he suffered in issue #114.

By one of those coincidences that could only happen in a comic book, he goes to the hospital where Jim Wilson and Betty Ross are being treated for their various ailments, and demands the nearest doctor gives him a total blood swap with Betty. And so it is the Sandman finds himself cured and Betty Ross finds herself turned into an immobile glass statue.

It is, it has to be said, a tale that makes no sense at all. Bearing in mind the Wizard's previous success, why does Sandy go to the hospital rather than back to his old team mate? How does the Hulk speak underwater? And how exactly do you give a blood swap to a man who's made of sand and as such seems to have neither blood vessels nor blood?

Still, you can forgive it because it's such a wonderfully unpleasant tale. The Sandman's in full-on bad guy mode, threatening to kill everyone he encounters and laughing gleefully at the thought of Betty dying - though he's still too eloquent for the liking of some of us - and poor old Betty cops it once again. Her boyfriend's a brainless monster, her wedding's wrecked by the Rhino, she's hospitalised by a nervous breakdown, and now, just as she seems to be getting over it, she's turned into the world's biggest paperweight.

Still, at least the Sandman gets his comeuppance.

For now.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Incredible Hulk #137. Cybor, the Abomination, Xeron and Klaatu

Incredible Hulk #137, Cybor, the Abomination, Xeron and Klaatu(Cover from March 1971.)

" The Stars, Mine Enemy!"

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

Anchors aweigh, shipmates, it's another classic tale from a classic era as the Hulk finds himself as a crewman on an intergalactic whaling ship and we meet Captain Cybor, the half-man half-machine seeking revenge on the gigantic Klaatu for causing his unfortunate situation.

But first, of course, there's the murderous presence of the ship's first mate the Abomination to be dealt with.

I've written before about the challenges that must've faced the strip's writers for years, trying to construct compelling stories around a character with almost zero motivation and even less intelligence. One of the solutions to that problem was to make the Hulk at times a supporting character in his own book and that's what happens here. The truth is you could cut the Hulk out of this tale completely and the outcome would be precisely the same.

Still, if the Hulk hadn't been there we'd never have had the story, nor seen the return of the Abomination, nor gained witness to the strange visual poetry of the final few pages as Klaatu and his doomed nemesis drift, panel by panel, into the sun, while Xeron and his crew resign themselves to powerlessly circling that sun until their air supply runs out. It really is an oddly haunting ending and pushes the strip into the realms of art.

I am slightly confused though as to how Bruce Banner and then the Hulk and the Abomination survive adrift in space in the last couple of pages, let alone how they manage to speak in the airless vacuum. I can only assume the ship's atmosphere shell extends an awful long way into space.

I also wonder if Cybor was called Cybor before he became a cyborg. If so, he clearly had the most prescient parents of any captain this side of a man called Mar-Vell.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Incredible Hulk #136. Xeron, Klaatu and the Abomination

Incredible Hulk #136, Xeron, Klaatu and the Abomination(Cover from February 1971.)

"Klaatu! The Behemoth From Beyond Space!"

Written by Roy Thomas.
Drawn by Herb Trimpe.
Inked by Sal Buscema.
Lettering by Jean Izzo.

They say talent borrows and genius steals. In which case Roy Thomas must be up there with Einstein, as he commits Larceny on a scale I think anyone would have to call Grand. He steals the story's title from the 1958 movie It! The Terror From Beyond Space, the name of its monster of the month from the protagonist in The Day The Earth Stood Still, and the plot from Herman Melville's Moby Dick.

And lo and behold it is indeed a thing of genius as the Hulk comes up against the gigantic Klaatu a space monster the size of the Empire State Building, and Xeron an interplanetary harpoonist out to kill the thing but having to settle instead for capturing the Hulk as his latest crew-member.

I love this tale. It's like some strange dream gone mad, with gigantic monsters hiding in skyscrapers, and aliens travelling across the universe in sailing ships and rowing boats.

Gasp as we see Klaatu, a foe so huge and powerful that even the mighty Hulk himself can do nothing more than mildly annoy it.

Thrill to see the Hulk helpless against superior alien technology.

Shudder to see the return of the dreaded Abomination, radiation-spawned menace.

I think that, like Roy Thomas, I may have been watching too many 1950s sci-fi flicks.

