Monday, June 25, 2012

Stepbrothers: Marvel Feature 11

Marvel Feature #11 (September 1973)
"Cry Monster!"
Len Wein-Jim Starlin/Joe Sinnott

Doug: So what are two Bronze Age bloggers to do, with an Avengers 3-parter finished up yet a week before Giant-Size July? Shoot -- run a review of a Thing/Hulk throwdown, that's what we'll do!

Doug: I'll start today's thoughts in the art department. A) I think Jim Starlin is a great storyteller. I'm not an aficionado of his work like my partner, but more of an admirer from afar. That being said, Starlin's art, particularly early in his career, was not always what I'd set forth as his best art. However, B) Joe Sinnott can make anyone look great! And that being said, there's no doubt that in this here tale, Jim's under the influence of Joe. This is a very polished set of graphics that could have slid right into the FF's own mag and we'd have hardly noticed any difference between that book's other Bronze Age pencillers -- Romita, J. Buscema, and Buckler. Nope -- Sinnott has 'em all covered... literally. Don't get me wrong -- I love Joe! But he does show through, doesn't he?

Karen: I think the art team worked out pretty well. Yes, Sinnott is a dominating inker. But I have to be honest and say that as much as I love Starlin's work, I've never felt like he drew a great Thing or Hulk. But they look pretty darn good here.

Doug: Len Wein's no dummy -- by 1973, certain formulas had been working quite well in the Baxter Building over the past 12 years. We begin with a boisterous Benjamin J. Grimm, wrecking some more multi-million dollar machinery. Reed and Johnny are there, both on Ben to knock it off. Reed tells that Ben's destroying another opportunity at being cured of being the Thing. But Ben tells Reed to back off -- Ben just doesn't think he can take the disappointment of another failed attempt at saving him from his inhuman existence. Johnny convinces Reed to give Ben some space, and they leave him alone. Ben begins to sulk, and reflect on his origins. But what he doesn't know is that his thoughts are being monitored from a spaceship, by Kurrgo, the Master of Planet X (last seen in FF #7, 1962, kiddies)! Which brings me to this question -- how do you, Karen (and all of our readers) feel about very obscure villains suddenly seeing the light of day once more?

Karen: This time period was sort of the last hurrah for Ben's angst over his rocky form. From the late 70s and on, I don't think we really heard much about him wanting to return to his human form. By then, perhaps because the writers felt it was played out, he seemed to have adjusted and accepted his fate.

Karen: As to your question about obscure villains -I have no problem with that, as long as the story is good. Of course, one could posit that obscure villains are obscure for a reason...

Doug: Kurrgo is nice enough to recap his own origin for us -- of how he was defeated by the FF, how Reed shrunk his people to save them from a collision with another planet, and how evil Kurrgo hoarded the enlarging gas for himself. Rather than becoming his people's master, however, Kurrgo found himself seconds from death. His robot slave saved him, taking him to a ship and blasting away just as Planet X exploded! Kurrgo searched all of space for his people, finally finding them; they, however, were not so pleased to see him. Kurrgo was a giant to them, but their science had advanced to the point that they could drive him away. Fleeing, the megalomaniac swore his revenge. Kurrgo came back to Earth to enlist the aid of her strongest being -- the Thing! But when he found that the Hulk was now the strongest he attempted to enslave him. Yet, another intervened -- the Leader!

Karen: I'm probably showing my ignorance of the Leader here, but I'm not sure exactly how he interfered with Kurrgo's plans; he's paralyzed after all. Sure, he can make an astral projection of himself, ala Dr. Strange or Professor X, but how did he ever mess up Kurrgo's plans?

Doug: What Wein has constructed for us is not unlike other stories where super-baddies choose champions to battle in their stead -- such as the Grandmaster's games with other conquerors. Here we find the paralyzed Leader, hopeful that the Hulk holds the key to his rehabilitation. Kurrgo has his own motives for enlisting either giant. But these two have instead struck a bargain -- the Leader will use the Hulk, while Kurrgo employs the Thing in a battle for supremacy. The winner will gain the services of both monsters, as well as all of the scientific knowledge of the defeated. So the Leader transports the still angry Thing from the Baxter Building to a ghost town in the American Southwest -- could be right around the corner from Karen!

Karen: If you had to have a fight between these two powerhouses, the vast open expanse of the desert would be a good place for it. The whole fight seems contrived, but then again, maybe for big brains like them this is a great way to spend an afternoon.

Doug: The Leader sends an astral projection (or "injection" to the Thing's mind) to tell Grimm what's up. Ben of course wants no part of tangling with the Hulk, but the Leader convinces him with the alleged placement of an "Ultrex Bomb" capable of destroying Earth and set to explode in less than 30 minutes! I thought it was amusing that the Leader states to Ben that three billion lives are at stake -- shoot, we're more than double that size now (and comics aren't half as good! You'd think with that many more creative minds we could get a decent yarn produced these days!!).

