Sunday, January 25, 2015

An Outcast Among Outcasts

It's often very handy having your comic book collection on shelving, where you can find anything you want very quickly. But on those days when you're feeling indecisive, it can also make it easy to make your choice on a whim. So I thought it might be fun to let fate take a hand and, this time, make my choice for me as to what to throw the spotlight on for a post; and so, standing in front of a random spot, I reached out and let my index finger fall on whatever bagged book it touched, and then pulled it out to have a look. I'm not sure what meaning to take away from the fact that my first four tries retrieved issues that I've already featured in the PPC--I've either not collected as many comics as I'd thought I had, or I'm too prolific a writer for my own good.

Nevertheless, here's what the fickle finger of fate had finally settled on:

You're probably thinking that either Jim Steranko drew the Hulk for this cover, or this was the period when Rick Jones was transforming into another Hulk--the latter indeed being the case, with Al Milgrom doing the art for the entire issue, as well as writing the story.

I was never partial to the stories featuring Rick in his Hulk phase; as a buyer of these issues when they were published, it felt like the book was reaching for a new hook, having exhausted the Bruce Banner/Hulk angle. "Outcasts!" reads like a one-shot that's "trying out" Rick in this role, putting him firmly in the shoes of the hounded, simple-minded Hulk and leading him to contentment, only to snatch it away in time for the final page. (Though perhaps it's really as simple as Milgrom flying a holding pattern for the book, as Peter David has just stepped on board for his lengthy run on the title.) If you hadn't known Milgrom had scripted this story and had read it in its entirety, you might have thought this story was the work of Bill Mantlo--particularly when you meet the actual "outcasts," which have Mantlo practically written all over them.

Rick has been the Hulk now for about four issues--and S.H.I.E.L.D. as well as Doc Samson have been digging into the mystery of the identity of this new Hulk, only just now reaching the conclusion that this one has nothing to do with Banner. Once that hurdle has been cleared, Milgrom spends a considerable amount of story space giving a dizzying recount of recent events--including yet another encounter with our sizzling old friend, Zzzax, who's now apparently become an electrified version of "Thunderbolt" Ross:

As we can see, Banner is well aware of Rick's new identity as the Hulk. Meanwhile, Rick, who's destroyed a town in his battle with Zzzax/Ross, prepares to rendezvous with Banner at his old desert lab within a secret cave:

Milgrom, for whatever reason, also feels it necessary to give a brief rundown on Rick's Marvel history, which appears to boil down to just a few panels:

Upon reaching the cave, there's an odd sense of déjà vu that washes over a Hulk reader, just as it does with either Rick or Banner when they return to this place. The memories this place holds for both men is a card that's been played often, but never seems to get old; the oddness comes into play, however, when the visitor reaches the solid rock confinement area where Rick had been instructed to imprison Banner for the duration of his change into the Hulk. The visitor always seems to find the area of course abandoned, but also in perfect working order--as if the room or the mechanism that sealed it never suffered damage when the Hulk forcefully crashed out, which he's done more than once.

This visit is no different, though Rick discovers that the cave is no longer abandoned:

While an unusual twist to the Hulk's origin story, and perhaps a concept which doesn't hold much potential for story material on its face, there's really no reason why these mutations aren't plausible. (Though using the lab's computers to teach themselves language seems too convenient in order to accommodate the story.) But Rick has a bigger problem right now--the sun is going down, and Rick's transformations to the Hulk (like Banner's in those early days) are triggered by day/night/day cycles. And guess which room, ready and waiting in perfect condition, Rick is begging to be put into? Unfortunately, the Outcasts don't understand his sense of urgency, and they delay too long:

Milgrom's writing here gives the impression that there are missing panels to this scene, as the dialogue illogically skips about to reach proffered friendship in a matter of seconds. Regardless, the friendship between both the Hulk (at night) and Rick (during the day) with the Outcasts is built upon to become firm and lasting.

Meanwhile, Banner and his new wife, Betty, are finding marital bliss a little hard to come by, with the complication of another Hulk in their lives:

With Banner headed out to secretly meet with Rick, it's no surprise to learn that SHIELD has planted a homing device on his vehicle and are in pursuit with an armed task force. And the inevitable confrontation soon takes place:

Even so, SHIELD isn't under Ross's command, and cooler heads might have prevailed here; but it's Rick himself (as the Hulk, in savage fashion) who strikes the first blow, forcing SHIELD to respond in kind:

The Hulk succeeds in driving off the SHIELD forces, but the damage has been done to the bond he shared with his new friends:

The story's ending makes the final point that it's the Hulk who may be the ultimate outcast, with not even friends to share the burden of his loneliness. It's a conclusion which perhaps too quickly seeks to shift our focus and sympathies from the Banner-Hulk to the Rick-Hulk, with Rick not yet having "paid his dues" in regard to being hunted and isolated as the Hulk for even a fraction of the length of time that Banner had endured it. I found myself actually having more sympathy for the Outcasts, who have inherited the same curse of the gamma bomb explosion that created the Hulk, and find themselves just as persecuted and unwelcome.

Incredible Hulk #329

Script and Pencils: Al Milgrom
Inks: Danny Bulanadi
Letterer: Rick Parker

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