Monday, November 28, 2016

The Brawn Of The Brain!

It probably comes as no surprise that the incredible Hulk has had his share of gargantuan foes who have wanted to stomp him flat as a pancake--nor is it exactly surprising that those attempts have met with failure, if not the total destruction of his attacker.

But, M.O.D.O.K. doing the stomping? With those spindly little legs of his?

Let's just say that he's worked around that hindrance.

Yikes!  Isn't MODOK supposed to be all brains and no brawn?

From MODOK's profile elsewhere at the PPC, this "mental organism" has always relied on the incredible mental abilities given to him by his creators in Advanced Idea Mechanics, as well as the resources of A.I.M. itself, to accomplish his goals. So why would MODOK feel that he would now need a body of some sort to confront and deal with his enemies?

For the reason, we need to backtrack a bit as to what his "refit" has to do with the Hulk, and why the Hulk's current activities would gain MODOK's interest. The answers to both questions have in common the danger the Hulk presents to MODOK and the countermeasures that MODOK will use to address that danger. We should address the latter first, since it involves one of the primary supporting characters of the Hulk's book--Betty Talbot, daughter of General "Thunderbolt" Ross and wife of Maj. Glenn Talbot, a man whose separate PPC profile (or one of them--he's a popular guy here) details how he's recently been killed during a rescue attempt to free Gen. Ross from a Russian military installation. The General has just returned to the States, and has the unpleasant task of informing Betty that her husband didn't make it back from that mission.

Betty's mental state has been precarious at times, having previously suffered a breakdown over the fate of Bruce Banner and then finally deciding to become Talbot's wife when Banner was presumed dead at a later date. Now the stability and normalcy that she'd longed for and finally attained in her marriage are about to be ripped away--and we can only hope her old hospital room is still available, if her reaction to her father's news is any indication of her ability to cope.

As for MODOK, at this point he still thrives as the undisputed master of AIM--and artist Herb Trimpe paints an imposing picture of him, indeed.

It's a curious caption that writer Steve Englehart includes: "Look carefully at this set-up... and ponder for a minute how it operates. It'll blow your mind." I can't say it does all that, though that's no slight to Mr. Trimpe's work here--it's just that the operational aspects here appear to be rather basic, in comparison to Trimpe's other more impressive full-page contributions in this book. But there are still some interesting things to note if we "look around" (and which Englehart's narrative helps to describe):

  • The AIM informants/agents who are coming and going are obviously posted in a variety of occupations in both civilian and governmental roles, though I would think that would be more Hydra's forte rather than an organization such as AIM which specializes in R&D. MODOK has clearly seen the value in diversifying AIM's modus operandi.
  • Elevating tubes that raise the operative to MODOK's level; only one at a time, from the looks of it, a sequence which Trimpe illustrates nicely. For instance, the AIM chef currently has MODOK's attention, with the pony-tailed blonde next in the queue; the (foreign?) operative descending on the right has just finished his briefing; the uniformed man stepping off at ground level having finished just prior to him (apparently the foreign agent's business was brief); while the woman in the red coat is about to step onto the vacant tube to wait her turn.

One of AIM's agents is crucial to our story--a plant at the airport where Ross's plane has arrived and where Betty's collapse has been observed. Our Johnny-on-the-spot is quick to make his report to MODOK, following protocol which it's a fair guess to say is MODOK's preferred method of receiving communications from his operatives--i.e., a report confined to facts, figures, and brevity.

It's through this news that MODOK's plans come to be revealed, in terms of his new humanoid body and his designs on Betty Talbot--with the Hulk being the common denominator.

From what we've learned in this scene, MODOK's primary choice in making a preemptive strike on the Hulk and thus removing the monster from possibly interfering in MODOK's work will be in the use of Betty--with his new body serving as additional protection/weaponry should he be threatened by either the Hulk or other powerful enemies which his mental abilities cannot deal with.

