Wednesday, June 13, 2018

At the Mercy Of Maximus!

A splendid two-part tale from September of 1969 features not only a classic tale starring the incredible Hulk--not only scripting from Stan Lee, 46 years old and at the peak of his talent--not only artist Herb Trimpe inking his own pencils--but also a reunion between the Hulk and a group of Inhumans he came into conflict with in the previous year's Hulk Annual, as he again becomes involved in the ruthless plans of Black Bolt's crazed brother, the mad Maximus. This would also be Lee's final issue as writer of the character, as he passes the reins of the book to its new regular writer, Roy Thomas.

Lee's parting story picks up with Bruce Banner, who washes up on the shore of the Central America city of Costa Salvador following the Hulk's battle with the Sub-Mariner. What he finds in the first town he comes to is a population that makes the people of Stepford look positively animated--and an imposing statue which casts its "gaze" in all directions.

To answer Banner's question, we can make a fair assumption and say that, for him, these strange sights won't add up to much at all. But for the man-monster he shares his tragic existence with, all the signs in Costa Salvador point to--trouble!

The only clue as to what's going on in this town regarding its mesmerized populace is the strange throbbing that Banner begins to experience in his head, combined with an increasing difficulty to think. Almost immediately, his concerns are addressed by a stranger who introduces himself as a servant of the "Great One"--someone who has no compunction about explaining to this disheveled visitor exactly what is happening to him, what is responsible for it, and how powerless he is to prevent it. Though our friend will want to amend that last presumption in short order.

Having recognized the Hulk, our suddenly fleeing local heads in the direction of the castle in order to warn the Great One, a destination where the Hulk will soon enough follow. For now, the Hulk's curiosity is piqued by the statue and its rays of light, which he recalls Banner being affected by--but unlike Banner, the Hulk appears to have an immunity to its mind-numbing sweep. It's anyone's guess why a creature of the Hulk's limited mental acuity would be less susceptible to having his will drained by the statue's rays; suffice to say that the Hulk's instincts move him to flip the "off" switch, regardless.

An observation to be made here is that, if the Hulk had pursued his attack and instead used his own raw strength against the statue to destroy it, this story might well have ended here and now, leaving the Great One stomping his feet at his plans being foiled once more by the Hulk. But it seems he's more intent to confront whoever resides in the castle and get to bottom of this--and so, with a leap, he soars toward the hilltop castle to make it so.

Other pertinent scenes, meanwhile, serve to catch us up with how others are reacting to the situation in Costa Salvador. One group of people consists of the book's semi-regular cast of characters at an American southwest base, where Gen. "Thunderbolt" Ross receives an emergency call from the Pentagon which has him mobilizing a task force to meet what appears to be a threat to the region--while in the castle, the instigator of this crisis reveals to us both his identity and his master plan.

It's never explained in this story how Black Bolt's forces were unable to prevent their seven most dangerous prisoners from escaping incarceration (to say nothing of the entire Asian continent) following the events in the Annual. Regardless, Maximus and his powerful followers have certainly traveled a long way from the Great Refuge to launch this new scheme; not so long ago, their most fervent desire was only to depose Black Bolt and assume rule of their hidden land and its people. Yet as we've learned, Maximus' endgame of pressuring Black Bolt to relinquish his throne remains the same--he's simply concocted a more elaborate and far-reaching way of bringing it about.

As for our loyal servant, he at last arrives in Maximus' court to deliver his news; unfortunately, no one has ever enlightened this greedy man that Maximus has no scruples against "shooting the messenger" (something he has in common with Dr. Doom).

But Maximus receives confirmation of his servant's tidings almost immediately, when his castle is rocked by a shock wave caused by the collision of a powerful object with the protective field surrounding his stronghold--a force that Maximus and the other Inhumans remember well.

At this point in time, Maximus has yet to reveal any power or ability he might have received as an Inhuman--and so his menace has mostly manifested in his inventions and experiments, as well as his resourcefulness and his gift for plotting. As has also been evident, that menace also rises in his insatiable drive to gain the throne from his brother; and since we've seen others like Leonus, Falcona, Timberius, and the rest of their group sharing the same discontent regarding Black Bolt, Maximus has been steadily transformed into more of a villain in much the same mold as Loki, another presumptive heir to a throne, whom others will rally around when the opportunity presents itself. So the fact that Maximus chooses to manipulate his cohorts to battle the Hulk in his place falls in line with the behavior of any despot who strives for power. His claim of possessing "the power supreme" is either part of that manipulation, as bluster that allows him to avoid combat--or it may be justified arrogance, backed up by fact. There's no way to know for sure, nor will we discover the answer in this story.

Regardless, Leonus, Stallior, Nebulo, and the rest are sufficiently motivated to prove themselves against the Hulk--and as we'll see, they're much more coordinated in their attack here than they were in their previous meeting with the brute. Of course, the Hulk has his own strategy, unchanged from one battle to the next: crushing his enemies.

As an Inhuman, it's not clear why Leonus would need what appear to be artificial metal claws--and in these late '60s stories, they seem mostly for show and seldom if ever used on a living foe. You'd think that, going up against the Hulk, he'd come out swinging, as it were--but as a character, Leonus seems to be all bark and no bite.

Stallior, Timberius, and Falcona, however, don't hesitate to attack without mercy.

Yet the battle comes to a halt with the arrival of Ross's task force, a threat which the Hulk recognizes only as a danger to himself and has no way of knowing that it's the activities of Maximus which have drawn the Army here. So when the Hulk displays confusion as to which enemy he should battle, Maximus seizes the opportunity to turn the situation to his advantage.

Regrettably, the Hulk doesn't remember the pitfalls of joining these Inhumans from when he met them previously--otherwise, his decision here would have been a relatively easy one. He's correct in one thing, though--whatever way he decides, he loses. And as this part of the tale draws to its close, the question is: In the end, will he?


Incredible Hulk #119

Script: Stan Lee
Pencils and Inks: Herb Trimpe
Letterer: Artie Simek

1 comment:

Rick said...

I loved Herb's artwork at this point in his career. You can see him really taking his time on each page. It's pretty awkward, yes, but really speaks to me of that particular Marvel era.

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