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.

4 comments:

The Groovy Agent said...

This is the comic that transformed me from an occasional reader to a full-fledged fanatic!

Hoosier X said...

Here's another one I haven't read, so I thought I'd tell you about the time I met Harlan Ellison.

Ellison has a bit of a reputation for being a jerk. But when I met him, he was very nice and polite, and he didn't seem the least bit annoyed when, later in the conversation, he realized that I didn't know I was talking to Harlan Ellison.

I was at a comic store in Los Angeles - The Golden Apple on Melrose - for a Neil Gaiman signing. Harlan Ellison was there also, for one of his various comic book projects. (I think there might have been one or two other people there to meet fans and sign things.) The place was packed, but everybody was there to see Neil Gaiman, but the line snaked around the store and at one point, you're standing in front of Harlan Ellison.

There was a sign that said "Harlan Ellison," but the chaotic way the tables were set up, I really didn't catch on that the man I struck up a conversation with was Harlan Ellison. We were talking about Neil Gaiman's work, which Harlan seemed to like, though he hadn't read much of it. (Harlan was so dismissive of most comic books and the writing that his comments about The Sandman - positive though restrained - must be considered a ringing endorsement.)

We chatted for a few minutes. He made no effort to get me to read his current project. I suddenly realized I was talking to Harlan Ellison just because I finally noticed the name tag and also from the way he talked, his attitudes and his way of expressing himself. I recognized it from some of his essays.

I think I said, "Oh. You're Harlan Ellison." He said something like, "Yeah. I guess I am." (I almost added, "I heard you were a total dick.")

I haven't read much Ellison. I've read a few of his essays. And I read some of Dangerous Visions when it first came out. (He was the editor of Dangerous Visions, and I remember that I liked the introduction he wrote for it.)

However, the first thing that popped into my head when I realized I was talking to Harlan Ellison was that I'd heard he was a jerk! Real aggressive, sharp-tongued, nasty. This isn't just something I read about in the comic book press, like CBG. A couple of dedicated comic-book fans I know told me about running into him at conventions, and what a jerk he was.

The next thing that popped into my head was ... the Jarella story in Hulk #140! So I mentioned that, and he smiled, and he was kind of dismissive. He said it was fun working on it, but that he didn't really have that much to do with it.

And then we talked about Dangerous Visions for a few minutes before I moved up in the line.

From my meagre contact with Harlan, I would say that he does have a bit of an ego, but I think his bad reputation probably comes from this: He doesn't have much patience for stupidity or for anybody who's wasting his time. And he probably runs into a lot of intolerable people at comic book conventions.

I like Harlan a lot. He was very interesting to talk to, but I admit I was a little disappointed that he had so little to say about the Hulk story.

That's my Harlan Ellison story. And I'm sticking to it.

The Cryptic Critic said...

Sadly I've never met Harlan Ellison but it's nice to know your encounter with him didn't end in bloodshed. I've got to admit the only things I'd be able to think of to say to him would be to ask him about the Hulk story and whether he thinks the Teletubbies were a rip-off of, "I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream." Somehow, I doubt he'd thank me for it.

Hoosier X said...

I don't know Harlan that well at all, but I have a feeling he might think your Teletubbie comment is pretty funny.

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