Thursday, August 23, 2012

Battles of the Behemoths

There have been many confrontations between the Thing and the Hulk in the years since the two first met in their inconclusive battle in Fantastic Four #12--titled, appropriately, "The Fantastic Four Meet The Hulk!", since meeting the Hulk and engaging in a brief skirmish is about all that happened. And those many later battles taking place between the two is a little surprising--because their second meeting in FF #25 definitively settles the matter regarding which character is stronger than the other. (That would be the Hulk.) In fact, in both that issue and the next, the Hulk more than held his own in a battle with both the FF and the Avengers. So the fact that a Thing/Hulk battle still continued to draw interest in later stories probably had more to do with the prospect of a good battle issue, rather than the possibility that the Thing would prevail.

Yet it's the Hulk's overwhelming strength advantage over the Thing in that second meeting that seemed to be the point of the battle. Even the title, "The Hulk vs. The Thing," bears that out--perhaps meaning to let fans know that this battle would at last contain the answer to who was stronger, once and for all. And that it does. Even the Thing admits to himself that he was beaten--another surprise, given the fact that he gets up and keeps fighting even after being soundly thrashed. But in addition to establishing Ben Grimm's fighting spirit, it also generates interest in the next issue. It turns out he never does prevail against the Hulk, but it's not for his lack of hanging in there and giving it all he's got.

In addition, there's something to be said for the Hulk, who at this stage of his character is no hero in any sense of the word. Even on the run as he seems to be, he keeps this fight on his own terms and sets the pace for it, many times outsmarting his foes. Canny, aggressive and relentless, he puts everyone on the defensive at some point--with the exception of Captain America and Thor (and, to some extent, if you can believe it, the Wasp). Thor, naturally, is all but kept on the sidelines--not by the Avengers, but by artist Jack Kirby, who knows that the spotlight isn't on the Thunder God this time around. This story, by the way, also has the distinguishment of being the first meeting between the FF and the Avengers--who, once they stop getting in each other's way, manage some semblance of teamwork in tackling the Hulk, though just barely.

Kirby's artwork, as usual, has no difficulty in pacing the two issues or giving all the major players of the story their due. Yet Kirby hasn't, at this point, developed that wonderful talent he had in later art of making you feel the impact of a punch without actually needing to see it land. So you spend a lot of time seeing people reeling from punches or tactics that are merely represented, instead of delivered. Nor was I impressed by inker George Bell's work on this story, whose finishes made a normally fighting-mad bruiser like the Thing look more like a hapless oaf. You get more of a sense that you're looking at layouts, rather than finished work. The two-part battle, for all its intensity and drama, consequently comes off as looking plodding. Have a look at this awkward charge between two very powerful characters:

Is the Thing about to cry?

If you'd like to see a more dynamic battle between the Hulk and the Thing, you might try their next meeting in Fantastic Four #112, "Battle of the Behemoths." In this issue you will see a fighting-mad Thing, given that the Thing has a mad-on for pretty much everyone at this point in time. The Hulk is still the overwhelming adversary he always was, but the Thing gives a much better accounting of himself, thanks to artist John Buscema. I mean, look at the difference:

There's nothing quite like inker Joe Sinnott's finishes, is there? His work always looks so sharp and polished. Every panel in this story looks and feels action-packed. Jack Kirby, in later FF issues, would certainly get to this point--but in FF #s 25-26, he's not there yet, and it's a story that truly needed all the action the reader could handle. Nevertheless, it accomplished its purpose in establishing the status quo for the Thing and the Hulk for all time--and though there would be exceptions in other issues, where the Thing's strength would be artificially or otherwise increased for the duration of the battle, no one doubts to this day that, as far as "clobberin' time" goes, no one does it better than the Hulk.

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