Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Post-Graduate Studies #3

The MU campus is mostly unused right now but
from time to time, our Professors will drop in for Summer courses.
This Week:

The Hulk and the Kree
by Professor Matthew Bradley

Bill Mantlo’s impressive 69-issue tenure on Incredible Hulk kicked off with #245-8, a Buscema-drawn tetralogy that marked Captain Marvel’s last major guest-star turn, and was published in between his unrelated final solo appearances in Marvel Spotlight #4 and 8.  But in fairness, I feel I should first connect the dots, especially since our formal curriculum ended with a cliffhanger in #242.  A transitional issue in every sense, and a weird one at that, #243 is the last credited to its plotter, Roger Stern (although some sources include him on #244), who bizarrely announces his departure in a LOC to “Editori-Al” Milgrom and Jo Duffy, citing his own “editorial duties over the eight-and-a-half books I’m overseeing every month” and wishing the best to his replacement.

Depicted on Al’s cover, the long-overdue ending of Stern’s “They” arc mercifully occupies only the first half, as the Hulk rips open the tower containing the Flame of Life and sends Tyrannus—now one with the Deviant-created flames—hurtling upward to flicker and die among the stars.  This is dispassionately watched by Gammenon (Roy Thomas is credited as “Celestial Advisor”) before Greenskin returns his attention to his traitorous ally, the Goldbug.  They just happen to stumble into one of Tyrannus’s traps, which just happens to teleport them to Manhattan, where a fleeing Goldbug just happens to be two blocks from his penthouse, but then is apprehended by Luke Cage, who has been seeking him since Power Man #42 and just happened to be passing by.

Quakes destroy El Dorado, the survivors seeking their destiny in huge caverns as the Hulk, who has been reminded of Tyrannus’s reference to Jarella, lumbers off on a new quest.  Then, Betty Ross becomes the next interviewee for Fred Sloan’s book about the Hulkster, while Trish Starr (whose head is wider than her waist in page 21, panel 2, an off-moment for Sal) books him a slot on The Mike Douglas Show, shooting on location in Denver…with guest-host Rick Jones.  After a continuity-lover’s wet dream—a two-page spread depicting the Hulk’s interim adventures in Defenders #68-74 and the yet-to-be-published Daredevil #163—we end with a transferred Clay Quartermain bidding goodbye to Ross’s successor at Gamma Base, Glenn Talbot, now a colonel.

Scripter Steven Grant also wrote #244, delighting the Isabella-bashers by reducing It! The Living Colossus, Tony’s stony hero from Astonishing Tales #21-4, to dust; the less said the better about Infantino’s art.  A ridiculous contrivance has Bruce—in L.A. following Iron Man #133—Hulk out and confront actor Grant Marshall at a Graumann’s awards banquet, prompting FX wizard Bob O’Bryan (now wed to ex-starlet Diane Cummings) to reactivate It.  Evil Dr. Vault has been waiting for just such an opportunity so his “necessary apparatus” can project his mind into It, supplanting Bob’s control, but the Hulk shatters and disperses It, and when Vault’s mind returns to his body, he discovers that its brief absence has accelerated his nerve disease with fatal results.

Incredible Hulk 245 (March 1980)
"When the Hulk Comes Raging!"
Story by Bill Matlo
Art by Sal Buscema
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Al Milgrom

Seeking to take Jarella’s body home, the Hulk leaps into Gamma Base, brushing aside all resistance until Talbot, having issued shoot-to-kill orders, faces him in Super-Mandroid armor.  In Denver, Rick and Fred assure Mike Douglas that the Hulk is harmless if unprovoked, and are met after the taping by Mar-Vell, who was in the audience with Elysius but quickly departs on hearing a news report of the battle.  He arrives in New Mexico in time to stop the Hulk from killing Glenn, once the pair has toppled into the base’s “subterranean ultraclassified chambers,” yet while sensing, and sympathetic to, the man-monster’s situation, he “cannot allow you to further harm Colonel Talbot,” a distinction the Hulk is slow to appreciate…

Milgrom’s generic cover sadly suits an issue that—save for the Denver scene, harvesting seeds sown by Sterno—is overwhelmingly by the numbers, e.g., Greenskin’s rage over Jarella’s body feels like a replay of his rampage following her death.  Although they’ve faced favorites from Avengers (#94-5) to X-Men (#118-9), I’ve always found the Mandroids dull and overly similar to fellow Hulk foes like the Quintronic Man (#213) and Ross-controlled HS-1000 (#185).  Marv’s cosmic awareness, here serving as a kind of mystic lie detector, risks becoming one of those ill-defined catch-alls à la Spider- or Daredevil’s radar sense, while Bill descends into annoying self-evident dialogue that just tells us what we can already see:  “Y-you’re pulling me off my feet?!?”

