Fall of the Hulks volume 1


By Jeph Loeb, Greg Pak, Jeff Parker, John Romita Jr., Paul Pelletier & others (Marvel/Panini Publishing UK)
ISBN: 978-1-84653-462-1
In recent years the number of Gamma-powered gargantua rampaging across the Marvel landscape has proliferated to inconceivable proportions. There are assorted Hulks, She-Hulks, Abominations and all kinds of ancillary mutations roaming the planet so it’s no more than prudent to occasionally thin the herd.

The days of Bruce Banner getting angry and going Green are long gone too, so anybody taking their cues from the various TV and movie incarnations of the Jade Giant will be more than grateful for the fifteen pages of Marvel Handbook text pages and an additional four pages of contextual catch-up data for filling in some background, but even so the story begun in this book depends overwhelmingly on a working knowledge of what’s gone before.

Even if you are familiar with the Hulk’s history, ancient and modern, you might still founder on the odd point of narrative as this book collects most – but by no means all – of the opening sallies in the major storyline which ran through the various Hulk-related comics during the first half of 2010.

Delving back and deep into many dark corners of in-house continuity this book (collecting Fall of the Hulks: Alpha, Fall of the Hulks: Gamma, Incredible Hulk #606, Hulk #19-20 and Red Hulk #1) opens in the early days of the Marvel Universe as a cabal of the planet’s smartest bad-guys – the Leader, Egghead, Red Ghost, the Wizard, Mad Thinker and Dr. Doom – begin recovering the scattered remnants of the Lost Library of Alexandria, repository of all arcane knowledge.

‘Meeting of the Minds’ outlines the plan and successes of “the Intelligencia” as they raid the Eternals’ hidden home for secrets, stealing as well a cosmic-powered Hulk robot, before going on to raid Project Pegasus (see The Thing in the Project Pegasus Saga), the hidden African kingdom of Wakanda and even sunken Atlantis among other landmarks.

Contemporarily, even though there are eight Variant Hulks and analogues, Banner is not one of them. The mysterious and all-conquering Red Hulk, who has trashed all the heroes of the Marvel Universe, has absorbed Banner’s gamma power, leaving nothing but a determined mortal – albeit a brilliant and determined one. Consequently Banner has never been more dangerous…

The origin of the Red Hulk is revealed after “the Intel” replaced Egghead with the biological computer Modok. Events move swiftly (mainly because many have been left out), but briefly, Dr. Doom betrays the rest of the cabal, Banner teams up with the Red Hulk to stop his assorted foes and the Intel move on to their greatest scheme: to capture and control the eight greatest minds on Earth.

With Red Hulk and Banner pursuing their own at-odds agendas and watching each other for the first sign of betrayal, the Intel snatches Reed Richards, Dr. Doom, Henry (the Beast) McCoy and T’Challa, the Black Panther, preparing to enter the end-game of their years-long campaign.

Meanwhile the assorted Gamma gladiators; Skaar – Son of Hulk, Jennifer Walters and Lyra (two different She-Hulks), Doc Samson, A-Bomb (venerable sidekick Rick Jones transformed into an atomic Abomination), an enigmatic Red She-Hulk and the ubiquitous Red Hulk all jockey for position and advantage in the tumultuous clash to come…

Of course this tome ends on a climactic cliffhanger, but even though it sounds utterly incomprehensible a thin strand of coherent narrative carries through this spectacularly cathartic, bombastic action epic, thanks to the inclusively referential writing of Jeph Loeb, Greg Pak and Jeff Parker.

Moreover if you’re more a fan of art than artifice the monumental illustrations by Paul Pelletier, Ed McGuinness, Carlos Rodriguez, Ryan Stegman, Vincente Cifuentes, Mark Palmer, Danny Miki, Tom Palmer and especially John Romita Jr. & Klaus Janson are cumulatively breathtaking in scope and power. As always the book includes a gallery of the many cover variants that graced the original comicbook releases

Flawed, but not fatally, there’s a heady impetus that carries this tale along despite all the problems and perhaps the concluding volume will assuage even those quibbles. Best then to read the sequel before deciding whether or not this is another “Hulk Smash”…

™& © 2010 Marvel Entertainment LLC and its subsidiaries. All Rights Reserved. A British edition published by Panini.

