Monday, September 30, 2013
Hulk Smash Little Man: Incredible Hulk 181
The Incredible Hulk #181 (November 1974)
"And Now... the Wolverine!"
Writer: Len Wein
Pencils: Herb Trimpe
Inker: Jack Abel
Karen: Ah ha, here we go, finally reviewing one of the biggies of the Bronze Age: the first full appearance of Wolverine! At this point we knew so little about him that we wouldn't have been able to label him an "anti-hero" (to fit into this month's theme), although that would come soon enough, in the pages of the revived X-Men. Here, he was just another adversary for the Hulk. In this tale, we would actually have two: Wolverine, and that hairy brute known as the Wendigo (or as he seemed to prefer, Wen-Di-Go!). Oddly enough, we'll be looking at Wendigo's first appearance next week, when we kick off "Heroes and Horrors" month. So we're going a bit out of order, but I think most of you are relatively familiar with him. So let's get on with the story!
Doug: I have distinct memories of the kids next door having either this issue or the one prior to it -- I vividly remember Wolverine. However, as I was not much of a Hulk fan I'm sure I dismissed it with a hint of disdain. No 1990s fanboy was I, back in the '70s!
Karen: In the previous issue, Hulk felt compelled to return to Canada. It turns out it was due to the sorcerous work of one Marie Cartier, sister to the man who is now trapped in the form of the Wendigo. With the very reluctant help of Georges Baptiste, friend of her brother, they lured the Hulk north in order to perform a ritual that would allow Marie to transfer the curse of the Wendigo from her brother Paul to old Jade-jaws. However, they were unable to pull it off before a slumbering Hulk awoke and discovered the Wendigo nearby and of course fisticuffs ensued. And right in the middle of that, who should appear but a Canadian super-agent sent by his government to stop the Hulk. Yes, they honestly think Wolverine can take down the Hulk.
Doug: Going solely off that battle that Todd McFarlane drew in Incredible Hulk #340, I wouldn't bet against the runt!
Karen: So that's where issue #181 starts -with Wolverine jumping into action against both the Hulk and Wendigo. The first six pages of the book are nothing but a free-for-all between the three of them. Wolverine jumps on the Hulk first, but switches targets when he recognizes that his adamantium claws are ineffective against the Hulk's hide (surprisingly). He has more success against the Wendigo, who, as he notes, is bigger than Greenskin but not as resilient. Hey partner, I found it interesting that the Wolverine (as he was called here) actually used his claws to cause the Wendigo to bleed. We've commented before about how heroes with swords were always having to use "the flats of their blades" against their foes. None of that here for the Wolverine!
Doug: Yeah, the slicing and dicing isn't bloody by any stretch of the imagination, but we are told several times that the claws have pierced and raked the Wendigo. The script even tells us that ol' Whitey is "startled by the savage slashing". So at least Wein got that aspect of the character (or what we'll later come to know as Wolverine's character) right. The voice, though? Not even close! He's a wise-cracker here, and now seeing this in two books Len Wein wrote (Amazing Spider-Man #161 was the other) I have to wonder if Wein envisioned Wolverine as being a guy like this and was determined to write him that way. But even though this is his first appearance, it still doesn't feel "right" to me.
Karen: When the Hulk sees Wolverine fighting Wendigo, poor old Greenskin is confused. He quickly -incorrectly -reasons that if the Wendigo is "little man's" enemy, Wolverine must be his friend, so he decides to help him. He slams into Wendigo, announcing that he has come to help his little friend. And little is right -a caption tells us that Wolverine is only five foot five inches tall (I think the Marvel guide books would later say he was five foot three). Wolverine decides to take advantage of this, and jumps on Wendigo's back, urging his "friend" the Hulk to smack Wendy around while he's got him distracted. Hulk does even better than that: he grabs Wendigo and tosses him into some trees, completely uprooting them. Wolverine is shocked by the sheer power and violence of Hulk's attack, but only a moment; he leaps upon the stunned Wendigo and uses his claws on him. We're not shown anything but told they make a "sickening thwuck" as they strike, the implication being that Wolverine has stabbed the prone Wendigo in the throat or chest. Hulk congratulates Wolverine in his primitive way for killing Wendigo, but Wolverine says that although he should be dead, the Wendigo must be immortal. "My talons only rendered him unconscious." Talons?? Aren't those usually found on birds? With one monster down, Wolverine decides it's time to go after number two, and turns on the Hulk, which really steams the Jade Giant. Not a good idea!
