Thursday, October 20, 2016

Two Against The World!

Part Two of a Fantastic Four story from 1976 begins with an incredible development--and if you've already read Part One, you can almost find yourself nodding in agreement with just about everything that's written on the splash page of this story's conclusion:

Picking up where we left off in the previous issue, we find the Thing has suddenly and inexplicably joined forces with the incredible Hulk--not only dropping his three partners in the FF in favor of this new alliance with the green goliath, but also turning on Reed, Sue, and Johnny, as well as threatening the human race. Just how inexplicably this turn of events has come about is evident from the shocked faces and pleas of the remaining FF members--but since this first page serves as a recap of what's already happened, let's go over a few of the things we're being told here, just to make sure we're covering all the bases:

  • "It had to happen--or DID it?" It's an odd question to begin with, one that hasn't a prayer of being answered at this point. Did all of this have to happen? A better question might be, how could a situation like this come about? We can at least identify the catalyst for the events of this story: Ben Grimm, whose strange behavior hopscotched from one peculiarity to the next.  First he began feeling useless to the FF after playing no part in a recent crisis... then he became disgruntled over the FF's pursuit of the Hulk, even though their goal was to cure Bruce Banner... then he took reluctant part in the Hulk's capture, though he'd never expressed such reservations about the many other times the Fantastic Four had been forced to engage the Hulk... followed by his ruination of Banner's cure after seeing the military restrain Banner as a precaution following his treatment... and then, finally, deciding to leave the FF and join forces with the Hulk, while forgetting the fact that this entire undertaking was to help Bruce Banner.
  • "Angered at the treatment meted out to the captive Hulk..." Well, no--Ben was angered by the treatment meted out to the captive Bruce Banner, when the military placed him under restraint following his procedure. And that being the case, why not simply unshackle Banner and join forces with him?
  • "In the name of heaven, Ben--you've got to be kidding!" Words likely (and loudly) echoed by readers being swept along by this story's entwined plot.
  • "We brought the Hulk here to cure him, not to harm him." More accurately, "We brought the Hulk here so that we could cure Bruce Banner." The same Bruce Banner who, earlier in the story, Ben was well aware of as having been the one who suffered from the accident that transformed him into the Hulk. If Ben sympathizes so much with Banner's plight, why take his eye off that ball?

Even now, it almost seems as if this story is trying to make sense of itself, which is turning out to be no small task. What happens when things become even more chaotic, as this situation escalates? There's one way to find out.

First up for this new team of two is escaping the confinement of this military installation, which first means going through the FF. Between the Hulk and the Thing, both Reed and the Torch are dealt with, leaving Sue and the installation's commander, Col. Sellers, fighting a losing battle.

Despite Reed's words, and without spilling the beans too much, there really turns out to be no reason for the Thing's behavior outside of acting on impulse. It becomes clear that Ben is still riled about Sellers' treatment of Banner, when Reed's deal with the military specified that Banner be set free once he was cured; yet it was reasonably clear that Sellers was likely to keep that bargain, even if his methods for taking precautions were ill considered. So the bottom line here in trying to figure out Ben's reasoning is how unleashing the Hulk and escaping with him helps Banner. Even Reed Richards would get a migraine trying to crack that nut; as for Ben, we could probably chalk it up to not thinking things through, letting his temper get the best of him. Writer Roy Thomas never addresses the matter, choosing instead to press the reset button near the story's climax in order to return "thing"s to status quo.

Thanks to the Hulk spotting the Gateway Arch in St. Louis and associating it with a peaceful place in the desert he used to gather his (you'll excuse the word) thoughts, the pair decide to stop there, at least for the time being. Taking the Hulk into a populated area isn't the brightest of Ben's choices, either, but a new development occurs which at least helps to explain that decision--strange spells of dizziness which begin to distract him. We learned in the prior issue of the military's ability to track the Hulk due to the fact that he intermittently emits gamma radiation--and with Reed weighing in, Ben's affliction appears to have an explanation.

