Monday, May 12, 2014

The Alliance Of Doom!

DICK AYERS liked to laugh at the idea of a Marvel "Bullpen"--that would-be physical collective of cartoonists that, readers were led to imagine, happily churned out all those inspired pages of Hulk and X-Men and Thor and Fantastic Four from a single Manhattan dugout of Stan Lee’s clever invention. Like they were the perpetual-champ Yankees or something, all playing together in the House of Ideas That Stan Built. "There was no bullpen," Ayers would smile, before describing the humble Marvel offices of the Silver Age. (from an article in the Washington Post)

I was sad to hear about the passing on May 4 of penciller/inker Dick Ayers, who came aboard Marvel Comics at the time of its inception and whose body of work would take a braver man than I to assess. Ayers was like several others at the company (e.g., John Verpoorten, Syd Shores, Mike Esposito, Frank Giacoia) whose work was prodigious yet who stayed just shy of the limelight, and whose contribution to the workload and the finished product can't be trumpeted loudly enough.

It's difficult to pin down Ayers' definitive work at Marvel, since the man seemed to be everywhere, pitching in on this project or that. Perhaps it would be more accurate to simply say how much he helped to define Marvel itself. If I had to make a choice, I'd have to say he seemed to come into his own during his 10-year run on Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos following Jack Kirby's initial assignment on the book. I never did collect Sgt. Fury, as I'm not much for wartime stories as well as their unavoidable undercurrent of patriotism, but Ayers turned in consistently solid work on the title.

Ayers certainly also put in his time on Marvel's super-hero books, no question. One story that usually comes to mind for me is the two-part Incredible Hulk story involving Dr. Doom and his goal of using the Hulk to strengthen and expand the borders of his tiny nation, and thus his grip on Europe itself. Fortunately, Doom doesn't have to go about locating and confronting the Hulk himself--only Bruce Banner, who, after an encounter with the Valkyrie, finds himself being hunted down by a massive sweep of law enforcement in New York City:

To a starving man--or, in this case, a man having no other options for escape--any life buoy tossed his way is going to be grasped without much scrutiny:

Well, you and I are more well-read than this cocky police officer, so by now we can take a good guess as to who Banner's savior is going to turn out to be.  Of course, it's none other than...

Doom heads back to his New York embassy building with Banner--and the situation consequently comes to the attention of General "Thunderbolt" Ross, who accompanies a heavily-armed task force to the site. There's also another character who shows up, one who seems to have no real reason for being in this story other than that writer Roy Thomas wants him there:

I hope you got a good look at that odd bit of background about Samson's power growing more out of control in proportion to the length of his hair, because it's never again pursued in a story plot; in addition, we've seen many stories since, where a calm Leonard Samson retained his long hair and didn't lose control of his strength or otherwise run amok. Regardless, what Thomas suggests here simply wouldn't have worked, in any practical sense--with his hair shorn, Samson might be able to engage in a fight with, say, Man-Mountain Marko, but his days of fighting the Hulk, the Thing, Spider-Man, or anyone else in that class were over. And if he needed his full strength in a crisis, too bad--he (and his readers) would have to wait weeks for his hair to grow in order to have his strength back. Then the hair has to be cut again--and so on and so forth.

Samson's arrival and offer of help are about to become moot, however, since Doom is about to sic a surprise on Ross's forces--one that seems all too subservient:

(You probably wouldn't see a corny line like Doom calling himself "the master of menace" playing in any film--but on the printed page, it just makes you want to stand up and applaud, doesn't it?)

As far as the Army is concerned, Doom has become an afterthought, as the Hulk attacks in a destructive wave which has them scrambling to respond in force:

As for Samson, well, one panel seems to sum up his effectiveness from this point on:

Finally, the confrontation comes to a head, in this very nice sequence of panels by Ayers that leaves little doubt as to the Hulk's fate:

With tatters of the Hulk's clothing falling among them, Ross and his daughter come to terms with the fact that the Hulk has finally been destroyed. And Thomas and Ayers devote a generous amount of space to their closure, for what we'll later see is with good reason for Doom's purposes:

It turns out that Doom has fabricated this situation using a robot Hulk he'd had waiting in the wings to coincide with his plans for Banner. The ploy has given Doom breathing room, with the Army no longer hindering him or having any reason to believe that Banner is still being held in the embassy. But Banner now strongly suspects that Doom has plans for him beyond merely being his benefactor, and he's no longer content with his status as "guest":

With Banner now rendered harmless, and effectively primed for whatever procedure Doom has waiting for him, Doom departs with him to Latveria, where he's greeted on arrival by his cheering subjects. We know, of course, that the people of Latveria show their fealty and "love" for their monarch only out of fear of his reprisals should they indicate otherwise; and we know that Doom cares for them to some extent, though they as well as Latveria are often a means to an end for him in regard to his ambition.

We learn now that Banner has been cultivated as such a means, as well as the Hulk by extension--and with the aid of a subliminal device which will influence Banner's thoughts, Doom will be able to secure the cooperation of both Banner and his powerful alter-ego:

The beauty of this plan is that Doom can unleash the Hulk and still be held blameless for the massive damages caused by the brute's rampages, so long as it's never learned that Doom is actually controlling him and directing his actions. Unfortunately, with Doom having tipped his hand in New York as far as taking custody of Banner, as well as a sudden appearance of the Hulk resulting in the monster's apparent death, Doom's status as the "man behind the curtain" isn't likely to remain a secret for long; on the other hand, Doom seems to have no compunction with naked aggression against his neighbors, so he may not care one way or the other. As for Banner, with his mind effectively under another's control, he'll be in no position to act against Doom, given that he's unlikely to realize anything is even wrong.

In Part Two of this story, Banner gets a little help in that respect, and the Hulk and Doom finally meet in their first-ever battle. It's a safe bet that the nations of Europe are likely hoping for their mutual destruction.

Incredible Hulk #143

Script: Roy Thomas
Pencils: Dick Ayers
Inks: John Severin
Letterer: Sam Rosen

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