Thursday, October 31, 2013

No More The Monster!

In just the first thirty issues of his new solo title, not only would the incredible Hulk meet the likes of the Sandman, the Sub-Mariner, the Inhumans (some of them, anyway), the Mandarin, the Absorbing Man, and the Rhino in battle, but he would also tangle with some of the cream of Marvel's heroes, like Iron Man, the Avengers, and the Fantastic Four. In later issues, the comic's writers would wisely put more space between the Hulk and the more familiar faces of the Marvel universe, perhaps to avoid the perception of this character having a shallow pool of story ideas from which to draw. As it was, the Hulk was treading on thin ice as far as fresh material. In just a few more issues, he would be given a story where he was already battling his greatest foes. What was he going to do for an encore?

Yet as it turned out, we got that encore and more, with a string of interesting stories featuring compelling new characters and situations. So you might consider the Hulk's battle with Iron Man to be a turning point for the title, as its creative team regrouped and got its second wind.

I, for one, was looking forward to reading the Hulk's encounter with the FF, since their previous meeting had its thunder stolen by the intervention of the Avengers as well as a much-hyped knock-down drag-out between the Hulk and the Thing. The writer/art team would certainly be cooking on all cylinders in this new battle, with Roy Thomas scripting and Herb Trimpe inking his own pencils. If I'm not mistaken, this would be Thomas's first time writing the Fantastic Four for an entire issue, and he handles the team very well, having a good feel for their interaction with each other as well as their style in battle (though he's limited in what he can do in that respect by a twenty-page story).

Thomas's first priority, of course, is the Hulk, and it's through that lens that we'll have to view the FF. And that's a simple enough matter, with Reed discovering a procedure that will help Bruce Banner rid himself of the Hulk, and advising the media in order to hopefully attract Banner's attention.

As for the Hulk, it's odd how unsympathetically Thomas treats him right from page one. Throughout the issue, it almost seems that Thomas's constant references to the Hulk not being able to think clearly are meant to excuse the Hulk's rampages. Is the Hulk truly in a constant state of confusion and bewilderment? I've always thought of him more as single-minded--i.e., as long as he's left alone, he's content to wander with no clear purpose. But just look at how often Thomas harps on the subject:

I suppose Thomas could simply have been using this to focus on his impending transformation back to Banner. At least I hope that's it. Because if it's meant to excuse his reckless and unpredictable behavior, there's simply no excuse for these acts of destruction:

Clearly, the Hulk has no problem with coherent thought and drawing conclusions. Unfortunately, it makes him extremely dangerous, since he tends to draw the wrong conclusions and respond with a hair-trigger temper. So I'm not feeling particularly charitable or sympathetic toward this character as written by Thomas. And Banner has every right to be horrified:

Well, hopefully Reed can help the guy. Let's find out.

We might as well get one of the story's plot points out of the way, since there's no apparent reason for its insertion into this story. There's a plot reason for it, which we'll find out later; but at this point in time, it makes little to no sense. We know that Reed has developed a formula to cure Banner's condition. Banner knows that Reed has developed a cure. Every newspaper that Reed got in touch with put the discovery in big, bold letters. So why is Banner behaving as if Reed hasn't finished his work?

It may simply be that Banner just wants to ensure the formula's success. Again, we'll see what's going on, all in good time--but perhaps this scene could have planted Thomas's seed a bit more sensibly.

By the time Banner has reached the Baxter Building, a mishap has already occurred--Banner is provoked by a careless guard into changing into the Hulk, and begins to ascend the elevator shaft toward the FF's top floors. It seems Banner's subconscious is driving him forward, though again the Hulk's muddled mind draws the wrong conclusion:

I know you won't believe this, but the FF's alarm system actually has moments when IT WORKS, so the Hulk's presence in the building has been detected. (Okay, so one of the lobby guards hit the button--we'll take what we can get, I guess.) Unfortunately, this team hasn't a clue that the Hulk is moving toward them, or how. And guess which lucky member is about to find out?

Yes, the Hulk draws the conclusion that a quickly descending elevator must be an attack on him. Thomas must love writing this character--getting to the battle in an issue is a breeze.

While the Thing's elevator car--along with the Thing--is headed toward a crash landing on another building somewhere, Reed and the Torch take point against the Hulk, but don't make much headway:

Sue, meanwhile, is drawn to the small pouch which dropped from the Hulk, while Crystal--well, Thomas doesn't use her at all. But we do get a little more of the Thing:

Ben pulls back for a reason--to trick the Hulk into leaping at him. A quick duck, and the monster instead crashes through a window and down to the street, where Reed finally manages to subdue him:

Okay, so Reed can stretch thirty-five stories. I guess he chose the right name for himself after all. "Mr. Unbelievable" was probably the runner-up.

The Hulk/FF battle is essentially done at this point. But we can cut right to the next issue, where Reed is resolved to end the threat of the Hulk no matter how the procedure works out. Which means that Bruce Banner may end up being collateral damage:

For what it's worth, we find out one important fact about Reed Richards--he's a closet Trekkie, with re-runs of Star Trek doubtlessly running in one of those private labs of his. Because look who swiped a little transporter technology here:

And we finally find out why Thomas was so intent on having Banner provide his input on Reed's already completed research:

Yet, it's another development that doesn't quite make sense. (At least at this early stage of the story, but you're probably used to that by now.) After changing back, Banner goes on to say that he's never going to become the Hulk again, period. But, if so, then why wouldn't he have been content with Reed's cure as is, which presumably would have given Banner the very same result by ridding him completely of the Hulk? Even when Banner was writing his notes above, he was focused on that aspect of the cure:  " that I'll never become the Hulk again!"  Why bother to tinker with Reed's formula so that he retains the Hulk but with the ability to control his transformations, if he's resolved never to transform again? Now I understand why the Hulk is always so confused, with Thomas at the typewriter.

Banner could also have avoided scenes like this one, if he'd stuck with Reed's cure:

Unfortunately, Banner's freedom from the Hulk's curse is short-lived, thanks to the Leader. Banner may often fail to remember what takes place during his time as the Hulk, but he should at least be familiar with the words, "Nothing stops the Hulk!" Not even the firm belief that you have.

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