Monday, August 20, 2018

The Bride Of M.O.D.O.K.!

It's 1983, and we're hip-deep in the middle of a Bill Mantlo story featuring the Incredible Hulk! And with Mr. Mantlo at the helm, you can imagine the piecemeal plot that you've stumbled into. But the PPC is on the job, with a handy synopsis that tries to make sense of events which took four issues to play out. Fasten your seatbelt:

  • Gen. "Thunderbolt" Ross, now in charge of a military installation known as Project: Earthfall, responds to the alert of an intruder--M.O.D.O.K., the deadly creation of Advanced Idea Mechanics whose mental powers are both coveted and feared by his A.I.M. masters!
  • MODOK has come to exploit the creature that Project: Earthfall was built to contain:  the Abomination, who remains on ice since being discovered in a frozen state in space following his thrashing by the Hulk. Yet Ross, unknown to anyone stationed at the facility, also plans to use the Abomination--against the Hulk, in the belief that the monster, now under the control of Bruce Banner's mind, would eventually revert to his former savage state. By acting against a presidential pardon of the Hulk, Ross is willing to commit treason by going through with his plan.
  • The Abomination, due to being beaten so badly by the Hulk in their prior encounter, is now a whimpering coward--terrified at the thought of meeting him in battle again.  How the mighty have fallen.
  • MODOK, confronted by Ross, strikes a bargain with him for the use of the Abomination, while delighted that a man of Ross's military career would stoop to committing treason to gain his ends. The pact: the Abomination will first destroy the Hulk, then be sent to subjugate the forces of AIM and bring them once more under the control of their creation.
  • To overcome the Abomination's paralyzing fear, MODOK removes him from Project: Earthfall and begins torturing conditioning him to dread his treatment by MODOK even more than another match with the Hulk. The Abomination is also assured that, with Banner's mind in control, the Hulk isn't likely to attain the savagery that's necessary to increase his strength to a level which surpasses his own.
  • While the Abomination moves to attack and destroy the Hulk at Banner's observatory, MODOK barely survives a two-pronged attack by AIM agents who are well on their way to creating a second MODOK, one which this time will be totally subservient to them.
  • Things don't exactly go as planned, for anyone. Failing against the Hulk/Banner, the Abomination makes off with Banner's assistant, scientist/S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Katherine Waynesboro, with the intention of luring the Hulk to MODOK. (How he thinks that will fulfill his obligation to MODOK is anyone's guess. But with MODOK already dealing with hordes of AIM agents trying to gun him down, we can make a fair guess as to what our Mental Organism Designed Only for Killing will do to the idiot who's responsible for adding the Hulk to his list of problems.)
  • Bringing his daughter, Betty, to the observatory and expecting the Hulk to be dead, Ross is enraged to find Banner alive and "outs" himself to both of them vis-à-vis his collusion with MODOK. As a result, Ross is exposed as a traitor--while the Hulk races to track Dr. Waynesboro, whose life he'll find is in danger in more ways than one!

It's beginning to look like no one is getting out of this Mantlo plot in one piece. Ross, disgraced... the Abomination, a quivering mental wreck... and to top it off, thanks to the machinations of A.I.M., it's MODOK vs. MODOK--and guess who's caught in the middle?

But let's backtrack a bit and catch up first with the Abomination--a cat's-paw of both Ross and MODOK, in a no-win situation and grasping at straws to save his life. The hapless straw he's currently holding is Dr. Waynesboro, whom he delivers to MODOK's stronghold near the coast of Maine--but as both discover, there's been a change in management.

Rather than attacking one who has clearly been as much a victim of MODOK as they were, the A.I.M. forces take pity on the Abomination and leave him to his cowering and cringing. Unfortunately, SHIELD agent Waynesboro fits perfectly into their plans to regain their initiative as an organization and, more importantly for the time being, provide a defense against their former master who has sworn to return and destroy them all.

On approach to the A.I.M. base, however, is the Hulk, who encounters MODOK and, through a mind link, learns what has befallen both the Abomination and Waynesboro.

Of course, with Waynesboro in danger, MODOK has found the perfect bruiser to storm the A.I.M. base and run interference for him against A.I.M.'s forces in search of her. But their assault may be too late, as Waynesboro has already been forced to begin the terrible procedure that will turn her into the horror that will be A.I.M.'s first line of defense against MODOK.

