Thursday, 30 September 2010

Incredible Hulk #176. Warlock, the Man-Beast and Counter-Earth

Incredible Hulk #176, Adam Warlock, Man-Beast, Counter-Earth, Herb Trimpe(Cover from June 1974.)

"Crisis on Counter-Earth!"

Story conceived by Roy Thomas.
Written by Gerry Conway.
Drawn by Herb Trimpe.
Inked by Jack Abel.
Lettering by Artie Simek.
Colours by Stan Goldberg.

It seems the Land of Liberty's the same no matter which planet you're on. No sooner do you arrive than everyone wants to shoot you, bomb you or capture you for a villainous President.

Launched into space by the Inhumans, the Hulk's found himself on Counter-Earth where, after one of his customary rampages, he's captured by that self-same villain.

No it's not Richard Nixon. It's an entity only marginally less evil, the Man-Beast, who's fooling everyone by wearing a cunning disguise of a suit and tie.

But the Hulk's not the only one with captivity problems as, below ground, a trusty Rigellian Recorder's trying to break Adam Warlock free from the Man-Beast's imprisonment.

Despite him being evil, I do feel sorry for the Man-Beast. It seems like every time anyone draws him they change his appearance completely. Gil Kane's version on the Warlock strip bore no resemblance to Jack Kirby's, and Herb Trimpe's version bears no resemblance to either of them.

It's a shame really, as Jack Kirby's original version may not have looked anything like a wolf - and slandered the species disgracefully - but was genuinely sinister and threatening, a foe who could give Thor a run for his money. And it's hard not to regret the gradual watering-down of him to the somewhat cuddly and un-threatening looking version we're getting by this stage in his history.

But Counter-Earth isn't the only place where it's at right now because, while artists and writers might take liberties with the Man-Beast, Glenn Talbot's grasping his own liberty with both hands as he makes a dash for freedom from a Soviet prison in the Urals.

But is all as it seems? Despite having a moustache that screams, "pure evil," that prison doctor seems very keen that he should escape...

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Incredible Hulk #175. The Inhumans.

Incredible Hulk #175, Inhumans, Black Bolt, Counter-Earth, Herb Trimpe(Cover from May 1974.)

"Man-Brute In The Hidden Land!"

Written by Roy Thomas.
Drawn by Herb Trimpe.
Inked by Jack Abel.
Lettering by Artie Simek.
Colours by P Goldberg.

A well-known 1950s sci-fi movie exhorted us to keep watching the skies, and it's advice the Inhumans would do well to heed. Following the Cobalt Man's explosion in space, the Hulk crashes to Earth in the Great Refuge where, as Bruce Banner, he learns the Inhumans are planning to flee the planet, in a rocket bound for Counter-Earth. Unfortunately, while later taking a walk, Banner bumps into a gang of human-hating Inhumans and, under attack from them, changes into the Hulk.

After managing to knock the Hulk out, Black Bolt orders he be put into the rocket and fired into space, as the only means of stopping him from destroying the Great Refuge when he recovers.

Despite the potential of the Hulk versus an entire city of super-humans, it's a straightforward and relatively low-key tale that exists more as a way of getting the Hulk into space, so he can have an adventure on Counter-Earth, than it does in its own right. Sadly, we only get to see him against the Inhuman royal family and even then not at any great length. It actually feels like a very short story.

If it's not a major tale as such, it does its job and feels like something of a throwback to the offerings from Trimpe's earlier days on the strip. The main complaint'd probably be Black Bolt defeats the Hulk by using the sonic power of his voice. Obviously it makes sense for that to happen but the tendency for Black Bolt to save the day on behalf of the rest of the Inhumans, does always tend to undermine them and it would've been more dramatically pleasing for the Inhumans to work as a team to bring the Hulk down. It also has to be said that Black Bolt solving a problem by unleashing the power of his voice has by this stage long since become a cliché.

It's odd though that the Inhumans want to go to Counter-Earth thanks to it having no super-powered beings. Their argument being they might be more welcome on such a world. You'd have thought a planet with no previous experience of super-powered beings would be less likely to accept them than our own, not more.

But then again, there's a thought. If Counter- Earth has no super-powered beings, does that mean we're not living on the real Earth at all but on Counter-Earth? And does that mean that, on the other side of the sun is a version of our world filled almost to bursting with super-heroes?

If so, it seems like the Inhumans aren't the only ones who need to keep watching the skies.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Incredible Hulk #174. The Cobalt Man in Australia

Incredible Hulk #174, the Cobalt Man Down Under(Cover from April 1974.)

"Doomsday -- Down Under!"

Written by Gerry Conway.
Drawn by Herb Trimpe.
Inked by Jack Abel.
Lettering by Dave Hunt.
Colours by G Roussos.

By the start of this issue, the Cobalt Man really is well and truly off his rocker. Having survived the sinking of his ship, he decides the best way to convince the world of the madness of nuclear weapons is to head for Sydney and blow himself up, destroying the city in a nuclear inferno of his own making. With a plan like that he’s clearly in the perfect position to talk about madness.

Someone else in the perfect position to discuss it is Betty Talbot. It might seem she’s over the recent bout of insanity that led to her becoming the Harpy but, when you see her push Bruce Banner off a hospital roof in an attempt to make him become the Hulk again, you do wonder just how pure and rational her motives are. Interesting that Thunderbolt Ross leaves stimulants in the room of the tranquilised Banner. Is it lazy writing by Gerry Conway, so he’ll have a quick way to bring the Hulk back or are we to take it that Ross did it deliberately, knowing the Hulk was going to be needed?

