Monday, July 28, 2014

Why Can't We Be Friends? Incredible Hulk 340

Incredible Hulk #340 (February 1988)
"Vicious Circle"
Peter David-Todd McFarlane

Doug: Some of you may be wondering about our timeline over the past two weeks. Last week's Wonder Woman review hearkened back to 1987, today's is from 1988 -- both dates past the general parameter of 1985 that we usually use on this blog. An explanation -- since the Crisis plays so heavily on the end of the Bronze Age at DC Comics (at least according to most of us here), checking in on those reboots that came after seems wholly appropriate. Plus George Perez is just about as Bronze an artist as you're going to find. But what of today's fare? I bought this one at the comic shop due in large part to the out-of-this-world cover. Certainly that's one of the best of its era, although I could nitpick it. Whenever I first lay eyes on it, I always think Wolverine is slashing forward; but then I look again and see that we are looking at the back of his left hand. But I forgive quickly, as I'm a sucker for covers with a reflective scene in them. Anyway, this comic had gone missing for years from my collection, and I could not for the life of me figure out where it was. I wondered if I'd loaned it to a friend, but he swore I never did. So I wasn't losing sleep over it, but was nonetheless aware that I no longer possessed it. That is, until I was grading/pricing my collection a few weeks ago and was in my X-Men longbox. Back in the day I was very organized in my storage, to the point where I'd take a larger-sized magazine bag and stuff it with mini-series. So when the "Fall of the Mutants" storyline was over, I bagged the four or five chapters individually and then slipped them all into a magazine bag. Guess what? This book was ancillary to that story. Found it!! But that still doesn't answer why it's being reviewed here today. Simple -- I want to, and I want to solicit opinions on several elements of the story as we go along. So, let's go along!

Doug: First up is the coloring in this issue, which is an odd palette for my eyes to behold. Sure, I know the Hulk was now gray instead of green, but why does everything else in the book seem to be so softened? We open on a snowy road near, of all places, Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas. Clay Quartermain and Rick Jones are in a vehicle with the Hulk and they're lost. This doesn't make the Hulk very happy. Quartermain suggests, in these days well ahead of GPS devices, that they pull over for a break and try to regroup. The surly Hulk wants out and at first opportunity lifts off, up and away. One of the conceits you may notice on this page is artist Todd McFarlane's obligatory inclusion of a Felix the Cat face. Got it out of the way early in this one. So after the Hulk takes to the skies, we shift to the control tower at DFW where they, too, are battling the snow. As the tower advises a Pan Am flight to divert to Houston, an unidentified craft enters their airspace. It's the Blackbird, piloted by Wolverine, who really isn't in any mood to be talking to air traffic controllers. A few things to notice in this panel -- Rogue and Logan must have gone to the same hairdresser, and doesn't McFarlane sex-up Rogue's right side? You see what I mean...

Doug: On the next page, author Peter David brings those few Hulk readers who may not have been regular X-Men readers up to speed on who the players are and why they're in this magazine. As I said above, this issue tied in (loosely) with the "Fall of the Mutants" storyline. This was an interesting X-line-up, with Storm and Wolverine being the old hands and surrounded by Rogue, Havok (he'd be an old hand if he'd ever had a lengthy tenure on the team), Dazzler and Psylocke in her original "form" (pre-ninja), and recent addition Longshot. Wolverine is surprisingly under control here, and David writes him as the mature member of the group (not that any of the others are acting silly). Suddenly from a view outside the plane, we see the Hulk hurtle by, narrowly missing the Blackbird. Ah, but recall the tower's concern about the X-craft being too close to the Pan Am flight in the blizzard? Guess what the Hulk hits as he reaches the peak of his ascent?

