Friday, March 1, 2013

Let There Be Battle!

Marvel 100th Anniversary Issues


Tales To Astonish #100

After thirty issues of co-starring in the Tales To Astonish title, and with their own solo books launching later in 1968, it seemed only fitting that the 100th issue of this book send the Hulk and Sub-Mariner out with a bang--while also taking advantage of a nice promotional opportunity for their new books at the same time. As with its sister book, Tales of Suspense, which featured Captain America and Iron Man, Tales To Astonish would give its feature characters the same treatment in terms of their respective first issues: Namor's new book would start at #1, while the Hulk's new solo series would begin its numbering in the 100s, perhaps in an effort to make sure at least one of the new titles brought over any former Tales to Astonish readers.

This 100th issue bills itself as "an epic 22-page battle," which is a clever way to have readers thinking that they're getting much more story and art for the money than they normally would. The answer to that would be--yes and no. Normally, the two-story format of the book allocated for each character about 10 or 11 pages of story--so with both co-stars in the same story, your reading experience transforms into a a full 22-page tale. You're actually still reading a regular-sized comic book, just like you'd find in any other Marvel mag on the rack--even though this story is giving you more of each character than you normally might receive.

But, honestly? You're really not going to care about Marvel's little sleight of hand here. Because writer Stan Lee, penciller Marie Severin, and inker Dan Adkins fully deliver that "epic battle" part. And with the opening splash page, Lee moves right into the preliminaries:

I've written before about the implausibility of Namor's conclusion here, mostly based on the events of Avengers #3 where such an alliance between the Hulk and himself imploded. But for the sake of enjoying this particular story, the smart bet is to just put that earlier team-up aside and pretend (along with, apparently, Namor) that it never occurred. But Namor is in for a surprise, because he doesn't know that the Puppet Master has now put the Hulk under his control, in order to take revenge against the Sub-Mariner:

When the Puppet Master subsequently sics the Hulk on Namor, that of course sets the tone for this entire issue. In fact, given the response the Hulk offers in return after Namor makes his proposal of joining forces, one could wonder if the Hulk is thinking of their last encounter and wants to pick up where they left off:

Yet this is all the Puppet Master's doing, and the Sub-Mariner can only take offense at his offer being rebuffed so brutally and respond accordingly. From this point, Marie Severin is free to indulge herself in different battle scenarios between the two--though, due to each combatant having an advantage depending on the nearby environment, this fight will play out in either of two conditions:

Still, Severin and Adkins give a feast for the eyes throughout the issue--with Lee, no novice at portraying these two powerful characters in conflict, seemingly having the time of his life scripting it, his style a mixture of excitement and drama. For instance, the Puppet Master is furious with the Hulk for committing such an idiotic tactical blunder as hurling the Sub-Mariner out to sea; yet we know that it was mostly due to the Hulk subconsciously resisting the villain's relentless commands to kill Namor. Nevertheless, we're still visually treated to the repercussions of the Hulk's actions--such as Namor attempting to halt his deadly speed:

Someone please take pity on me and explain to me how those ankle wings work. Even the Angel would have a problem pulling himself out of that kind of velocity, and he's got full-sized wings to work with.

With his strength now at its peak, Severin gives Namor his due and presents him confidently searching for his foe, with his natural element nearby to sustain him while he wallops the Hulk with no quarter asked:

(In many of the Sub-Mariner's later issues as well as his appearances in The Defenders, Namor began to oddly refer to himself as the "true Sub-Mariner," and now I see that reference can be traced all the way back here. Yet I'm still confused by it. The term "sub-mariner" has never seemed like an applicable title or designation for Namor--more like an informal, romantic description of this sea-born character who roams underneath the waves. Yet he takes pride in the term, and seems to use "true" to elevate him further. It mystifies me to this day.)

But Namor's confidence notwithstanding, Severin's display here seems to indicate that having the ocean nearby does him little good if he slugs it out with the Hulk on dry land:

What a sequence, huh? Lee has at times chosen to let the artwork in a story speak for itself, and I think Severin's work here qualifies.