In the end, the Cobalt Man explodes harmlessly in space, and the world’s great - and not so great - powers have learned nothing, with the US government taking what’s happened as their cue to start developing a Cobalt Bomb. It’s a somewhat pessimistic message from Gerry Conway - especially given that the only person in the issue who's arguing against nuclear weapons is a homicidal maniac.

Meanwhile is the Hulk dead, killed by the explosion that did for the Cobalt Man?

I think we know the answer to that one, even if our cast don’t.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Incredible Hulk #173. The Cobalt Man

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

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

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

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

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

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

But then doesn't use it.

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Incredible Hulk #172. The Juggernaut

Incredible Hulk #172, the Juggernaut(Cover from February 1974.)

"And Canst Thou Slay... The Juggernaut?"

Plotted by Roy Thomas.
Scripted by Tony Isabella.
Drawn by Herb Trimpe.
Lettering by A Kupperberg.
Colours by P Goldberg.

You have to hand it to Dr Peter Corbeau. Every time he tries to help the Hulk, he messes up on a scale few could even aspire to. Last time he showed up, he almost blew up the sun. This time his incompetence is less ambitious, managing only to bring the Juggernaut back to Earth and enabling him to team up with the Hulk in an unstoppable rampage.

But, of course, given the Juggernaut's evil intent, it's not long before the Hulk and he are hitting each other hammer and tongs.

You can't help feeling there's a certain amount of repetition going on here. Only last month we had the Abomination and Rhino teaming up to destroy the Hulkbuster Base, and this issue it's the Hulk and Juggernaut's turn. Editor Roy Thomas even acknowledges the fact in one of his captions.

In fact, the fight between the Hulk and the Juggernaut's arguably the most disappointing thing about the mag, simply because, when they first meet, the Juggernaut bucks the trend for comic book villains by showing no interest in fighting the Hulk at all. The Hulk shows no interest in fighting the Juggernaut. They merely see each other as necessary and temporary allies in their mutual bid to escape the base.

It makes a refreshing change to be offered the prospect that, once they've busted out, they're simply going to go their separate ways, with the story serving mainly as a means to reintroduce the Juggernaut to the Marvel Universe. Therefore it feels somewhat of a let-down when things revert to formula, and a sequence of events is contrived to make the Hulk and Juggernaut start to fight. It's not that we don't all want to see the answer to the question of who'd win a scrap between the Hulk and the Juggernaut. It's just that it feels a lazier and more obvious development than to have them simply split up once they're out.

There's also the problem that a battle between the Hulk and Juggernaut inevitably carries a sense of futility as, realistically, we all know there's never going to be a winner. And so it is that we get a Deus X-Men Machina ending in which the Juggernaut's helmet comes off just as Professor X and Marvel Girl show up to take advantage of his head-wear deficit and zap him with the mental blasts that finish him off. The Hulk's not even directly involved at this point, having grown tired of his scrap with the Juggernaut and wandered off. Echoes again of last issue.

In truth, given that neither the Hulk nor the Juggernaut could ever defeat the other, the most interesting conflict in the issue's really between Thunderbolt Ross and Colonel Armbruster. The General, who's matured over the years to feel he has a sense of duty to both the Hulk and Bruce Banner, doesn't approve at all of the way new Hulkbuster commander Armbruster's doing things. I suppose there's an irony that the gung-ho and cocksure Armbruster's basically doing things the way Thunderbolt Ross used to and, just like Ross - and Dr Corbeau - he manages to get it wrong every step of the way.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Incredible Hulk #171. The Abomination and the Rhino

Incredible Hulk #171, The Abomination and the Rhino(Cover from January 1974.)


Plotted by Steve Englehart.
Written by Gerry Conway.
Drawn by Herb Trimpe.
Inked by Jack Abel.
Lettering by Artie Simek.
Colours by G Roussos.

Poor old Talia. First Jim Wilson drags her two thousand miles to see a military base (surely a thing every fashion conscious young lady dreams of seeing), and then he uses her as a decoy to distract two of the deadliest villains the world has ever known, while he tries to defuse a Gamma bomb. There’s no denying he knows how to show a girl a good time.

Still, she should take heart from the fact she’s not the only one who’s travelled a vast distance to be there because the Hulk’s stowed away in a crate on a plane and, like them, finds himself in a Hulkbuster Base that’s been taken over by the Rhino and the Abomination who plan to blow it - and him - sky high.

Fortunately, Jim saves the day by defusing the bomb, leaving the Hulk to sensationally defeat the Rhino and Abomination by doing…

…nothing. In one of the great twists, the Hulk beats his foes simply by getting bored and walking off, leaving his two onrushing opponents to crash into each other, no doubt bringing on yet another of the Rhino’s comas.

Though the idea of the Rhino and Abomination teaming up’s the sort of thing to get a fan’s pulse racing, it does seriously undermine the Abomination as a foe for the Hulk. The Rhino’s always been somewhat out of his depth against the jade behemoth but the Abomination’s a whole other matter. There was a time when he could defeat the Hulk with his bare hands. Later, he could fight him to a standstill. Now he’s reduced to needing a partner, and even then deciding that’s not enough and that he’ll need a bomb as well. It’s a shame. The Abomination’s one of my favourite villains and his descent into being little more than an irritant to the Hulk’s a waste of a perfectly good enemy.

The team-up of two foes aside, it’s a pleasing but straightforward tale that somewhat trivialises its villains and to some degree recycles the plots of older issues like Incredible Hulk #139, where Jim Wilson also sneaks into a military complex and saves the day by using instinct and dumb luck to disable a deadly machine.