Doug: Wolverine picks up the mayday call and orders Rogue out of the Blackbird to rescue the airliner. He orders her to remove the damaged engine from the wing Hulk had hit, and then guide the jet to a safe landing. Moments later we see the Hulk on the ground in the woods, mad that a) he doesn't have anything to eat and b) he can't find his ride. Just then, KRASH! the engine lands... guess where? Hulk not happy. Cut to the site of the jet on the ground, with Wolverine out of the Blackbird and investigating. His senses don't lie, although he's a bit confused: there's little doubt that the Hulk was the impetus for the destruction of the jet's engine, but it's a different scent. But Wolverine thinks to himself that he's the leader of the X-Men now, and although he'd love to check out this anomaly, he cannot. Cut then to a one-page scene with the Leader, in his very odd-looking revised form (I've seen from time-to-time readers state that his new "shape" was somewhat phallic in nature). Apparently there's been some plot by the Leader to take over a cache of gamma bombs being developed by the U.S. military. But that's all I know, and it's the only time it's touched on in this book, so...

Doug: We sceneshift again to a highway in the area where motorists have become snowbound. McFarlane focuses on a food truck. With a gaping hole in its side. The National Guard is out on patrol to assist motorists when they come upon the truck. Sensing some potential looting going on, they call into the darkness of the rupture. We know who's in there, right? Out comes the Hulk to a -- you guessed it -- hail of gunfire. The bullets rip into the truck's gas tank, causing it to blow. Hulk hurls it away from himself, now fully ticked off that his meal's been ruined. The truck lands a fair distance away, but near enough to an apartment complex that some folks might be in danger. That brings the X-Men to the area, and you can see where this is heading (after all, it's why I bought the book in the first place). Wolverine pulls on his mask and is out to investigate and to oversee his team's relief efforts. He says aloud that he wonders what sort of jerk could have done this. Trouble is, the wind carries his words away -- to the Hulk's ears. Yup -- game on!

Doug: The Hulk launches himself at Wolverine, but at the last instant Logan whirls, popping his claws, and slashed the Hulk across his right arm. Hulk can't believe that Wolverine cut him -- and we remarked in our review of Hulk #181 how bloodless the art was in their battle. Wolverine's body tells him that it's go time, but his mind actually calms his instincts! Yep, the runt turns and walks away! Hulk is incredulous. And isn't taking no for an answer! What follows are 40 panels of sheer carnage. Todd McFarlane really cuts loose on these two heavyweights cutting loose. There is a brief interruption for an interlude showing Rick and Quartermain driving in their van in search of the Hulk, but for the most part the second half of this issue is what the reader paid for -- and that's to answer the question, if Wolverine really went into a berserker rage, with no Comics Code Authority to hold him back (tell me the presence of the Code stamp on this cover wasn't just for tradition's sake by this point in time), could he beat the Hulk? Well, the answer is "no"... not this Hulk. Because this Hulk not only gets stronger the angrier he gets, but he also gets bigger and has a healing factor that kicks in. And oh yeah -- this one thinks a little more clearly than the Jade Giant of decades past. Enjoy some of McFarlane's action, and while you do, I'd invite your critique of (again) the coloring, and also of his figurework and proportionality between the two combatants.

Doug: So it ends with Rick and Quartermain finally finding the Hulk in the midst of his battle royal. Quartermain uses an Image-era trademark -- the biggest gun you've ever seen -- to shock the two brawlers. He then gives a pretty ballsy (sorry for the PG-13 term) lecture to both of them, which surprisingly ends the fracas. Wolverine again walks away, and that's the last we see of him in this magazine. The Hulk bows to Quartermain's wishes and hoists the van above his head and leaps with it in his hands. Inside the van, Rick and Clay muse about Betty Ross Talbot Banner, and whether or not she still thinks about Bruce Banner. Quartermain suggests, not if she's smart. And then we see the woman whose hand we'd seen during interludes throughout the issue -- it's Betty holding a snow globe, which she hurls against a wall, smashing it to pieces. Betty thinks that she and Bruce are just two figures who continue to encounter each other, but never as closely as they should. Even after marriage, the live in a sort of cycle of close, apart, and then close again. Hence Peter David's title to this issue.

Doug: Not being a regular Hulk reader, some of the periphery stuff didn't matter to me or really even make sense. As to the main part of the story, it is what we thought it would be, huh? Although the cover date is 1988, what's between these covers is a definite precursor to what would be fully unleashed on readers in the 1990s. I suppose in 1988 that wasn't bad, but who could have seen into the future? It's sort of like The Dark Knight Returns -- I loved it at the time, but that sense of awe has faded through the years as I saw what subsequent creators did in an effort to emulate or even top what Frank Miller had done in Daredevil and then with his Batman work. In closing, I suppose I'd view this as a cog in that machine that was beginning to pick up steam. And oh if it didn't then proceed like a runaway train.

