Incredible Hulk Epic Collection volume 3 1967-1969: The Leader Lives


By Stan Lee, Gary Friedrich, Roy Thomas, Bill Everett, Archie Goodwin, Marie Severin, Herb Trimpe, Frank Giacoia & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-1313-7

We lost some grand masters of our art form this year, including arguably the biggest name left in the pantheon in American comics, Stan Lee. Also gone are the last vestiges of Marvel’s core “bullpen”: those often-unsung wonders who brought the fantastic and terrific tales to light. One of the best, most talented and certainly the nicest was Marie Severin. You should definitely look her up in all the old familiar places…

A lesser-known luminary, but one with some key credits to his name, is Gary Friedrich who died in August. As well as the material cited below, he worked on Rawhide Kid, Sgt Fury, Steve Ditko’s Blue Beetle and co-created Ghost Rider and the Phantom Eagle. You might also know him for Combat Kelly and Marvel UK’s Captain Britain.

Here’s a recently-released collection with all of them at their very best…

Bruce Banner was a military scientist who was caught in a gamma bomb blast. As a result of ongoing mutation, stress and other factors can cause him to transform into a giant green monster of unstoppable strength and fury.

After an initially troubled few years the gamma-irradiated gargantuan finally found his size 700 feet and a format that worked, becoming one of young Marvel’s most popular features. After his first solo-title folded, The Hulk shambled around the slowly-coalescing Marvel Universe as guest star and/or villain du jour until a new home was found for him and this trade paperback (and eBook) volume covers his years as co-star of “split-book” Tales to Astonish; specifically issues #97-101; issues #102-117 of the solo-starring Incredible Hulk, the first Incredible Hulk Annual and a splendidly silly spoof yarn from Not Brand Echh #9 – spanning collectively November 1964 to June 1969.

The wonderment begins with the Jade Juggernaut recently returned to Earth by the now god-like High Evolutionary, and unknowingly gearing up to the next big change in his life. In TtA #97 he shambles into a high-tech plot to overthrow America in courtesy of ‘The Legions of: the Living Lightning!’ (by Stan Lee, Marie Severin & Herb Trimpe), but the subversives’ beguilement of the monstrous outcast and conquest of a US military base in ‘The Puppet and the Power’ soon falters and fails ‘When the Monster Wakes!’: this last chapter inked by John Tartaglione.

As I’ve already mentioned Tales to Astonish was an anthological “split-book”, with two star-features sharing billing: a strategy caused by Marvel’s having entered into a highly restrictive distribution deal to save the company during a publishing crisis at the end of the 1950s.

At the time when the Marvel Age Revolution took fandom by storm, the company was confined to a release schedule of 16 titles each month, necessitating some doubling-up as characters became popular enough to carry their own strip. Fellow misunderstood misanthrope Namor the Sub-Mariner had proved an ideal thematic companion since issue #70, and to celebrate the centenary of the title, issue #100 featured a breathtaking “who’s strongest?” clash between the blockbusting anti-heroes as the Puppet Master decreed ‘Let There be Battle!’ and Lee, Severin & Dan Adkins made it so. A few years later Severin would produce some of her most beautiful and dynamic art on the Sub-Mariner’s own solo title…

The next issue was the last. With number #102 the comic was re-designated The Incredible Hulk and Ol’ Greenskin’s success was assured. Before that, however, Lee, Severin & Giacoia set the scene with ‘Where Walk the Immortals!’ wherein Loki, god of Evil transports the monster to Asgard in an effort to distract all-father Odin’s attention from his other schemes.

The premiere issue (#102) launched with an April, 1968 cover-date.

