Tuesday, September 8, 2015

In The Past, There Dies My Future!

As much exposure as Kang the Conqueror has received battling the Avengers, you'd think he'd receive as much limelight battling individual Avengers. But in taking on both Thor and the Hulk, two of the team's heavyweights, Kang has made little more than cameo appearances in each of their mags. In Thor's case, Kang only appeared to retrieve the Growing Man--and even on his way out of the story, he was disposed of by Thor handily.

And the Hulk? I would have paid good money to have seen Kang in battle with the Hulk--and I certainly would have forked over 15¢, the going rate for a Marvel comic at the time the two faced off in the Hulk's title. Even then, Kang was mostly grumbling about gaining his revenge on the Avengers, this time by targeting a character that penciller Herb Trimpe had created over two years earlier--World War I pilot the Phantom Eagle, whose mission was to destroy a deadly enemy cannon.

Kang's reference to irony would come to have greater implications than he yet realizes.  Unfortunately, a "time storm" prevents him from journeying back to 1917 to complete his plan--and so he chooses a powerful form to breach the storm and go on to kill the Eagle. The irony of his choice would become clear, once Kang plays on the Hulk's hatred of Bruce Banner to enlist his aid.

As a result, this issue's tantalizing cover by Trimpe would be a strictly symbolic one, with Kang mostly taking a back seat to the action and carefully monitoring the Hulk's progress in the past--while the story would be something of an encore for the Phantom Eagle, who didn't receive much of a bounce after his solo feature in Marvel Super-Heroes was published in 1968 but whose encounter with the mightiest mortal on the face of the Earth might just bring about the end of the Avengers.

But, how exactly will Kang accomplish his goal? And why would the fact that he's using the Hulk to gain his vengeance provide him with such a sense of satisfaction? Let's let Kang himself explain, as the Hulk battles his way through the time storm. (You'd think even the Hulk would have a difficult time battling through a turbulent time storm, since there's no way for him to even gain his footing--but we'll let Kang have his moment.)

So in essence, Kang destroys the Avengers by having the Hulk kill the Phantom Eagle before the pilot accomplishes his mission. As for the Hulk, he gets what he's desired most of all--the end of Banner. A short-lived victory, indeed, since the Hulk will also cease to exist as a result.

But regardless, let's join the Hulk as he conquers the time storm and lands in the middle of WWI, as the Phantom Eagle prepares to undertake his mission to destroy the deadly enemy weapon. Little does he know that the Hulk is nearby, and girding himself to stop him.

It would seem that Kang has planned well, and won the day. But in avoiding the enemy artillery fire, the Hulk himself may accomplish what the Eagle set out to do. Nor is that irony lost on a very frustrated conqueror.

This admittedly hasn't been Kang's day. Unfortunately, his day has yet to run its course--because though he seeks to cut his losses with the Hulk and wash his hands of the brute, the Hulk's return to the present will ensure that Kang's days of meddling with the past are over, at least for *ahem* the time being.

As for the Phantom Eagle, he would pop up in Marvel continuity on rare occasion, most notably as part of a WWI team of heroes called the Freedom's Five, and, later, a spirit who sought vengeance against a German pilot, Hermann von Reitberger, who strafed and killed both the Eagle and his parents near the end of the war. Five will get you ten that Kang had a little conversation with von Reitberger beforehand.

Incredible Hulk #135

Script: Roy Thomas
Pencils: Herb Trimpe
Inks: Sal Buscema
Letterer: Sam Rosen


david_b said...

I've never been a huge or loyal Hulk follower, but I've collected nearly all of these majestically-beautiful Trimpe covers. The rich, bold swirl of purples and green were fantastic on most covers, like 104, 112, 118, 121, 123 and so on, to name a few. Obviously the 1968 Steranko King-Sized cover (with Marie's touches) triumphantly comes to mind as well.

Love the interior art during Herb's tenure and Roy typically had some great stories of our meandering Hulkster. So I pick up the VF+ covers and love the little stories inside.

Comicsfan said...

david, I don't think I truly became a Trimpe fan until John Severin began embellishing his work--then I was all in. :)

haydn said...

Small detail: The last half of this story was lettered (uncredited) by Herb Cooper (compare his work in Daredevil #50).

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