It does though give us a closing scene where Thunderbolt Ross seems to have finally learned his lesson to not hate the Hulk.

Will that lesson stay learned?

It never has in the past.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

All the latest from the blog that knows no rest

Essential Hulk Vol5
Just thought I'd do a quick update for anyone currently on tenterhooks. I've taken possession of Essential Hulk Vol 5 and have now read most of it.

Thanks to it, I'm now fully acquainted with the likes of Droog the poetic triceratops of terror, the Loch Fear Monster and Crackerjack Jackson. So, unless something unexpected occurs - like me getting a fully rounded life - my next Hulking review should be Hulking well posted sometime tomorrow.

Until then, thanks for visiting. It's always appreciated.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Incredible Hulk #170. An island full of monsters

Incredible Hulk #170, an island full of monsters(Cover from December 1973.)

"Death From On High!"

Plotted by Steve Englehart.
Written by Chris Claremont.
Drawn by Herb Trimpe.
Inked by Jack Abel.
Lettering by Artie Simek.
Colours by G Roussos.

The spectre of Naked Betty looms still over The Incredible Hulk, as it's come to my notice that the Grand Comics Database's version of its cover's been doctored by a naughty person to depict Betty in the the buff.

And very buff she is too.

Sadly for fans of such things, in the comic itself, while free-falling from a height of eight miles, Betty's somehow managed to find a sheet to wear as a dress. You can imagine how grabbing something to wear would be a young woman's Number One priority as she finds herself plummeting from the stratosphere. One must, after all, make sure to be the best-dressed splatter in town.

But clearly it's a shock-absorbing dress because she somehow manages to survive the fall, with barely a mark on her. Granted, at the moment of impact, the Hulk's holding her but would that really be enough to save her?

Still, the shock of landing's nothing compared to the shock that awaits her once they're down because she and the Hulk find themselves on an island inhabited by giant monsters.

How the monsters got there's never clear. We're told they're aliens but beyond that, nothing. What was their mission? Why are there so few left when it seems there'd once been a hundred of them? Why have forgotten who they are and just what do they want with Betty anyhow?

It's never said, and it gives us one of the strangest of Hulk tales, as the Hulk and Betty completely fail to understand each other's motives, and Betty manages to blunder into monster after monster before, thanks to the Hulk, the creatures all end up consumed by a volcano.

It's an eerie tale, dreamlike, especially in the free-floating symbols that represent the aliens' speech. You can almost hear the beat of strange and sultry drums in the background as the tale progresses with little rhyme or reason. It's a sense of atypicality heightened by the fact the tale's written by Chris Claremont and therefore has a volume and density of captions we're simply not used to in the strip.

Of course, this is all to the better. Strangeness is no bad thing in the Hulk - and nor is surprise. But ultimately it's a sad tale, with Betty and the Hulk completely failing to find any spiritual common ground, the Hulk wanting nothing but to look after what he desperately needs to see as a friend, and Betty wanting nothing but to get away from a creature she sees as a menace.

And so, when it's all stuck together, with both its literal and its spiritual theme of alienation, we get a tale that, although it's never quite clear what's going on - or why - lingers in the memory with a peculiar intangibility long after you've finished it.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Incredible Hulk #169. The Bi-Beast, Modok & the Harpy

Incredible Hulk #169, the Bi-Beast, Modok and the Harpy(Cover from November 1973.)

"The Calamity In The Clouds!"

Written by Steve Englehart.
Drawn by Herb Trimpe.
Inked by Jack Abel.
Lettering by John Costanza.
Colours by P Goldberg.

Some people dream of a cottage in the hills. Some, of a life on the ocean waves.

And some people dream of building castles in the air.

Maybe the last of those should think again as, caught up in a tornado, the Harpy and the Hulk find themselves in a floating city built by an extinct race of bird people.

But if its builders are extinct, its guardian certainly isn't. He's the Bi-Beast, a giant, two-headed android that holds within his split cranium the bird people's cultural and military knowledge. What he doesn't have is their scientific knowledge with which to repair their failing machinery.

Happily, Bruce Banner does have such knowledge.

Unhappily, he's not going to get the chance to use it, as Modok shows up and decides to claim the complex in the name of AIM. Cue the destruct button being pushed and the whole place falling apart - but not before Bruce Banner and the now cured Betty make their dash for it.

I've said before that I always feel The Incredible Hulk's at its best when it's at its oddest and it goes into odd overdrive here as the Bi-Beast constantly argues with itself, one moment reasonable, the next aggressive, the next reasonable again, as its twin personalities struggle between them to decide quite how to deal with any situation it encounters.

With its three (or is that four?) villains and a flying city, not to mention the forces of AIM showing up, Thunderbolt Ross putting in an appearance and a dogfight between the Harpy and a bunch of military jets, I think we can safely describe this story as having everything but the kitchen sink thrown in. Some might argue it uses up its ideas too greedily. Maybe, with so much to get through, it could have been stretched to a two-parter.

Having said that, it really doesn't suffer from being a one-shot and at least it means we quickly get the Harpy out of the way, which is clearly the real aim of the story. Already, by halfway through this issue, you get the feeling Steve Englehart's run out of things to do with her, as the character who dominated the first half of the story quickly becomes marginalised and virtually disappears from it, reappearing at its climax, just in time to revert to Betty.

He seemed so keen on her last issue too.

It seems giant androids aren't the only ones who can change their minds.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Incredible Hulk #168. Modok & the Harpy

Incredible Hulk #168, the Harpy(Cover from October 1973.)