‘…This World Not His Own!’ incorporates a rehashed origin for the Hulk before completing and concluding the Asgardian adventure in a troll invasion of the Eternal Realm with arch-villains Enchantress and the Executioner leading the charge. The issue was written by rising star Gary Friedrich, drawn by Severin and inked by veteran artist George Tuska. It was only the start of a big, bold and brutally enthralling things to come…

Veteran artist Frank Giacoia inks the all-action advent of a tragic alien antagonist in #103’s ‘And Now… the Space Parasite!’: a former planetary hero who seemingly perishes after attempting to consume the Green Goliath’s abundant life energies.

‘Ring Around the Rhino!’ in #104 is another paean to the Hulk’s destructive potential and visceral appeal as the gamma-fuelled enemy agent is tasked by his cruel masters with abducting Bruce Banner before a longer plot-strand, tinged with pathos and irony, began in Incredible Hulk #105, courtesy of surprise scripters Roy Thomas and Bill Everett, masterfully illumined by Severin & inker Tuska.

‘This Monster Unleashed!’ sees the Missing Link – a radioactive and violently mutating victim of Soviet aggression – dumped in New York, and easily capable of burning our dull-witted hero into glowing ashes.

The second part, ‘Above the Earth… A Titan Rages!’ – by Thomas and Archie Goodwin – was pencilled by the neophyte Trimpe over Severin’s breakdowns, with Tuska inking. Sadly, the result is rather a muddle: nearly as great as the story itself since the action abruptly switches from New York to Russia after the battling behemoths are suddenly abducted by Yuri Breslov, the Soviet counterpart to Nick Fury and his agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. who promptly lose them over a rural and isolated farm collective

Trimpe, associated with the character for nearly a decade, began his career as Marie Severin’s inker in TtA #94 and would eventually take over pencilling the Jade Juggernaut for a ten-year tenure…

The story neatly segues into a much more polished yarn with #107’s ‘Ten Rings Hath… the Mandarin’ (Friedrich & Trimpe with wonderfully rugged inking from the great Syd Shores) as the oriental despot tries to enslave the emerald engine of destruction…

The extended epic concludes with savage success as Stan Lee returns to script and Trimpe – inked by the legendary John Severin (yep, Marie’s big brother) – pulls all the strands together in the action-packed finale ‘Monster Triumphant!’, guest-starring Nick Fury, Yuri Breslov and even Chairman Mao Tse Tung!

Cover-dated October, The Incredible Hulk Annual #1 was one of the best comics of 1968 and indisputably Marie Severin’s artistic magnum opus. Behind an iconic Jim Steranko cover, Friedrich, Severin & Shores (with lots of last-minute inking assistance) delivered a passionate, tense and melodramatic parable of alienation that nevertheless was one of the most action-stuffed fight-fests ever depicted.

In 51 titanic pages ‘A Refuge Divided!’ sees the forlorn and perpetually lonely Green Goliath stumble upon the hidden Great Refuge of a mighty race of genetic outsiders. The Inhumans – recovering from a recent failed coup by new players Falcona, Leonus, Aireo, Timberius, Stallior, Nebulo and their secret backer (the king’s brother Maximus the Mad) – are distracted by the Hulk’s arrival.

All too soon, suspicion and short tempers result in carnage and chaos. The band of super-rebels start the fight but it’s the immensely powerful Black Bolt who eventually battles the infuriated Hulk to a standstill…

This is the vicarious thrill taken to its ultimate, still one of the very best non-Lee-Kirby tales of that period, and the issue also provides a pictorial extra with a Marvel Masterwork Pin-up featuring 11 different versions of the man-monster and a challenge to identify the artists…

Back at the monthly venue, Incredible Hulk #109 takes up from the end of the Mandarin saga with the Hulk rampaging through Red China, but still without a settled creative team in place.

Written by Lee, ‘The Monster and the Man-Beast!’ was laid out by Giacoia, pencilled by Trimpe and inked by John Severin, as the Hulk trashes the Chinese Army and accidentally interferes with a Red super-missile…

The upshot is that the man-monster is hurtled into space and blasted into the Antarctic paradise known as the Savage Land. This preserve of dinosaurs and cavemen is a visually perfect home for the Hulk, and the addition of Tarzan analogue Ka-Zar and a primitive death-cult worshipping an alien device designed to destroy the world ramps up the tension nicely.

