Wednesday, October 31, 2012
Monster Mash: Incredible Hulk Annual 5
Incredible Hulk Annual #5 (1976)
"And Six Shall Crush the Hulk!"
Plotter: Len Wein
Scripter: Chris Claremont
Artists: Sal Buscema and Jack Abel
Karen: Happy Halloween! We thought for today it might be fitting to end with a bang, so you're getting not one, not two, but six monsters -or seven, if you count the Hulk! Our pal David_B asked the other day if we might have any plans to review some of the other Marvel monster titles that reprinted the Atlas tales of giant monsters and aliens with colorful names. Neither Doug nor I have access to those books. But I did recall having this annual, which featured appearances by some of those crazy critters. So I hope you'll enjoy this wild monster rally.
Doug: I vividly recall leafing through this annual at a spinner rack when I was 10. For some reason I set it back down. I am happy, though, that Karen suggested we review it now -- we think it should be a lot of fun!
Karen: We begin in Colorado, where (as usual) the Hulk is being harassed by the Army. It seems while old Greenskin was looking for a place to relax he wandered into a top secret base, and the poor soldiers have orders to drive him off. Good luck with that. After scattering the men, Hulk leaps off. But someone is observing him on a viewscreen, someone nearby who states that the Hulk is his oldest and bitterest foe. In some sort of laboratory, we see a series of large cylinders. The unknown being indicates that he has recreated five powerful extraterrestrial beings who have attacked Earth in the past. He plans to use them against the Hulk. He presses a switch and teleports the first creature to face the Hulk.
Doug: This was certainly during the time when Bruce Banner was often an afterthought in the pages of the Incredible Hulk. I still associate the Hulk relaxing with a quick reversion back to Banner. But that doesn't seem to have been the case here. But as you intimate, ol' Greenskin probably isn't going to get any R&R in this tome. As to his scuffle with the Army? Sal draws the Hulk at his raging finest, hoisting a tank above his head and slamming his fists on the ground to scatter the troops.
Karen: You're quite right, one would assume relaxing would lead to a transformation back to Banner, but he's nowhere to be seen in this book. Then again, our gamma-irradiated pal doesn't get much of a chance to relax! The Hulk lands near a stream and comes across two men who are fishing. Neither man has seen the jade giant yet. He asks them if he can fish with them, and they respond amiably, before they see his reflection in the water. Then the two panic and run. Hulk gets frustrated and snaps a fishing pole in two, angry because he wants fish but doesn't know how to catch any. Suddenly he hears a voice telling him not to worry about his hunger but rather his life. A billowing dark smoke appears and takes the form of a huge humanoid, and declares itself to be Diablo, the demon of the fifth dimension. Diablo originally appeared in Tales of Suspense # 9 (May 1960). Hulk is confused by the appearance of the creature and responds as he usually does -- by trying to punch it! But his fists just pass through its body. Diablo is able to control his density, much like the Vision, and he grabs the Hulk and pulls him into his body, trying to suffocate him. Hulk however, is no dummy. He actually tunnels underneath Diablo and comes out behind him. He yells at Diablo and notes that his breath -- his "little wind"! -- partly dissipates the smoke creature. Diablo gets panicky and then Hulk gets the idea to use his patented Hulk clap to create such a violent gust of air that he completely blows Diablo away.
Doug: I thought there was a real Herman Munster vibe to the fishing scene. The Hulk's personality just lends itself to those moments of comic relief. Sal Buscema's just such a steady artist. In this segment I really, really enjoyed the depth he gave to Diablo -- even though the creature was basically made of smoke and soot, Sal imbued him enough to make us believe that he had real mass. And the panel you referenced with Hulk commenting on his "little wind"? How about that devilish smile? Great physical comedy. But did you think the big clapping was an easy out? After all, Diablo could control his mass, as you said, enough to punch the Hulk. Was he really caught that unaware?