Incredible Hulk 246 (April 1980)
"The Hero and the Hulk!"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by Sal Buscema
Colors by Ben Sean
Letters by Diana Albers
Cover by Rich Buckler and Jack Abel

Still convinced that Marv turned Rick against him (in CM #21), the Hulk greets his offer of aid by throwing the fallen Mandroid at him, bringing the roof down on them before stalking off in search of Jarella.  Protected by the inoperative armor, from which the Kree extricates him, the ungrateful Glenn pays lip service to avoiding further conflict by giving Greenskin his way; the “interfering alien”—told his presence is no longer required—sees right through that one and, only pretending to depart, follows a path of destruction to the cryogenics morgue.  Meanwhile, in a cabin in the Colorado Rockies, Doc Samson’s weeks of therapy are ruined when General Ross hears a radio report about the devastation at Gamma Base.

When the well-intentioned Mar-Vell unwisely interrupts the Hulk’s reverie (a flashback relating Jarella’s life and death, typically sidestepping the fact that for much of their relationship, he had Banner’s mind) to renew his offer, Greenskin backhands him.  Via a kind of Kree Mind Meld—another hitherto unknown ability, I believe—Marv convinces the Hulk of his sincerity, then leads him to the submolecular studies lab, where he energizes and plots the coordinates on the micron-cannon that will return the Hulk to Jarella’s world.  But just as he and his tragic burden shrink from sight, the treacherous Talbot orders the firing of the beta-borer, “designed to punch holes through asteroids,” destroying the device and exiling his bête noire to subspace “for all eternity.”

I allowed myself a smug chuckle upon reading, “When the alien intelligence called Eon gave me the gift of cosmic awareness, I doubt if he expected it to function as a simple lie-detector!”  After a disappointing first act, things pick up somewhat despite the semi-MARMIS, i.e., Marv is well, uhm, aware of what’s going on—and displays commendable forbearance as the grieving Hulk’s punching bag, most notably in the full-pager on 19—while Greenskin’s understanding is, shall we say, characteristically limited.  Talbot’s transition from perennial also-ran supporting player to full-on psychotic is perhaps inevitable, given his litany of real or perceived grievances against Jade-Jaws, but at the moment, I can neither see nor recall how Glenn might walk back from that.

Our Pal Sal is no stranger to Captain Marvel, having drawn him at least as far back as the final panel of Avengers #72 (January 1970)—happily paired with Sam Grainger—and the early stages of the Kree-Skrull War.  His self-inked rendition here is just okay (a coloring error makes Marv look like “Bird-Nose” in page 2, panel 2, and his face is oddly simian in page 17, panel 4), but by definition preferable to the Broderson beauhunk recently on display, and boy, do they obviously like drawing him with that starfield superimposed on his face to indicate the use of his cosmic awareness, an effect I counted no fewer than four times in this issue alone.  Mantlo’s handling of the character, firmly in his “sworn protector of the human race” mode, strikes me as satisfactory.

The Incredible Hulk 247 (May 1980)
"Jarella's World"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by Sal Buscema
Colors by Ben Sean
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Rich Buckler and Al Milgrom

Landing at last on solid ground, the Hulk wonders if Mar-Vell lied to him but then realizes that, although much changed, it is indeed “Jarella’s World” (this entry’s title), confirmed when he sees people sharing his emerald hue endangered by a “bat-dragon” that he defeats in a mighty battle.  Like K’ai itself, reduced to rocks and dust, the power of the Pantheon of Sorcerors (sic)—Holi, Moli, and Torla—is diminished, yet can still bridge the language barrier.  Receiving the sad news of their queen’s death, they explain that when the Hulk broke the slide containing K’ai in #203, the geological upheaval destroyed their civilization; now living in caves, they decree she “must be buried alongside her ancestors…in the Valley of Life!”