PS: One more thing -- I absolutely love the return to the blue pants on the Hulk. Seriously -- no one wears purple pants.


Edo Bosnar said...

Well, I'm kind of partially to the purple pants myself. Don't like the gray skin, though...

Anonymous said...

Forgive my ignorance but I didn't know it snowed in Texas - I thought Texas was hot and arid. It's impossible to keep up with the Hulk - green Hulk/grey Hulk/red Hulk/Planet Hulk, sometimes he's using his "surly" voice, sometimes his "Hulk smash" voice and sometimes his "Dr. Banner" voice - and that's all been since 2007 when I started reading Marvel comics again ! Whatever colour trousers Bruce Banner was wearing they'd always be purple/pink when he became the Hulk - I've read that they became purple because of the gamma radiation (?!) so they should be purple here too.

david_b said...

This was prime McFarlane time, where, like Miller before him, it seemed like every 'hot' Marvel comic had to have McFarlane pencils. Way too much over-exposure.

Proportionality does look great, as does the action sequences, McFarlane does that very very well.

I'd consider this McFarlane issue among those comic styles that 'don't hold up well'. Very 'late 80s/90s-ish, and don't get me wrong, I loved his initial work on Spidey (his style was warmly welcomed for a reason, folks..). But much like Wolvie appearing in every team and title, too much is too much.

Great cover.

And count me in for the greenskin/purple pants as well.

Humanbelly said...

ONLY purple pants!
NEVER blue pants!


So yeah, TRULY a great cover! I think it's been ranked quite high in a number of "Greatest Cover Ever" polls.

Colin, it does snow every once in a great while in that part of Texas, although that level of blizzard is wildly unlikely. My sister-in-law lives in the greater DFW metro area, and whenever they get an inch or two or three it's pretty much a societal Armageddon for them. I seem to recall there may have been a freak blizzard sometime in the 80's, though, which may have been Peter David's source of inspiration.

IIRC, McFarlane's Hulk run is where he really refined what we think of as his visual style. You can see the development pretty clearly from his earliest issues on the book (much like John Buscema's earliest run on the Avengers). Life was preventing me from reading the book regularly during this period, although I was still receiving them, and while the much more cartoony/caricature-ish style was jarring at first, TMcF's visual story-telling was wonderfully dynamic and, well, cool. If McFarlane hadn't become "hot" and ridiculously copied, and ultimately contaminated by his own ego we might have a wholly different comic book landscape today. He was helped immensely, of course, by Peter David's plotting and scripting. I know there are a lot of forgotten plot threads here (and I do recognize the majority of them), but to David's credit, he usually took care of them eventually, for better or worse. He wrote a great Leader, whose continued mutation wasn't as hard to accept as one might think. And no one could keep the feeling of "fun" in a book as well as Peter David.

I mean, I don't think anyone was as upset about losing Childlike Hulk as I was-- and he was pretty much gone for good, as history has shown-- and yet I still found pre-Mr Fixit Grey Hulk to be gruffly engaging and entertaining. And the book stayed quite good for a number of years past this point, as we explored further Hulk personas.

HB-- back to work!

Dr. Oyola said...

1) I own (and have owned) more than one pair of purple pants.

2) It does sometimes snow in some parts of Texas (they freak out and crash all their cars in like 1/2" of snow!), but in this case I am guessing the anomalous weather has to do with the Adversary - or whoever was behind the Fall of the Mutants - I remember snow from the X-issues.

3) Man, I hate McFarland's art - only Liefeld's is worse. Thing is, I can see where he is actually trying to do some cool stuff with the paneling, but I think it is his "sketchy" stye of penciling that emphasizes the weak coloring - makes it weaker actually - there are just too many lines and too much going on in the smallest of panels.

4) This issue is from around the time I initially quit getting comics. I would not get comics on the regular again for about 12 or 13 years.

Anonymous said...

Snow in Texas!?!

