Thursday, June 10, 2021

Revenge Is A Dish Best Served Munching


Name This Marvel Villain??
Even as shattered as his reputation has become in professional circles, few in the scientific community would recognize Dr. August Hopper as he conducts "field work" with the insect mutations which devour all before them. Nor would his college students understand why he has taken a guise that likens him to the very insects he unleashes this night, to say nothing of why he has taken their nomenclature as his own.

Meet the Locust, whom we'll discover falls into the category of those villains who feel they've been wronged by the world and strikes back--yet there's more to his story than petty revenge (though his true agenda is about as petty as it gets).

Unfortunately for the Locust, the X-Men responded to the crisis and assisted with local efforts to deal with the oversized vermin. But what is Hopper's motivation here? Is he simply bent on causing terror and destruction, or could there be method to his madness? A little of both, actually, as Hopper has hatched a scheme that he hopes will help him regain his standing and raise his profile considerably among those who scoffed at his theories.

Again, however, the X-Men would intervene but this time face the Locust directly; however, the results of their confrontation with him amount to little more than each side taking the other's measure. (Still, since it's five trained X-Men here vs. one fresh-out-of-the-gate villain, we'd have to call this skirmish for the Locust if we're being honest.)

Indeed, when we later find the Locust back at his lab, he certainly doesn't look as if he's had a setback. On the contrary, to his mind, not only is everything going according to plan, but he's also amending that plan to give the X-Men a little payback for interfering with him.

But the X-Men have also gotten their act together--and together with their mentor, Charles Xavier (disguised as a sage traveler who attempts to turn the Locust from the road he's on), they manage to sabotage the control-antenna on his helmet so that his overgrown creations turn on him. Barely escaping with his life, Hopper provides us with a textbook speech of atonement which will hardly distinguish him in the halls of villainy, throwing in the towel far too easily and basically telling the X-Men everything they want to hear.

A little over nine years later (our time), the Locust would reappear in what would be artist Sal Buscema's first work on the Incredible Hulk title, beginning a distinguished run of over nine years. With the Locust rejecting his way of life, it's not at first clear in Len Wein's story why Hopper would want to readopt his villainous identity; but in the meantime, we're privileged to see what Buscema, who of course has pencilled the Hulk extensively in other titles by this time, brings to the table as this title's regular artist. It becomes apparent almost immediately that he intends to provide the green behemoth with expressions and reactions that go beyond dour or raging--particularly when a Hulk "delicacy" is on the menu.

Later, Banner would hitch a ride with husband and wife Bob and Carol (all right, granted, not terribly original on Mr. Wein's part), two people whom we'll shortly learn have a story to tell--but for now, it's becoming clear that their past is catching up with them.

And if you're wondering where the Locust fits in:

Sure enough, that evening the town the Hickmans and Banner have taken refuge in is attacked by a tornado-sized swarm of locusts, which no gunfire or other means of resistance the townspeople are able to muster can hope to stop. But in a "This is a job for...!" moment if ever there was one:

Seeing Banner so willingly--even eagerly--make an effort to call forth the Hulk takes some getting used to, in light of how the personal tragedy of the man's existence has often been exemplified by the futile efforts he's made in the past to resist the change. It's quite a pivot the title makes--and, if a portent of what we can expect from Banner in the future, not a favorable one.

At any rate, Hopper obviously considers his Locust persona the means through which he can compel Bob Hickman to annul his marriage to his daughter and exit her life forever--though destroying the farm which enabled Bob to provide for her and then going on to attack and obliterate whole towns in his pursuit of them would suggest he's gone off the deep end. It's also a fair argument that only a person one sandwich short of a picnic would consider taking on the Hulk.

What's good for the X-Men is also good enough for the Hulk, however--and the results are near the same, when the Hulk manages to damage the Locust's antennae which allow him to control the giant insects he creates. Only this time it's Carol whose life is endangered, by the pincers of a preying mantis, while the Locust is down and the Hulk is unfortunately otherwise engaged with the other monstrous insects; but Bob's selfless efforts to defend his wife do not go unnoticed.

Though the Hulk may not understand the dynamics of family disagreements, it appears that reconciliation is in the cards for August Hopper and the Hickmans. He'll certainly need their support, since he's no doubt on his way back to prison and more than likely on the hook for reparations to those towns he wiped off the map. Regardless, the Locust wouldn't have an easy time of it down the road--later escaping prison to attack X-Factor, only to be defeated and transferred to an institution for the criminally insane... while a later attempt to use his mutated insects in a blackmail scheme caused the Defenders to take him out.

The cover to the Locust's debut appearance (aside from a quick peek in the prior issue).



dangermash aka The Artistic Actuary said...

That Werner Roth artwork in X-Men looks clunky as Heck (capital H) but I do like the Dick Ayers inking. It turns the art into something that's a bit more polished.

lordjim6 said...

I always had a soft spot for this guy. He premiered in what I consider the last issue of the original X-Men before the infamous slump that lasted until Roy Thomas and Neal Adams run.

Comicsfan said...

I hear you, lordjim--but while I can't say I'd miss the likes of Mekano, Factor Three, Grotesk, the Frankenstein android, and the Cobalt Man, I have to say I did enjoy the stories featuring Banshee, the Mimic, and El Tigre.

lordjim6 said...

Mekano was nice in a sort of jokey, low tech way. Factor three were good individually (with the exception of that idiotic leader). I kind of like the idea of Grotesk in retrospect, what with all the other underground empires... Cobalt Man COULD have become an ok Marvel plug into situation villain if he hadn’t been abandoned after a good appearance as basically a vegetable/bomb in Defenders. Mimic still makes for a nice footnote in the x mythos. I love Banshee, but they didn’t do anything with him in this era. As you can see, qualifiers are the norm for this era!