On the way to the alteration chamber, the Hulk and MODOK encounter the fearful Abomination, cringing in a corner and recoiling in terror when his abuser rounds a corner and notices him. Indeed, as the Hulk continues on, MODOK takes a few moments to give his former lackey a taste of the excruciating pain that awaits him for his failure.

But as the Hulk enters the chamber, he experiences pain of a different sort, when the woman he's developed feelings for is finally revealed in her new, ghastly form.

(We can all agree that A.I.M. is one of the most sinister organizations around, but you have to give it up for these pillbox-heads for their utterly depraved workmanship.)

Yet despite their careful precautions as far as ensuring that "Ms. MODOK" (ye gods, what a name) will be firmly in their control, it soon becomes spine-chillingly clear to these scientists that they haven't quite licked this recurring (and potentially fatal) problem. In other words, Ms. MODOK has emerged with a will of her own--and with her words, she reveals why, in this particular experiment, A.I.M.'s reach continues to exceed its grasp.

As for MODOK, it almost goes without saying that his meeting with his distaff counterpart is a match made in... made in... well, the jury's still out on what ghoulish setting would be appropriate.

Not for the likes of these mental titans are the traditional rituals of joining. Yet given what follows, the shocked Hulk could assume that he's witnessed a proposal of sorts (and for the sake of our sanity we should probably limit it to that)--while MODOK, for whatever reason, nevertheless wishes to observe the formality of the occasion, albeit with a sadistic flair.

But in slaying the Abomination, MODOK has overstepped himself where his intended "bride" is concerned. For despite the fact that we've witnessed her mowing down the A.I.M. scientists who initially confronted her, she takes exception to MODOK's casual disdain for the lives of those who oppose him--and before you know it, our happy well-matched couple is having their first fight, one that will possibly bring an end to the all-too-brief existence of Ms. MODOK.

In response to the Hulk's attack, MODOK retaliates--but Mantlo throws a twist into the story, and into the character of this long-standing evil antagonist, by having MODOK spare the lives of both the Hulk and his rebel bride before using his power to blast his way to freedom. And while you might wonder if Dr. Waynesboro would consider her continued existence as a monstrosity a blessing, MODOK has arranged for (of all things) a happy ending for both of our doctors present.

Banner would go on to seek out a sympathetic ear as to whether he should expose Ross as a traitor--while Ross himself would come to his own decision in that regard. As for MODOK, Mr. Mantlo never did explain just how our mental organism was going to spend his wedding night without a bride--but we're all probably in agreement that we're better off not knowing.

Look out! Now A.I.M. is scouting comics conventions for prospective MODOK candidates!

Incredible Hulk #290

Script: Bill Mantlo
Pencils: Sal Buscema
Inks: Carlos Garzon
Letterer: Mickey Higgins


Jared said...

I have the Mantlo Hulk run, which I think is one of the most underrated Marvel runs of all time, on my to reread list. Been a long time since I read this, so I don't remember what my initial thoughts were. Not sure I am going to be too into this particular issue the second time around.

I will always think that Buscema is the best at drawing Hulk, but it appears that the proportional size between Hulk and MODOK is a bit inconsistent throughout the issue.

Anonymous said...

Oh, lord. I always kinda liked Bill Mantlo, he's written some great stories, but this was not his finest hour.


Comicsfan said...

M.P., I quite agree that there were some Mantlo stories in this title where he rolled up his sleeves and really hit it out of the park, while others seemed to indicate that he simply fulfilled the assignment and wasn't particularly interested in digging deeper and making it more of a story. (I could say the same for Len Wein; and I would think it also holds true for artists such as Buscema, et al.) I think this tale falls somewhere inbetween. It has a lot of elements for a good story--yet while Mantlo covers all the bases he needs to hit, he doesn't linger, preferring the reader fill in the blanks (e.g., MODOK's curious decision to spare the lives of both Banner and Waynesboro). Mantlo had enough issues to explore more deeply the plot he put in place--but IMO it would take a more coordinated effort by both writer and artist to give this plot its proper due. A whiplash reset of Ms. MODOK, for instance, makes her appearance practically moot.