Doug: I've long complained about artists struggling to maintain consistency when drawing the giant characters (Goliath, Black Goliath, Colossal Boy, etc.); we see that here with an extremely short character as well. I don't ever get the impression in this story that Wolverine is only 5'5" tall. If the Hulk is a 7-footer, then Wolverine is fluctuating somewhere between 5'10" and 6'2" to my eyes. And I think that's been an issue with all artists to take on the character. While it might be (aside from his claws) his most important physical attribute when in a panel with other characters, it seems to be consistently missed (on purpose?) by his various caretakers.
Doug: These were the days when the Hulk was so gullible, but I just love the speech patterns. "Little friend", indeed! And I have to agree with you on the "sickening thwuck" -- I'm not sure Conan was as potentially gory as this hack/slash fest!
Karen: Hey, what happened to Marie and Georges, the nuts who had started all this trouble? They've been watching the fighting. Seeing the Wendigo -Marie's brother - unconscious, they take the opportunity to go out and drag him (what? he must weigh 1000 lbs!) into the little cave where she has been preparing to transfer his curse to the Hulk. They set up the ritual implements, including vapors that will keep the Wendigo
slumbering. Georges all the while tries to talk Marie out of it. While he was Paul's (her brother's) friend, he can't imagine that Paul would want his curse placed upon another human being. But Marie is determined. She figures the Hulk is already cursed just by being the Hulk -adding on the Wendigo part can't make it much worse.
Doug: I'm glad you mentioned these two very average sized people pulling the Wendigo all the way into the cave, as I thought it was a little past what I could accept. Hasn't Wein told us already a time or two that the Wendigo is a little larger than the Hulk? And how about those natural herbs and spices? "Ritual implements", indeed! I sort of felt for Marie's devotion to her brother, but she does in effect create a choiceless choice for Georges.
Karen: Back outside, Wolverine and Hulk are continuing their own little dance. We get a glimpse inside the Canadian military base that serves as Wolverine's home. There, a group of officers discuss their Weapon X. A couple of officers voice doubts about his ability to handle the Hulk, but the commanding officer remains confident. He says that they've spent a lot of time and money developing his mutant abilities, and "despite a few kinks still remaining in his psychological make-up, I think we've done a pretty good job!" So even at the very beginning of Wolverine's existence, it seems that it was planned that he would be somewhat unstable. There have been mentions of his savagery, and of course the claws lend to that sort of thing. I just wonder, if Len Wein had continued to write the X-Men, would we have seen berserker Wolverine? The commander states that in the case that Wolverine fails, they have a chopper full of commandos ready to take on the Hulk. Really? Commandos? Were the Canadians not paying attention to what had been happening to the U.S. soldiers for years when they encountered the Hulk?
Doug: As I said above, was a framework being laid here for the future of Wolverine? Did you ever wonder if the "X" was just used as the most commonly named variable, or was it a harbinger to the All-New X-Men? After all, it's quite possible that Giant-Size X-Men #1 was in the works as this story was being written. Does anyone have insight to the timetables discussed here, as far as Wolverine's potential use in the X-Men? I do like the Barry Windsor-Smith serial Weapon X that showed this Canadian backstory to Wolverine. Of course, anyone who doesn't like wires might not care for it... But I think as we all would say, the character was never better than when he still had some mystery to him.
Doug: Dumb soldiers...
Karen: As Hulk and Wolverine battle, Marie and Georges come out of their cave and Marie starts to cast a spell. Georges tries again to convince her to stop, but she now rips into him, blaming him for the incident that caused her brother to become the Wendigo (and you can read all about it here next week). Her spell causes both Wolverine and Hulk to pass out, and when the Hulk does, he becomes Bruce Banner again. Seeing the human Banner causes Georges to become even more certain that they should not proceed with Marie's plan. He refuses to help her. She tries to guilt him into helping, saying he owes her a debt. He storms off, but as he sits in the woods, contemplating everything, he thinks of Marie and how she will never rest until her brother is restored. He makes a decision. Unknown to Marie, he goes back into the cave where the Wendigo lies dormant.