But, on the Abomination front, even if we only get a brief glimpse, it's great to see him. For a villain who's supposed to be one of the Hulk's arch-enemies, it's amazing how long it's taken him to make what's only his second ever appearance in the strip.

Friday, 6 August 2010

Incredible Hulk #135. Kang and the Phantom Eagle

Incredible Hulk #135, Kang and the Phantom Eagle(Cover from January 1971.)

"Descent Into The Time-Storm!"

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

King Kang might not be as big as King Kong but he's a whole lot more devious. He's going to send the Hulk back to the First World War to stop ace pilot the Phantom Eagle from destroying a super-cannon that'll otherwise kill an ancestor of Bruce Banner. This'll stop the Hulk ever having been created and therefore prevent the formation of the Avengers, thus leaving the way open for Kang to take over the Twentieth Century.

I suppose it's best not to point out that if the Hulk never exists he's not going to be able to go back in time to prevent the destruction of the cannon, meaning he'll still exist and therefore so will the Avengers, prompting Kang to have to send the Hulk back in time to prevent the destruction of the cannon and thus setting Kang's life on an endless loop of cannon attacking. For some reason this doesn't seem to have occurred to the temporal tyrant.

Then again it never seems to have occurred to him that the 40th Century Earth's a bit rubbish and maybe, instead of wasting endless resources trying to take over the 20th Century, he should just try and make his own present a bit better, so he doesn't have to spend all his time in his castle, talking to a woman in a coma about his plans to invade the 20th Century. With conversational skills like that, I'm not surprised she never snaps out of her coma. Play her some of her favourite pop music, you fool. That always works. I've seen the movies.

Of course, if Kang had any real brains he'd simply just prevent the accident that turned Bruce Banner into the Hulk but that's clearly too simple for a criminal mastermind.

The best Hulk stories of this era are the odd ones and this is certainly an odd one as we get to see the Hulk meet Herb Trimpe's less than high profile co-creation the Phantom Eagle who's hardly a classic character but this tale's pretty much my entire exposure to him so it's nice to see him.

In truth we don't get to see that much of the Eagle himself, just the odd panel, as the action concentrates on the Hulk and the military hardware he comes up against in his brief spell in the Great War but the Eagle seems like a nice chap and, with his plan to fly a plane into the mouth of the super-cannon, could at least give Kang a lesson in the value directness.

His assistant doesn't half look like Thunderbolt Ross though.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Incredible Hulk #134. Draxon and the Golem

Incredible Hulk #134, Draxon and the Golem(Cover from December 1970.)

"Among Us Walks... The Golem!"

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

Darn those infernal children, with their puppy dog eyes and their bawling. Just as you're having a nice relaxed lumber around a bombed-out city, they come along and beg you to overthrow their dictator for them.

That's right, the Draxon two-parter concludes with the half that makes it a classic as, prompted by the tears of a little girl, our anti-hero steps into the shoes of the Golem to free the people of Morvania from their servitude. It's an inspired idea from Roy Thomas, the legend's historical roots and inevitable World War Two parallels adding an extra layer of resonance to both the tale and the concept of the Hulk.

The Hulk of course, as we all know, can't resist the pleading of a child and so decides to get rid of Draxon which, despite Draxon's new high-tech weapon - whose final part, ironically, arrived in the same crate as the Hulk - he does in short shrift. Given the chance to rule the kingdom, the Hulk rejects the offer, spotting, in a way the locals can't, the sheer stupidity of the customs on which their society's built.

You can hardly blame him. It's a land of fools convinced that whoever wears a medallion has a right to rule the place, no matter how unfit he is to hold that power. With ideas like that, no wonder their country's in a mess.

But it's all great stuff, the little girl tugging at all the right heart strings, and the peasants of Morvania learning a valuable lesson about not placing your trust in inanimate objects and irrelevant traditions. The fact it took a brainless beast to teach them the errors of their ways says it all about the potential folly of adults and the potential wisdom of those infernal children, of whom the Hulk, when you get down to it, is basically one.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Incredible Hulk #133. Draxon the Dictator

Incredible Hulk #133, Draxon the Dictator(Cover from November 1970.)

"Day Of Thunder.. Night Of Death!"

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

Sometimes in life, things can get on top of us. People try to blow us up. People try to kidnap us. People try to disintegrate us.

