Saturday, August 8, 2009

Tales From the Vault: INCREDIBLE HULK #108

This week we dip into the Vault to take a look at a classic Silver Age Marvel: Incredible Hulk #108. Yes, even though this has the Hulk in it, I'm going to read it anyway. You can thank me for this sacrifice later.

Details: This is the October, 1968 issue of Hulk, with credits going to Smilin’ Stan Lee and Happy Herb Trimpe. As you can guess from the nickname, this is pre-NYT expose Herb Trimpe. The credits also state that Herb “longs for his phantom eagle”. Yeah, that happened to my uncle after the war when he had his eagle amputated.

Synopsis: The story starts right in the middle of some cliffhanger, continued from #107. Hulk is sinking in a pit of quicksand while The Mandarin, of all people, is standing over him declaiming like a champ. A blurb at the bottom says "It's not that we don't remember what happened last ish, but we hate to waste time explaining at a time like this! So let's hit the quicksand, querulous one... we'll backtrack as we barrel along --"

Except they never actually do this, so instead the reader has to just make up their own backstory to explain what the heck is going on. Me, I figured it had something to do with a society that hates and fears what they cannot understand. Whatever the explanation, though, Hulk ends up sinking into the quicksand, completely helpless ("Hulk's strength -- is useless!"). Finally he feels the pit wall and smashes his way out. Mandarin immediately drops a giant glass jar on top of him as though he were peaches for the winter and fills it with nerve gas, which knocks the Hulk out. As he passes out, Hulk says, "Gas! The only thing -- I can't -- fight back against...!"

Well, the only thing other than the quicksand from six panels ago, sure. Anyway, Mandarin brings out a horde of really badly colored orange looking Chinese soldiers and they grab the Hulk and implant a control device in his neck. Mandarin then unveils his plan: using the control device, he will force Hulk to attack different nations of the Earth, who will all assume that the Hulk is working for their enemies. This will cause them to launch a nuclear strike on each other, destroying all civilization, and Mandarin will rule over the rubble.

Man, that is the stupidest plan I have ever heard of. Forget the fact that there's no logical reason any nation would assume an attack from the Hulk is a sign of foreign aggression. Let's focus on the fact that Mandarin is planning to destroy the entire planet. This guy has clearly lost sight of why he became a fanatical conqueror in the first place. This is as bad as the alternate Kang from Avengers #267 and look where that got him. Heads up, dude: any second a Council of Cross-Time Mandarins could show up and blast you with the combined power of 900 rings. I can't be the only one praying for this to happen, right?

Also, the whole Yellow Peril background of Mandarin is really blatant in this issue. Besides the garish orange skin, he is sporting long, sharpened fingernails and says stuff like "Ah so!" I am not making this up. It's kind of embarrassing. So are his ridiculous green pajamas with pink pointy mask, pink boots and a giant M logo on the chest. In fact, come to think of it, this character just flat out sucks.

But, back to the story. Hulk wakes up, and Mandarin sends him off to wreck a train station, which is so very 1870 of him. Meanwhile, apropos of nothing, Nick Fury is meeting with his Soviet counterpart, a guy named Colonel Yuri Brevlov who looks exactly like a communist version of Adam Strange, or, in other words, exactly like Adam Strange.

While the two talk, they get word of Hulk's rampage, which we now see for several pages. Hulk smashes stuff and the world leaders do, in fact, start blaming each other, like a bunch of morons. I think I should mention at this point that I can't stand the Hulk and I pretty much despise his entire series.

Fury and Adam Strange get a message from Tony Stark: "Code 6!" Fury explains that Code 6 stands for the Mandarin. Uh... okay, why not. The two of them immediately change course in the rocket ship they are tooling around in and fly straight to Mandarin's castle. He's so busy gloating about the success of his terrible plan that he doesn't see them coming until their hovercraft smashes right though his viewscreen. Nice early warning system you have there, dude.

Adam Strange immediately busts the control device with a karate kick, and Hulk responds (wherever he is) by realizing he was being controlled by Mandarin. He rushes back to Mandarin's headquarters, where Fury and Strange are fighting. At one point Mandarin uses his rings to create a tiny, tiny thunderstorm over Fury, one that is literally about eleven feet tall in total. Oh wait, that's supposed to be stun gas according to Stan's dialog. Looks to me like he had no idea what Trimpe was drawing and was pretty much just guessing randomly.

Anyway, Mandarin is about to defeat Fury when Hulk smashes in, saves Fury by taking a bullet for him (or, well... it bounces off, of course. And it's not a bullet, it's some goofy ring beam). Hulk then goes ape and starts randomly punching walls like the master strategist he is. While Fury and Strange flee, Hulk actually lifts the entire castle off its foundation and smashes it in one giant piledriver move. Wow, that seems unlikely. I mean, what’s next, the entire Rocky Mountain range? Ha Ha H… wait.

And then the issue ends in the next panel -- no mention of Fury or Mandarin or what happened to anybody or whether the world leaders backed down from their war footing or anything -- with Hulk turning to walk into a sudden sunset (no joke, he actually walks off into the sunset) while saying "Somewhere there must be a place for Hulk! But until I find it, I'll keep fighting -- until I die!" Or, until you find it. Personally I vote death, preferably in #109, but that's unlikely since the next issue teaser says "The Coming of Ka-Zar!" The mere thought of that story makes me incredibly tired and bored.


Extras: A couple of lettercolumn notes of interest. A guy writes in to say that Hulk needs a worthy mate, so he suggests that they irradiate Betty Ross with gamma beams and turn her into a female Hulk. Sounds like an okay idea, right? Maybe they could call her She-Hulk or something, I dunno. However, Stan (or whoever was answering letters as Stan at that time) pretty much gives the guy a vicious verbal kick to the nuts:

"With all the THINKING you must do to come up with a cockamamey idea like this one, who has time for reading? Hoo boy, we can see it now! "Thunderbolt" Ross's own baby girl running amuck in Macy's, pursued by the full forces of the 34th Street branch of the National Guard! Or, Fantastic dialogues on the order or Tarzan meets Jane, like: "Me Hulk; you Shulk?"

Jeez, what crawled into Stan's coffee and died? I like how the idea of a female Hulk immediately gets him ranting about women shopping.

Meanwhile, another guy writes in to say that too many of Hulk's villains are just bad versions of Hulk: big, superstrong fighter guys. Which, yeah, they are, aren't they. Anyway, this reader wants them to try to come up with some more varied villains to fight, and has this brilliant suggestion:

"For example, one life-form the Hulk may encounter could be just a cloud of intelligence, or have him do battle with an army of midgets."

You know what -- have him do both at once, and maybe we'll finally have a Hulk comic worth reading.

My Grades: C for being boring and nonsensical; F for having the Hulk in it; A- for awesome sexist and racist stereotypes and for having a full page advertisement for Avengers Special #2. That ad is better than this entire comic.

[Note: Incredible Hulk #108 does have one use; I traded it to Tom Brevoort along with some other stuff in return for Journey Into Mystery #90. So, thank you, Mr. Brevoort!]

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