"The Hate Of The Harpy!"

Written by Steve Englehart.
Drawn by Herb Trimpe.
Inked by Jack Abel.
Lettering by Artie Simek.
Colours by S Goldberg.

Jim Wilson should be grateful. He only has to put up with his girlfriend not letting him him keep a monster in her dad's basement. The Hulk has to put up with his "ex" wanting to kill him with nuclear blasts.

That's right, it's the issue where women prove what a pain they can be as Betty Talbot becomes the Harpy and Jim's Talia becomes a would-be fiancee.

It's also the issue where Betty Talbot spends virtually the whole story naked. I can't say this excites me much but, from my roamings around the Internet, I've learned it seems to have made a lasting impression on surprisingly many people.

With the Hulk at last having left the hospital, Modok finally gets his hands on Betty Talbot and, by blasting her with large doses of Gamma radiation, turns her into the Harpy, half woman, half eagle, all green. Driven by a desire for revenge against the monster she blames for everything that's gone wrong in her life - which is plenty - she attacks the Hulk and, with the aid of a bit of trickery, knocks him out, ready for the kill.

It has to be said the Harpy's a somewhat unwieldy design with ludicrously big feet and a very odd thing happening with her chest feathers to preserve the modesty that's no doubt all important when you're a giant bird woman. She also doesn't live up to Modok's boast that she's stronger than the Hulk but at least she's got deviousness on her side and, from the reader's point of view, she's so over the top both visually and spiritually that all logical objections to her tend to be swept away by the sheer ridiculousness of it all.

This is probably a good thing. I suspect that, logically, Harpy Betty is as bad an idea as six-armed Spider-Man was. But there's something wrong with me. Despite all the criticism it got, I happened to like six-armed Spider-Man and, for the same reason, I don't have a problem with the Harpy. She's laughable and silly and no doubt a disastrous misstep by Steve Englehart but it's a comic book, and often ludicrousness is its own reward in such a medium. With her ranting and raving, she also makes the Enchantress' version of the Valkyrie look like easy-going, so how could you ever fail to warm to her?

But if I'm happy and the Harpy's happy, her father certainly isn't because Thunderbolt Ross has had command of the Hulkbusters taken off him and given to Colonel Armbruster.

You see? It turns out it's not only women you can't trust.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Incredible Hulk #167. Modok

Incredible Hulk #167, Modok(Cover from September 1973.)

"To Destroy The Monster!"

Written by Steve Englehart.
Drawn by Herb Trimpe.
Inked by Jack Abel.
Lettering by John Costanza.
Colours by P Goldberg.

Different people take bad news in different ways. Some take it well. Some take it badly.

And then again, some take it like Betty Ross-Talbot.

Finally back in the country, Thunderbolt Ross tells Betty her husband's dead, and she responds with admirable dignity, by going completely and totally insane. It might be a bit irritating of her but you can't blame the poor girl. Let's face it she has been somewhat through the mill over the years. First her boyfriend turned into a big green monster, then she got turned into a glass statue, and now this.

Still, it's not all bad news for her. At least she has visitors. First the Hulk goes to see her before smashing his way out through the wall, and then Modok shows up, atop a fifty foot tall robot body.

Sadly, Modok's not there out of the goodness of his heart. He wants to turn her into a weapon to use against the Hulk. Unfortunately for the huge-headed heel, the Hulk chooses that moment to return, and the traditional carnage ensues. Having had his robot body trashed, Modok flees the scene.

But this isn't the end of his plans. Betty Talbot's still a madwoman, and a madwoman is just what he needs.

Main creative news of this issue is Jack Abel takes over the inking from Sal Trapani. I have to admit I much prefer Trapani or John Severin on the strip but my lack of love for Abel isn't enough to seriously mar my enjoyment.

Part of that enjoyment comes from Steve Englehart being in the mood to do what I don't think any writer had done before on the strip and that's to inject a little humour into the Hulk's character. Last issue, we had his complaint about being smart never having done him any good. This issue we have him, flowers in hand, kicking the heel of Modok's robo-body, demanding it tell him whether it's a good guy or bad guy so he can know whether to smash it or not.

There's a strange fatalism about Modok that's oddly endearing. While other criminal masterminds spend all their time boasting about how the Hulk has, "No chance against my robot/ gun/ tank/ army/ plane/ mutant/ turnip/ whatever," Modok's fully aware of the danger the Hulk poses to his robo-body, choosing to visit Betty's hospital only after he believes the Hulk's gone. I suppose, as Modok's instinct is to avoid confrontation, you have to wonder why he wanted a giant robot body in the first place. Stomping around being fifty foot tall's hardly the best way to keep a low profile, and you do wonder how come no one at the hospital seems to have noticed a fifty foot tall robot blundering around the grounds.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Incredible Hulk #166. Zzzax and Hawkeye

Incredible Hulk #166, Zzzax and Hawkeye(Cover from August 1973.)

"The Destroyer From The Dynamo!"

Written by Steve Englehart.
Drawn by Herb Trimpe.
Inked by Sal Trapani.
Lettering by C Jetter.
Colours by Dave Hunt.

Elvis Costello once sang, "New Amsterdam, it's become much too much," and you suspect the Hulk may agree as, finally back in the Big Apple, the radioactivest hobo finds himself up against the horror of Zzzax.

Made of living electricity, Zzzax is created when terrorists blow up the local nuclear power plant. If Aquon was half man, half fish, all hate, Zzzax is half electricity, the other half electricity, and all greedy, driven by a desire to devour the brains of everyone he encounters, to keep himself smart. "Being smart won't help you!" Declares the Hulk; "Hasn't helped Hulk!" Yes that's right it's not exactly Stephen Hawking v Einstein here.

