Friday, November 2, 2018

The Sub-Marauder--Captain Barracuda!

Take one act of piracy from a decked-out sub the likes of which no one has ever seen:

Then mix in a boarding party, whose lousy luck has them boarding the one ship on the ocean with Bruce Banner as a deck hand:

And finally, add the sub's snarling captain, who has the misfortune of not realizing just who and what he's tangling with!

Winding up our week-long look at beyond-the-norm ship captains who have crossed paths with the incredible Hulk, we conclude with a glorified pirate whose name gives you an idea of how far he would go and how many lines he would cross to gain his prize: the infamous Captain Barracuda, who got his start in 1964 in Strange Tales looting a local cruise line, but transitioned to the big leagues and began stealing technology that would allow him to overcome any other ships that went up against him, even going so far as to attempt the theft of an atomic warhead.

Then, it was the Sub-Mariner who interfered with Barracuda's plans--and now, it's Namor's fellow Titan, the Hulk, who takes on the ruthless captain and his scurvy crew, in a two-part story that has the Hulk fighting for the life of... Robinson Crusoe!?

(And if our eyes aren't playing tricks on us, doesn't it look like, from the waist up, the Hulk is striking virtually identical poses on both covers?)

Fortunately for Barracuda, due to the heavy damage the freighter has taken, the Hulk is accidentally knocked overboard by the deck's falling cargo-hoist before the green goliath could close in on his foe. Unfortunately, the device that Barracuda boarded to find has been lost (or so he believes), which makes this strike a total wash for him. But you have to give him props for raising his fist in defiance and declaring that his plan will continue.

(Imagine how utterly absurd we would all sound if we inserted a dramatic pause before giving... our name, eh?)

As for the Hulk, he washes ashore on an island a few miles south and meets a stranger that neither he nor we know quite what to make of--though for us, the name certainly rings familiar.

Obviously our unbalanced island denizen has taken on the identity of the famous castaway, who made a companion of a freed prisoner and named him after the day of the week he appeared. Yet while the Hulk is somewhat annoyed at being mistaken for the man Crusoe knows as Friday, he begins to accept the eccentric ways of this new friend and accompanies him to his camp.

Crusoe, however, is adamant that the Hulk helps him to protect the "treasure" he's found, which we could almost presume is the same device that Barracuda believes fell overboard from the freighter he sunk. In point of fact, it is, though it was never on board in the first place--but that will all become clear in time.

What isn't clear at the moment is why the Hulk is getting a four-alarm warning (via Banner) at seeing the device activated. It appears to be a clue of some sort--yet there's no time to explore it, due to an attack on the camp by a group of savage beast-men who, according to Crusoe, have been sighted before. The Hulk has no trouble routing them--but in terms of their significance, you might want to avoid dismissing them as extraneous characters for the time being, particularly if Crusoe is making a point of calling them "beast-men."

At any rate, Crusoe and the Hulk have bigger worries to contend with, when a new and armed threat makes its presence known in the camp. It appears that Barracuda has tracked down his prize--as well as the green-hued obstacle that stands in the way of seizing it.

Again, let's give Barracuda credit for keeping his mind on the booty he's after, while his men keep the Hulk busy (or, rather, the other way around). It's perseverance that happens to pay off for him, leading to a desperate ploy that puts us on track to at last discovering not only why Barracuda believed he'd tracked the device to the freighter, but also why the Hulk was getting a bad vibe from it.

But luck is also with the Hulk, since he awakens in time to spot Barracuda and his men hauling Crusoe and the device aboard his sub--so that when they make their getaway, they unknowingly bring the behemoth along for the ride. And the Hulk's luck lasts, since the destination that the sub heads for is only a few minutes away; and just to prove what a small world it really is, wait until you learn who was responsible for building the cavern-city which Barracuda has appropriated for his base.

Yes, Captain Omen, whose own operations, also witnessed by the Hulk, ended tragically.

With Crusoe in tow as Barracuda heads to the lab to begin tests on the device, the pirate leader confronts his prisoner with the truth of his real identity, a story that also explains the nature of the mysterious device as well as the unfortunate circumstances of both "Crusoe" and the "beast-men" who prowled the island. Sadly, it's a prelude to the fate that Barracuda has in store for his test subject.

As for the Hulk, he has avoided storming through the complex, with writer Roger Stern's narrative noting how uncustomary that behavior is but providing reasons which sufficiently cover that base in order to pave the way for one of the story's best scenes. For while we've been made aware of the true background of the beast-man who was once Dr. Purvis, to the Hulk he is still Crusoe, the strange man who befriended him and won his trust.

Vowing to return Crusoe and his dog home, their escape is interrupted by an alarm, followed by the appearance of Barracuda and his men. Yet the Hulk's reckoning with Barracuda is short-lived--for while he's learned his lessons well in this struggle, the same can be said for Barracuda, who repeats his strategy with using the device against the brute and succeeds once more, for a reason which has recently been revealed: its design has its power being generated by gamma rays. And this time, its effect on the Hulk is more pronounced.

With the Hulk down, the attention of Barracuda and his men returns to the critical situation involving the base's power plant--but Barracuda is stopped in his tracks and dealt with by Purvis, though the former scientist's retribution won't stop there.

(Interesting how Barracuda refers to Purvis as "Crusoe" in this scene, when he really has no reason to. Then again, if you're about to be rended limb from limb by a savage creature, reason is probably the last thing on your mind.)

Loping across the floor afterward, Purvis stabs a button to activate the device, which sends its waves of power across the complex and grants Barracuda's men the same horrid fate as himself. And while chaos reigns in the doomed city, Purvis retrieves both Banner and his faithful dog and evacuates them in a small escape craft, just before Omen's city-base is destroyed.

How Barracuda survived not only being mauled by Purvis but also the city's destruction is truly more luck than the man deserves--ditto for his crew, who also escaped both the explosion and their beast-forms to join Barracuda in his raid on Atlantis. Unlike other captains, it doesn't appear we'll ever be seeing Captain Barracuda go down with the ship.

Incredible Hulk #s 219-220

Script: Roger Stern (with Len Wein)
Pencils: Sal Buscema
Inks: Ernie Chan
Letterers: Rick Parker and Irv Watanabe


Anonymous said...

Barracuda! "Dun dunna dun dunna dun..."
Sorry, that was stupid.
I don't remember this guy at all, so maybe I missed this issue. I mighta just forgot it. Not the most inspired villain.
Still, not a bad issue, all-in-all. The Incredible Hulk was a strong title during this period. I thought Ernie Chan's inking on the Hulk was great. It was a nice fit for Sal's pencils, giving his fluid art detail and depth. Something like that, anyway. Enjoyable post!


Comicsfan said...

M.P., I totally agree that Chan's inks enhanced Buscema's pencils considerably--he's right up there with Klaus Janson, in my book, though obviously with a much different style.

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