Incredible Hulk Epic Collection volume 4 1969-1971: In the Hands of Hydra

By Roy Thomas, Stan Lee, Gary Friedrich, Herb Trimpe, Sal Buscema & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-1558-2 (TPB)

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 in “split-book” Tales to Astonish where he shared space with fellow misunderstood misanthrope Namor the Sub-Mariner, who proved an ideal thematic companion from his induction in #70.

Writer Stan Lee was gradually distancing himself from the creative chair as he became Marvel’s publisher, as this ferocious fourth trade paperback (and eBook) volume covers Incredible Hulk #118-137 (spanning August 1969-March 1971) and also includes a crucial sidebar yarn from September 1968’s Marvel Super-Heroes #16 and opens with a fan-favourite clash that always enticed fight fans…

Incredible Hulk #118 (August 1969) depicts a duplicitous courtier at the Sub-Mariner’s sunken citadel orchestrating ‘A Clash of Titans’ (as related by Lee & Trimpe) after which the Green Goliath stumbles into a South American country secretly conquered by and ‘At the Mercy of… Maximus the Mad’: a 2-part tale that concludes with the Roy Thomas scripted ‘On the Side of… the Evil Inhumans!’

This all-out action extravaganza sees the Hulk also fighting the Costa Salvador army, the ubiquitous moustachioed rebels, General Ross’ specialist US army forces and even a giant hypnotic robot before giving way to a moodier menace as Ol’ Greenskin returns to North America, and in the South the man-monster learns ‘Within the Swamp, There Stirs… a Glob!’

Designed as tribute in equal parts to Theodore Sturgeon’s “It” and Hillman Comics character The Heap – who slopped his way through the back of Airboy Comics in the early 1950s – this muck-encrusted monstrosity predates both DC’s Swamp Thing and Marvel’s own Man-Thing in a tale of woeful tragedy and unrequited love.

When the remains of a long-dead escaped convict are accidentally irradiated they take on a shambling semblance of life. Surely, it’s just bad luck that Betty and the Hulk are in its misanthropic path?

As the 1970s opened the Incredible Hulk had settled into a comfortable – if always spectacularly destructive – niche. The globe-trotting formula saw tragic Bruce Banner hiding and seeking 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.

Trimpe had made the character his own, displaying a penchant for explosive action and an unparalleled facility for drawing technology – especially honking great ordnance and vehicles. Scripter Roy Thomas – unofficial custodian of Marvel’s burgeoning shared-universe continuity – played the afflicted Jekyll/Hyde card for maximum angst and ironic heartbreak even as he continually injected the Jade Juggernaut into the lives of other stalwarts of Marvel’s growing pantheon…

Now Incredible Hulk #122, hotly touts ‘The Hulk’s Last Fight!’ as the Fantastic Four advertise a cure for Banner’s condition, and the fraught physicist makes his way North from Florida, with the police and army hunting him every step of the way. His quest only falters at the very last moment thanks to a clerical error…

What should have been a quiet transition and resolution instead results in a shattering clash between the Hulk and FF, but eventually the beast is subdued and the cure attempted in concluding episode ‘No More the Monster!’

Sadly, even now that Banner has complete control of his inner demon, he learns that you don’t always get what you want – especially when evil gamma-super-genius the Leader involves himself in the plan.

Seemingly cured of the curse of the Hulk, Banner finally marries his troubled sweetheart Betty Ross, but ‘The Rhino Says No!’ and the subsequent set-to (rather heavily finished and inked by Sal Buscema) returns him to the tragic status quo of hunted, haunted antihero perpetually on the run…

Trimpe again took up the inker’s brush for the bludgeoning battle in #125 ‘And Now, the Absorbing Man!’ after which Doctor Stephen Strange guest-stars in trans-dimensional duel with the malign Undying Ones.

