Wednesday, October 31, 2018

The Infra-World of Captain Omen!

We've already seen the first of several encounters the incredible Hulk would have with ship captains who didn't exactly have his best interests at heart. It seems an odd combination, indeed... a raging man-monster, thrust into an environment where a human issues orders and metes out punishment if necessary--neither of which the Hulk would tolerate from any human, regardless of whatever puny rank they hold. (One has only to look at the Hulk's disregard for Gen. "Thunderbolt" Ross's status as a time-tested example.) Captain Cybor, however, became part man/part machine because of the creature he hunted; and while we could categorize the Hulk's next antagonist as fully human (at least in appearance), the Hulk would discover that both captain and crew were *ahem* out of his depth, as he finds himself trapped in the strange and far-reaching infra-world of Captain Omen.

Regrettably, it looks like we need to add "hostile" to that world's description.

Following his attempt to return from the Arctic installation of the Gremlin, the Hulk finds himself stranded in the ocean, where an American submarine has the unfortunate luck of finding itself labeled as a "giant fish [that] attacks Hulk!" The sub is consequently dealt with preemptively, but the encounter has been monitored by a mysterious third party; and a decision is made to salvage both submarine and man-monster, by means even the Hulk must find incredible.

(In mid-1973, the price of a Hulk issue was a mere 20¢, but we would have all probably thrown in another dime just for the delight of seeing the Hulk clarifying for his host that "Hulk is Hulk! Don't you hear him telling you?")

For having such an elaborate setup at first glance, the mission statement of Captain Omen ("Nemo" spelled backwards, as if you had to guess), while grandiose, is relatively simple: a steady and painstaking effort to claim the world's ocean floor for himself. And while he's been at it for nearly fifty years, you would think he would still have his work cut out for him, though he claims that his task will be completed "soon." He may have to revise that estimate, after his presumption concerning the Hulk doesn't quite meet with success.

At six miles deep, however, even the Hulk must succumb to the bends. Acting quickly, Omen sends his crew out to retrieve the brute, whereupon he's placed in a decompression chamber to recover. Yet the experience has the effect of transforming the Hulk back to Bruce Banner--and Omen finds himself making his pitch to an altogether different sort of recruit for his life's work, while in the process we learn a good deal more about the evolution of Omen's "infra-world" and those who inhabit it.

There's been no question from the beginning that Omen is a stern figure, insisting on obedience and expecting his orders to be followed to the letter without question. With the curiosity that his crew has shown for the surface world, and for Banner by extension, it's a weakness in Omen's character that Banner can exploit in a way the Hulk wouldn't have thought of; but Omen's strict nature has worked against him in this instance, as he creates a tense and potentially hostile situation here that can only bring back a being who wrote the book on hostility.

Reacting explosively at finding himself in chains, the Hulk has forced Omen to call forth his worker contingent--specially developed men conditioned to strive against tons of water. And while there may be doubt that they present a viable threat against the Hulk, Omen sets in motion a greater plan to force the Hulk's compliance to his wishes.

Seemingly helpless, the Hulk vows revenge; but he needn't look far for an opportunity to strike back, when a group of Omen's men surreptitiously approaches him from the seaweed and rescues him, replacing him with one of their own so that, from a distance, Omen will mistake the man for the Hulk. Returning to the ship, the Hulk comes to believe that these people wish to help him gain his freedom--but to those who have come to resent their captain's iron hand that forces them to live in this undersea environment from cradle to grave, he represents much more in their eyes.

Yet their anxiety is so great that the Hulk is regarded as more than a liberator; in a very real sense, he has become their god, as sacred to them as any objects from the surface they have found and passed around among themselves in secret.

But dissension breeds dissenters--and there is one among Filius's group who isn't as convinced that the surface world is all it's being reputed to be.

Unknown to the rebels, Omen has one last hand to play in quashing any resistance--and when the time comes for the rebels to make their move, it's the Hulk who takes the lead in facing off against a half-man/half-fish whose existence was kept even from Omen's son.

The deluge of water and its subsequent venting have effectively decided this conflict in the rebels' favor, leaving Omen with no choice but to accede to their demands and head for the surface at long last. From this point, there are any number of ways for the story of Captain Omen and his crew to reach its end; for instance, en route, Omen could dig into those library images and show the rebels an entirely different set of pictures of life on the surface that would have his crew reconsidering their decision to resettle there. Or, as Omen warned, his crew might be vulnerable to diseases for which they'd developed no immunity. Or perhaps the crew would find themselves unwelcome by those on the surface who tend to scrutinize and reject the differences in others rather than be accepting of them.

Another option, of course, is for the story to end happily for all involved, with the possible exception of Omen. But what happens next is a tragedy and horror that none of the rebels could anticipate in the midst of their hopes and high expectations--and despite having foreknowledge of what is to come, even Omen will end up paying a price, however much a pittance it may be to such a man.

Ironically, had Banner been the one that Filius and the others confided in and asked for help, he might have realized such an outcome and would have had the sad duty to inform these people that they could never journey to the surface; in fact, it's curious that Banner makes little more than a cameo appearance in this story, having made little to no difference in the way it proceeded. One can only wonder if, at this point, the Hulk feels much the same way.

The Scourge of the Seas--Captain Barracuda!

Incredible Hulk #s 164-165

Script: Steve Englehart
Pencils: Herb Trimpe
Inks: Sal Trapani
Letterer: John Costanza


B Smith said...

One might just wonder what movie it was that the Hulk saw...whether he got into the cinema on a concession ticket...whether he visited the candy bar...and how many stars he'd have given it.

Comicsfan said...

I remember when writing the post, B, thinking "When would we find the Hulk at a movie?" I could see him staying to watch something pleasant, like "Snow White" or some other Disney fare, but a story featuring a guillotine? And I can only imagine the rage he'd fly into during a certain scene in "Bambi."

Anonymous said...

If he saw anything with Adam Sandler in it, he'd probably go on a berserker rage that would destroy half the country.
One thing I noticed here is when Omen's boys got to the surface, they exploded. That's not exactly what happens to some deep-sea fish when they get pulled out of the water, but it's pretty close. Englehart must have read that somewhere.
Happy Halloween, all!


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