Meanwhile, Air Force brat Betty has flown Elysius and the boys to Gamma Base, where Marv brings her up to speed and Rick offers the platitude that Glenn did his duty but lost his humanity; maybe he can get a song out of that one.  The Hulk reasonably asks why Jarella’s people must scavenge for food when the valley—forbidden to the living—is full of, well, life, and vows that once he has interred Jarella (prompting graveside memories of Bruce’s parents and “Kraker Jak Jakson”), he will defy the demons on their behalf.  Easier said than done, naturlich, and after the burial detail has been beset by soil, rocks, trees, a cat-beast, an aquatic dragon, monkeys, and bugs, he is confronted by the valley’s master, the Gardener, who will allow no shelter to humans.

By now a well-oiled machine, the Bill & Sal team will—for those of you who like statistics—be creating this book and Rom almost without interruption through Rom #58 (September 1984), and remain together on the Hulk through #309 (July 1985); Our Pal will ink his own pencils through Rom #20 (July 1981) and Hulk #273 a year later.  They turn in a typically professional job here, but alas, through no fault of theirs, I’ve never been a big fan of the more fantasy-oriented K’ai stories, preferring either the grittier relative realism of traditional Earthbound super-heroics, Marvel’s bread and butter, or overt cosmic SF à la Starlin.  Ironically, the return of the Gardener, whom Bill created in MTU #55, nudges us into the latter…but more on that in just a few minutes.

Mantlo’s three-panel check-in with Len and T-Bolt accomplishes zilch, while the slightly longer New Mexico stopover offers little more than a recap, but at least Bill reminds us (to Greenskin’s ire) about the shared-brain thing.  Infuriatingly, the panel depicting the dragon rising from the waterfall and snaking out its tongue to grab the Hulk bears a dialogue balloon reading, “Dragon rises from waterfall and snakes out tongue to grab Hulk…”  Yet I am perhaps being overly harsh toward a change-of-pace story that puts old Jade-Jaws into more of a welcome heroic mode than a misunderstood-monster one, giving him a cause to fight for besides his own well-being, and the melancholy moments augment a far greater emotional palette than the usual wall-to-wall action...

The Incredible Hulk 248 (June 1980) 
"How Green My Garden Grows!"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by Sal Buscema
Colors by Ben Sean
Letters by Jim Novak
Cover by Michael Golden 

Seeking to be better understood, the Gardener uses his Soul Gem to imbue the captive Hulk with Banner’s mind and says, “I am one of the Elders who came to your universe in the wake of creation!  Brothers had I, one who loved to study, another who engaged in endless sport!”  Having abandoned his own red Gem—corrupted when he joined his power with Warlock’s to drive the Stranger from the moon, where it was found by Thanos—he claimed Adam’s emerald Gem from atop his grave on Counter-Earth, and swore “never again to place [its] powers…before undeserving humanity!”  But as he departs to inter Jarella, Bruce’s despair slows his pulse; regaining human form, he slips out of the vines holding him and follows.

Meanwhile, Betty bids farewell to Mar-Vell, who is touring Earth with Elysius, and plans to get Fred an interview with her father, who while out hunting with Samson sees a shadowy, inhuman figure he mistakes for the Hulk.  A two-front war erupts:  Jarella’s people face a stampede that seeks to drive them from the outskirts of the valley while the Hulk battles the Gardener, finally hurling his Gem “to the very core of K’ai,” where it effects a miraculous transformation.  Peace breaks out as paradise spreads from the valley across the entire planet, and after the Hulk has tearfully fulfilled his promise by burying their queen, on whose grave a green flower blooms (“It is just Jarella saying goodbye to Hulk one last time!”), an apologetic Gardener sends him home...

