Friday, May 14, 2010

Why Can't We Be Friends? The Incredible Hulk vs. the Ever-Lovin' Blue-Eyed Thing, Part 3!

Fantastic Four #167 (February 1976)"Titans Two!"
Roy Thomas-George Perez/Joe Sinnott

Doug: Conclusion #1 today, folks! And, in two short days we'll wrap up our other classic -- the Demon in a Bottle arc. This has been a fun couple of weeks!

Karen: Agreed!

Doug: When last we saw our battling behemoths, they weren't battling each other but had teamed up and stood together against the rest of the FF and the US Army. We pick it up this issue with a quite precarious position as Ben and the Hulk immediately move against the remaining three heroes. Ben makes short work of Reed, whiplashing him against a wall. As Johnny blazes toward Ben, the Hulk unleashes a tremendous concussion clap which extinguishes the Torch's flame. With Sue all that remains, Ben and the Hulk press forward. Sue launches a forcefield to protect herself, Johnny, and the army. Alas, her will is not enough, and she succumbs to the pounding.

Karen: Probably the only thing I didn't care for in these last two issues was the depiction of Sue, struggling with every single use of her powers! This is definitely old school Marvel, where the females characters are little more than ornaments. But this was also the era when writers like Steve Englehart and Chris Claremont would start giving us heroines who didn't pass out every time they zapped a bad guy!

Doug: Ben and the Hulk then burst through a wall, "built to withstand any natural disaster". As they enter a new chamber, they discover three hovercraft. Knowing one is their ticket out of the trouble, they destroy the other two. Now free to leave, they hop into the remaining craft and zoom away. Having no real plan, Ben asks the Hulk if he'd like to go to the desert. Hulk reflects on a natural bridge he used to sit on to think. At about that time, he spies something out the window and orders Ben to land... at the Gateway Arch in St. Louis!

Karen: Even though this is early in George Perez' career, his story-telling abilities shine through. The scene where Hulk is thinking about the stone bridge, and we see it surrounding his face in the panel, is really effective. And how about that large panel on the previous page, where he and the Thing slam the two hovercraft together? Wow!

Doug: A couple of notes on the creative team... As I mentioned earlier, Roy Thomas is really in step with the dialogue of all of the characters in this book. That's perhaps best explained by the fact that by this time, it had been around 10-11 years since Roy had become a major scripter at Marvel; or roughly the same amount of time Stan spent as the primary writer of the Marvel Universe. And the art... wow -- what a difference an inker makes! Of course we've noted (read: maligned or praised) Joltin' Joe Sinnott for his heavy influence on just about any penciller in the Marvel Bullpen over the course of Joe's career. But I'll be frank -- this is a very comfortable Fantastic Four for me looks-wise. Whereas we remarked in our last review that Vinnie Colletta didn't mesh well with the young George Perez, he we can see the Perez who would grow to become (forgive the hyperbole) the major star of the Modern Age of comics, both at Marvel and DC. And it's thanks to Joe Sinnott.

Karen: The Joe Sinnott style is evident here, yet as you say, Perez' own style still comes through. This is a very nice looking book. Sinnott brought a consistency to the FF that most titles lacked. His work is always very polished.

Doug: OK, back to our tale. I don't have any definite resource to say, but I'd wager that the city of St. Louis hasn't turned up too many times in comics over the years. So when it did, as in this issue, I guess I'd expect a native Missourian writing the story to take a little more artistic control over the depiction of the city. Living south of Chicago with relatives in central Missouri, I've been to or through St. Louis several times. And Perez just didn't grab the feel of it. First off, St. Louis really doesn't have much of a skyline. Past the Arch and a few large hotels, it's a pretty concentrated downtown area. Next, the two major features of the downtown area aren't shown anywhere in this book: the Courthouse (site of the famous Dred Scott decision) and Busch Stadium (click on the photo, and you'll get a nice look at the city, circa the 1990's). Major error, in my opinion. And I'll get back to the most grievous error later.