But the Hulk's not the only one on the scene. Hawkeye's there too and he's out to prove he can cut it without the Avengers, by taking down Zzzax.

Sadly, his attempts aren't going too well - until he remembers the events of a certain James Bond movie.

Even more sadly, when he finally destroys Zzzax, the onlookers give the Hulk all the credit.

But, deep in the heart of Russia, thing's are happening as Colonel Armbruster leads a raid to rescue Thunderbolt Ross. It works - but at the cost of Glenn Talbot.

It's another of those Steve Englehart issues where the true focus of the tale's not on the Hulk but on others, first Hawkeye and his futile attempts to prove himself and then Glenn Talbot's sacrifice for his father-in-law. But, apart from the seriousness of its Russian climax, it's a good fun read. Zzzax is my kind of monster; big, stupid and a throwback to the creatures Marvel was churning out like sausages before it discovered super-heroes could make it more money. And if its cliff-hanger doesn't make you want to know what happens next, then shame on you. Did Glenn Talbot, like Magna Carta, (almost) die in vain?

Monday, 13 September 2010

Incredible Hulk #165. Aquon!

Incredible Hulk #165, Aquon and Captain Omen(Cover from July 1973.)

"The Green-Skinned God!"

Written by Steve Englehart.
Drawn by Herb Trimpe.
Inked by Sal Trapani.
Lettering by John Costanza.
Colours by David Hunt.

They might claim that no one with any class batters his fish but the Hulk has other ideas. Rescued from the seabed, by Captain Omen's mutinous crew, our hero sets out to do just that as he finds himself up against Aquon; "Half-man half-fish and all hate!"

Inevitably our hero proves himself the more determined monster and, having had his metaphorical chips, Omen's forced to allow his crew to leave the submarine and live on the surface from now on.

This has to feature probably the most extraordinary climax of any story from the Herb Trimpe era as, having finally stepped onto dry land for the first time ever, Captain Omen's crew start to explode like tomatoes in a microwave. The silly sausages had forgotten they've adapted to live in the crushing depths of the oceans, not the gentler climes of the surface world.

It does raise the question of why Omen didn't warn them this was going to happen, as he clearly knew it would.

Then again, as we saw last issue, man-management doesn't seem to be his strong point.

Another person who's not good at winning friends and influencing people is Aquon. In his case, he has an excuse. He is, after all, "Half-man, half-fish and all hate!"

In fact, the, "all hate," seems somewhat inapt as it becomes clear he only fights when attacked, suggesting his hate levels are somewhat overstated. Did Aquon ever put in another appearance? I don't know. I certainly hope he did. The Hulk always benefited from the presence of a silly monster.

Other highlights are the rebellious crew adopting the Hulk as their god and showing our no-nonsense protagonist the few mementoes of the surface world they've managed to acquire over the decades; a leaf, a bottle and a newspaper. Needless to say, the ever practical Hulk thinks keeping such things is stupid. Is this Steve Englehart using the Hulk as his mouthpiece to comment on the Christian Church and its attachment to relics?

But despite Aquon, the relics and the deification of our hero, the story's focus lands squarely on that ending. No, it doesn't make sense - given Omen's pre-knowledge of what must happen - and the sight of the Hulk playing philosopher in the final panel breaks though the fourth wall but who cares? In the end, who'll ever forget the sight of people exploding? Or of Captain Omen's son Filius abandoning his followers and desperately trying to get back into the ship as it submerges, only to die like the cohorts he'd run out on?

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Incredible Hulk #164. Captain Omen

Incredible Hulk #164, Captain Omen(Cover from June 1973.)

"Phantom From 5,000 Fathoms!"

Written by Steve Englehart.
Drawn by Herb Trimpe.
Inked by Sal Trapani.
Lettering by John Costanza.
Colours by David Hunt.

The romance of the sea may be lost on the Hulk but it's not lost on Steve Englehart who kicks the tale off with a quick bout of John Masefield's Sea Fever. He's not the first writer to quote poetry in the strip and I do wonder if The Incredible Hulk has at this stage featured more poetry than any other super-hero comic.

Sadly such dreaminess can't last and, deciding the best way to get home from the frozen Arctic wasteland he's found himself in is to go for a swim, the Hulk promptly finds himself captured by the mysterious Captain Omen, master of a gigantic submarine that doubles up as a citadel. Not short of ambition, Omen wants to claim all the sea floor as his territory.

Quite what the Sub-Mariner and Attuma would make of that isn't touched on but we do know the Hulk's not impressed and goes into Hulk Smash Mode, only to find himself stood on the sea bed and having to obey Captain Omen's orders if he wants to keep the air supply that's the only thing keeping him alive.

It's nice to see comic books honouring their tradition of total originality as the Hulk comes up against an antagonist who in no way resembles Jules Verne's Captain Nemo and has a name that's in no way an anagram of it. But, despite his lack of originality, Omen's an intriguing character. It's hard to make out if he's a bad guy or just lacks man-management skills and, as with last issue, Trimpe seems to be enjoying himself, in his depiction of the huge sub, with its strange-looking crew, mechanical birds and and giant Toad Whales.

Again the main intrigue comes from the capture of Thunderbolt Ross, with a new character - Colonel John D Armbruster - introduced. Armbruster's been engaged by Washington to lead the mission to rescue Ross from the Russians and even though I don't like to make snap judgements about someone, with his background in Vietnam and overly-brisk manner, I can't help feeling he's going to turn out to be trouble.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Incredible Hulk #163. The Gremlin

Incredible Hulk #163, the first ever Gremlin(Cover from May 1973.)


