Monday, June 19, 2023

Thunder Across The Worlds!


Thanks to the nature of the incredible Hulk, whose hair-trigger rage often causes him to present a danger to populated areas, the handful of battles that have arisen between himself and the mighty Thor over the decades haven't necessarily involved a great deal of forethought on the part of the comics writer (though it's appreciated when it's present). The Hulk appears, destroying property and endangering lives... Thor gets wind of it and makes a beeline for the scene... and voilĂ . A textbook example would take place in 2001, courtesy of artist/writer Erik Larsen, whose first penciling work for Marvel in 1987 produced such a battle with writer Stan Lee and, fourteen years later to the month, exchanges his pencils for a typewriter to join with artist Jorge Lucas to give us that year's Incredible Hulk Annual, where two of Marvel's most powerful characters once again clash in destructive fury.

Cover art by J.H. Williams III

As for that lack of forethought, we see that as early as page one when the provocation for the Hulk's rampage turns out to be Fialan, an assassin we met decades earlier when he was sent from the micro-world of the Hulk's betrothed, Jarella, only to subsequently meet a fiery death at the Hulk's hands. (Or so we thought at the time.)

Granted, Fialan's incineration in the inferno he was hurled into--complete with agonizing scream--happened off-panel, but come on. Regardless, it's allowed Larsen to slip in the presumption that Fialan has "inexplicably returned" and leave it at that, though he further confuses the facts by claiming that the assassin has returned to "complete his mission" of slaying Jarella and the Hulk. Jarella, however, met her death during the Crypto-Man's assault twenty-five years prior to this point (not even Marvel time can evaporate years to that extent and imply Fialan has resurfaced only recently)--while the Hulk's death was never part of Fialan's mission, but simply taken on when the Hulk appeared in Jarella's defense.

In other words, Fialan, dead or inexplicably alive, has no purpose here. Nevertheless, he cheats death a second time when the Mandroids show up to settle the Hulk's hash (or try to).

As for Thor, he's crosstown rounding up an armed gang of criminals when he gets word of the Hulk's activities, and his duty is clear.

Which is nearly a panel-by-panel replay of the scene that Larsen laid out previously in the 1987 story:

But you didn't start reading this review to hear me quibble about recycling material, did you? In any event, Larsen's story here has one important difference, in that this time Thor doesn't regard this as a perfect opportunity to satisfy his battle lust and a triumph to savor, but a responsibility to end the Hulk's menace for good. And when the two finally square off, he puts that resolve into words for his opponent--for all the good it does him, against a foe who has also had it up to here... in this case, with being a constant target for those who want to destroy him.

Another difference from the prior contest established first thing is that Thor has no intention of holstering his hammer and engaging with the Hulk in strictly a test of strength. Thus armed (and thus unhampered, as we readers might chime in), he considers himself supreme and, by extension, the Hulk's superior in sheer power; but that said, the Hulk's experience as a brutal, powerful, and tireless fighter is time-tested, and Thor realizes soon enough that his struggle with the Hulk may well go the distance.

The battle now having reached the point of endangering the lives of innocents, Thor transports himself and the Hulk to a world in another dimension where their conflict can play out without fear of loss of life--human life, that is, a distinction which Thor fails to take into account. In addition, unlike their previous clash, there is the complication that he must take the life of Bruce Banner into consideration, as well.

En route, however, the Hulk breaks away, and the pair find themselves on yet another inter-dimensional world--the circumstances this time giving the Thunder God food for thought, particularly when the moment arrives where Thor must face the decision of preserving the lives of both the Hulk and Banner.

Intending to drop off Banner at a military base, Thor is taken by surprise again by the renewed attack of the Hulk upon reaching Earth--and after suffering a brutal round of blows, Thor reaches the limit of his endurance and makes another error in judgment by feeling the need to unleash his might as the God of Thunder, which would end the battle against any other mortal foe. And end the battle it does--with the stinging words of the Hulk ringing in his ears.

A conclusion which, again, parallels their previous battle:

Larsen's closing narrative, for the record, serves to address the contest aspect of this struggle well enough, perhaps for all time. Yet the circumstances of the Hulk's existence and his sole desire to be "left alone" are often in flux, the most jarring being the events of World War Hulk where both Banner and the Hulk strode a path of revenge, a storyline which conveniently arranged for Thor to be absent. Would Thor, like his friend Hercules, have effectively abstained from taking action against the Hulk, even given the threat to his friends, his comrades, and Earth? Likely not, considering that Banner and the Hulk were literally of one mind in the conflict, misguided or not--but a question perhaps worthy of an annual of its own.


Colin Jones said...

The art is clearly a homage to Jack Kirby.

Comicsfan said...

With a fair amount of Keith Giffen mixed in, perhaps, Colin.