Karen: Ben isn't sure he believes the Leader, but he can't take the chance he's telling the truth.

Doug: So if you were looking for some pure, unadulterated comic book action, you came to the right book. The Leader brings the Hulk to the scene, and an 8-page smash-'em-up commences. We find out that Kurrgo is secretly augmenting the Thing's strength and it makes this a bit more interesting that it normally would be. Starlin and Sinnott do a great job of depicting the Thing as more of an equal to the Hulk in strength and stamina, but not in size. But it's a subtle difference -- not the glaring disadvantage Ben had when Jack Kirby drew the cover of Fantastic Four #25. It's funny -- that Thing/Hulk battle also began with Reed concocting some formula to help Ben. See, told you Len Wein had done his homework!

Karen: It's a fun fight -Hulk here really has no idea what's going on, and he doesn't seem to care much. He just wants to hit someone! I liked how Ben realized that something was wrong -he shouldn't be that strong.

Doug: Ben finally finds a gap in the fisticuffs to tell the Hulk about the bomb. But as you might suspect, Greenskin isn't interested in talking. He pounds Ben into the ground, and then turns to leave. But Ben knows time is running out, so takes off after the Hulk, who is headed to the side of town where the Leader had planted the bomb. Ben knocks Hulk clean into a building, and finds the bomb. Now I don't know how much you know about defusing a bomb, but I'm of the opinion that throwing a hard rocky fist at it probably isn't the best strategy. It's a fake, after all, but right as Ben's about to get walloped by an even madder Hulk, the two behemoths are in a tractor beam and drawn up into Kurrgo's ship. Kurrgo's cheating is quickly exposed, but he attempts to win after all by siccing his robot on our heroes. No dice. Ben and Hulk hit the bucket of bolts so hard that he goes into a wall of control panels and sets the ship all a'tizzy. As Ben and Hulk leap away, the ship explodes and crashes. More Area-51 fodder?

Karen: Smashing a bomb would not be my first choice for how to disarm it, but then again, it's the Marvel Universe. I thought it was very true to character that Ben pointed out that Kurrgo had been cheating by amplifying his strength. However, even with his strength increased, he really didn't have the upper hand -it was more of a tie. Sadly, Ben's leg muscle won't allow him to go leaping off (why is that anyway?) like Hulk does.

Doug: As Ben heads back to civilization, he's still moaning about his looks from his "born loser" point-of-view. I thought Wein really wrote the characters well here. If you'd hid the credits from me, I probably couldn't have told you that Roy Thomas wasn't the author -- this is all pretty seamless alongside the FF's of the day. And as I said at the top, the art was thoroughly enjoyable, yet quite a contrast from Starlin's work on Iron Man #55 which we reviewed a couple of weeks ago. We'd remind you that Starlin was working with Mike Esposito on that one, but in just six months and one inker, the improvement is astonishing. Hey, another 20-minutes well-spent in the Bronze Age!

Karen: Agreed on all counts. I think a lot of the writers that came along in the 70s really understood the characters and knew how to write them - plus a big part of it was keeping Stan's style (as far as speech patterns), and of course, Ben's speech patterns are pretty unique. A nice, light read all the way around.


Anthony said...

Karen even though the Leader was paralyzed he still had resources at his disposal which he could mentally control. He had his ship Omnivac and his army of humanoids. In Incredible Hulk 157 he was able to take control of the Rhino's body to fight the Hulk. I doubt he could do that to Kuurgo or at the very least Wein thought a Hulk Thing fight would be more fun and he was right.

david_b said...

This is a huge personal favorite for me. Not only one of my first issues, but it really resonated with my faint, yet lingering fond memories of the old FF cartoon. Can't recall exactly where I picked it up, but it was part of the Marvel magic circa 1973, so it remains a close favorite to this date.

Being one of my first, I of course had no clue as to who the writers and artists were. Starting with his art here, Starlin provides a cleanly-drawn story (kudos always to Mr. Sinnott..). I didn't like his depiction of Ben as much in CM ish 26, but with Sinnott's strong support, it's ranks among my favorite renditions, especially for facial reactions and solid body sculpt. Reed and Johnny look awesome as well, just as I'd picture them in real life, if that makes sense. Adding to that, all the voices of everyone seemed 'perfect', which leads me to Wein.

Story-wise, yes it is quite breezy, but fun. Ten years prior to the 'Contest of Champions' stories, this seems like a silly,t fun, yet natural plot the four players, including Kurrgo and the Leader. As for bringing Kurgo back from the Silver Age (also a FF cartoon villain..), it was great fun. Being brand new to the Marvel Universe, naturally I couldn't tell which villains were good ones or bad (or over-used), but now I see Kurrgo as a very welcomed return.

(Will have to check/verify where else Kurrgo's ever shown up, come to think of it.)

As for Benjy's diffusing a bomb.., yep. Funny, as a kid, it made sense; now through adult eyes, it's pretty silly. Ah, as Karen reflected recently, it's the Marvel Universe..

