Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Birth and Rebirth of--Doc Samson!

From a reader's perspective, it's difficult to see the creation of the "Doc Samson" character as little more than a flashy novelty in terms of a new character to go up against the Hulk. Yet it's to writer Roy Thomas's credit that Samson's origin at least seeks to add some level of depth to what could easily have been a one-shot appearance; in fact, his origin may arguably be the one thing about Leonard Samson that justifies the effort to improve on him. For there's really no reason why Leonard Samson would merit a place in the Hulk's "rogues' gallery," were it not for the fact that Samson had an unconscious yet driving desire to be more than he was.

I haven't kept up with Samson, but the last I knew he had struck a balance between his professional occupation and his super-strong alter ego--a psychiatrist who maintains his contacts with the military and changes into his "fighting togs," as he puts it, when the need arises. Given his almost obsessive need to prove himself in the beginning of his super-hero career, it was only natural that he would eventually establish a more stable direction for his life; but, while I've always had apathy for Samson to some degree, it was those appearances in his earlier dealings with the Hulk (and with Bruce Banner) that I found more interesting. Because while Samson may have reached out to establish contact with General Ross with the best of intentions, there was an ulterior motive at work that even he wasn't prepared to admit. In a way, he was a psychiatrist who didn't know his own mind--at least, not yet.

So, it's not really Doc Samson who made an impression on me then, grappling with the Hulk--but Leonard Samson, his flaws colliding with Banner's to produce battles which neither of their stronger counterparts truthfully understood. That's probably not nearly enough to elevate Samson in your eyes--nor mine, honestly. I'm not aware of anyone who's of the opinion that Doc Samson was one of Marvel's better creations. But let's take a look and try to make sense of the potential that Thomas may have seen in him. Certainly Samson himself feels he deserves another shot in comics history:

Samson's origin actually serves to resolve a dangling plotline where Betty Ross had been transformed into glass by a procedure involving the Sandman.  Samson is the designer of a machine which will extract the "psychic force" (or "libidinal energy," take your pick) of the Hulk and direct it at Betty, restoring her to human form. The process will also have the effect of curing Banner of his transformations into the Hulk.

But it's after both treatments have proven successful that Samson's unspoken motivations rise to the surface--motivations which, thanks to Thomas, also imply an intriguing parallel to Banner, whose own dealings with the military subjected him to derision and scoffing from the more physical and assertive men who overshadowed him. The only problem I have with that is that Samson, as a psychiatrist, can no doubt distinguish between apparent contempt and a simple difference in occupational mindset. Thus far, Samson has given little to no indication of discontent with either his life or his physical or professional stature, at least not to the extent of using the Hulk's energy for a reckless experiment. But then I suppose no one can predict the workings of the subconscious mind:

Unlike in the Hulk's case, Samson seems to have controlled the application of the Hulk's stored "psychic force" perfectly. Let's just say that, if he feels like going to the beach, nobody is going to be kicking sand in this guy's face:

The following collage speaks volumes, its main point obviously preeeeesenting a brand-new and exciting super-hero in our midst--though the presentation is perhaps meant more to reflect Samson's new self-image.

We see that Samson doesn't take long to make the leap from psychiatrist to budding super-hero, a desire he's apparently nurtured and now fully embraced. But he also moves in on and begins dating Betty Ross, who had come to his hotel to thank him for what he'd done for both herself and Bruce Banner but then became somewhat taken with the changes in both his appearance and more confident personality.

Meanwhile, Banner has seen them together and is obviously fuming about it--and you can guess what he does next, defying both logic and reason. For one thing, it was never the Hulk's power that impressed Betty about Banner--quite the opposite, it terrified and appalled her, while the Hulk himself represented a monstrous impediment to her life with him. Further, what about Banner's own disgust with the Hulk, a creature who's responsible for bringing both his life and his career to ruin? We're to believe that jealousy is enough to make him forget the grief and hopelessness he'd experienced as the Hulk--which, by the way, included the loss of Betty?