Karen: I thought Diablo looked pretty cool too. I also wondered if Hulk's little wind was his breath, would that mean his "big wind" was his...aw, never mind! I just accepted that his "super-clap" was enough to throw Diablo off his game. After Diablo, the Hulk wanders off through a stream and is attacked by his next enemy: Taboo! Taboo, who appeared in Strange Tales #77 (Oct. 1960) (or as mentioned here, reprinted in Where Monsters Dwell #2), looks like a big mudball, to put it kindly. Taboo tries covering Hulk in his goo, but Jade-Jaws frees himself. Taboo then decides to try another tactic, just plain smashing the Hulk, but that doesn't work any better. Hulk comes up with the bright idea that if he can't smash Taboo with his fists, he'll use water, and so he actually punches the stream! Yes, you read that right. But somehow, by punching the riverbed, he creates a crack, that causes a whirlpool! Taboo cannot resist the pull and is sucked down into the Earth. He asks for Hulk's help, but Greenskin says, "Mudface tried to kill Hulk, and then expects Hulk to save his life? Hulk is not that stupid." I thought that was an odd bit of anti-hero dialog, even from the Hulk. After his mucky foe is gone, Hulk wanders off, muttering about how tired he is.
Doug: I thought it was odd, too, yet humorous when Hulk said that. It would be interesting, if I had access to a bunch of Hulk books (which I do not), to do a post on the morality of the Incredible Hulk. I'm sure there are many examples of surly as well as altruistic behavior from our green goliath. I also hate to be picking on the "outs" of each of these monster battles, but no matter how hard Hulk hit the river bed, they were only standing in about four feet of water. How much pull could a whirlpool make on Big Taboo?
Karen: The whirlpool seemed pretty silly, but I was enjoying it, so I went with it. Hulk is walking through the forest when suddenly branches reach out for him and grab him! As he struggles against them he is confronted by Groot, the Monster from Planet X! Although they fail to list Groot's first appearance in this annual, I looked it up and found it was in Tales to Astonish # 13 (Nov. 1960). Of course Groot has gone on to become a member of the current Guardians of the Galaxy team, and is not nearly as loquacious as he is here. When confronted with Groot, Hulk says, "Talking smoke, talking mud -- now talking tree! Hulk wonders if this is all a dream!" Hulk smacks Groot solidly in the face, but it seems to have no effect. Hulk is puzzled, and Groot tells him that perhaps it is because he has rooted himself to the ground. Now good grief, don't give the Hulk any help! Hulk then decides he will beat up the ground! He tears up the turf around Groot and unroots him. Groot shoots thorns at Hulk but he deflects them, and then uses a boulder to bash Groot into a pile of tinder. When it is all done, Hulk again remarks that he feels tired. He goes to leap off, but he can't even jump nearly as far as he normally could.
Doug: I'm not up on any current doings in the Marvel Universe, but I'm bummed that the Guardians movie is most likely going to contain the current team. Give me Yondu and Charlie-27! Hey, the 40-somethings will be going to see that picture, too! I really liked in this mag how the monsters each got a full splash page for their big entry. And how about the middle panel on page 23? Now that's what I call being Buscema-blasted! Yeah, it's one of Sal's stock poses, but I love it every time! Let's face it about these baddies -- there's probably a reason they didn't stick around in the Marvel Universe for any length of time. But they are just perfect for this story, and big kudos to whoever came up with this idea. And a tip of the hat to Chris Claremont as well. I don't know how many Hulk stories he scripted through the years, but he sure does a nice job here.
Karen: You know, that's a good point, Claremont really did have Hulk's voice here. Well done! While in mid-leap, Hulk is knocked out of the sky and plummets to the ground violently. As he picks himself up, he is confronted by yet another monster: a red-skinned weirdo named Goom! Goom, who has funky little wings like a flying squirrel, first appeared in Tales of Suspense #15 (March 1961). Hulk is rightfully sick and tired of fighting all these weirdos and goes to attack Goom. But Goom cuts loose with eyebeams that shrink Hulk down to "Fun Size" as the candy makers might say. Goom scoops Hulk up in his hand and tries to crush him but soon discovers even a tiny Hulk is no easy thing to handle. Hulk pops out of Goom's hand and begins growing again -- perhaps his anger is counter-acting Goom's shrinking ray? Whatever the case, Goom is in trouble! Hulk grabs Goom and spins him around and around, finally hurling him against the mountainside. He then brings the mountain down on him.
Doug: Even a tiny or tired Hulk is dangerous, huh? Goom was quite a departure visually from the first three monsters, who were all elemental in nature. And Goom must have gone to the same tailor as Fin Fang Foom to get those spiffy little trunks he was sporting. I love the bravado these guys have, too!