With the issue drawing to its close, we're seeing the Hulk more and more asserting his defiance of the Puppet Master's orders. But even though Namor senses that something is preoccupying the Hulk, he's nevertheless in battle with this brute and knows nothing of the details of the Hulk's inner struggle. All he knows is that the Hulk started this fight, and Namor has every intention of ending it. And when the Hulk is so distracted that he leaps at Namor near the ocean, Namor takes full advantage of the situation:

And when it seems the Hulk might meet his finish, the Puppet Master finds his scheme crumbling and he meets a textbook villain ending:

As for the Hulk, Namor has washed him up on shore, but when he goes to investigate he only finds an unconscious Bruce Banner (whom he doesn't know) and concludes that the Hulk likely met his end.

This pulse-pounding battle (I just knew I'd use "pulse-pounding" in a sentence someday) was certainly enough to satisfy a reader--yet the issue takes care to provide a good deal of backstory as to the Hulk's tragic life, along with well-written scenes featuring his supporting cast. And with only one issue left in the Tales to Astonish series, that's more than likely done to generate interest in the upcoming Incredible Hulk title. The following scene takes place just as the Puppet Master has established control over the Hulk, and it serves to give us an idea of the Hulk's tortured existence as well as a dim outlook of any hope for peace in his life:

Ha ha--look at that corporal (or whatever) firing a pistol at the Hulk as he leaps away. He must be new here.

Severin follows the Hulk into his new title (as does Lee, somewhat later), though she only stays with it for its first five issues. Yet she does such fine work on this particular story that I think she could have concluded her run on the character here and left on quite the high note. As for Lee, he would again have the green behemoth and Namor meet not too long after he picked up scripting the Hulk in his solo book, this time with artist Herb Trimpe providing a more watery arena. Let's hope the Puppet Master has learned to leave well enough alone when that time comes.


Anonymous said...

I think I have the reprint of the issue after this, which shows Subby resting in the waves and Stan Lee (I think) writng, "most people, after getting into a fight with the Hulk, would need the best Blue Cross could offer!" Funny how some stuff sticks in your head. Ya gotta love that Sub-mariner, though. He could take on the heavy-weights and hold his own. I first saw him in Supervillian Team Up 7# or 8# or somesuch and I loved the ambivical, conflicted, and sometimes psychotic character ever since. Imperious Rex!

Anthony said...

That line always stuck in my head too. That and of course the gorgeous Gene Colan / Dan Adkins art make for a very memorable splash page. I also first came that story in Marvel Super-Heroes 55. I didn't see Tales To Astonish 100 until either the Masterworks series or The Incredible Hulk The Complete Collection GIT DVD Rom. A true classic. Lee's follow-up in Incredible Hulk 118 wasn't as good. Actually one of the best ever Hulk Subby battles has been retconned out of existence. I'm referring to Rampaging Hulk 5 ( black and white magazine ). It would have been their first battle.

Anonymous said...

Its a pity that got reconnened out. correct me if I'm mistaken, but was that the one that had the Jim Starlin cover? I always wanted that one.

Kid said...

I'm lucky enough to have the original isuue of this comic (as well as various reprints), but I first read it in a British comic called Fantastic back in the '60s. (It was spread over three issues or so, if I remember correctly.) That slug-fest page shows that Marie Severin could match Jack Kirby when it came to knock 'em down, drag 'em out fight scenes.

Anonymous said...

Thats a bold stement, sir! But I must admit that Marie Severin was an underatated artist. She did some fantastic stuff with Dr. Strange.

Comicsfan said...

That was a nice closing story to Namor's run in TTA (and a good lead-in to his exploring the mystery of his past in his solo title). Colan's art on the character (along with Adkins) was just splendid.

Comicsfan said...

The follow-up battle certainly didn't contain the "epic clash" flavor of the earlier battle; if memory serves, its focus was more on Namor/Dorma (and Banner), with the battle only coming at the tail end.

Anthony said...

Rampaging Hulk 5 did have a Starlin cover and is every bit as fun as TTA 100. I definitely recommend picking it up. The Rampaging Hulk 1-9 was retconned out of existence because even though the series was set between Incredible Hulk 6 and Tales To Astonish 59 ...the stories depicted the Hulk per se contemporaneously, speaking in his "Hulk smash!" pidgin English, changing to and from Bruce Banner based on his emotions, and wearing tattered purple trousers; whereas in the claimed time frame he spoke fluent if gangsterish English, transformed via a gamma ray machine, and wore neat purple trunks.( Wikipedia )

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