The Incredible Hulk


By Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko & various (Lancer US/Four Square UK)
“ISBNs” 72-124 (Lancer) and 1808 (Four Square)

This is one solely for chronic nostalgics, consumed collectors and historical nit-pickers, and is all about memories and the purity of the line – and possibly nasty, mean profiteering publishers…

One thing you could never accuse entrepreneurial maestro Stan Lee of was reticence, especially in promoting his burgeoning line of superstars. In the 1960s most adults, including the people who worked in the field, considered comic-books a ghetto. Some disguised their identities whilst others were “just there until they caught a break.” Stan, Jack and Steve had another idea – change the perception.

Whilst Kirby and Ditko pursued his imagination waiting for the quality of the work to be noticed, Stan pursued every opportunity to break down the ghetto walls; college lecture tours, animated shows (of frankly dubious quality at the start, but always improving), foreign franchising and of course getting their product onto “real” bookshelves in real book shops.

There had been a revolution in popular fiction during the 1950s with a huge expansion of cheap paperback books: companies developed extensive genre niche-markets, such as war, western, romance, science-fiction and fantasy. Hungry for product for their cheap ubiquitous lines, many old novels and short stories collections were republished, introducing a new generation to such authors as Robert E. Howard, Otis Adelbert Kline, H.P. Lovecraft, August Derleth and many others.

The paperback itself was not new: pioneered by German company Albatross Books in 1931 – not too long before the birth of the comic book itself – their abortive efforts were picked up and successfully adapted by publisher Allen Lane in England. In 1935 they launched Penguin Books, which in one go combined conspicuous, memorable design, genre-coding, brand awareness and product collectability in ten distinctive reprinted titles. The revolution had begun…

They were cheap, throwaway books – one could even buy them at Woolworth’s of all places, my dear! – and after some  initial resistance the market grew hugely. The hoi-polloi could now afford to read anything they pleased. In America Robert de Graf linked up with Simon & Shuster in 1939 to create the remarkably similar Pocket Books line.

The war slowed everything down by rationing paper, but also increased the acceptance of these easily portable diversions, and by the end of the affair a number of powerful reprint publishers were dominating the cheap end of the US market: Ace, Avon, Bantam, Dell – and yes, most of those companies dabbled in comic-books too…

That market changed forever in 1950 when comics and magazine publisher Fawcett established Gold Medal Books and began publishing original works in softcover.

They were so successful that they severely wounded the entire magazine market and actually killed “the Pulps”.

The hunger for escapist fiction was insatiable. Bantam Books had specialised in superhero fiction since 1964 when they began reprinting the earliest pulp adventures of Doc Savage, and they seemed the ideal partner when Marvel on the back of the “Batmania” craze, began a short-lived attempt to “novelise” their comic book stable with The Avengers Battle the Earth-Wrecker and Captain America in the Great Gold Steal.

Far more successful were various publisher’s repackaging of their actual comics stories in cheap and cheerful softcovers: Archie produced the memorable High Camp Superheroes, Tower collected the adventures of their big two Dynamo and No-Man, DC (then National Periodical Publications) released a number of Batman books and an impressive compendium of Superman stories and Marvel, punching far above their weight, unleashed a storm of paperbacks featuring a huge number of their new stars, Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, Daredevil, Thor and of course the Incredible Hulk.

Now during the heady, turbulent Sixties pulp heroics seemingly returned: imaginative “Thud and Blunder” fantasy tales that were the epitome of “cool”, and Marvel’s canny pursuit of foreign markets instantly paid big dividends.

Their characters, creators and stories were very familiar to British readers, appearing both in Odhams’ weekly comics Wham!, Pow!, Smash!, Fantastic and Terrific, but also – since 1959 – in the black and white monthly anthologies published by Alan Class

So when Lancer began releasing Marvel’s Mightiest early adventures in potent and portable little collections it was simple to negotiate British editions for those editions.

A word about artwork here: modern comics are almost universally full-coloured in Britain and America, but for over a century black and white was the only real choice for most mass market publishers – additional (colour) plates being just too expensive for shoe-string operations to indulge in. Even the colour of 1960s comics was cheap and primitive, and solid black line, expertly applied by master artists, was the very life-force of sequential narrative.

These days computer enhanced art can hide a multitude of weaknesses – if not actual pictorial sins – but back then companies lived or died on the draughting skills of their artists: so even in basic black and white – and the printing of paperbacks was as basic as the accountants and bean-counters could get it – the Kirby’s and Ditko’s and Wally Wood’s of the industry exploded out of those little pages and electrified the readership. I can’t see that happening with many modern artists deprived of their slick paper and 16 million colour palettes…

One word of warning to potential readers and collectors of these books: the US and UK editions can vary significantly – which is why I’ve selected the Incredible Hulk for this review. The American Lancer edition with the Kirby cover, published in 1966, represents in truncated, resized form two stories from The Incredible Hulk #3 (September 1962)‘Banished to Outer Space’ which radically altered the relationship the monster and his teen sidekick Rick Jones, and the first appearance of the Circus of Crime in ‘The Ringmaster’, by Lee Kirby and Dick Ayers, and then jumps via a brief bridging sequence from The Incredible Hulk #6 (March 1963) to the Steve Ditko run from Tales to Astonish.

