Monday, January 14, 2019

"Beyond The Border Lurks Death!"

As opposed to other Marvel characters--even those who fly solo--it probably wasn't too difficult to lay out a story in the 1970s which featured the incredible Hulk. Aside from fending off the military and having to factor in the character of Bruce Banner now and then, the Hulk was the type of character who generally had no concerns to keep track of.  No people he needed to see... no appointments to keep... no financial worries or obligations... and of course no one he felt he needed to answer to. And when it came to conflict, he wasn't hampered with doubt as to who would always prevail. To get a Hulk story off the ground, you really only needed to have him show up--and typically, he did so in spectacular fashion.

We'll leave our beleaguered Mounties to discover how greatly they've erred in misjudging their prospects for success here.

From here, the writer and artist had only to deal in a principal cast, and decide how and why their paths would cross with the Hulk's. For instance, how about a former X-Man, whose help has been solicited to help avert a crisis of life and death?

After taking a moment to use pressure on the neck nerves of his companion, Vera, to render her painlessly unconscious, Hank McCoy does indeed find a way to circumvent the closed border. And while border officers have no doubt encountered all types of ways that people have resorted to in order to make their way across, this one will probably be a first.

(Considering that the Beast was only carrying Vera in his arms, there was really only one place where McCoy could have been stashing his civilian clothes, shoes, and rubber mask. But let's not go there.)

Finally, we only need to be introduced to the focal point of the story, which could be an object, or a force, or another member of the cast--in this case, Cal Rankin, a/k/a the Mimic, whose power is apparently the crisis that will involve McCoy and, in some way, presumably, the Hulk.

And *presto*, we have a story--and wow, is there going to be a crisis!

This is definitely a day for writer Steve Englehart to bring old characters out of mothballs. We haven't seen the Mimic since he fell victim to the Super-Adaptoid's power--while the Beast, whom Englehart took over in the character's early days and would later introduce to the Avengers, reappears here immediately after his initial series in Amazing Adventures folded. In the case of Vera, longtime X-Men readers will remember her, along with her friend, Zelda, getting into their fair share of trouble from their double-dates with McCoy and Bobby Drake, respectively--though it looks like Vera has moved on with Rankin.

As for how the Hulk is going to drop in on Rankin, Vera, and McCoy, hold that thought. For now, he seems to be having difficulties of his own--and it's his own stubbornness which may serve to bring him where Englehart wants him to be.

By this point, we'll need to find out the details of Rankin's situation, which goes back to his exposure to a gaseous compound from a deadly experiment his father had been conducting and which eventually led to his "mimicking" ability. He appeared to lose that ability following his battle with the Adaptoid--but now it's become highly dangerous to others, and even lethal.

(We can all probably agree that it was the distinctive eyewear and costume of the Mimic, along with whatever abilities he was mimicking at a given time, which set the character apart; yet originally it seemed clear that, in battling the X-Men, his eyepiece served as a visor that he would lift to unleash the optic beams he mimicked from Cyclops. Artist Herb Trimpe has obviously chosen to retain it, even though there would appear to be no need for it with Cyclops well south of the Canadian border.)

But let's pivot again to the star of this mag.  How's he making out in his trek to find whoever is responsible for this "attack" against him? Not too well...

While it's clear that the Hulk is highly frustrated, worried, and perhaps even desperate, I would have drawn the line at having him say that he was "scared"--a word that one can't even picture being part of his vocabulary, much less being used as an admission. We could instead substitute "Is Hulk really... dying?" Even said timidly, that would satisfactorily convey how helpless he must feel. And it would lead in perfectly to the panels which follow:

Yet Englehart gives the Hulk sufficient (and perfectly understandable, given his disposition) motivation for staying the course and pressing on. Eventually, he reaches his destination, though he doesn't realize it at first. As for what happens now--well, you were given advance notice that he would "drop in" on the others, eh?

In case you were entertaining any thoughts about the Beast's chances of success here, it's fair to think that he'll have quite an advantage, considering the severely weakened state the Hulk finds himself in. Unfortunately for the Beast, the Hulk begs to differ. But both of these combatants have reckoned without the heroism of Rankin, who makes the only decision he believes he can, under the circumstances.

Supposedly the Beast has Rankin to thank for the fact that both he and Vera weren't in danger from Rankin's power (or that his own mutant power wasn't mimicked), even though the two were in such close proximity to Rankin. Englehart gets away with a lot by stressing that Rankin made an effort to stay "on [his] guard continuously" and was "fighting the change" and "holding it off" while still arranging for the Hulk to be affected at such a distance.

It would normally fall to a more eloquent third party in the Hulk's place to either hold himself accountable or to demonstrate some measure of regret in the part he played in escalating this crisis; but again, with a character such as the Hulk, the writer needn't be saddled with having the story deal with that aspect to it to any length. What Englehart does provide for the Hulk is a reaction which seems almost insufficient, in light of the way the character swept through these lives like a tornado and left them to pick up the pieces from the havoc that he wreaked--but for the Hulk, it's regrettably appropriate, nevertheless.

According to the story's credits, however, there's some very good news to be found here:


Incredible Hulk #161

Script: Steve Englehart
Pencils: Herb Trimpe
Inks: Sal Trapani
Letterer: Artie Simek


Anonymous said...

So the Mounties are surprised that "that American monster, the Hulk" is so far north.

Yes, because the Hulk respects international borders and always carries his passport in his purple pants in case he ever wants to leave the United States :D

Big Murr said...

I'm going to defend the RCMP on this one. For all the places in time and space the Hulk has been, if a guy wanted to bet where to find Greenskin, it would be somewhere in the American southwest. Hulk loves that SW real estate.

For a leaping monster that can, as you suggest, go anywhere, he spends a lot of time within the boundaries of the continental USA.

SO, I'm giving the constables some slack there with that comment.

I'm always thankful that Hulk doesn't visit Canada too often. Not for the damage he causes wherever he goes, but for how the clueless creators at Marvel depict the Great White North. In this case, the only way there would be that many RCMP standing around in their red serge uniforms would be if they were taking a break from performing their legendary Musical Ride. It's like having General Ross lead a force of US Marines at the Hulk, and they're all wearing full dress uniforms with white hats and white gloves.

I can never forget another Hulk issue where he passes thru my home province of Saskatchewan. The writer of that issue did the squeaky minimum research to learn it's a prairie farm landscape (for the most part). Apparently having seen a photo of a farm once with a field of corn, they had the two meter tall Hulk unable to see over the wheat crop he'd landed in. Ripe wheat wouldn't reach Hulk's waist.

Comicsfan said...

Colin, I suppose the Hulk suddenly appearing in one's neck of the woods would be a surprise under any circumstances, regardless of the fact that there's no applying rhyme or reason as to why he shows up where he does. It's a rare day, for instance, when someone doesn't exhibit an intense reaction of some sort at encountering him unexpectedly (whether it's surprise, or confusion, or shock, or certainly fear), no matter what part of the world he crashes to Earth in. The Sub-Mariner, another person who doesn't necessarily observe protocol when crossing borders, often provokes similar reactions.