Saturday, October 26, 2013

You've Got A Friend

The cover of Incredible Hulk #131 might lead you to believe that the story to look forward to is the battle between the Hulk and Iron Man, who haven't yet faced off with each other in the Hulk's own mag (which isn't surprising, since the title had barely 30 issues under its belt at this point). And normally, you would look forward to such a fight, because it's always been an interesting dynamic between these two. Iron Man and the Hulk didn't really get along during their short alliance in the Avengers, where, in order to deal with the Hulk's brusque manner, it seemed to be important to Iron Man to establish that his armor put him on equal footing with the Hulk. Naturally, that only served to antagonize the Hulk even more; and after the group's battle with the Space Phantom, the Hulk kicked the Avengers to the curb and never looked back.

Iron Man later came to understand that the Hulk's circumstances were tragic and misguided more than malicious, as it became common knowledge that an innocent man, Bruce Banner, was trapped in a dual existence with the brute. But occasionally, we'll see a little bit of the frustration that Iron Man still harbors toward the Hulk--partly because the Hulk rampages at will and seems uncontrollable and beyond the efforts of anyone to rein in, and perhaps partly because the Hulk's power, like that of the Sub-Mariner, can so easily challenge his own armored might, which he takes great pride in. Iron Man is a realist, and knows that there's more making up the nature of both the Hulk and Namor than simple belligerence--but in battle, Iron Man will still at times feel the need to prove himself against them. Sometimes you have to wonder what's going through Iron Man's mind at such times--stopping the threat, or making sure his reputation is not only untarnished at battle's end, but also unassailable in the mind of his foe.

The story in this issue has a lot of things happening in its twenty pages. The Hulk, recently physically separated from Bruce Banner, is now on the hunt for him, consumed with hatred for the person he sees as being the bane of his existence. For General Ross, though, it's not now simply a matter of destroying the Hulk. For one thing, with the Hulk now in the midst of Los Angeles, too many civilians would be placed in danger by such an attack; but Ross also has the same problem he essentially had when Banner and the Hulk were still joined, for Banner has mentioned the possibility that, should the Hulk be killed, then he might die as well. When Iron Man arrives, Banner agrees to the use of the same device that caused the separation, the Gammatron, in joining the two again, only this time with a 50/50 chance of trapping the Hulk inside Banner for good.

Yet this story is where we also first meet Jim Wilson, who would go on to become one of the Hulk's few friends. Writer Roy Thomas spends some quality time on Jim's introduction and characterization, and Jim's story instantly becomes the more compelling one in this issue:

It doesn't look like things could get any worse for Jim than they are now. Which leads to one of the most fateful meetings in comics:

And, depending on what happens next, Jim Wilson may have indeed gone from bad to worse.

In order for us to go further here, several things could happen. One is that Jim could bolt, if fear doesn't root him to the spot. The Hulk could also let his anger prevail, but since he has no reason to attack he'd be more likely to simply drive Jim away; in fact, I would have expected that, since the Hulk's only thoughts right now are of revenge against Banner. And yet, while Jim is clearly frozen with fear, the Hulk reacts to him more reasonably, if tersely:

Which gives us something to consider: why doesn't the Hulk attack, or otherwise react with impatience or rage? After all, Bruce Banner, his moderating influence, is no longer a part of him--and yet, the Hulk's manner would indicate otherwise. Thomas has implied all along that the two are still linked in some way, so perhaps they're only separated in a physical sense--together, yet apart, so to speak.

At any rate, the two begin to strike up a rapport with each other:

It's odd how quickly Thomas jumps from Jim's low self-esteem to the issue of race. It's obvious that Jim has issues with "whitey," though they seem to be based more on his life's circumstances that stem from his deceased parents' dealings with racial hatred--but from what we've seen, Jim is kicking himself more for what he's turning into, rather than assigning blame to others. Yet the Hulk's statement seems clearly meant to touch on racism itself (at least for the reader's benefit), even though the brute is likely only referring to their both being outcasts. The Hulk has never shown any predisposition toward racism being a reason why others fear and hate him; in fact, he's always angrily wondered aloud in confusion at the reasons why he's hounded.

But whatever foundation Thomas seeks to lay for it, the relationship forming between the two is handled very well, and makes us sympathetic to the complicated situation which Jim has landed in:

But despite Jim's assurances, he has misgivings about leading Banner to almost certain death. And when he meets Banner, a man who in his own way has been through as much hell as the Hulk, Jim decides to come clean:

Iron Man then arrives, and the solution with the Gammatron is discussed. But the plan requires that Jim play a key role, and though the plan might fulfill Jim's hopes for the Hulk--helping him without hurting him--he doesn't know if he's up to turning on someone who trusted him:

Back at the tenement, though, we see that Jim has made his choice, and the plan has been put into motion:

And, with Iron Man's first solo confrontation with the Hulk, the Avenger gives every indication of wanting to act in the Hulk's best interests, while resolved to save Banner, as well:

Yet the more dramatic confrontation turns out to be that between the Hulk and the one he trusted:

Iron Man feels that Jim froze--but to me it seemed more like Jim was sticking to the Hulk, or, more accurately, sticking by him. In the back of his mind, he knew what the Gammatron was meant to do--but all gun barrels look the same, and when one is pointed at a friend it's hard to deny the instinct to stand with them.

The situation spirals out of control from there. Iron Man intervenes to slug the Hulk and turn the brute's attention to him. But, in attempting to salvage the plan by keeping the Hulk engaged, he may have bitten off more than he can chew:

Finally, Iron Man is left no choice but to battle for his life:

To his credit, Iron Man doesn't take any sort of victory lap here, but keeps his mind on the job, every inch the professional. But the moment doesn't last, and, in a portent of battles to come, Iron Man begins to realize the power of this current-day Hulk (to tell you the truth, I'm a little impressed with it myself!):

At last, though, the Gammatron is fired, and the Hulk is weakened enough for Banner to arrive on the scene. But when he joins the Hulk on the firing line, the end result wasn't what he'd had in mind:

As for Jim, he's not ready to cut the Hulk loose, as responsible as he still feels for helping to bring about his capture. Next time, we'll see the Hulk discover just how much of a friend he's found in Jim, a relationship which Hydra plans to take advantage of.


Anonymous said...

I always found it touching, and sometimes a bit humorous, when the Hulk had a pal. It never lasted long, did it? I guess hanging around with 1000 pound gamma-iraddiated monster who could kill you accidently just by bumping into you is bad for your health. Makes me think of that scene from Frankensein. But the pathos and loneliness (not to mention fear, confusion and anger) of the Hulk, who is essentially a small child in his head, that's what make's the character special. We can all relate, I would guess.

Anonymous said...

P.S. Apologies for my obvious spelling errors. Blame my computer.

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