Doug: As the FF move in to stop Ben, so does the National Guard. Ah, the poor "weekend warriors" from Mizzou -- they don't stand a chance against the Hulk. And neither do the FF, after Reed's attempts to reason with Ben fail. A subplot -- twice in this story Ben has had to pause as dizziness comes upon him. Reed cryptically explains that Ben is in danger the longer he stays with the Hulk, but is interrupted before he can explain. The Hulk, sensing that Ben is being drawn away, attacks. What comes next is some serious action, and Perez is at the top of his game, particularly in a panel where Johnny attacks Ben.

Karen: One of the things I enjoyed in this book is Ben's annoyance at being referred to as "little" in comparison to the Hulk. Hulk calls him 'little man' a few times, and then Richards makes a comment about him being smaller than the Hulk. Ben just loses it - "Listen friend, I've had it up ta here with people referrin' to me as a 98 pound weakling!" The fact that the Hulk has always been acknowledged as being stronger than Ben has gotten under his skin over the years, and being called little certainly doesn't help!

Doug: The comic relief always provided by Ben was a hallmark of this title and one of the elements that separated Marvel from DC in this period.

Karen: I'm not sure what Johnny thought he was going to do, engaging the Thing hand to hand, but it sure is a cool looking panel!

Doug: The battle moves to the top of the Gateway Arch, as Reed is disabled and protected by Sue's forcefield. As the Hulk beats on it, Ben snaps to his senses and stops the assault. A battle royal ensues, and here's where Roy and George both get it wrong -- the Arch begins to crumble under the battle, to fall away in cracks and pieces. Trouble is, the Arch isn't concrete -- it's metal! A letter writer in a subsequent issue took editorial to task on this, and he should have! Anyway, Ben starts to get woozy again, but this time he also begins to revert to his human form. As the Hulk sends him sailing off the Arch, Johnny moves to break the now-human Ben's fall. Once on the ground, the team reassembles to greet Ben in the state he's longed for. The Hulk, now saddened at losing his "new friend", leaps off into the pages of his own magazine. And of course Reed, in his typical melodramatic fashion, wonder if this is the end of the Fantastic Four?!?

Karen: This was not your typical Hulk-Thing battle, and I liked it because of that. Despite all their confrontations over the years, Ben has always felt sympathy for the Hulk -when he wasn't annoyed over the fact that Hulk was stronger than him. The Hulk comes off as a very sad and lonely being - he's lost his only friend by the end of the story. Hard to believe how much things have changed for old Jade-Jaws.

Karen: This was a particularly good time to be an FF reader. I had a subscription when these issues came out, and let me tell you, I was always excited when a new issue arrived. Of course, Ben's (temporary) transformation back into his human form allowed the creative team to try some new things -like bringing Luke Cage in as Ben's replacement next issue! It seemed crazy -and it was -but it was fun.
Doug: I agree -- shortly after this is, as you mentioned, the Luke Cage/Puppet Master/exo-skeleton story, then a nice Galactus arc, and then a long arc with the Frightful Four. This run of issues from, say, #164-179 was a return to the classic years of the team. These issues are among my favorite FF stories as well.


Anonymous said...

I picked this up for a couple bucks in the 80s, that cover was so nice i had to have it!

The story had escaped my memory, thanks for the insight!


nyrdyv said...

There is something about how the Human torch used to be drawn back in the '70s thru the early '80s that was just so simple and cool.

I miss those days.


Steven G. Willis

Jared - Blog into Mystery said...

Thanks for the look at these issues - this really was a nice era for the FF. And poor Hulk - he just can't keep his friends, can he?

Doug said...

To all --

Thanks so much for the feedback! Glad you found a little joy in our missives.

Steven: The only thing I didn't care for concerning the Torch in the Bronze Age was when (oddly enough -- because he's my favorite artist) John Buscema drew him with hair while ablaze. A curious look, to say the least.


nyrdyv said...

Great point about the hair. Though the argument can be made that if the skin is heat resistant then the hair must be, also.

What I wonder about is the times when there are clearly no clothes, not even the older style shorts, yet The Torch still looks like a Ken-doll.


Steven G. Willis

nyrdyv said...

Great point about the hair. Though the argument can be made that if the skin is heat resistant then the hair must be, also.

What I wonder about is the times when there are clearly no clothes, not even the older style shorts, yet The Torch still looks like a Ken-doll.


Steven G. Willis

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