Karen: Hulk is really on his last legs after this fight. Now he looks up and sees the sky full of dark clouds, and knows that the rain is coming. He yells at the clouds to go away, and is promptly answered by a bolt of lightning zapping him! Another one hits him, and he falls to his knees. A few feet away, another bolt strikes. Hulk thinks that it missed him, but suddenly a humanoid shape appears, one of living electricity. It is -The Blip! This was an alien creature who appeared in Tales to Astonish # 15 (Jan. 1961) (and was reprinted in Fear #2). Only Hulk mistakes him for his old enemy Zzzax! It's a pretty natural mistake, if you ask me. The Blip zaps Hulk but it doesn't stop Jade-Jaws. It does however give him a pretty amusing hair style! Hulk unfortunately can do little against a being made of pure electricity -- or so it seems. Eventually he grabs hold of Blip -- how, I'm not sure -- and hurls him against some power lines; the results are spectacular.
Doug: I also questioned the Hulk's ability to grasp the Blip. How about the names of these guys? As I said at the top, I'm glad you picked this book for us to do today -- it really is a lot of fun, and a great homage to Marvel's days as Atlas Comics. Loved the panel you remarked about, with Hulk's hair all frizzed out -- Sal was really clicking on all cylinders in this one. Do you think he was having fun?
Karen: I think he must have been, because the art really seemed to be lively and imaginative.The Hulk, exhausted, collapses on the ground. Oddly, the grass enfolds around him and flies off into the sky! It carries the Hulk off just as the Army arrives. General Harrison watches it go and notes that it's moving in the direction of the strange interference signal that they've been detecting.
Doug: Did you think Hulk really collapsed from exhaustion, or did he have some "help" so that he could be all balled up in that sod?
Karen: Hulk and his grass sleeping bag come thumping down inside the mysterious laboratory we saw at the beginning of our tale. Hulk, seemingly revitalized, busts out of the sod and starts yelling. A shadowy figure appears and taunts Hulk, asking him if his is tired. Clamps suddenly shoot from the walls and hold Hulk tight, and the figure steps forward and we see it is Xemnu the Titan, the strange alien invader seen primarily in issues of The Defenders. It turns out that each foe Hulk fought drained off some of the green goliath's strength, to the point where he is now not much stronger than a normal human -- or so Xemnu thinks. Xemnu really has no plan here other than to kill the Hulk -- it seems like he's just out for revenge. But he hasn't counted on two things: the US Army and the Hulk's ability to get stronger the angrier he gets. As he prepares to kill the Hulk, the whole lab is severely shaken, and it looks like the whole place could come crashing down. This gives Hulk the distraction he needs, and he breaks free of his bonds. Xemnu starts to escape in a force sphere, but Hulk latches on to it. Xemnu and his sphere go blasting out of the lab and into what appears to be an underwater stream. Xemnu tries to goad Hulk into opening his mouth, but Hulk thinks to himself, "Hulk will not do that! Why should Hulk? Hulk does not want to let water in. Hulk will wait until Hulk finds air." Smart guy.
Doug: It's a little hard to take Xemnu seriously, as he looks like a stuffed animal you might have won throwing darts at balloons at a carnival! More great dialogue from Claremont in these scenes as well.
Karen: Turns out Xemnu's base was under a dam. Gen. Harrison has been dropping depth charges (!) to flush him out! As Hulk and Xemnu come bursting out, Hulk shatters the force sphere, and they land on the dam. Hulk grabs Xemnu and is about to give him a major league butt whuppin' when one of the depth charges sets off something in the lab and it explodes, causing a huge crack in the dam. The dam bursts, and Hulk and Xemnu are washed away. General Harrison tells command that nothing could have survived that. But we know better. Far downstream, the Hulk rises from the debris, annoyed that he can't find Xemnu and finish him for good. He leaps off into the air, declaring what we all know -"Hulk is the strongest one there is!"
Doug: General Harrison is more reckless than T-Bolt Ross! I guess the bath in the raging river gave Hulk back his energy, because there's no talk of him being tuckered out anymore -- but just happy to get away from that stupid forest!
Karen: This story was a lot of fun. Just one slugfest after another, but it really showcases who the Hulk was at this moment in time. I don't care much for Jack Abel paired with Sal Buscema. I'd prefer someone with heavier inks, but the art was still pretty good, and Buscema was clearly recognizable.