Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Monster vs. Monsters!

If you've never sampled Marvel's line of monster stories that were published in the early 1960s in mags like Strange Tales, Tales To Astonish, and Tales Of Suspense, you're in for a treat--thanks to the 1976 Incredible Hulk Annual, which rounds up six of these mammoth menaces who literally walked all over the human race and brings them face-to-face with the mightiest mortal on the planet.

But, wait a minute--weren't these monsters sent packing or otherwise destroyed by clever humans who were able to pull victory from almost certain defeat? So who, or what, is resurrecting them--and why?

It looks like we've lumbered our way into yet another

Marvel Trivia Question

What diabolical figure in the shadows is responsible for these

While the identity of our perpetrator is still a mystery, at least this scene tells us two important facts (three, if you're sharp-eyed): that the monsters in this tale are not the originals, but duplicates created in a lab... and that whoever created them regards the Hulk as their oldest enemy. That narrows the list a bit, though perhaps not as much as you might think.

The story, written by Chris Claremont (whose style here very much resembles that of veteran Hulk writer Len Wein), technically begins with the Hulk encountering a group of soldiers who, failing to contain him, are drawn further into the tale by investigating unusual communications interference in the area. They don't really play much of a role in the story other than to reappear at its climax, since the marquee is crammed with obviously more prominent characters; and the effect that interference has on the Hulk, meant to establish a sense of danger for him, amounts to very little in the final analysis.

The bulk of the story will clearly be taken up by the Hulk's battles with these monsters of yesterday. Delightfully, these beings don't appear to realize they were created in a lab and aren't the real McCoys, and so their arrogance and sense of superiority over we "Earthlings" remains intact, as well as their memories of their prior visits. (Yeesh, that's some lab our mystery villain has at his disposal.)

The issue is made up of "chapters" in which our monsters ambush and attack the Hulk, one monster to a chapter. You may be wondering why our villain isn't sending them against the Hulk at the same time (we could have christened the group "the Monster Mash," heh heh)--but since each attack is meant to weaken the Hulk, the story must steadily build to the inevitable confrontation between the Hulk and his primary enemy. And after being in comic book limbo for so long, it's actually a pleasure to see each of these aliens once again enjoying the limelight in separate face-offs against our jade man-monster. Since all of our invaders were contemptuous of any resistance on the part of puny Earthlings from the 1960-61 period, each is no doubt going to regard the Hulk as another fool to be trampled on--but they may have to redefine their understanding of "resistance" where the Hulk is concerned.

First to challenge the Hulk is the dreaded Diablo, of a race of interdimensional, malevolent creatures of smoke who seek out new worlds to conquer and colonize. In his original appearance, it didn't take long before Diablo launched his takeover of our world.

The intrepid author/adventurer who usually got an earful of the would-be conqueror's intention to wipe out mankind is Lewis Conrad, who always seems to be in right wrong place at the wrong time in these stories. If that seems like an amazing string of coincidences, that's mostly because Conrad's many appearances have little to do with nobility or altruism and more to do with signing those six-figure book deals.

Regardless, Conrad often proves his mettle, usually by coming up with solutions from the hip--at times rather embarrassing to the invader.  (And maybe to whoever wrote the story.)

The Hulk's way of dealing with Diablo, however, will prove to be more savage--and you can almost guess what method of attack he'll use to disperse a creature made up of smoke.

"SNIKT!"? Could our villain-in-the-shadows actually be Wolverine, looking to even the score with the Hulk after getting his lights punched out two years ago? Not unless he's taken a few speech lessons and suddenly developed a desire to conquer the world. We'll have to wait until the time is right for this figure to reveal himself.

Meanwhile, he's dispatched another classic monster to battle the more contemporary headliner of this book--a foe whose fighting skills are as dirty, and as muddy, as they come.

Conrad was around for Taboo's arrival, as well--but this invader will use crafty deception to achieve his goal, a story that Conrad will fall for hook, line and sinker. Fortunately, the officials who accompanied him weren't so gullible.

The Hulk doesn't really destroy Taboo so much as get rid of him--essentially, Taboo just goes down the drain. (Sorry.) Why that would worry a creature made of mud isn't really clear, since he'll simply end up in a cavern; but it counts as a TKO for the Hulk, who obviously has no sympathy for Taboo's plight.

The third monster who stalks the Hulk will likely be the most familiar to you, since he's gone on to motion picture fame as one of the Guardians of the Galaxy--none other than Groot, whose 1960 appearance was as a far more evil and certainly more articulate character than his 21st century counterpart.

"Planet X" got a decent amount of play in these old monster tales. According to Groot, he's that planet's monarch, which will be news to Kurrgo who hails from the same world. Conrad is apparently on sabbatical, and his stand-in for that original story is Leslie Evans, who fights for... well, mostly for the respect of Alice, his wife, who doesn't think he's much of a man. But it turns out it was his brains that won the day, rather than his brawn. Take that, Alice!

