Thursday, February 18, 2016

One Man-Monster, Special Delivery!

The so-called War of the Super-Villains taking place in the pages of Invincible Iron Man in 1975 took awhile to run its course--not because of the scope of the conflict or the egos of the villains involved, but mostly due to the book's creative team(s) not being able to meet their deadlines. (A situation which perhaps doesn't speak well of the story's plot, which read as if it were cobbled together.) And so sandwiched inbetween those issues were two inventory stories (diplomatically called "untold tales," which technically would be correct), along with a reprint of a prior story from early 1969--one with a very eye-catching cover which was deemed to be worthy of recycling.

Since this story originally took place in the early days of Iron Man's own title, and since the Hulk and Iron Man had never had it out in the pages of Tales of Suspense, it would be the first-ever solo match between the two (if you're not counting their slugfest in a 1964 alternate reality). And now, six years later, the issue is dug up and thrust into the middle of a story already in progress, without explanation--apparently banking on the still-enticing image of a Hulk/Iron Man throw-down to allow the title a 30-day reprieve in order to complete the next regular issue.

The story still holds up well, and so the reader who's never laid eyes on it before will probably find it sufficiently entertaining to tide them over. It's also mildly intriguing, given how unconventionally the two combatants are brought together. The fight would raise questions with Iron Man as to the Hulk's motives, to say nothing of his methods; but before the two meet in battle, we get a sense of the unusual circumstances involved when we see that a mysterious figure is responsible for the Hulk's appearance, one who arranges for the monster to be secretly brought to the states inside, of all things, a shipping crate. (At least they wouldn't have needed to bother stamping it "FRAGILE.")

As we can see, the story (scripted by Archie Goodwin) gets revved up almost immediately, with the Hulk first being run through a series of tests that gauge his great strength and then given instructions on his mission. Aside from the fact that the Hulk is cooperating fully with the one who's directing his actions, there is otherwise nothing apparently amiss with the Hulk's tone or demeanor that might make us suspect that he's not the genuine article or that all is not right with him. Nor is it difficult to guess how he might come into conflict with Iron Man, since his target appears to be either Tony Stark, or Stark's love interest, Janice Cord--but what's the story?

We find out which one of these people the Hulk is after soon enough--only to scratch our heads when the Hulk abducts Ms. Cord and leaps away with her, a course of action which understandably mystifies Iron Man, who knows the Hulk better than most. Yet Iron Man's main concern is Janice--and to see to her safety, he must stop the Hulk.

The Hulk only rages at Iron Man in response to his questions, disclosing no information whatsoever as to why he's acting as he is. After sending Iron Man into a near-deadly plunge off the ledge, the Hulk is able to recover Janice and leap away again while Iron Man swiftly repairs a piece of faulty equipment--and it's during that time that Janice realizes that she's being used as bait in order to keep Iron Man following the Hulk. If we're to believe the Hulk, the reason lies in battle, and nothing more--but Iron Man's questions persist.

Both Iron Man and the Hulk survive the explosion, though the Hulk is able to again recover Janice and this time head to a nearby power plant--with a certain golden Avenger in hot pursuit. And as their final clash reaches its climax, Iron Man learns only part of the answer behind the Hulk's actions, while the greater mystery remains.

Somebody's obviously made a pretty durable robot, if it can employ the brute strength of the Hulk by leaping over and breaking through buildings without incurring so much as a scratch, and survive an explosion, and go toe-to-toe with Iron Man. We know in hindsight that the "somebody" is the Mandarin, who concocted this scheme in order to pierce Iron Man's double-identity as Tony Stark--something he's repeatedly stumbled upon but would again be foiled at in the conclusion to this story. Perhaps the only question left hanging in the air is: how did a crate carrying a Hulk robot get through Customs?? Talk about sleeping on the job!

Invincible Iron Man #9

Script: Archie Goodwin
Pencils: George Tuska
Inks: Johnny Craig
Letterer: Artie Simek


Kid said...

Actually, there's a note above the credits explaining that the story is a reprint because of the dreaded deadline doom. I hadn't read this tale before and quite enjoyed it. Funny how the Hulk seemed first pick for this kind of treatment 'though, eh? Didn't Kirby have an android Hulk in an issue of FF? And there was a cosmic-powered Hulk in a couple of issues of The Eternals.

Comicsfan said...

Excellent points, Kid! Pretty soon we'll have to move from calling the Hulk "man-monster" to "man-machine"!

Kid said...

Note also that the Hulk's feet on the cover of the reprint hadn't been revised to look bigger, unlike the original which had been altered before publication. I wonder who did the alteration?

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