Monday, April 2, 2018

Heroes, Rejoined!

Due to the circumstances of the incredible Hulk's tragic nature, the instances where the Avengers have had occasion to join forces with their former charter member have been rare. The Hulk was with his new partners only briefly before applying a "with friends like these..." judgment to them and storming off, after which he slowly began losing whatever cognitive abilities he shared with Bruce Banner and eventually reverted to a state where reasoning often took a back seat to rage--until finally there was really no going back for him. From that point on, it was clear that the ill feelings he left with remained with him almost on an instinctive level--and future encounters he had with the Avengers were heated at best, but often unbridled and violent. (Though how interesting to contrast that with his relationship with the Defenders, whose loose association appeared to agree with him, for the most part.)

And so the Hulk as an active Avenger has long since been relegated to the "what might have been" category, while readers have at times been treated to instances that have touched on the possibility. There was the cover to Avengers Annual #4, which made it seem as if the Hulk was alongside the Avengers during their conflict with the Masters of Evil; Avengers #5, where the Hulk is tricked into some Avengers teamwork when the Wasp maneuvers him into defeating the invasion of the Lava Men; as well as a flashback story from 1999 where the original team tackles Dr. Doom while the Hulk was still in their ranks. (And we can add to the list the 1982 Hulk Annual, which sets up this very story.) How feasible it would truly be for the Hulk to clock in as an Avenger on a regular basis is up for speculation--yet the consensus is probably that it would never work, since the Avengers are far less likely than the Defenders to tolerate simply letting the Hulk have his way and operating as a team of one in a crisis situation.

Yet when Bruce Banner is successful in gaining control of the Hulk's mind in the early 1980s, in addition to receiving a Presidential pardon for his past actions as the Hulk, the way seems paved for the Hulk to take his place once more in the Avengers' ranks--and just in time, too, since the Leader is once more gearing up to conquer the world, and Banner has proven unable to stop him alone.

You'll find in this story that writer Bill Mantlo lays it on thick as far as milking the nostalgia factor--making sure the Hulk fits into the Avengers like a glove, while the Avengers are all but lifting him above their collective shoulders and rolling out the red carpet. With Banner's intellect in control, there's no question that the Hulk adds a great deal to the team, working fluidly within their methods of meeting the threat while the Avengers often defer to his judgment and find it to be something of a thrill to once again charge into battle with him--a thrill which Mantlo goes out of his way to translate to the printed page.

So it doesn't come as a surprise that when the group locates and prepares to invade the Leader's orbiting space station, which operates via the sophisticated computer the Leader refers to as Omnivac, teamwork is the name of the game.

How smoothly these people all appear to be in sync with each other, as if the Hulk already had a room at Avengers Mansion and his presence on missions was just a matter of him picking up where he left off--only that was never the case with this Hulk, who as Bruce Banner was never an Avenger in name, much less fact. The Hulk the Avengers formerly worked with was contentious and dangerously provocative, with none of Banner's reason or a desire to either know or cooperate with the people he signed that charter with. It's no wonder that the Avengers are reacting to him now as a breath of fresh air--and as a long-time Avengers reader, it's admittedly rewarding to see the Avenger the Hulk might have been, which was likely Mantlo's intention.

(Though we're witnessing quite a shortcut to the action here. Helmets aside, I count at least four Avengers whose all-too-human forms are completely unprotected against the extremes of outer space; nor does the lack of a jet attachment hinder the Wasp, whose wings can apparently propel her just fine even through an airless void. All of which seems perfectly all right with artist Sal Buscema, who has been penciling these characters long enough to realize that costumes are a far cry from spacesuits.)

Before they can board the Leader's vessel, however, the Avengers run into resistance from the Leader's Humanoids--creations whose flexible forms can recover almost instantly from whatever physical force is used against them. Combined with their nearly limitless numbers, they make a formidable threat--until two dynamic Hulks lead the charge against them--their dialog littered with reminders of their relation to each other, specifics of the bio-chemistry that sets them apart from the others, and no shortage of adjectives.