Written by Steve Englehart.
Drawn by Herb Trimpe.
Inked by Sal Trapani.
Lettered by John Costanza.
Colours by Andrea Hunt.

Christmas, it only comes once a year.

Unfortunately it's not in May, which means no one's in danger of buying the Hulk a compass as a present any time soon.

That's a bit of a shame because he's still blundering around lost in the frozen north, looking for Glenn and Betty Ross-Talbot.

Not for long he isn't because no sooner has Betty's father found him than our hero's captured by the Gremlin, Soviet agent and son of his first ever foe the Gargoyle.

Like father like son. Not only does the Gremlin look like the Gargoyle but he has his genius too.

What he doesn't share is his father's reservations about serving the Soviet State. By the end of the tale, the Hulk's escaped but not before the Gremlin's captured Thunderbolt Ross and locked him in one of his cells as a present for Mother Russia. With no means of escape, is this (iron) curtains for the old warhorse?

It's all good fun stuff - even if the Gremlin's blatantly just Steve Englehart's excuse to bring back the Gargoyle without the inconvenience of having to explain how he returned from the dead - and there is a certain neatness in a servant of the Kremlin being called the Gremlin. I suppose that means we're now due to be introduced to a servant of the White House who's called the...


Herb Trimpe seems to be enjoying himself. In fact I'd say it's the best job he's done on the strip in quite a few months. Clearly the chance to pack virtually every panel with technology got his creative juices flowing.

But, whatever the Hulk's troubles, the focus is on Thunderbolt Ross and his kidnap. This seems to have been a policy of Steve Englehart since he took over the writing. While his stories don't appear to be as imaginative or odd as those of his immediate predecessors, he's clearly decided the dramatic focus should be on the supporting cast and not the Hulk, whether it be Glenn and Betty, the Beast and the Mimic, Paul Cartier or, in this issue, Thunderbolt Ross. It's a wise decision as it adds an extra dimension to what would, if only concentrating on the Hulk, be overly straightforward tales with few twists or turns.

However, you'd think someone would've told Betty her father's been kidnapped. She only finds out by reading about it in a newspaper, which means the entire world knew about it before she did. I know Glenn Talbot was trying to keep her away from all sources of information but you'd think that, under the circumstances, someone in the military would've made an effort to get in touch with them.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Incredible Hulk #162. The Wendigo

Incredible Hulk #162, the Wendigo's first ever appearance(Cover from April 1973.)

"Spawn Of The Flesh-Eater!"

Written by Steve Englehart.
Drawn by Herb Trimpe.
Inked by Sal Trapani.
Lettering by Artie Simek.
Colours by David Hunt.

If a prophet's without honour in his own land, it seems the Hulk's without profile in any other. This issue we discover that a being who should be one of the most famous people in history can move around Canada without recognition. Not only that but he can suffer the indignity of being mistaken for another monster altogether.

Still looking for Glenn and Betty Talbot, the Hulk stumbles across a group of people who think he's the infamous wood-beast the Wendigo and that he's snatched their friend Paul Cartier. Wearing his helpful hat for once, the Hulk sets out to rescue Cartier but it turns out the man's eaten human flesh and hasn't been taken by the Wendigo but has instead become the Wendigo. Now the Hulk sets out to capture the creature, in the hope that Cartier can somehow be cured.

After a number of issues whose events left few ripples on the pond of history, we get one that ultimately has a major impact on the whole future of Marvel Comics, even if we have to wait another year or so to find out why. It has to be said that for such a classic monster the Wendigo actually looks pretty silly on its first appearance and I've never worked out just why it was decided it has to shout, "Wen-di-go!" at every opportunity. It's a bit like like Supergirl blundering around shouting, "Supergirl!" all the time. Admittedly, if I were Supergirl I'd probably run around shouting, "Supergirl!" all the time but that says more about me than it does about the dignity of such a tactic. Still, at least it's better than the lame dialogue the thing's lumbered with on the front cover. "This is MY territory, intruder! MINE!" Would it have been possible to make a worse stab at capturing the persona of the Wendigo than that?

Still, however the Wendigo looks and whatever it says, there's undeniably something appealing about the monster - presumably because of its roots in myth and its direct connection with cannibalism. Plus, it's that good old Hulk standby, two monsters hitting each other. And, while hardly haunting, the final sublimation of Paul Cartier into the Wendigo at the tale's death enables the tale to linger long in the memory.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Incredible Hulk #161. The Beast and the Mimic

Incredible Hulk #161, the Beast and the Mimic(Cover from March 1973.)

"Beyond the Border Lurks Death!"

Written by Steve Englehart.
Drawn by Herb Trimpe.
Inked by Sal Tapani.
Lettering by Artie Simek.
Colours by G Roussos.

If life imitates art, it seems art can do a pretty nifty take-off of life as, according to this month’s credits, Happy Herb Trimpe got married while doing this issue. I think we can call that appropriate, seeing as, within it, Glenn Talbot and Betty Ross are on honeymoon in Canada.

Someone not on honeymoon is the incredible Hulk. Out to find the Talbot/Rosses, our hero merely finds himself growing weaker.

It turns out his strength’s being unknowingly drained by the Mimic - once of the X-Men comics - and if the Mimic’s power’s not checked, the Hulk won’t be the only one. Eventually the Mimic’s influence will expand until he drains the strength from every living creature on Earth, killing the lot of us!