These are ‘The Incredible Hulk’ (Tales to Astonish #60, October 1964) by Lee, Steve Ditko and comics veteran George Roussos – under the pseudonym George Bell – which found Bruce Banner still working for General “Thunderbolt” Ross, and still afflicted with uncontrollable transformations into a rampaging, if well-intentioned, engine of destruction. The episodes were set in the Arizona/New Mexico deserts, with Cold War espionage and military themes as the narrative backdrop…

This is followed by ‘Captured at Last’ the concluding part of a battle with a spy in an indestructible battle suit, and then the Hulk’s greatest foe is introduced in ‘Enter… the Chameleon’ (not him but his boss and taken from TtA #62): stuffed with action and suspense but the real stinger is the final panel that hints at the mastermind behind all the spying and skulduggery – the enigmatic Leader – who would become the Hulk’s ultimate and antithetical nemesis.

Thus far this book and the UK Four Square paperback released in 1967 are all but identical – covers excluded of course – and apart from a Kirby pin-up page and ads for the Thor, Spider-Man and Fantastic Four companion volumes, that’s where Britain’s Hulk stops dead, whereas the Lancer volume has another full episode to go.

‘A Titan Rides the Train!’ provides an origin for the super-intellectual Leader as well as setting up a plotline where new cast member Major Glen Talbot begins to suspect Banner of being a traitor. Both editions end on frustrating cliffhangers but at least you get one more astonishing tale in the Lancer book.

Nowadays all these adventures are readily available (in colour in the Marvel Masterworks: Incredible Hulk 1962-1964 or as dynamic monochrome treasures in Essential Hulk) but for we surviving baby-boomers the sheer thrill of experiencing these books again is a buzz you can’t beat. Moreover there’s still something vaguely subversive about seeing comics in proper book form, as opposed to the widely available, larger and more socially acceptable graphic novels. Strip art might finally be winning the war for mainstream public recognition, but we’ve all lost some indefinable unifying camaraderie of outsider-hood along the way…

These paperbacks and all the others are still there to be found by those who want to own the artifact as well as the material: I suspect that whether you revere the message or the medium that carries it pretty much defines who you are and how you view comics and the world.

Wanna try and guess where I stand, True Believer…?
© 1966 and 1967 the Marvel Comics Group. All Rights Reserved.

Wolverine Battles the Incredible Hulk


By Len Wein, Herb Trimpe, Jack Abel & various (Marvel Comics)
ISBN: 0-87135-612-0

A little while ago I reviewed Marvel Platinum: the Definitive Wolverine (ISBN: 978-1-84653-409-6), and I rather went off on one about incomplete stories. In a spirit of placatory fairness I feel I should mention this lovely little compilation from 1989 which reproduced the full first adventure of the manic mutant with the unbreakable bones.

It all starts with ‘And the Wind Howls… Wendigo!’ (from Incredible Hulk #180, October 1974) wherein the Jade Giant bounces across the Canadian Border to encounter a witch attempting to cure her lover of a bestial curse which has transformed him into a rampaging cannibalistic monster. Unfortunately that cure meant the Hulk had to become the Wendigo in his stead…

It was while the big Green and Giant White monsters were fighting that Wolverine first appeared – in the very last panel – and that’s what leads into the savage fist, fang and claw fest that follows. ‘And Now… the Wolverine!’ (from Incredible Hulk #181 November 1974) by Len Wein, Herb Trimpe & Jack Abel, captivatingly concluded the tragic saga of both Canadian monsters, and there’s even room for the obligatory behind-the-scenes featurette. But that’s not all…

Also included is a rarely seen and wonderfully light-hearted meeting between the off-duty mutant Logan and the fun-loving godling Hercules which originally appeared in Marvel Treasury Edition #26. ‘At the Sign of the Lion’ is by Mary Jo Duffy, Ken Landgraf and a young George Perez, and shows exactly why most pubs and bars reserve the right to refuse admission…

This is a cracking little read, and shows why sometimes a little forethought is better than a big budget…
© 1986, 1989 Marvel Entertainment Group. All Rights Reserved.

Essential Hulk volume 3


By Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, Harlan Ellison, Herb Trimpe, & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-1689-9

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.