Thursday, October 27, 2016

Prisoners Of Failure

Following their prior encounter with the incredible Hulk, the super-villain foursome known as the uncanny U-Foes finally have the attention they coveted from the world--though it's definitely not to their liking. Overriding television broadcasts worldwide, they planned to establish their reputation overnight, in a most dramatic fashion--by executing the captive Bruce Banner on camera, and thereby cementing their status as a deadly force to be feared. But Banner (who at the time could control his transformations into the Hulk while retaining his own mind) foiled their plan, and it was instead the U-Foes who were beaten and captured. Since then, the Hulk has reverted to savagery, and banished from Earth by Dr. Strange to a dimensional "crossroads" where he would hopefully discover an environment in which to live out his life.

Back in our dimension, in a special prison facility in Nevada constructed to nullify their powers, the U-Foes have yet to face arraignment for their actions, as their private counsel continues to press for formal charges while the U.S. District Attorney veers the discussion in the direction of a plea bargain which will force the U-Foes to renounce their powers.  Under other circumstances, it would be a fascinating look at the tug-of-war often waged involving deals made between opposing counsel, though in this case each side has something to bargain with. The deal the Justice Department offers allows the U-Foes to avoid the costs and possible guilty verdict of a drawn-out trial (with Vector--that is, millionaire Simon Utrecht--unable to cover those costs due to his assets being frozen by the government), along with continued detention should the deal be rejected; while defense counsel knows that costs are also being sustained by the government's expensive incarceration of the U-Foes, a situation the government obviously doesn't wish to prolong.

Yet the maneuvering of these legal eagles is rendered moot when an oversight occurs that causes the unthinkable: the failure of the field keeping the U-Foes helpless. And in seconds, the villains have taken advantage of the government's left hand apparently failing to communicate with its right.

There's no explanation offered as to why these visitors weren't thoroughly cautioned about untreated material coming into contact with the null-field; it's also absurd to be asked to believe that the U.S. District Attorney assigned to this case isn't intimately aware by now of the specific powers of these individuals, and must be brought up to speed when a crisis arises. She knows their names, and their history, but not their powers? Seriously?

All of which is unimportant to the U-Foes, who are moments from freedom. But Vector's enthusiasm at this turn of events has caused him to be reckless with his power--and he and the rest of the U-Foes find themselves ripped from our reality.

And if the U-Foes are no longer in our dimension--guess where they happen to end up?

Unlike their previous meeting, the U-Foes find the Hulk in a totally savage state, with Bruce Banner so deeply and thoroughly suppressed that the Hulk is little more than an animal, operating on instinct, fighting for his territory which has been suddenly invaded by these four. In that respect, the U-Foes have the advantage, since they remember their previous battles with the behemoth and believe they are the only ones here who can plan an offensive. But the Hulk has been in limited contact with a sentient collection of "puffballs"--a fellow exile to the crossroads that has attempted to help the Hulk survive in the conditions he's found himself in.

The U-Foes take this "puffball collective" prisoner and begin to interrogate it, discovering that they've only traded one prison for another. Nevertheless, they attack the Hulk on sight--Ironclad being the first to rain down blow after blow on the Hulk, who lashes out in return. But in a crucial moment, the collective escapes confinement and rushes to the Hulk's aid, with Vector under the impression that this curious creature is incapable of making any sort of difference.

And speaking of Vector, he sticks with a tactic that has failed him twice before--using his power of deflection directly on the Hulk. Vector's attack also takes its toll on the surroundings of the crossroads, before the collective takes some of the heat off of the Hulk by engulfing Vector before being rebuffed; and when the Hulk renews his attack, Vector once again learns the limits of his power when his target is the Hulk.

As for X-Ray, the most lethal of the four, he holds the best chance of success against the Hulk--and were it not for the collective, he would likely eventually prevail against his foe. But the collective provides a sense of direction for the Hulk, and they make quite a team of their own against the U-Foes.