(Hmm, wonder if Haney would have tried that in a B&B..)

More than anywhere else, you really get the sense that the beginnings of the Benjy/Hulk team-ups started with ish 11. No FF vs. Hulk match-up as done previously, Wein really started the endearing relationship here. Also, you really get the sense that, in regards to selling readers on a new team-up title for Ben, this (and ish 12 with Iron Man) really provide a solid argument. Shame the same wasn't provided for Hawkeye perhaps a year or so later, but that's how it goes.

Adding to that, as one of my first Marvel comics, it laid a pretty solid foundation for my Bronze love for years to come.

Anonymous said...

I don't think Starlin was very good until Dreadstar. Sinnott carries him here.

dbutler16 said...

I don’t like Wein having Ben say “annuder”. I think that sometimes writers go a little overboard with Ben’s dialect. After all, he supposedly has multiple college degrees, though of course his rough speech is part of his charm. “Astral injection” doesn’t work for me, either, though I know Ben often plays dumb. Then again, this wasn’t one of Ben’s better days, as implied by Doug’s opinion of Ben’s bomb defusing strategy.

I do like having obscure villains resurrected. I’m not sure why I do, maybe because it shows some continuity and shows that those old comics haven’t been forgotten. Of course, one can’t resurrect haphazardly. It has to work. Certain characters perhaps shouldn’t be resurrected, at least not without some major reworking.

I’m glad that writers gave up on Ben’s rocky angst. I agree that it was played out by then.

I don’t understand how the winner gets control of the Thing and Hulk, but maybe that’s explained in the issue? And how could the Leader plant that bomb if he’s paralyzed?

I agree that the art here is good. It should have been a requirement that Joe Sinnott ink all appearances by the Thing! I’m reading through my old FF’s and am up to Byrne’s run. I do not like the way he draws the Thing, at least not with his own inks. I think the two issue stint Byrne had earlier, with Sinnott’s inks, looked much better.

Steve Does Comics said...

I had this story in A Hulk Treasury Edition. I'm a Hulk fan, I'm a Thing fan, I'm a Treasury Edition fan, I'm a Kurrgo from Planet X fan, I'm a Leader fan and I'm a Jim Starlin fan, so, all in all, it made me very happy.

david_b said...

By the way, where are these scanned pages originally from..?

Is there a TPB with this story..?

Karen said...

The artwork was scanned from Marvel Firsts: The 1970s, volume 2. The three volumes of the 70s have become a big resource for us in the last couple of months -and for the foreseeable future!

Anonymous said...

Joe Sinnott doesn't get nearly enough love. He makes a lot of good artists great and a lot of great artists better.


humanbelly said...

On a happy personal collector note-- I'm reading through Marvel Team-Up at the moment, and it turns out my Marvel Features are in that same longbox. Wasn't sure I had issue #11, but it only took about 10 seconds to discover a VERY worn copy all my own. Was able to pull it out and read it over a bowl of chocolate ice cream w/ crushed oreos and peanut-butter mixed in. Man, that's a level of happy contentment that is hard to match. . .

Hulk uses the word "quarrel" in a sentence?? While Ben's relegated to saying "anudder"-??

The Hulk's characterization, however, was spot-on to what we'd see from Len very shortly in Greenskin's book. The angry guy who is perpetually struggling to understand what's going on, and resorts to smashing things when he doesn't (goin' with his strengths, as it were). Rage born not of malevolence, but out of frustration, more than anything.


david_b said...

Thanks Karen. The reason I asked is that I was impressed with it finally reaching some modern printing format, but after looking at the panels, it seemed a bit 'too clean'.

I suppose I'm just too used to the old comic paper format.

Anonymous said...

Wow, this was a great day of modest synchronicity... first I read your review of this comic (a favorite of mine since I first read it in the Hulk Treasury), and later in the day, my 10 year old grandon and 4 year old granddaughter send me a picture of my grandson's huge Hulk and Thing figures locked in a battle pose! Sure made me smile!!


Doug said...

David --

For those who prefer their comics in an economical format, this tale is also part of the Essential Marvel Two-In-One, volume 1 collection.


Fred W. Hill said...

This was a light but very fun read which my 11 year old self loved from the moment I read it after purchasing it from ye olde tiny convenience in Salt Lake City where my brother routinely got our comics, candy & soda in 1973. Back then the Leader was as new to me as Kurrgo, whose first & only previous appearance happened to coincide with the year of my birth. What I find amusing about obscure characters making comebacks ages since their last appearance is when the writers apparently forget that the Marvel Universe is only supposed to be about 7 years old. References to a shared past can really get mangled trying to keep everyone sounding more ancient than they're depicted. It would be funny to have an obscure '60s villain pop up and remember, say, fighting Spider-Man back then while Spidey comes back at him with, "you're out of your wig, grandpa -- my dad hadn't even born yet back then!"
Yeah, yeah, I'm too easily amused.

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