Monday, January 4, 2016

For Justice Comes... the Jack of Hearts!

For a battle issue that practically leaps off the pages, you can't do much better than the knock-down drag-out between the incredible Hulk and the Jack of Hearts, a character who got his start in the black-and-white magazine The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu in 1976 and went on to make his first full-color appearance in comics the next year taking on the Hulk.

With Bruce Banner having decided to make a new life for himself in New York City, the Hulk is encountering his share of local opposition that naturally results in a good deal of street-fighting and rubble-strewn city blocks. Jack is a new hero on the scene, throwing himself into crime-fighting in New York following his accidental exposure to the "zero fluid" solution that his father had developed as an energy source; and after hearing reports of the Hulk's rampage (while battling the Quintronic Man), he puts himself on the trail of a foe who will undoubtedly put his formidable power to the test.

Jack gets points for sheer audacity as far as skipping right to the top of the totem pole and starting his career by taking on the mightiest mortal on the face of the Earth.  Maybe he should have first done his homework on this gamma-spawned bruiser that's about to clean his clock?

However this fight turns out, it's we readers who score the win, since it's a slug-fest to behold from beginning to end. Artist Sal Buscema, inked by the very strong influence of Ernie Chan, choreographs this fight quite well, panel by panel, with writer Len Wein putting the Hulk in the mood to make this a fight to the finish. There's also the treat of seeing the distinctive costume of Jack of Hearts in full color, a feather in the cap of colorist Glynis Wein but likely a painstaking task considering the detailed work that it warrants.

Jack is obviously full of zeal in this early stage of his life as a super-hero, coming after the Hulk after helping out the authorities in the aftermath of the brute's attack on the Quintronic Man and not stopping to investigate the circumstances. All he knows (or cares to know) about the Hulk is that he's a menace that's apparently out of control, and Jack means to put a stop to it.

We know in hindsight that Jack's power is concussive in nature, held only in check by the armored costume he wears. If ruptured, the results are explosive beyond Jack's ability to withstand; otherwise, he's able to direct the energy as he sees fit, whether in physical form or through bursts of power (which also give him the power of flight). Dracula might contemptuously call Jack's abilities "good for show," which might be a fair assessment; we're often told of Jack's dangerous levels of power, yet we rarely get a sense of that power when it's delivered in such a flashy manner. The concussive use of his power would be far more impressive if it were handled like that of, say, Blastaar, whose ability is much the same but displayed far more (say it with me) explosively.  Failing that, why not give Jack's punches and other hits sound effects like BDOM! or THBOOM! instead of WHUDD! or SHRAMM!

But Jack has committed himself with the Hulk, and Buscema indeed delivers in this fight--so let's give this new hero a chance to show what he's got. Admittedly, if you can fend off the likes of the Hulk while using him as a punching bag, you must be doing something right.

Suddenly, Jack has two complications: the Hulk finally reaching his limit with being on the receiving end of this fight, and the presence of innocent firemen responding to an emergency at the docks. Jack must now shift to a diversionary fight, at least temporarily, in order to give the men time to reach safety while the blazing freighter they're fighting to control is towed from the area before its boilers explode. To Jack's credit, his actions reflect the mark of a hero, setting him apart from someone simply out to make a name for himself by recklessly tackling the Hulk. The down side is that the Hulk has been so angered that he doesn't care a whit about anything now but destroying this enemy who has attacked him for no reason--and with the Hulk's rage now off the scale, Jack finds himself up against an opponent who is relentless, unstoppable, and a threat to his life.

With the pace of the battle and Jack's brutal treatment at the hands of the Hulk, it's perhaps unrealistic for Wein to have him react so clear-headed to the beating he's taking, his body's ability to be healed by his power notwithstanding. Even during this fight's climax, Jack seems to have all the time in the world to assess the situation and come to the conclusion that his actions toward the Hulk may have been unwarranted--apparently forgetting that he's here in the first place because of the Hulk's rampage on the streets. Jack's conclusion about the Hulk simply defending himself happens to be true; but without staying to question the police at the scene of the battle with the Quintronic Man, all he can assume is that the Hulk lashed out at both the police and the manned construct without cause. For a man so consumed with securing justice, he's awfully quick to set that obsession aside and start second-guessing himself.

As for the Hulk--well, if Jack is hoping for the man-monster to give him a breather while he's figuring everything out, he's unfortunately mistaken!

The Hulk is in the middle of his victory shout when the freighter finally explodes, the force shooting Jack out of the smokestack and washing him up at the pier. For what it's worth, the fire chief congratulates Jack for appearing to have ended the menace of the Hulk, though Jack now his misgivings about the entire matter. Of course, we could whisper in his ear and assure him that the Hulk, too, will walk away from this fight.

Incredible Hulk #214

Script: Len Wein
Pencils: Sal Buscema
Inks: Ernie Chan
Letterer: John Costanza


Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed this period of INCREDIBLE HULK. Wein seemed to find the right balance of humor, pathos, and Hulk-smashing, as well as a nice mix of interesting villains and guest-stars. (Dr. Druid comes to mind.) And I really enjoyed Chan's inks on Sal's pencils. Chan put in a lot of detail without losing any of Buscema's kinetic energy. I don't think Sal was always as well served by inkers later on.
As far as Jack goes, I don't recall Marvel ever doing much with the guy, except for a fight with Iron Man. That Jack sure had a high opinion of himself, going after the heavyweights.

Comicsfan said...

Well, M.P., Jack rescues Cassandra Lang from a kidnapper (before unfortunately detonating with the madman); and for what it's worth, he was instrumental in the "disassembling" of the Avengers (after a fashion--you don't see many corpses being instrumental in anything). We can safely say that his career ended in a bang--or rather, a couple of them.

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