Despite giving Marv the least face time (barely enough to observe, “There is much that I gleaned from my contact with that poor, tortured brute that humanity could stand to learn as well!”), this final chapter is of the greatest interest to me, building on Warlock’s sad history.  Having already made a significant contribution to the evolving mythos of the Soul—later Infinity—Gems when he introduced the Gardener, Bill now does so with the Elders of the Universe, who will became A Big Thing.  “I am one of the Elders!...My brother [i.e., the Grandmaster] sought sport in this continuum, and roamed in search of games to play!  I wished only to study the simple creatures here,” states the Collector in the Mantlo-scripted Avengers #174, the very first reference to them.

I dislike doomed romances, and if ever there were one in the Marvel Universe, it was the Hulk’s with Jarella, as sure to end badly as James Bond’s marriage, yet this ingenious ending manages to add a hopeful note of redemption to both her death and Warlock’s.  After a run of largely indifferent covers, mostly by Milgrom, this one—with artwork by faculty-fave Michael Golden and an interesting green-and-gold color scheme—also signals that we’re in for something special (although those lines beside Betty’s mouth on the splash page make her look like Heath Ledger’s Joker).  Meanwhile, with the lettercol telling us Ditko will pinch-hit as Sal gears up for the 250th-issue spectacular, this is perhaps the perfect time to suspend my Hulk studies until further notice.


Since Greenskin wasn’t the only one left hanging in December of 1979, we offer this closure…

The Avengers 191 (January 1980)
"Back to the Stone Age!"
Story by Roger Stern and David Michelinie
Art by John Byrne and Dan Green
Colors by Bob Sharen
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by George Pérez and Sal Buscema

With Horn- and Shellhead turned to stone, the other Avengers are bested by the Grey Gargoyle with Shooteresque ease:  the Vision is belted halfway through a brick wall in his desolidified state (again raising the question of conscious control over his density); Wanda and Ms. Marvel are kayoed; Cap, Beast, and Jan are trapped under a petrified and shattered awning.  Meanwhile, Jarvis releases a frenzied Redwing from the Mansion, but the Falcon is nowhere in sight when they recover, with the Vision opining that Wanda has acted strangely since returning from Attilan.  Unaffected inside his stone armor, IM orders the others to pursue the foe, who is followed by the Falcon as he returns to an apartment he had rented in his human i.d. months ago.

Current tenant Margot Neil refurbished it after Paul Duval vanished, and when (having revealed how he created a shell of cosmic particles and wreckage from the exploding rocket in Thor #259) he learns that she threw away the chemicals with which he’d planned to augment his powers, the Falcon steps in to protect her, but the arriving Redwing is turned to stone.  Luckily, hearing of an altercation in an East Side brownstone, the others arrive and defeat him with teamwork, Wanda’s hex returning him to normal.  At the hearing, the committee decides that the incident reaffirms both the Avengers’ concern for law-abiding people and the freedom they need, so it restores their “priority privilages [sic] and security clearance” and lessens “the restrictions on their autonomy.”

Reliable Byrne/Green artwork aside, this concretizes, ha ha, my disappointment with the recent run of my long-term favorite title, even if the Falcon does get a better showing.  Once again, the assemblage doesn’t gel for me, although I’ll cut writer Michelinie and plotter/editor Stern some slack, since this may have been the intention with their government-mandated line-up, and it remains to be seen what will happen with Gyrich off their backs.  The usual editorial sloppiness grates, as the French phrase après vous (after you) is mangled into aprez-vous (will you); on a tangentially related note, following its total absence in December, the Bullpen Bulletins page will be devoted solely to Stan’s Soapbox and a bigger-than-ever checklist for at least six months.

My biggest beef is with the treatment of the Beast and the Scarlet Witch.  When Hank chides the Gargoyle for decking Wanda (“Don’t you bad guys have any sense of chivalry at all?”), his intentions are obviously good, yet I consider it sexist to assume that a female Avenger is not fair game in a fight, and taking her eye off the ball out of concern for the fallen Vision (“I must go to him!”) only exacerbates the problem.  Hank, meanwhile, is “mortified” for the umpteenth time when retrieved from the rubble, while Dave goes out of his way to remind us that once Duval is no longer, uh, stoned, “Now this joker’s more in my league!”  As with Hawkeye, a good writer could highlight his unique talent to make him an effective team-member without belittling Hank.

In Two Weeks!
Professors Mark and Matthew team up
to battle Fantastic Four #214!

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