Fortunately, the Beast and his friend Vera are out to cure the Mimic.

Unfortunately, they hadn’t counted on the intrusion of the Hulk, out to smash the source of his discomfiture.

It may say The Incredible Hulk on the cover but really, just as issue #150 was about Havok and Polaris, this one’s about the Beast. That’s no bad thing for some of us as I’ve always had a soft spot for the big blue fur ball, and there is something oddly appealing about the sight of him battling the Hulk - especially the Hulk’s belief that he’s up against some sort of monkey.

My knowledge of the Mimic’s far more limited and comes entirely from this comic. I suppose the fact he only made a couple of appearances in the X-Men before being brought back here purely to die suggests he wasn’t one of the most popular characters of all time and, from what we see here, he doesn't seem an overly interesting individual.

There is one thing that baffles me though. If the Mimic kills himself by draining the Hulk’s Gamma radiation into himself, shouldn’t that have turned the Hulk back into Bruce Banner and cured him?

Monday, 6 September 2010

Incredible Hulk #160. Tiger Shark

Incredible Hulk #160, Tiger Shark at Niagara Falls(Cover from February 1973.)

"Nightmare In Niagara Falls!"

Written by Steve Englehart.
Drawn by Herb Trimpe.
Inked by Sal Trapani.
Lettering by John Costanza.
Colours by Clara Bear.

If Niagara Falls are a magnet for lovers, they seem pretty attractive to haters as well. Having found out about Betty Ross’s wedding to Glenn Talbot, our hero’s determined to reach their Niagara honeymoon and do the, “Hulk smash!” thing.

Sadly for such plans, finny felon Tiger Shark’s hiding in the falls, thinks the Hulk’s been sent to get him by the Sub-Mariner and attacks him. Determined that Betty doesn’t learn the Hulk’s still around, Talbot hurriedly rushes her away, and over the border into Canada, delaying the inevitable for just that bit longer.

It’s a startlingly straightforward tale. The Hulk goes to Niagara Falls and has a fight with Tiger Shark. There’s no twists, no turns. The tussle with Tiger Shark’s entertaining but the very definition of vanilla. The Hulk and his foe hit each other for a few pages and then the Hulk wins by doing exactly the same thing he did to beat the Rhino only two issues earlier.

That’s not to say it’s a bad tale. It's not. It’s perfectly enjoyable, and Glenn Talbot trying to get Betty away from the scene without her knowing the Hulk’s mere yards away adds a human drama to the outing but the fact the tale’s highlight is Bruce Banner’s flight to Niagara in a hired plane probably says it all about the workmanlike nature of the tale. If it was the first issue of The Incredible Hulk you’d ever picked up it wouldn’t put you off the strip, but nor would it turn you into a true-believer.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Incredible Hulk #159. The Abomination's back

Incredible Hulk #159, the Abomination(Cover from January 1973.)

"Two Years Before The Abomination!"

Written by Steve Englehart.
Drawn by Herb Trimpe.
Inked by Sal Trapani.
Lettering by John Costanza.
Colours by George Roussos.

Following his fall from Space in The Incredible Hulk #137, the Abomination's been in a coma for two years. But, upon reviving, he's immediately captured by Thunderbolt Ross who tells him that if he captures the Hulk he'll cure the villain and release him.

It seems odd that Ross takes it for granted the Abomination'll want "curing". He's never shown any displeasure at being the Abomination before, and how does Ross even know he can "cure" him, bearing in mind the repeated failures to cure Bruce Banner?

Regardless, the Abomination's never going to turn down the chance to duke it out with the Hulk and sets off into the desert to do just that but, there, both're in for a shock as the Abomination tells the Hulk that Betty Ross has married Glenn Talbot, and the Hulk tells Abbie he's been out of commission for two years. This discovery so destabilises the Abomination he can't even be bothered to defend himself against the Hulk - and we all know what the only possible outcome of a decision like that's going to be.

And so, the Abomination out of the way, it's off to the Niagara Falls for the Hulk, and a confrontation with destiny.

I love the Abomination. He just looks so good - in a bad sort of way - and the fact he can go toe-to-toe with the Hulk while having the intelligence to fling insults his way's all the better. In truth the strip hasn't always served him well. For a start, when he first came on the scene he was stronger than the Hulk, possessed a malevolent ambition and posed a genuine threat to our hero but by the time of this tale his physical advantage is gone to the degree that he poses no real threat to the Hulk at all. On top of that he seems to have no ambition left but to fight our hero. No desire to get rich. No desire to rule the world. No nothing.

But even when those things have been taken away from him, he's still the Abomination. He still has scales. He still has big ears. He still looks cool. And therefore there'll always be a kick from seeing him, even if it'll take a more ambitious story than this to fully utilise him.

Friday, 3 September 2010

Incredible Hulk #158. Counter-Earth

Incredible Hulk #158, The Rhino on Counter-Earth(Cover from December 1972.)

"Frenzy On A Far-Away World!"

Plot by Roy Thomas.
Script by Steve Gerber.
Drawn by Herb Trimpe.
Inked by Sal Trapani.
Lettering by John Costanza.

Has there ever been a second part to a tale that had less in common with its first than this? Last issue, the Leader had possession of the Rhino's body and was off to kill Betty Ross at her wedding. This issue, the Leader's no longer in charge of the Rhino - and forget the nuptials because we're all off on a trip to Counter-Earth.

I suspect this sudden lurch in a whole new direction may have something to do with the fact this has different writers from last issue. Either way, it's only moments after arriving on Counter-Earth that the Hulk and Rhino are caught up in the battle between the High Evolutionary's good and the evil Beast-Men, each of them siding with a different faction.