The tale concludes with the advent of ‘Umbu the Unliving!’ (Lee, Trimpe & John Severin) as yet another extraterrestrial device left to facilitate Earth’s demise goes into overkill mode. Thankfully Banner and his viridian alter-ego dispatch it with Ka-Zar’s assistance… albeit at the cost of Banner’s life.

As the 1960s drew to a socially-divisive close, the Hulk was settling into a comfortable niche and enjoyable formula as tragic nuclear scientist Banner wandered America and the world, seeking cures for his self-inflicted 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.

By this time, Lee was gradually distancing himself from the creative chair to become Marvel’s publisher, and neophyte artist Trimpe was increasingly making the character his own with the “standard-received” Jack Kirby-originated house art-style quickly evolving into startlingly abstract mannerism, augmented by an unmatched facility for drawing technology… especially honking great ordnance and vehicles.

And of course, as comics readers increasingly turned to monsters and supernatural themes, no one could deny the cathartic reader-release of a mighty big “Hulk Smash” moment…

With Umbu the Unliving dead, its makers come looking for the saboteurs at the behest of their tyrannical cosmic overlord Galaxy Master in ‘Shanghaied in Space!’ (Lee, Trimpe & Adkins), using their arcane technologies to reanimate Banner’s corpse so they have a scapegoat to hand to their demonic boss…

Transported to the heart of the evil empire, ‘The Brute Battles On!’, eventually destroying the inimical energy being and sparking a revolution before being rocketed back to Earth by a grateful alien princess…

Issue #113 finds the Hulk brutally battling an upgraded Sandman in ‘Where Fall the Shifting Sands!’, before the sinister silicon villain pops right back a month later beside the Mandarin in #114’s ‘At Last I Will Have My Revenge!’; two fast-paced, power-packed yarns to whet jaded (sorry, puns are my kryptonite!) appetites for the extended return of the Green Giant’s greatest foe.

Eponymous epic ‘The Leader Lives!’ opens with the man-monster a prisoner of the US Army, when the long-believed-dead gamma genius – as smart as the Hulk is strong – takes control of the base for his own nefarious purposes.

‘The Eve of… Annihilation!’ reveals the Leader’s atomic Armageddon plans for our pitiful planet even as the indomitable Hulk escapes a seemingly perfect prison with the aid of the always-unpredictable Betty Ross before the saga explosively concludes in countdown-clock thriller ‘World’s End?’, notable not just for its cataclysmic dramatic conclusion, but also for Trimpe taking over the inking of his own pencils.

Anyone who knew (or even knew of) Marie Severin soon learned that she was a gifted gag cartoonist with a devasting wit and this tome includes her at her most devilish: adding a not-so-serious alternative spin to one of her own classics with ‘Bet There’ll be Battle!’, from spoof satire mag Not Brand Echh #9 (August 1968). Here the Inedible Bulk and Prince No-More, the Sunk Mariner, create cartoon carnage and comedy gold…

Adding even more deal-appeal to this book is a stunning selection of comedy sketches and cartoons devised by the infamously puckish Marie “the She” Severin to cheer up her fellow Bullpen pals as well as Hulk original art pages and covers by her, brother John, Trimpe, Giacoia, and Steranko – plus her unused cover for that iconic Annual.

This titanic tome of Hulk heroics offers visceral thrillers and chaotic clashes overflowing with dynamism, enthusiasm and sheer quality: tales crucial to later, more cohesive adventures. Even at their most hurried, these epics offer an abundance of full-on, butt-kicking, “breaking-stuff” catharsis – all immaculately limned – to delight the destructive eight-year-old in all of us.
© 1967, 1968, 1969, 2018 Marvel. All rights reserved.