Saturday, June 8, 2013

Every Hand Against Him

"Many foes has the Hulk!", the Leader once proclaimed, as he crafted yet another plan to take down the man-brute. And you'd get an idea of what the Leader means by that statement if you looked at the times various writers have brought those foes together in the same issue. The Hulk is well-known for being hunted and hounded by the Army, but I really can't think of a reason why his super-villain foes would gather en masse and seek him out--usually the Hulk's threat to them is just the result of the unfortunate luck of the Hulk crossing their path and consequently having to deal with him (though it's really the Hulk who deals with them). But there have been no less than three times when a parade of the Hulk's old villains appear in the same issue to take their turns on him:

Please don't tell me there have been more than these three. Twice is enough to recycle this plot, isn't it? If it keeps being done, it's almost like telling us that these foes aren't and never have been worthwhile Hulk foes--they couldn't beat him in repeated appearances facing off against him alone, and they can't beat him teamed up with his other foes. So why should we perk up at seeing another cover with the Hulk beset by his old foes? As foes go, they're apparently not so hot--at least, against the Hulk.

In addition, there's not much for us to really care about in this type of battle. The Hulk spends most of his time trying to do exactly one thing: to be left alone. He has no "life" to speak of, except as Bruce Banner--and Banner's mind is suppressed while he's the Hulk, so it's really a creature of rage who faces off against these foes. In other words, the Hulk fights to fight. We, as readers, only see his rage exhibited--there's no desperation, or stakes, or any of the other things that would go through the mind of another "hero" which would make a battle against a gathering of former foes a more deadly threat than they've faced before. To the Hulk, bring them on, it's all the same: Hulk smash.

So the writer of one of these issues has to think of something to make this kind of issue more than just a pointless beat-down attempt on the Hulk--as well as a reason why these villains would want to join forces against the Hulk in the first place, when Greenskin really couldn't care less about them or their silly plans. In the first story (Incredible Hulk #139), Roy Thomas concocts one of the most ridiculous premises I've ever seen, at least where the Hulk is concerned:

It's a little hard to swallow. A being who is basically a creature of rage--who thrives on it--pushed so hard in battle that he keels over and does an Aunt May on us? Talk about grasping at straws, Leader. As hounded as this guy is by the Army? As many battles as he's already been in? I think his "Herculean heart" is taking the load just fine; in fact, I'd almost believe that his body is geared to conflict, given how his strength increases with his rage. Still, even with that brain power he's packing, the Leader has repeatedly proven he isn't the sharpest tack--so he convinces the Army to let him don their experimental gizmo which amplifies brain-waves into 3D objects, and use it to sic the Hulk's old foes on him. Which is another hard pill to swallow--the Army again getting in bed with the Leader, given how often he's betrayed them.

But the Leader gets the green light, and soon he's projecting one villain after another to cross the Hulk's path:

You've probably noticed that, despite what the issue's cover would have us believe, as well as the Leader's own words, these battles don't take place all at the same time, but in succession. But that's really splitting hairs--let's assume the Leader is probably materializing the next foe almost immediately after the Hulk has dealt with the last one. Anyway, his strategy fails--the Hulk never does have a heart attack, though the Leader darn near has one by the story's end.

In the next villains-villains-villains issue (Incredible Hulk #200), writer Len Wein shrinks the Hulk (with Banner's mind in control, thanks to an experimental "encephalo-helmet") into the mind of Glenn Talbot, who's suffered brain damage and has to have an inoperable "mental block" removed. Hey, wouldn't you want the Hulk--kept only in check by an experimental helmet--lumbering around in your brain? Anyway, this isn't "Fantastic Voyage," so let's cut to the chase:

It turns out Talbot's subconscious is creating antibodies in the form of memories to destroy this intruder. (Okay, so it's a little like "Fantastic Voyage.") So, again, the Hulk isn't fighting the real thing. Why should we care, then? Well, we do have Banner this time, though frankly it's pretty obvious why this mag isn't called "The Incredible Banner"--Henry Pym's mind in the Hulk would have about the same impact, dramatically. But there's also the almost certain development that the Hulk might emerge, despite that funky helmet:

Which is sure to give Talbot one hell of a migraine if the Hulk decides to make his exit. Fortunately, Talbot seems to have antibodies a-plenty:

Eventually, the Hulk encounters the "mental block"--a misshapen, tentacled, hostile mass that speaks and regards the Hulk as a threat it must slay. I'm pretty sure any mental block you or I have doesn't hiss and threaten, but whatever. The Hulk reacts accordingly, and the block is removed. By the way, take another look at that cover--artist Rich Buckler has obviously stacked the deck a little, since several of the characters pictured make no appearances in the story, as antibodies or otherwise.

Which brings us to writer/artist John Byrne's take on this theme (Incredible Hulk #314). Leonard Samson has decided on an approach to save Bruce Banner, but he must first subdue the Hulk. Or, rather, try to:

This time, though, it's Banner who creates the villains the Hulk faces. In effect, making him hallucinate:

Byrne, in his version, doesn't pile on a rogues' gallery of the Hulk's villains, only giving us a few selected foes for the Hulk to deal with. That could simply be because the large panels he's using in this issue allow insufficient room for more battles; or he could intentionally be using the skirmishes with the villains sparingly in order to bring the focus back to Samson, since the Hulk realizes fairly soon that these enemies have no substance and consequently sees no point in responding to their threats.

A realization which gives Samson the opening he needs to take the Hulk by surprise:

Which is as good a point as any to admit that this is where my recollection stops concerning these types of Hulk stories where his villainous foes all find themselves in the same issue battling against him.  Out of curiosity, what other Marvel characters have found themselves thus ganged up on? And were they taking their heart medication at the time??

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well, as far as creating the illusion that a superheroes biggest foes are ganging up on him all at once, Dr. Faustus pulled that same gag on Captain America and Spiderman, and Eon did it to Captain Marvel...or was it somebody else did that him? I seemed to that happening to Marv two or three times.

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