Friday, March 6, 2015

The Strangest Man Of All Time!


On rare occasions, we'd see a cover of Incredible Hulk that took its inspiration from the first issue of the title:




Given that first issue's iconic image, as well as the fact that there are just a limited number of variations of it you could create, Marvel could trot out one of these covers only so often; and almost always, it was either to mark some pivotal event in the Hulk's life or to indicate an issue that would in some way link back to that first Hulk story. Otherwise, transformations of the Hulk depicted on the cover were handled in other ways, in variations where the artist was free to indulge in their own interpretation:




But for the most part, the three stories that paid tribute to Incredible Hulk #1 satisfied a reader's expectations of something beyond the ordinary Hulk tale. The first of them, of course, needs no explanation as to why that is so, since it can only bring back one memory:




In issue #324, we find the Hulk after he's been rejoined with his human half, Bruce Banner, following a fierce battle with the Avengers assembled. Let's just say that the reunion between the two is somewhat... contentious:




And since this little difference of opinion has only served to make the Hulk angrier, even S.H.I.E.L.D. tech isn't likely to keep the brute trussed up for long:




But the Hulk's release might be a blessing in disguise, as Samson tells Clay Quartermain to herd the Hulk to the one apparatus that might once again be able to free Banner from his prison (because that worked so well the last time). But Samson will never get his chance. Thanks to "Thunderbolt" Ross, whose hatred for Banner persists because of the man's involvement with his daughter, Betty, the tank is damaged just enough to spawn a much different Hulk--or one returned to normal, depending on your perspective:







Next, in issue #393, writer Peter David revisits the desert base near the location of the gamma bomb testing ground where the Hulk was created, an "accident" which took place due to the hidden agenda of one man--Igor Drenkov, Banner's assistant, instructed to abort the test as Banner raced out onto the field to save a kid who had driven onto the site. This day, the now-abandoned base triggers memories which Drenkov would rather have left buried:





The Hulk is also at the site, dealing with Russian operatives sent to retrieve Drenkov. But as Drenkov's sanity begins to fray with his disturbing recollections, he confronts the one being he would rather not see step out of his nightmares.








And the story shifts--as we see each of these men needing the kind of closure that only the other can give. But as Banner/the Hulk finally comes face-to-face with the man who bears direct responsibility for his deadly exposure to gamma rays, Drenkov's last shreds of sanity unravel--depriving Banner of his moment, and himself of a final, futile attempt to justify his actions:






Finally (and literally so, as issue #474 closes this longest-running volume of Incredible Hulk), writer Joe Casey indulges in a bit of self-deprecation before ushering in a tale with a splash page that makes it clear that the use of the cover's famous image is more a sales device than relevant to the actual story inside:




That said, the story has some unexpected good moments amidst the chaos of events involving the Watcher, and the Ultimate Machine, and Qnax. Once the dust settles, Banner derives some satisfaction in learning that the Abomination was responsible for Betty's death--and that knowledge carries to a confrontation with her father, Gen. Ross, who has Banner at his mercy but instead chooses to honor his daughter posthumously:






With so many Hulks sprouting up since, it's doubtful another sighting of that famous cover would ever have much impact again. The next time you see a Hulk, remember that there was a time when Marvel got quite a bit of mileage out of the concept of the tortured man within the monster--a balance of rage and anguish that periodically reminded us of its beginnings, but eventually ran its course.

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