Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Hulk vs. The Cutting Room Floor


I can only imagine the scrambling that must have gone on in the Marvel offices during the tail end of the format about-face that happened with their books in late 1971. By the time the new larger-format issues were on the store racks, the issues scheduled for the next month were already in production--so when the decision was made (in Marvel's own words, "almost overnight") to return the page count per issue back to a manageable 20-21 pages, those upcoming issues had to be edited to fit the smaller format. Writer/artist teams must have felt a little like film directors during post-production, having to take all of that footage and edit it in such a way that it fits the original idea, even if there was more shot than needed. With comic books, it was a matter of making one story into a two-parter, with a little creative rearranging to make that first issue read as if it were always meant to build to a climax that would make the following issue a can't-miss story.

Given the time constraints, I think everyone involved did a reasonably good job in the time they had, though the efforts may not have been quite seamless. Spider-Man ended the first part of his edited issue by landing on some soft ground which turned out to be quicksand--but since the guy is surrounded by trees and he has a pair of web-shooters and spider-strength, making it appear that he's in mortal danger is a little hard to swallow. Over in the FF, the Torch is flying over what he thinks are war games, though if the story hadn't been forced to split I think instead he would have exclaimed (as he did on page one of the next issue) that unarmed people were being strafed by planes. And Iron Man is interrupted in mid-battle, with the rest of his issue filled by an Ant-Man story.

But while these stories and those in other titles may have been forced to end abruptly, you can still find yourself enjoying the "new" story that came about as a result, at least to the extent of how it was adapted to the smaller format. For example, Incredible Hulk at this point in time had the Hulk lumbering through the desert, where as you might guess there isn't a whole lot of smashing to be done--which gave writer Roy Thomas a lot of opportunities to explore the workings of the Hulk's mind and how he might interpret things and events. Sandstorms, for instance:



Not exactly enough to support a larger-format issue, true. So in this story we had a great deal of attention given to Thunderbolt Ross, his daughter, her suitor at the time (Leonard Samson), Major Talbot, and Jim Wilson, all becoming involved in a plot by the Leader to replace the President and Vice-President with androids during their scheduled visit to Hulkbuster Base. Yet this issue's cover might give you a different impression of the action you were expecting to see:



"Earth vs. The Green Behemoth!" Well, not quite. But there wasn't enough room for "The Hulk Has a Skirmish with an Israeli Battalion Which Lasts Under A Minute, Leaping Off Because He Feels a Subconscious Conflict About Harming Women." Translated from the Marvel, that means that "Earth" survived the Hulk's attack.

There's also a little fallout to be found from the format do si do, with a 21-page story still attempting to dramatize itself by separating itself into "Parts." You're also likely to find some left-over full-page artwork that would have helped to fill out the larger format, but is still a real treat to find in the smaller issue. Even so, Jim Wilson rating a full page by himself was definitely unexpected:



I wonder how long it would have been before Betty Ross would have gotten her own page? Constantly pining over Bruce Banner was bad enough in smaller panels.

It's only toward the end of the issue when you start to feel that things are beginning to coalesce. In this case, it happens when Jim stumbles upon the Leader's stash of android replacements:



Gives you a sort of Invasion of the Body Snatchers vibe, doesn't it? Thank goodness Thomas didn't write the screenplay for that film, or you'd have those pop culture references of his littering almost every scene. I honestly don't know who would suddenly think of Abbie Hoffman if they found a secret room of android replacements and they're scared out of their wits. But Jim's brush with fear isn't over yet:



The issue ends with Jim being tossed into a cell with Ross, Talbot, and other personnel, with the Leader learning that the Hulk (remember him?) is headed in the direction of the base. That would normally set up a dramatic "Part 3" page--but in this case we'll have to settle for a "next issue" blurb. Perhaps in a future TPB we'll get to see a "director's cut" of the story where it's restored to its original format. Things are wrapped up pretty quickly in the next issue, almost dizzyingly so--which might seem odd, since half of the issue shifts gears and adds a completely different story. But since the original story would have only been about 33 pages in length, what remained of the Leader story wasn't enough to fill a 20-page issue--and the additional story segues well enough.

Curiously, once the issues returned to the smaller number of pages, future cover art took on the more "boxed in" look that was put in place with the large-format issues:



The change went on for about a year for all titles, before finally expanding again to the length of the full page. Perhaps it was done to ease the impact of the behind-the-scenes changes and make it appear that the company was still on track as far as its direction for its books.  Still, it all made for an interesting kick-off to Marvel's bronze age.

2 comments:

Kid said...

Funny thing is, I actually liked those 'bigger' issues. Who knows, perhaps they might've sold really well had Marvel kept them going?

Matt Celis said...

Yeah, they were great! One can only wonder now, and what would have happened with D.C. had they not been undercut by Marvel's price trickery.

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