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.


Anonymous said...

I always thought that the Hulk comics of the early 70s were influenced by the Japanese Monster movies of the 60s.Much like Godzilla ran into other creatures like Rodan,Mothra,Gamera and the rest of the motley crew.The Hulk had his slew of gaudy looking characters and adversaries.I always thought that Marvel Entertainment should team up with some Japanese movie company to make superhero films like the Hulk or even Spiderman,Iron Man,etc.Live or maybe 3D computer graphic animated versions would be great.Budd

The Cryptic Critic said...

You could be right. I assume it's why Herb Trimpe was drafted in to draw Marvel's Godzilla strip.

Hoosier X said...

This is one craaaazy comic book.

Even the Hulk realizes it. Round about Page 7, he remarks: "Dumb island. Nothing makes sense here ..."

You know, the Hulk has so many strange adventures, so much weird stuff happens to him, and he takes most of it in stride. What's another giant monster, or one more green-skinned, gamma-ray-spawned adversary to him? It's usually just one more chance to prove that "the Hulk is the strongest one there is!"

But even the Hulk remarked on just how strange THIS one is!

Right from the start, this makes no sense! Bruce and Betty are falling down, down, down, after the destruction of the Bi-Beast's floating island. Betty has managed to conjure up a beach towel to cover her nakedness after her adventure as the Harpy, just before fainting. They land on a convenient island, with Banner turning into the Hulk just before impact, an act which, somehow, saves Betty from the usual hazards of falling several miles.

(Hulk calls the Bi-Beast "funny-head," which always cracks me up.)

Every time Betty sees her chance, she runs away from the Hulk. What a bitch! Even after she discovers that the island is overrun with gigantic, hostile, nonsensical aliens, she continues to run away, apparently prefering death with the aliens to all those awkward moments with the Hulk as he protects her, gathers food and even tries to make her feel more at home by squashing berries on her cheeks to simulate make-up. (To which she says: "It's a kind of make-up. Thank you, Hulk, that's very nice of you." But she runs away again as soon as she gets a chance! And the giant monsters abduct her. Even God doesn't know why.)

The weird monsters prompt a string of questions: WTF? Why are they here? How long have they been on the island? Why do they all look so weird and random and colorful? How have they managed to escape notice by the rest of the world? (They can hardly hide in the brush when a plane goes by!) And what the Hell do they want Betty for? (I'm beginning to suspect that a plant or something on the island has some sort of hallucinogenic effect. Maybe Betty and the Hulk dreamed the whole thing.)

There is, as usual, much to enjoy. The aggressive goofiness of the arbitrary alien parade in your face on almost every page. Great art by Herb Trimpe and Jack Abel. And I really love the scene where the Hulk can't bring himself to kill a deer, even though he believes he probably should kill it to get food for Betty, who would, no doubt, be overjoyed with a bloody, mangled deer carcass plopped next to her for a hearty breakfast. (To be perfectly honest, that deer, upon further reflection, seems to me to be the most unlikely creatures on the island. How did it survive the obvious hazards of living on Weird Alien Island? Even the Hulk can barely get through the day in this place!)

And yet, I love Hulk #170. It's in-your-face craziness makes it a perfect coda to the Modok/Harpy/Bi-Beast saga, a storyline that was not exactly known for its commitment to sanity and reason and logical story-telling.

Rock on, Jade-Jaws!

Hoosier X said...

I forgot to mention a DC series from the 1960s that provokes some of the same questions as Hulk #170's Weird Alien Island. It was in, of all places, Star-Spangled War Stories, and it was called "The War that Time Forgot."

Sean Strange said...

Yeah the last few issues have most of the elements that made Trimpe’s Hulk so much fun: aliens, monsters, military hardware, strange lands, super-science and just plain weirdness. Incredible Hulk is like a throwback to pre-FF Marvel wackiness, and sometimes I wish they had stuck with that. Who needs costumed goofballs when you have protagonists like the Hulk, Silver Surfer, Conan, Ka-Zar and Shang-Chi, and villains like the Glob, Zzzax, Bi-Beast and Fin Fang Foom?

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