Thankfully, the Hulk doesn't just swoop in and save the day here, since he's been known to have been daunted by Humanoid attacks in the past. It's Captain Marvel's power which, unleashed, nullifies the Humanoids' elasticity, thereby allowing the heroes to vanquish them. (And if you're scratching your head as to why C.M. bothered to make use of a jet attachment to propel herself, join the club.)

Finally aboard, the group soon enough runs into a physical manifestation of Omnivac (dressed as a maĆ®tre d', no less, which I thought was a nice touch on Buscema's part), who follows his instructions to delay the Avengers with pointless distractions--but with the arrival of Jackdaw, a former operative of the Leader who revolted when she learned of the Leader's master plan and was brutally disciplined (by a decidedly less courteous Omnivac), the cat-and-mouse game comes to an end as the Avengers react with anger.  But Omnivac heads them off by revealing the Leader's plan, where we learn there's such a thing as our planet becoming too green.

Finally, the Hulk runs out of patience with Omnivac--but he and the She-Hulk learn of a precaution the Leader has taken to ensure the success of his plan, though it fails to take into account those like himself who were created by exposure to gamma rays.

And with that declaration, Part Two of this story begins--with the She-Hulk's anger uncovering the technology which was responsible for sending the Avengers into the past, and the further interrogation of Omnivac yielding the means by which to activate it. And it seems by his time-honored exclamation that even Omnivac wasn't prepared for the Hulk to bypass the Leader's security lockouts.

It's a little disturbing to see the Leader join the ranks of those villains who have unlocked the secret of time travel (though someone of the Leader's intelligence would certainly deserve to be among them). None of those individuals have ever demonstrated the acumen to take full advantage of such a weapon in their criminal pursuits, but it's hard to see the Leader not being one to stick with it and "get it right."

With the unit's activation, the mission of these (as we're reminded of time and again) cousins becomes a task of first locating and retrieving the Avengers who have been dispersed through time, and, if successful, combining their might to join ranks against the Leader. Both Buscema and Mantlo craft a decent tale out of those basics--complicated only by the fact that the Avengers believe themselves to be indigenous to whatever time periods they've ended up in, making the task of the two Hulks not as straightforward as it first seemed.

With the Hulk having already given some thought in private as to whether he wishes to rejoin the Avengers, Mantlo reiterates the notion in the form of Iron Man's casual remark, with little doubt remaining by this point that it was meant to resonate more with the reader than with either Thor or the Hulk. In light of how Mantlo will eventually handle the matter, what appears to be conspicuous if awkward dialog no doubt whets our appetite with the possibility--but that will be explored in due time--though you may not appreciate Mantlo's methods here, which border on shameless.

As for the Leader, we probably won't be seeing any shame on his part anytime soon.

With the exception of the Hulk and Thor, who strive to absorb the gamma rays being emitted, the Avengers move to attack the Leader. The odds would seem to be against the Leader, despite his power--yet it's a disappointing climax that sees the Leader not even directing that power against his attackers, in even the smallest amount. And with just over two pages left in this story, the Leader's defeat seems even more predetermined.

Thanks to Banner's foresight, the Leader's time platform automatically retrieves the heroes and returns them to the Leader's vessel, where they find Jackdaw having already dealt with the not-quite-deactivated Omnivac. Yet it's the offer the Wasp makes to the Hulk on behalf of her comrades which is by far the bigger issue to be dealt with at this story's conclusion.

With Banner in full control of the brutish form which for so long had represented a living nightmare for him, there finally seems to be nothing standing in the way of the Hulk rejoining the super-team he played a major part in forming.

Or IS there?

Incredible Hulk #s 283-284

Script: Bill Mantlo
Pencils: Sal Buscema
Inks: Joe Sinnott
Letterer: Jim Novak


George Chambers said...

Ah, nostalgia for the days when editors added captions explaining where the story fits in the continuity of one of its characters.

Ah, nostalgia for the days when anyone cared for continuity.

(I'll just retreat back to the Old Curmudgeon's Home now...)

Anonymous said...

It's all kind of a mess, but I noticed the Green Arrow had a cameo in there.
He probably got flung into an alternate reality during a Crisis on Some Earth. I know the feeling.


Comicsfan said...

Continuity was arguably the fuel behind Marvel's fire in its glory days, George, so your point is well taken. ;)

Marcus said...

I love the Sal/Sinnott team!

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