Doug: Georges is a noble man, but a man influenced by the pangs of love. Say, did it strike you that Marie sort of gave off a Max vibe, a la Where the Wild Things Are?
Karen: Unfortunately I've never read that book! The industrious Marie has wrapped Wolverine in chains, and goes to Banner and tries to drag him back towards the cave. She strains to pull him and then realizes he's transforming back to the Hulk. Hulk becomes upset because he feels betrayed by Marie ("animal girl").
He spends a minute yelling at her, then grabs the bound Wolverine and throws him against the ground, which only breaks his chains. Ever-ready for a fight, Wolverine jumps right back in and starts hacking at Hulk. Marie uses their battle as a chance to race off to the cave, but is surprised when she runs into a now-awake Wendigo. The battling Wolverine and Hulk are startled when they hear Marie scream. That momentary distraction is just enough time for Hulk to lay a haymaker on Wolverine's skull -and remember, we didn't know that the runt had adamantium bones back then - and only by virtue of his quick reflexes does Wolverine avoid getting killed. He is knocked unconscious though. Back in the cave, we see that the Wendigo is trying to communicate with Marie. She is puzzled. He points to the chamber beyond and we see now that lying on the slab inside is her brother, Paul! Which means that the Wendigo is not her brother but Georges! Marie, seemingly remorseful, asks why he would do such a thing. Georges, now the Wendigo, uses the last of his intelligence to communicate -telepathically? - and tells her that he didn't take on the curse because he felt he owed her a debt, but because he loved her. The last bit of his intellect now gone, he knocks out the back of the cave wall and disappears, leaving Marie sobbing hysterically. The Hulk comes on the scene, not necessarily understanding everything that has happened, but understanding the simple human emotion of grief. He puts his hand on Marie's shoulder to comfort her.
Doug: So you also found it funny that Marie was struggling to drag Banner even before he started to increase his mass. Georges must have been doing some serious heavy lifting when they moved the Wendigo! And "Animal girl" -- gotta love it! Parts of this plot were a little too conveniently arrived at, such as the chains. You took the words right out of my mouth (or off my fingers, I guess), because Wolverine takes a serious jolt when the Hulk slams him to the ground and pops right back up from it. No healing factor has been mentioned yet, right? I thought the panel where he immediately engages the Hulk and showed him with his right arm bent, rather than with claws extended was for Comics Code approval. Note that we never saw the title character slashed, as was the Wendigo. Another curious aspect of this issue is the fact that the claws are always extended -- I read once that (I think it was) John Romita envisioned the claws as being part of the gauntlets.
Doug: And good old child-like Hulk. He's taken a whoopin', but he's truly a gentle giant. I always appreciated that about him and the way he was written in the Bronze Age.
Karen: We came in on the second half of this tale, and you can feel it. But even so, it's a solid story. Not
much in the way of characterization. Wolverine is not the star here, just another threat for the Hulk to have to deal with. But the story is well-paced and the writing is solid. It's a good read, nothing spectacular but not bad at all. I'm not a fan of Trimpe's work but I've always accepted it on Hulk, as he was the artist on the book when I started reading it. He manages to convey the Hulk's raw power, and does a nice job in the quiet scene at the end. This was a fairly low-key first appearance -we certainly wouldn't have known that Wolverine would blossom into a superstar based on this.
Doug: I agree with your assessment of Trimpe's art. A long time ago we reviewed a few issues of Super-Villain Team-Up and I didn't care for his work there. Granted, it looked the same as it does here, but just as you stated I accept it here. As we, and many Trimpe apologists have stated before, Herb never looked better than when John Severin inked him. But by now those days had passed. I'm not sure what I thought of Wolverine as a kid, but I can guarantee you that he would get a lot more interesting and a lot cooler in just a few short months!