And when they do, what better solution than to climb inside a crate and have ourselves shipped to the Mediterranean?

Sadly, that's as good as things get for the Hulk as his improvised method of globe-trotting takes him to that well known land of Morvania, famous for being ruled by the evil tyrant Draxon, a man who gives new definition to the phrase, "an iron fist in an iron glove." Upon encountering the Hulk, the dictator tries to enlist the monster's services in his plans to rule the world and when the Hulk says he's not interested in ruling the world - giving a very Lennonesque speech about seeing no boundaries or countries when he's leaping through the air - the tyrant tries to kill him. Needless to say this attempt fails miserably and, after threatening to squish Draxon like a prune if he doesn't leave him alone, the Hulk bounds off to hang around in the peace and solitude of the mountains.

But, in the village below, the forces of rebellion are a-stirring...

This is another of my favourite Hulk tales of the era which, as in issue #112 sees the Hulk cast in the role of liberator of the oppressed. It's a role he suits well, given his combination of power and innocence, which could explain why it's one that keeps recurring in his life. Foes completely deluded by hubris also work well, so, to some degree it's the perfect set-up for a Hulk tale and one that'll more than pay dividends in the next issue.

But the most impressive thing about the tale is its opening section in which Thunderbolt Ross risks his life to confront the Hulk alone and ask the monster to hand over the seriously injured Jim Wilson so he can be flown away for medical treatment. It's a nicely drawn sequence by Trimpe that leaves you in no doubt as to the General's physical vulnerability in such a situation and therefore the courage and the not-always-previously-glimpsed humanity he's showing just by being there. The general even makes something of a conceptual breakthrough as he tries to befriend the Hulk - only to have his attempt destroyed by the nervousness of his trigger happy pilots.

The irony is somewhat lost on him that it's the air of paranoia about the Hulk he's created among his men that's made them trigger-happy in the first place but still there are parallels with the development of J Jonah Jameson in the Spider-Man comics in that both Ross and Jameson started out as one-dimensional ranters, hating the strip's protagonist for no good reason other than to generate drama, who, as time went along, started to show more admirable traits. The difference being that Jameson was never allowed to develop beyond a certain point and would always revert to his default position after brief periods of being admirable, whereas Ross continued his development as the strip went along.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Incredible Hulk #132. Hydra

Incredible Hulk #132, against the hordes of Hydra
(Cover from October 1970.)

“In The Hands Of Hydra!”

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

“Many arms have Hydra! Cut off a limb and two more shall take its place!” which must come in handy if its members ever decide to take up chainsaw juggling.

Instead, the criminal organisation who can only afford one cape between them have decided to do something far more dangerous - capturing the Hulk. They want to use him as their new super-weapon, and so recruit the services of Jim Wilson by convincing him the US military, who currently have the green-skinned behemoth, intend their captive nothing but ill.

Jim Wilson is of course spectacularly stupid in this tale, helping Hydra even though they make no attempt to act like anything but villains in front of him. “Few could talk thus to the Supreme Hydra -- and survive!” The Supreme Hydra tells him during a trip to the pictures. You think that alone might be enough to warn Jim they’re not the good guys in this tale. But no, he just ploughs straight on and helps them, somehow thinking he’s aiding the Hulk by delivering them into their hands.

Despite this, I can’t deny I have a soft spot for Jim Wilson. He’s currently as thick as two short planks and guaranteed to make the wrong decision at every turn but at least his heart’s in the right place.

I also can’t deny I have a soft spot for Hydra. Of the three Marvel criminal organisations of the age, AIM, the Maggia and Hydra, Hydra are the only ones who’ve ever grabbed me. Maybe it’s the masks, maybe it’s the tendency to burst into melodramatic mottoes - like some gang of malevolent boy scouts - or maybe it’s just the fact they don’t wear beekeepers’ hats or sound like the Mafia. Needless to say their nefarious plan turns out to be a dud and, like the Mandarin before them, who also sought to use the Hulk as a super-weapon, all they succeed in doing is bringing him into their secret lair so he can smash it to pieces.

But this issue's not about the Hulk, who's really just a supporting player here. It's about new cast member Jim Wilson and, at the tale's end, Jim's hurt and possibly dying. Will we have to say goodbye to our new sometime-sidekick before we even got to know him properly?

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