Monday, October 2, 2017

The Prestige And The Power!

The stories that led to Bruce Banner finally being revealed as the Hulk consisted of a slow build-up by writer Stan Lee, and seemed suited to the 10-11 pages those stories were allocated in the split format of the Tales To Astonish title which the character shared with the Sub-Mariner. In fact, on the whole, the world that Banner and the Hulk were now navigating through was becoming much more interesting reading than the one first presented in the Hulk's first solo title, as its supporting cast--"Thunderbolt" Ross, his daughter, Betty, Rick Jones, and newcomer Maj. Glenn Talbot--received more prominent scenes and saw themselves put to better use, so much so that the Hulk section of the mag stood in stark contrast to the drab pages given the Sub-Mariner, whose murky world of Atlantis wasn't yet bringing to life its own characters or even Namor himself.

And so we look in on the Hulk fifteen issues since he premiered in the TOA title, his character finally shaping up and finding his audience, even if the Hulk came across as a green-skinned version of the Thing in both speech and, in some ways, his attitude--the only differences being his occasional state of confusion as he struggled to think clearly, and his mindless rage when pushed too far. It was the version of the Hulk that accepted membership in the Avengers, and who abandoned it just as quickly; and it was clear that the character still needed some polishing, in order to mesh better with the stories being written for him. Also needing work were the villains, ranging from mad scientists to robots to aliens to even the two-dimensional Leader and his humanoids. Granted, there were slim pickings in the desert environment that the Hulk was restricted to, given Banner's ties to the area; yet slowly, the Hulk was being brought into the mainstream of Marvel's super-hero books, and the key seemed to be in giving Banner a decent amount of panel time, as well. Eventually, someone had to be able to put two and two together and make the connection between Banner and the Hulk--and it made sense for Talbot, Ross's new security officer, to be leading the charge.

Though as we'll see, there was someone else, besides Rick, who already had been made aware of Banner's secret--someone higher in rank than either Ross or Talbot.

The first part of this story follows the conclusion of the Hulk's arrangement with the Leader, who had sent him to the Watcher's dwelling to seize a device known as the Ultimate Machine, which when worn would make the sum total of all universal knowledge available to the one who dons it. The experience proved too much for even the Leader's augmented intelligence to assimilate--and so he lies dead, while Ben Grimm the Hulk attempts to figure out his next move.

The secret of the Hulk's identity remains a mystery to the military, especially with Banner presumed dead in a separate incident; but General Ross currently has other concerns, investigating and making an inventory of Banner's undisclosed projects. In some cases, Ross and his work crews even go a step further and construct the equipment detailed in Banner's notes in order to better understand what they're dealing with--and it's one such project that has their interest.

But while Banner's mysterious T-gun stands ready for these lunkheads... er, officers to actually pull the trigger just to see what happens, in a holding cell waits Rick Jones, who is suspected of knowing much more about Banner than he lets on and is being confined until he decides to talk. (Gee, you can slap the "national security" label on practically anything or anyone and get around that pesky due process red tape, eh?) Rick, of course, knows all about the Hulk, including his identity; but while Rick cools his heels, it becomes clear that there's someone else who knows that Banner and the Hulk are one and the same.

From Rick's thoughts, it's also likely that the President is keeping that information in confidence. But how did Rick swing such a deal, and why? For that info, we have to go back almost a year (our time) to when Banner was about to be put on trial for treason--and Rick reappears in Banner's life to help repay his debt to the man who saved him from deadly exposure to Banner's gamma bomb.

No, I don't know how Rick merited his own Avengers priority card. Is he on duty as an Avenger? If Rick gets a card, why doesn't Jarvis? Or Tony Stark? It's also unclear why Rick's guards didn't come across his card when they (presumably) searched him before locking him up. Maybe they did and just thought this kid made himself a fake Avengers I.D.

But thanks to Rick, and the Ultimate Machine, the Hulk's indecision about his next step is put aside when he misinterprets Rick's impassioned plea as a cry for help.

When the Hulk leaps off, the Watcher takes the opportunity to retrieve the Ultimate Machine; but the military doesn't need the U.M. to know the Hulk's whereabouts, because the alarm sounds soon enough that the monster is headed for Washington, D.C. Ross's division immediately mobilizes into action and prepares a welcoming barrage; but Ross also prepares the T-Gun for firing, gambling that it will stop the Hulk if their other weaponry fails. Firing a device you know nothing about is reckless enough; but we can all probably agree that firing it in the vicinity of our seat of government without knowing what it's designed to do is cause for slapping Ross in a strait-jacket.

But, incredibly, the gamble pays off--though only the Hulk will realize the T-Gun's immediate effect.

The T-Gun has displaced the Hulk into the distant future, where Washington is in ruins--but as we can see from the Hulk's welcoming committee, the survivors in this time period appear to have the same sentiments toward him that Ross does.

From here, the Hulk's story begins to take significant steps in removing the mystery aspect of his existence that's clung to his character for so long and tying Banner's fate to the Hulk (and vice versa) in the eyes of everyone, rather than just those of Rick and the President. First, of course, the Hulk will have to get out of his current predicament, though he'll find that things have gone from bad to worse when he finds the humans of this time besieged by the Executioner--while in the present, with Rick presuming Banner has been killed by the T-Gun, he's convinced by Maj. Talbot to finally come clean and divulge what he knows about Banner's connection to the Hulk. Assuming that the Hulk can make it back to the past, what sort of future can Bruce Banner expect to have as a hunted man ?

Tales To Astonish #75

Script: Stan Lee
Pencils: Jack Kirby (layouts)
Finisher: Mickey Demeo
Letterer: Sam Rosen


Anonymous said...

I don't think the Hulk really clicked until he stopped talking like a construction worker (my brother's a construction foreman, and I talk that way too), reverted to a mental five-year old and started referring to himself in the third person. Until that gradually happened, he was just a goon in purple pants. It reminds me of my nephew, who at age 3-4 used to say "Me hungry" or "Me want to watch cartoon".
I read somewheres that the Hulk is at that mental age because that's the age Bruce banner was when his father physically abused him, and he reverts back to that confused period when he transforms. This accounts for the rage, and touchiness about people messing with him. Kind of a grim subject, I guess.
The art here is kinda funky but it has it's moments. A lot of energy.
Great post as always!


Comicsfan said...

M.P., I always thought a good compromise between the "construction worker" Hulk and the mentally addled/raging Hulk was the gray Hulk, a personality we saw a bit of during the Hulk's brief time as an Avenger and certainly a great deal of in his Joe Fixit days. Those were always such entertaining stories to read; in fact, we're overdue for one or two more of them to be featured in the PPoC, hopefully fairly soon.

Jared said...

I always enjoy these old Hulk stories, even if I consider them some of the lazier Marvel efforts of the 60s. The art certainly does not hold up as well as other examples of the era. There just really aren't many memorable Hulk stories until after this title stops being a split feature.

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