And speaking of the Hulk, Betty receives an unexpected (and certainly unauthorized) visitor at her sanitarium whose presence probably won't do her current mental state any favors--Bruce Banner, who acknowledges and regrets his role in landing her in yet more psychiatric care and wishes to somehow make amends. What happens next is irrefutable proof that Banner should know when to leave well enough alone.

Trimpe's handling of each of Betty's flare-ups in this issue is simply remarkable, giving this character who has always been a supporting player in this book a well-deserved new focus, having finally reached her breaking point and becoming a character in her own right rather than "the General's daughter" who has been swept up in the Hulk's nightmare. Betty has always been collateral damage as far as the vain hope of a life with Bruce Banner was concerned; now she is a shattered soul who had placed all of her hopes in a new husband only to find that nascent life taken from her as well. As disturbing as it is to see, this development makes perfect sense for Englehart to pursue, and both he and Trimpe have shown us quite a changed character after all this time in a stagnant role.

Naturally, MODOK gets word of Betty's outburst, because AIM even has agents stationed at sanitariums. That's a bit of a stretch for Englehart to make--after all, you can't help but wonder which sanitariums would make AIM's list of necessary facilities to spy on.  How would sanitarium treatments and/or therapy programs be a potential threat in any way to AIM's interests? (Though we'd be hard-pressed to dispute the likelihood that AIM agents would likely have need for therapy, either during or following their employment.) In this case, we could speculate that MODOK wants to keep tabs on Betty's condition, and so he stationed a covert operative at the hospital to keep him informed. Here we see yet another operative who passed the "reporting in" segment of their training with flying colors.

Obviously delighted that his plans for Betty are going to be realized and that he need not worry about risking a battle with the Hulk, MODOK visits Betty's room under cover of night and makes use of his mental powers to further take advantage of her already intense hatred for Banner and the Hulk. Unfortunately, even MODOK has no way of knowing (unless he has an AIM operative posted in a tree somewhere) that the Hulk is returning to the hospital to try to make amends with Betty. As a result, MODOK finds that he must put Plan B for dealing with the Hulk into operation, after all.

MODOK perhaps has every reason to think that he will prevail, since AIM scientists know their business and have doubtless outfitted MODOK's artificial body with sufficient armament and power to deal with the brute. Yet the Hulk is by far the more seasoned combatant of the two, and his own confidence in being able to crush his enemies has proven to be justified every time. And so MODOK finds himself schooled on the Hulk's might in no uncertain terms--and it's back to the drawing board for AIM's vaunted scientists and engineers, who to their credit gave MODOK fair warning of the possible outcome of such a match-up.

And so Plan A is a go after all--but what exactly does that mean for Betty Talbot, now under MODOK's sway? MODOK is going to somehow give her the means to vent her anger on the Hulk? We already know MODOK's plans for Betty are dependent on her ability to tolerate exposure to gamma radiation--so what exactly is in store for her? You don't have to wait for the answer, as we discover that, for the Hulk, death is on the wing!

Incredible Hulk #167

Script: Steve Englehart
Pencils: Herb Trimpe
Inks: Jack Abel
Letterer: John Costanza


Colin Jones said...

As I was reading the first lines of today's post I immediately thought of that cover with MODOK stamping on the Hulk and then there it was ! MODOK's "Spider-Slayer" moment. That was one of my favourite covers from Marvel UK's "Mighty World Of Marvel" weekly. And I know what's coming next - the Harpy ! (sorry, is that a spoiler ?) :D

Anonymous said...

This was indeed a wild and woolly period of The Incredible Hulk. It was mind-bogglingly weird, which I always appreciate. And speaking of weird, there are a couple of BIZARRE (note the caps) characters coming up here, including one who will give Modok a run for his money in the weird head department. No spoilers from me!
Cool to see this stuff! Now please excuse me, I have to go take my medication.

Comicsfan said...

Colin and M.P., the MODOK story definitely opened the door to some equally fine tales, featuring a city in the sky as well as one unbelievable makeover for Betty Talbot. They're never going to believe this stuff back in her support group at the hospital.

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