Without Utrecht on his feet to guide his associates, the rest of the villains unfortunately react as teams often do when their writer wishes them to fail--they tackle the Hulk one-on-one, instead of coordinating their efforts. And it appears that whatever state of intelligence the Hulk faces them in, he has enough power to deal with them on that basis, particularly with his plushy ally at his side.

Vector, as if you couldn't guess, takes the direct approach once more against the Hulk, again to no avail. There are probably any number of ways for Vector to counter the Hulk, if he put his mind to it; for instance, how about using his power to deprive the Hulk of his footing and keeping him suspended in mid-air, at a distance? The Hulk isn't going to do much smashing floating in place--and from that point, Vector could, say, deflect the oxygen from the Hulk's proximity, suffocating him. (And that's just thinking off the cuff.) But Vector, like his associates, meets his end on another world, which happens to counter his abilities perfectly.

To my knowledge, the U-Foes never faced their counterparts, the Fantastic Four, in battle--a meeting full of possibilities, since, aside from the FF being their raison d'ĂȘtre, the U-Foes were highly envious of the FF and probably would have liked nothing better than a chance to bring about their end and thus secure their status going forward. Instead, they spent their "career" as fill-in villains as the need arose, never reaching the level of fame and power they gave up their humanity to achieve.

Incredible Hulk #305
(with scenes from #304)

Script: Bill Mantlo
Pencils: Sal Buscema
Inks: Gerry Talaoc
Letterer: Ken Bruzenak


George Chambers said...

Vector: Possesses the ability to repel any form of matter or, apparently, energy.

Vapor: Able to transform herself into any gaseous substance.

X-Ray: Can produce any form of electromagnetic energy.

Ironclad: Colossus in a skirt.

Guess they can't all be awesome...

Warren JB said...

Those are like Spectre-levels of creepy, ironic punishments...

I find it difficult to boo-hiss the U-Foes, even though they don't seem to have any redeeming features. Partly because I know so little about them (these recent PP posts form about 80-90% of my knowledge of them) and partly because they're interesting as an evil version of the Fantastic Four. That alone should provide story opportunities, if only as a lens held up to examine the FF themselves. You'd wonder if the Thing and Ironclad could trade notes about life as a man trapped in a monstrous, mineralised body.
Also, they may be selfish, even sociopathic, but they don't seem particularly stupid (except when the writers need them to be), or driven to villainy because of their transformations. There's at least an arc or two for an attempted heel-face turn there: if it's respect and awe they're after, but keep striking out as bad guys, they could notice how the FF have gained it as good guys.
But instead, they ended up as pretty generic also-rans. Pity.

And if I'm honest, partly because it gets me that even even a big, bad, metallic man-monster needs to see his Mum when he's in trouble.

And another thing: Vector talks about how their transformations affected their appearance. I've wondered about that. Ironclad's covered in/made of organic metal - okay. (Although like George says, what's with the skirt?) X-ray's a living energy field - fine. But what is it about Vector's repulsion powers that inform his look? And did it merely paint him in red and yellow patterns that'd make even a fashion designer yelp, or do they represent energy fields swirling and repelling eachother within his form? They don't seem to change much from one panel to the next - at least not under Sal's pencil.

Anonymous said...

So Vector got so powerful he's repelling reality itself!
I think we've all met people with varying degrees of that superpower...

Comicsfan said...

Warren, I'd like to imagine Vector's costume as you do--that it's made up of animated, ever-shifting patterns of energy and force. Otherwise, there's no reason for his outer appearance, since his form hasn't undergone change to the degree that X-Ray and Ironclad have, and he would be in fatigues much like Vapor. But if his outer clothing is indeed manifesting his power, I would think the null field should have rendered it inert, forcing him to adopt standard prison clothing. (The same should hold true for X-Ray, so maybe we can assume the null field has minimal functionality.)