‘…Where Stalks the Night-Crawler!’ is a spooky, all-action tidying-up exercise closing a saga from the good Doctor’s own cancelled title – and one which inevitably led to the formation of outsider super-team The Defenders.

In ‘Mogol!’ (#127) the child-like, eternally-lonely Hulk is transported to the Mole Man’s subterranean realm where he thinks he’s finally found a friend, only to endure bitter disappointment once more. His subsequent subterranean loss-fuelled rampage threatens to destroy California when he starts ripping his way surface-ward via the San Andreas Fault. And the American authorities are compelled to call in the Big Guns.

‘And in this Corner… The Avengers!’ (#128) sees the assembled champions seeking a solution to the problem, but they can’t hold the Jade Juggernaut long, instead only leading him to more trouble when ‘Again, The Glob!’ attacks. The embattled Hulk has no idea old foe The Leader is behind the swampy assault…

Incredible Hulk #130 then sees Banner totally separate himself from the Hulk in ‘If I Kill You… I Die’, but the scientifically-implausible division has potentially disastrous consequences for Los Angeles, if not the world, and only Iron Man can help when ‘A Titan Stalks the Tenements!’

This powerful tale introduced black ghetto kid and occasional confidante Jim Wilson, made doubly memorable by the inking wizardry of legendary John Severin who signed on for a 3-issue stint that would eventually turn into a long-term commitment.

In #132, the Hulk is ‘In the Hands of Hydra!’ – although not for long and to their eternal regret. His casually explosive escape leaves him stranded in Mediterranean totalitarian state Morvania: an unwilling freedom fighter against despicable dictator Draxon on the ‘Day of Thunder… Night of Death!’

Sal Buscema returned as inker for the conclusion of the tale as ‘Among us Walks… the Golem!’ from Incredible Hulk#134 sees revolution liberate Morvania with the Green Giant as the most unlikely symbol of freedom ever…

One of the strangest Marvel team-ups ever occurred in ‘Descent into the Time-Storm!’ as Kang the Conqueror dispatches the Hulk to the dog-days of World War I to prevent the Avengers’ ancestors from being born, only to fall foul of the enigmatic masked aviator known as the Phantom Eagle.

Concluding this smashing show – and apparently as the result of a Gerry Conway suggestion – Moby Dick (among other cross-media classics) was then pilfered and adapted for ‘Klattu! The Behemoth from Beyond Space!’ and ‘The Stars, Mine Enemy!’ (this last inked by Mike Esposito) wherein a vengeance-crazed starship captain pursues the Brobdingnagian alien beast that had long-ago maimed him, consequently press-ganging the Hulk in the process and pitting him against old foe the Abomination.

Did I say it was all over? Not so, as the bonus section starts with Trimpe’s cover to all-reprint Hulk Annual #3 and follows up with the debut tale of ‘The Phantom Eagle’ by Friedrich & Trimpe as seen in Marvel Super-Heroes #16 (September 1968).

It’s March 1917 and barnstorming aviator Karl Kaufman chafes at his inability to enlist in the US Army Air Corps. America is not in the Great War yet, but everyone knows it’s coming, and Karl’s best friend cannot understand his pal’s reticence. Despite a crash-created infirmity, Rex Griffin signed up immediately but doesn’t realise that Karl can’t be an Allied air warrior until he has smuggled his German parents out of the Fatherland and beyond the reach of reprisals…

All too suddenly the war comes to Karl, as, while testing his new super-plane, he encounters a gigantic Fokker-carrying zeppelin over Long Island Sound, and realizes the Kaiser has launched a pre-emptive invasion of America…

Mobilising his meagre resources and masked as a Phantom Eagle, Karl takes to the skies, but his sortie, although successful, will cost him dearly…

Adding even more lustre and appeal to this tome are Marie Severin’s colour-guide to #119’s cover, original artwork by Trimpe, House ads and Trimpe’s Marvel Artist Self-Portrait.

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?
© 2019 MARVEL.