Let's put it this way: from now on, when Banner moans and cries out about how much he hates his existence as the Hulk, I'm going to turn a deaf ear. He indeed returns to Samson's machine, and before you know it--well, good news travels fast, thanks to Ross:

It doesn't bode well for your new career as a super-hero when your first opponent gives the equivalent of an annoyed shrug when you announce yourself. But, with Banner's residual feelings still fresh in his mind, the Hulk is definitely going to give Samson the fight he's looking for.

I don't know how much time Samson spent in the gym--but fighting is second nature to the Hulk (you could even say first-nature)--and considering how long he's been brawling and how many foes of different abilities he's gone up against, I don't think a gym membership is going to cut it against him. Still, Samson could have probably done much better in this fight if he'd relied more on his moves. But his ego gets the better of him--and combined with his misassumption about his level of strength vs. the Hulk's, we won't be seeing Samson making his first entry in his "win" column today.

At the conclusion of this first battle, both Samson and the Hulk sum things up for each of them quite well:

Though it reveals another flaw in Samson's makeup--the conclusion that he was a failure as a doctor, when all we've seen is evidence to the contrary. But since Samson has now wholeheartedly redirected his wishes and desires into a life as a super-hero, perhaps he's alluding to it in that sense; otherwise, it's difficult to read more into it.

Samson would go on to make a nonessential appearance in another Hulk story, and then meet his end as "Doc Samson" when foiling a murder attempt on the Hulk by the Leader's deadly android:

The Hulk would prevail against the android--but as for Samson, the gamma rays he intercepted return to us Leonard Samson, Psychiatrist. Again, it's clear which of the two identities Samson is partial to:

It appeared, then, that we'd seen the last of Doc Samson, at least for the time being. There was no great outcry (or any outcry) at his loss--and frankly, there didn't seem to be much point to continuing his appearances in Incredible Hulk, at least not before allowing some time to pass.

Does fifty issues sound about right? The book is closing in on its 200th issue, where Bruce Banner is needed to assist in a procedure that will revive Glenn Talbot from a coma. But, given Banner's hectic life as the Hulk, the army has put together an alternate procedure which will involve a Gammatron device created by (you guessed it) Leonard Samson. I don't know why the army isn't wary by now of any device with the word "gamma" in its name, in the way that medical personnel know to flinch when the word "Enervator" is mentioned as a patient's only hope. Needless to say, Samson is going to want to reactivate that gym membership any moment now:

Nor, again, is Samson less than thrilled about his change. In fact, that subconscious of his should be checked at the door when he's contacted to assist the military. It might not hurt to check his wardrobe closet, either:

That's not to make light of the fact that Samson's priorities are still skewed when it comes to helping those he's been sought out to assist. In his first battle with the Hulk, Samson obviously was more concerned with proving himself in his new life; and now, even though Banner is clearly needed to help Talbot, look how easily (and almost eagerly) Samson meshes the two goals in his mind:

And so Samson and the Hulk meet again. And if you needed proof as to what Samson is really here for, tell me: would you seek the cooperation of the Hulk by putting it in the form of a challenge?

As the battle progresses, it's clear that Samson is still operating under the assumption that he and the Hulk are on equal ground in terms of strength level. It's as if the thrill of being "Doc Samson" again has erased the hard lessons he's learned in the past, with this new battle giving him the opportunity to wipe the slate clean and allow him to start all over again. Clearly, his old arrogance is still intact:

Samson then astonishingly moves the battle to the top of the Twin Towers--to spare the city damage, Samson rationalizes, though in Samson's mind it's a fair bet that its real purpose is to offer a higher profile of the fight.

However, the Hulk has reached his limit with Samson--and, finally seeing that an all-out battle isn't going to help Talbot, Samson unexpectedly attempts to make peace. Unfortunately, for the Hulk, that's now only going to be accomplished one way:

Samson's trajectory sends him plummeting into a field where a little league game is in progress. But you have only to see these two combatants post-battle to know that Samson is now 0 and 2 in his super-hero career:

Samson once again seems to have pushed aside any concerns other than making sure he prevails against the Hulk, particularly in light of his "rebirth" which he apparently associates with a second chance at being "Doc Samson." When we catch up with Samson again, it will remain to be seen whether he can rise above that obsession, or be consumed by it.

(This post covers events from Incredible Hulk #s 141, 147, and 193.)

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