By Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, Harlan Ellison, Herb Trimpe, & various (Marvel)
By the close of the 1960s the Incredible Hulk had settled into a comfortable niche and enjoyable formula as the tragic Bruce Banner sought cures for his gamma-transformative curse, alternately aided or hunted by prospective father-in-law US General “Thunderbolt” Ross and a variety of guest-star heroes and villains.
Herb Trimpe made the character his own, the “house” Jack Kirby based art-style quickly evolving into startlingly abstract mannerism, augmented by an unmatched facility for drawing technology and especially honking great ordnance and vehicles – all of which looks especially great in the crisp black and white of these magically affordable Essentials volumes. And of course no one can deny the cathartic reader-release of a mighty big “Hulk Smash” moment…
This chronologically accurate treat contains issues #118-142, as well as the corresponding parts of a couple of cross-overs, Captain Marvel #20-21 and Avengers #88, but the action begins with Incredible Hulk #118 (August 1969) wherein a duplicitous courtier at the Sub-Mariner’s sunken citadel orchestrated ‘A Clash of Titans’, (as related by Stan Lee and Trimpe) before the Jade Giant stumbled into a South American country conquered by and ‘At the Mercy of… Maximus the Mad’, a two-part-tale which concluded with the Roy Thomas scripted ‘On the Side of… the Evil Inhumans!’
This all-out Armageddon with the Hulk also fighting the Costa Salvador army, the ubiquitous rebels, General Ross’ specialist forces and even a giant robot gave way to a moodier menace as Ol’ Greenskin returned to the USA – Florida to be precise – to find ‘Within the Swamp, There Stirs… a Glob!’, a muck-encrusted monstrosity that predated both DC’s Swamp Thing and Marvel’s own Man-Thing; designed as tribute in equal parts to Theodore Sturgeon’s “It” and the Hillman Comics Character The Heap, who slopped his way through the back of Airboy Comics in the early 1950s.
Incredible Hulk #122 promised ‘The Hulk’s Last Fight!’ when the Fantastic Four thought they’d found a cure for Banner’s condition, but as the concluding episode ‘No More the Monster!’ showed, you don’t always get what you want – specially when gamma-super-genius the Leader has involved himself in the plan.
Seemingly cured of the curse of the Hulk Bruce Banner was set to marry his troubled sweetheart Betty Ross, but ‘The Rhino Says No!’ and the subsequent set-to (rather heavily inked by Sal Buscema) re-set the tragic status quo of hunted, haunted hero on the run…
Trimpe again took up the inker’s brush for the bludgeoning battle in #125 ‘And Now, the Absorbing Man!’ whilst Doctor Strange guest-starred in an other-dimensional duel with the malign Undying Ones: ‘…Where Stalks the Night-Crawler!’ (a tidying up exercise closing a saga from the good Doctor’s own cancelled title – and one which directly led to the formation of the anti-hero super-group The Defenders).
In ‘Mogol!’ (#127) the child-like, lonely Hulk was transported to the Mole Man’s subterranean realm where he thought he’d finally found a friend, only to face bitter disappointment once more, and his pain-filled rampage threatened to destroy California (#127) when he tore his way surface-ward via the San Andreas Fault. ‘And in this Corner… The Avengers!’ found a solution to the problem, even if they couldn’t hold the Green Goliath, leading him to more trouble when ‘Again, The Glob!’ attacked.
Next up is a two-part tale from Captain Marvel #20-21 (June and August 1970) where erstwhile partner Rick Jones sought Banner’s aid to free him from a twilight existence bonded to the Kree hero – and intermittent exile to the Negative Zone. Astoundingly illustrated by Gil Kane and Dan Adkins ‘The Hunter and the Holocaust’ and ‘Here Comes the Hulk!’ compounded the mismatched battle with topical student unrest, in a brilliant story that presaged a move towards more “relevant” comics fare throughout the industry.
Incredible Hulk #130 saw Banner separate himself from the Hulk in ‘If I Kill You… I Die’, but the separation had potentially disastrous consequences for Los Angeles, if not the world and only Iron Man could help when ‘A Titan Stalks the Tenements!’ This powerful tale introduced black ghetto kid Jim Wilson, and is made doubly enjoyable by the inking wizardry of the legendary John Severin who signed on for a three-issue stint.
In #132, the Hulk was ‘In the Hands of Hydra!’ – although not for long and to their eternal regret. His desperate escape left him stranded in the Mediterranean dictatorship of Morvania, an unwilling freedom fighter against the despicable Draxon on the ‘Day of Thunder… Night of Death!’ Sal Buscema returned as inker for the conclusion ‘Among us Walks… the Golem!’ in Incredible Hulk #134, and one of the strangest Marvel team-ups then occurred in ‘Descent into the Time-Storm!’ when Kang the Conqueror dispatched the Hulk to the dog-days of World War I to prevent the Avengers’ ancestors from being born, only to fall foul of the masked aviator known as the Phantom Eagle.
Moby Dick (among other cross media classics) was homaged in ‘Klattu! The Behemoth From Beyond Space’ and ‘The Stars, Mine Enemy!’ (this last inked by Mike Esposito) as a vengeance crazed star-ship captain pursued the alien beast that had maimed him, press-ganging the Hulk in the process and pitting him against old foe the Abomination.
It was back to Earth and another old enemy in ‘…Sincerely, the Sandman!’ (inked by Sam Grainger) as the vicious villain turned Betty Ross to brittle glass, whilst #139’s ‘Many Foes Has the Hulk!’ saw the Leader attempt to kill his brutish nemesis by exhaustion as seemingly hundreds of old villains attacked at once…
Another cross-over next, and a very impressive one as Harlan Ellison, Thomas, Sal Buscema and Jim Mooney produced ‘The Summons of Psyklop!’ for Avengers #88 where an insectoid servant of the Elder Gods abducted the Hulk to fuel their resurrection, which led directly into Incredible Hulk #140 and the landmark ‘The Brute that Shouted Love at the Heart of the Atom’ (drawn by Grainger over Trimpe’s layouts). Trapped on a sub-atomic world, Banner’s intellect and the Hulk’s body were reconciled, and he became a barbarian hero to an appreciative populace, and the lover of the perfect princess Jarella…
only to be snatched away by Psyklop at the moment of his greatest happiness.
The sudden return to full-sized savagery was the insectoid’s undoing and the Hulk resumed his ghastly existence… at least until #141 when a psychologist proved a way to drain the Hulk’s gamma-energy to restore the crystalline Betty – and even turn himself into a superhero in ‘His Name is … Samson!’ (with Severin returned as inker).
This volume closes with a satirical poke at “Radical Chic” and the return of the “feminist” villain Valkyrie when the Hulk was made a media cause celebre by Manhattan’s effete elite in the oddly charming ‘They Shoot Hulks, Don’t They?’ But don’t fret, there’s plenty of monumental mayhem as well…
The Hulk is one of the most well-known comic characters on Earth, and these stories, as much as the movies, TV shows and action figures, are the reason why. For an uncomplicated, honestly vicarious experience of Might actually being Right, you can’t do better than these yarns so why not Go Green (even if its only in monochrome and your own head)?
© 1969, 1970, 1971, 2005 Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.