The change in direction's for the better because this feels a lot more like a Hulk tale should. It could be argued it's a tale that ultimately resolves nothing. We never get to see anything but a snippet of the war between the Beast-Men, and, at the tale's end, the Hulk and the Rhino are on their way back to Earth, with the Beast-Men's dispute as undecided as it was at the start.

It really doesn't matter. The true focus of the tale is the Hulk's brief encounter with the Counter-Earth version of Bruce Banner - Banner as he would've been had he not become the Hulk, happily married, with a son. The meeting changes the Hulk's mind about Banner, the brute deciding he can't hate a man who's a good father.

This isn't coincidence of course. Even as we're seeing the man Banner would've been if not for that Gamma blast, back on the real Earth, the woman he would've married is tying the knot with Glenn Talbot. The contrast in fates is a much more interesting way to handle the situation than to do what was threatened last issue and just have the Hulk and the Rhino/Leader violently gatecrash a wedding.

How the Hulk and Rhino get away from Counter-Earth is another matter too. Who exactly's piloting the ship they're on? It's not the Rhino. He's out cold. It's not the Hulk, unless he's suddenly a qualified space pilot. And it's presumably not the Leader as, for reasons that aren't altogether clear, he wants to keep the Hulk and the Rhino on Counter-Earth.

There's also the question of how the Hulk's going to take it when he gets back to Earth and finds out about the wedding.

I may be a pessimist but, knowing his calm and reasonable nature, I get the feeling it might not be well.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Incredible Hulk #157. The Leader becomes the Rhino

Incredible Hulk #157 The Leader and the Rhino(Cover from November 1972.)

"Name My Vengeance Rhino!"

Written by Archie Goodwin.
Drawn by Herb Trimpe.
Inked by Sal Trapani.
Lettering by Jean Izzo.

Bad tempered? You'd be bad tempered if you were the Rhino. It seems like every time we're reintroduced to the horny henchman he's in a coma. Not only that but he's only ever roused from those comas by people who want to use him for their own evil ends.

This time, the Leader wants to revive him, so that, like Satan himself, he can take possession of his body. The cranially capacious villain managed to paralyse himself the last time he took on the Hulk and so, to get round the slight problem of not being able to move, he wants to take over the Rhino's body in order to claim revenge on the Hulk. When the Leader/Rhino finds the Hulk, he promptly discovers Betty Ross is to marry Glenn Talbot, promptly changes tack and promptly sets off to bushwhack the wedding and kill Betty.

It's a bit of a make-weight tale, with the Leader not really even having an initial plan other than finding the Hulk and hitting him a few times, and the combination of the Leader, the Rhino, the Hulk, and Betty Ross's nuptials has already been done in The Incredible Hulk # 124, meaning there's a certain feeling of redundancy about it all. Still, at least we get the return of Jim Wilson and we get the Leader's cyber-lackey Omnivac warning him his plans have become muddled and over-complex. A Leader plan becoming overly-complex? Surely not.

It has to be said Betty Ross is a fickle one. All those years while he was the Hulk, she was hankering after Bruce Banner but the moment he lost his Hulk powers she started dating Doc Samson. Almost as soon as Doc Samson lost his super-powers, she started dating Glenn Talbot. It's just a good job Talbot has no powers to lose or you'd fear for him too. We do however know that, deep down, no matter what she says, Betty loves Bruce Banner most of all.

Of course she does. For one thing, this is a comic and, "Bruce and Betty," alliterates. But more than even that, the great god of human drama demands she does.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Incredible Hulk #156. The Smart Hulk vs the Stupid Hulk

Incredible Hulk #156(Cover from October 1972.)

“Holocaust At The Heart Of The Atom!”

Written by Archie Goodwin.
Art by Herb Trimpe and Sal Tapani.
Lettering by Artie Simek.

So John Severin vacates the inker's seat, and Sal Trapani moves in. It's a fair old contrast to go from Severin's softer style to Trapani's determinedly angular one. The odd thing is that, despite their differences, both approaches seem to suit Trimpe equally well. Severin's style lending Trimpe's work a subtlety, detail and depth it might otherwise lack, Trapani's giving it a greater boldness and definition.

Back on Jarella’s world, the Hulk - once more with Bruce Banner’s brain - finds her kingdom in ruins, with Jarella captured by the evil Lord Visis. Being the Hulk, he quickly rescues her and then agrees to face Visis’ champion to decide the victor in their war.

But the devious warlord has a trick up his sleeve and a machine in his armoury and uses it to make Banner face his worst fear, a version of the Hulk out of all control.

It’s a perfectly pleasant and readable tale but there’re really no new elements introduced from those seen in previous Jarella tales, plus, as I’ve said before, not being a sword and sorcery fan, I don’t find Jarella’s world and its politics all that interesting. That problem’s not helped by the fact that yet again the bad guy’s the somewhat run-of-the-mill Lord Visis who we’d all have forgotten about long ago were he not in the habit of reappearing every time Jarella does.

Still it’s appropriate that the one thing that can defeat an intelligent Hulk is a stupid Hulk. With other Marvel heroes, it’s their intelligence as much as their powers that make them unbeatable. With the Hulk, not for the first time, we’re left in no doubt it’s his total lack of intelligence that does it.

Inevitably, the Hulk survives his encounter with his stupid self but is once more snatched by cruel fate from the arms of his would-be queen. Poor old Hulkie, will he never find happiness? I don’t like to be negative but I think we all know the answer to that one.

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