Well, yes it does snow in Texas. And there was a major snow storm in January 1986. It closed the airport for three days. And with Dallas/Fort Worth being a hub, it affected air travel for the whole state. Lubbock, where I was back during that time, had more snow fall, but yet the airport didn't close. With school opening delayed until kids could get back, we all huddled together for a basketball game on campus, which led to the Great Measles Outbreak of 86. You couldn't go to class unless you had your Measles Shot Wristband!!! Those were the days!!!

And yes, parts of Texas are arid. Parts are also heavily wooded (East Texas), and the coast is very beachy, the interior is very hilly (Central Texas) and the panhandle is on the Caprock. This is the very southern end of the Great Plains. There is nothing between you and Canada but sky.

And I wouldn't say my pants were purple, they were more plum, the belt was purple. I had grey shoes and a pink shirt. Any one of my plaid ties would complete the outfit. Not that there was anything wrong with was the 80s!!!

The Prowler (first date was in a Trans Am).

Doug said...

I am definitely recalling, as others have suggested, that the snow was an anomaly and was tied into the main story that was taking place in X-Men.

Criticisms of McFarlane are understood, but I'll say this for him in comparison to Liefeld -- Todd drew backgrounds. You can complain about the number of lines in a panel, but they are actually doing something and not just the stupid speed lines Liefeld uses to fill his pages.

I'd definitely like to see some pictures posted of some of you blokes in your purple pants.



Humanbelly said...

Oh yeah, McFarlane was ten times (or more) the artist that Liefeld was, no question. The over-use of sketchy lines would be a reasonable criticism, yes-- but he clearly had a great eye for movement, composition, (pretty good) linear storytelling, and- wow- facial expressions. He took full advantage of the exaggeration of expression that his cartoon-ish style afforded him.

Of that whole bunch of "hot" 90's artists, I'd probably put Erik Larson next (when he was really putting his heart into it).

Then, well. . . no one. Pretty much the entire artist roster of FORCE WORKS can be used as an example of disposable discards.


Garett said...

Pretty good art here, although I'd put McFarlane after Jim Lee, Marc Silvestri and Erik Larsen from the Image gang. They all had/have skills in comics, but mostly the storytelling suffered at Image. Larsen for me was the best at writing.

Here's an feisty interview with McFarlane in 1992 by Gary Groth:

Anonymous said...

I have this story in my Hulk vs the Marvel Universe comicbook; yeah, everything about this story screams '90s comics'. David's script is OK, but I'm with the good Dr. Oyola - McFarlane's art leaves me cold. It's just too scratchy for my taste. His panel layout and movement are good, but just too many fine lines; I prefer the fluid powerful style of a John Buscema or the angular graceful style of a Gil Kane.

Man, I've never gotten used to this new look for the Leader; at first I thought it was an entirely different character. It's amazing how much I missed that classic old high green forehead!

This grey Hulk was always a throwback to the 60s Hulk when he first appeared. As I recall, that Hulk talked more like a surly gangster than the later childlike savage persona he had from the 70s onwards.

And now we come to the infamous purple pants - seriously, guys? I've never had a preference one way or the other. I always accepted that he'd have either one of these colours on because let's face it, these are the two best colours which contrasted well with his green skin (imagine if he wore light green pants!). Radiation is a copout excuse in my opinion. Keeping a consistent look helps with character recognition too. I remember the Star Wars 1970s comics series had Princess Leia still wearing that white gown and those hair buns for many issues until just before the Empire Strikes Back movie came out!

- Mike 'it never snows in Trinidad' from Trinidad & Tobago.

Edo Bosnar said...

On the subject of pants: while currently most of the pairs I own are various shades of blue (jeans) or black or khaki, I do have a pair of green jeans (allusion to Capt. Kangaroo's sidekick intentional), and at various times in the past I've had, yes, pairs of bluish violent (almost purple) and maroon pants. Also, although it's a bit shameful to admit, a pair of those early '90s baggy pants with a dual magenta and blue theme (looked purple from far away) and little black bats all over them.
So there, Doug!

Oh, and speaking of those baggy pants, did Bruce Banner ever wear those back in the '90s? Those probably wouldn't have ripped up as much when he turned into the Hulk...

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