There are no termites around for the Hulk's clash with Groot, and he probably wouldn't bother with them anyway. When all is said and done, Groot is a creature of wood, against a brute who can bring down mountains. In short, Groot is overwhelmed by the Hulk's might--and future campers in the area are going to be in luck when they go looking for kindling.

(Kudos to the wonderful job that artists Sal Buscema and Jack Abel are doing in giving new life to these classic monsters--they've never looked better, if far less gargantuan.)

There's little to no rest for the weary Hulk from these assaults, as the powerful Goom launches his attack next. Goom is easily as verbose as those who came before him, but is perhaps the most vicious, wasting no time in subduing the Hulk by whatever means necessary.

Goom, another menace from Planet X, was both ruthless and relentless in his original attack on Earth, defeating with ease any efforts to bring him down and prepared to take as many lives as he needed to in order to humiliate the human race and force its unconditional surrender. All seemed lost, until a desperate astronomer sought to contact others of Goom's race--a ploy that his fellow humans feared might result in an invasion force that would assure Earth's destruction, until the true nature of the new arrivals was revealed.

Against the Hulk, Goom is as aggressive and irresistible as ever, putting up a brutal fight--but he's never faced the fury of one like the Hulk, whose power meets Goom's head-on and prevails.

Nearing the home stretch, the Hulk next meets a monster that in his original appearance was quite the opposite--the Blip, a benevolent creature of living electricity who sought only to leave our world after recovering from an incident that had drained him. But when his recovery efforts resulted in electricity being depleted from a nearby town, he was met with fear and anger, and he turned against the human race.

But thanks to his good Samaritan, the alien makes use of a device that allows him to recharge and depart--and leaving behind a moral, at that.

Against the Hulk, the Blip isn't willing to give the savage creature before him the benefit of the doubt before attacking--while the Hulk isn't in the mood to lower his guard either, mistaking this electrical creature for the crackling Zzzax who wanted to murder humans on sight. The battle between these two is, shall we say, shockingly fierce before it short-circuits.

Severely drained by this point, the Hulk collapses and is captured by our mystery villain--who also turns out to be our sixth and final monster, one the Hulk has fought before and whom he recognizes once the creature steps from the shadows.

Yes, Xemnu, the Titan, whose origin merited its own post at the PPC and who faces the Hulk again unexpectedly but eagerly. With his creations defeated, it falls to Xemnu to deal with the man-monster on his own. But thanks to the timely intervention of our soldiers (remember them?) who think that it makes perfect sense to lay down explosive charges near a flood control dam in order to eliminate the radio interference they've been tracking, and then have the nerve to be surprised when the dam bursts following the destruction of Xemnu's lab, Xemnu's plans crumble as well. And while the desperate Xemnu may be mindful of the danger, the single-minded Hulk is only concerned with ending his foe's threat for once and for all.

This annual was not only a pleasant sight on the comics rack with its attention-grabbing cover, but also featured an action-packed story from beginning to end that may have been standard Hulk fare but with the addition of these classic monsters providing a very cool twist. It's interesting that the appearances of those mammoth, world-conquering invaders in their attempts to subjugate Earth quickly tapered off once the '60s began introducing super-heroes to their books. (But five will get you ten that Lewis Conrad took all the credit.)

Incredible Hulk Annual #5

Script: Chris Claremont (Plot: Len Wein)
Pencils: Sal Buscema
Inks: Jack Abel
Letterer: Joe Rosen


Anonymous said...

They did the Mash! They did the Monster Mash!
...I have nothing further to add, other than this is my favorite Hulk comic of all time.
"Goom is in a lot of trouble." Indeed he is.
Thanks for a great review, worthy of this classic comic!


Comicsfan said...

My pleasure, M.P.--I think I probably enjoyed it more this time around than when I bought it in '76!

Warren JB said...

"Hulk thinks it is another dumb monster."

"Not a 'dumb monster', green one - but the fiercest being in all creation!"

"Hulk knew it - it is another dumb monster."

Snort guffaw. I'm also getting a kick out of the Hulk's face, being electrocuted by Blip.

Cool stuff. Realy great to have a look back at the comics each monster first appeared in, too. Thanks CF!

Comicsfan said...

You're very welcome, Warren, glad you enjoyed it! :)

haydn said...

I enjoyed the (ex)-presidential sound effect (Barak!) in the Xemnu battle.

Hey, wasn't Xemnu the Titan originally called the Hulk?

Comicsfan said...

haydn, yes, be sure to see the link above which gives a little more info on the subject.

Unknown said...

great job on posting the old 'Monster, pre super-hero' stuff for comparison!

Comicsfan said...

Thanks, Kitty, it was fun bringing them all back. (And I'm sure Claremont and Buscema would say the same!) :)