It's gratifying that Reed is careful to distinguish between Ben's behavior in regard to the Hulk and the gamma radiation angle that's now come into play, rather than making the conclusion that one was responsible for the other. I wouldn't have wanted to rip my copy of this issue into shreds without finding out how the story ends!

Meanwhile, in St. Louis, the military is moving in on the Thing and the Hulk--and while the Thing, at least, is trying to defuse the situation, the Hulk handles encounters with the military only one way.

As the Hulk continues his attack, the Thing's disorientation worsens, just as the FF arrive and attempt to get the Thing to rejoin them. The Hulk reacts accordingly, even as the Thing insists to Reed that he'll handle the Hulk his way--and with no one backing off, it soon becomes team against team.

We know from these older FF stories that Sue's limitations by her writers often didn't allow her to think on her feet and be more creative with her powers when it counted--so in this case, "unless" will almost certainly be (and is) followed up by protecting Reed with her force field, a tactic which has already failed with the Hulk in this story. What would have been her other options, given the limited time she has in which to act? It's an interesting question to throw to the floor--what would you have suggested to Sue? (A force field push to knock the Hulk off the arch would have been my first thought.)

In this case, with two pages left in the story to wrap things up, Thomas sticks with the tried and true, in order to set up the Thing switching sides once more--his sympathies for the Hulk now evaporated, just like that. We might argue that it was the sight of seeing his best friend in danger that tipped the scale for Ben, though exactly what kind of behavior was he expecting from the Hulk? The FF was bound to confront this pair sooner or later--what was the plan for that contingency? To keep the Hulk on some kind of leash? To run interference and deal with the FF himself, keeping the Hulk on the sidelines? Keeping the Hulk on the sidelines?

As for the development regarding the gamma radiation emissions, at least that turned out to have a purpose--one that removes the Thing from the FF's roster in any event, this time apparently for good.

A nice touch by artist George Perez, showing the Hulk alone and abandoned. Without dialog, the panel still makes a statement about what the Hulk might have hoped for in this new beginning with a powerful and sincere ally, as well as his presumed confusion as to how or why it all fell apart (though it becomes clear on who he ultimately places the blame). The Hulk's luck in that respect would go from bad to worse, since Thomas's narrative lets us know what story the Hulk is leaping off to--and his next ally is one who's already left his humanity behind him.

Fantastic Four #167

Script: Roy Thomas
Pencils: George Perez
Inks: Joe Sinnott
Letterer: Joe Rosen


Anonymous said...

The Hulk was regularly hanging out with the Defenders at this time so there were plenty of occasions when he wasn't alone.

Warren JB said...

Well, it's not the best side-effect of the Hulk's gamma emmissions I've seen pulled out of a hat, but it's not the worst, either. (I have to think - what was the worst?)

Comicsfan said...

I can't say I was ever comfortable with the Hulk's regular appearances in The Defenders, Colin, probably having to do with the point you mention. It's hard to buy how isolated and hunted the Hulk comes across in his own mag, when over in the Defenders he's part of the team and throwing frisbee with everyone. Being hounded by the military so often, it's a wonder he doesn't make tracks for Defenders H.Q. more often.

johnlindwall said...

This was just the kind of battle issue I was hoping for!

Yeah, Ben was acting erratically. So that was due to the Hulk's gamma leaks, eh? Is that also why Ben regained his human form at the end? I don't recall knowing about this radiation leakage thing before... I read a little of the Red Hulk stuff more recently, and that guy definitely emitted radiation! I never knew the precedent had been set by ol' Greenskin.

This blog is certainly edumacational!

Comicsfan said...

John, actually, they're two separate issues in the story. The Hulk's gamma emissions had nothing to do with Ben's odd behavior--it was only responsible for his later dizziness and his change back to his human form, due to being in close proximity to the Hulk for a period of hours. The story makes it too easy to blur the lines and blame Ben's behavior on the radiation. Thomas does distinguish between the two, but only in passing; Ben's inexplicable behavior cries out for some justifiable explanation, which unfortunately makes it too easy to lay the blame on radiation exposure.