TOTALLY AWESOME HULK #1
Fun! I was skeptical of replacing Bruce Banner with nineteen-year-old super-genius Amadeus Cho, but writer Greg Pak makes it work, using highly visual and fast-paced action to tell us how this Hulk differs from the old — mostly, this Hulk is super-smart, and he really, really digs being the Hulk! Accompanied by his also-a-super-genius sister, Amadeus has tasked himself with traveling the globe to smash the terrible things that emerge from mysterious monster hot spots, which in this issue yields a lot of dinosaurs, giant monsters, and women in bikinis. Hey, it’s a Frank Cho book, and he does dinosaurs, monsters, and bikinis like nobody’s business. (I’m not complaining). Our new teen Hulk may be smart, but he’s not terribly wise, and broad hints are made that hubris will be this greenskin’s downfall. After all, Bruce Banner was no slouch in the brains department, and he wasn’t able to keep the Hulk in check — what makes our young hero think it will be any different for him? A dream sequence image of the Hulk glowering from the trunk of Amadeus’ hotrod foreshadows trouble ahead. I don’t know how long this reboot will hold, but if the book stays this fast-paced and broad-shouldered — and keeps the monsters and eye-candy coming — it will be a fun ride all the way.
Approachability For New Readers
Good. The story starts in the middle, but does it the right way, catching me up on what’s happening in the downtime between action scenes, and at least acknowledging that my most pressing questions about this character’s origins will be explained in due time. He’s not the Hulk you know, but he’s not the Hulk that anyone knows, so we’re all on the same footing.
Read more about the Hulk at Longbox Graveyard
Read more capsule reviews of Marvel’s All-New All-Different rolling reboot.
I turned twelve in the summer of 1974, a season that saw my family and I temporarily living in Hollywood, California. I’d spent my childhood to that point in the San Fernando Valley, about a dozen miles north of our new home, and that summer marked the gap between my final year of elementary school, and my first year of junior high school. It would have been a rootless time in any case, caught between schools and on the cusp of adolescence, but moving to Hollywood made my isolation especially acute.
Fortunately, I made plenty of friends that summer. Mostly they were imaginary.
Hollywood Boulevard was my backyard, and I still wonder at the strange lapse of judgment that saw my parents grant me free reign of that place. The Boulevard was a sleazy little strip. Porn shops, record stores, movie theaters, magic shops, toy stores, pizza joints … terrifying from an adult perspective, but the perfect kingdom for a kid too young to register the attention of the pimps and the drug dealers and the bit extras of the freak circus that was Hollywood in the ’70s. I ranged the street between Cahuenga and Highland, sneaking into Bruce Lee movies, or haunting now-vanished treasure caves like the old Cherokee Book Store (with its stacks of Famous Monsters magazines), and Bennett’s Book Store, filled to the brim with movie memorabilia.
It was in places such as these that I met those aforementioned imaginary friends, in the form of comic books that I started buying for the first time that summer. DC Comics were cheaper by a nickel, but Aquaman and the Flash seemed like squares, and I quickly became a loyal Marvel buyer, attracted by characters like the rampaging Hulk, who had broken a wedge into my imagination thanks to an Aurora model kit that I’d completed earlier that year.
my finished version of the kit looked a lot crappier!
It was one issue of Hulk, in particular, that would come to haunt me for decades to follow. In that summer of 1974, I lucked into the comic book equivalent of a winning lottery ticket.
You can argue about their monetary value, but some comic books are undeniably collectable. The first appearances of characters like Superman, Captain America, and Batman — dating from an era before comics were afforded an ounce of popular respect, and pulped in countless wartime paper drives — are legitimately scarce cultural artifacts.
The same cannot be said of comics purpose-published by the millions as ready-made collectibles in the 1990s, but it does sometimes hold true for the 1960s Silver Age of comics, prized for the introduction of books like The Amazing Spider-Man and The Fantastic Four. And trailing that Silver Age, serving as my personal “Golden Age” of comics, was the lesser Bronze Age of comics, known for a wildly experimental and uneven output of four-color superheroes, monsters, and barbarian heroes.
It was also the era when one of Marvel’s last significant original characters made his first comic book appearance.
I knew none of this when I bought my copy of Hulk #181 off the rack. I was just keeping up with the Hulk’s fight against a shaggy super-monster called the Wendigo, and when a scrappy Canadian superhero named “Wolverine” popped up in the last panel of issue #180, then slugged it out with the Hulk in #181, I didn’t know him from Iron Fist, Deathlok, or any other character first introduced that year.
Neither did anyone else, and that’s what makes Hulk #181 one of the most sought-after comics of its era. Marvel had put a little push behind Wolverine, convincing themselves the character would boost Canadian circulation, and trumpeting his appearance in house ads, but his initial appearance was tepid, and it would be months before the Wolverine we know today would claim the spotlight, when he was tapped to join the re-launched X-Men in 1975.
These new X-Men were an instant hit, and the team’s most compelling character was Wolverine, sporting a swagger and a subtely-revamped look that transformed him from the Hulk’s sparring partner into an eventual international superstar. The success of the new X-Men — along with the publication of the first Star Wars comics — has been credited with saving Marvel Comics (and maybe the comics industry as a whole) in the late 1970s.
And I missed it!
In the time between Wolverine’s birth and pop culture apotheosis, I’d moved back to the San Fernando Valley, and was no longer in walking distance of a newsstand. I drifted away from comics for a few months and completely missed the re-birth of the X-Men. Still, when I got back into funnybooks in late 1975, I thought I’d encountered a rare bit of good fortune, because I kept every comic I ever bought … and that original Wolverine appearance might be worth five or even ten bucks! It was like winning the lottery!
There was just one problem. I’d cut up the book to get at its Marvel Value Stamp.
Marvel VALUE Stamps! Has there ever been a more insidiously misnamed gimmick?
Starting in 1974, oversized “stamp” images of Marvel heroes and villains began appearing on Marvel’s letter pages. Each image was numbered, and Marvel offered a little “stamp book” to contain our collections. The stamps were hyped up in Marvel’s editorial pages of the day, and vague promises were made of the great glory and riches that would certainly be showered upon the dedicated fan who collected all one-hundred stamps!
The “stamps,” of course, were worthless, and the whole scheme would become the bane of Bronze Age comics collectors (who have long since learned to never buy a back issue from this era without first checking the letters page). Being a good little Marvel maniac, I sent away for the album and dutifully mutilated fifty of my comic books in pursuit of the stamps. I know this because I still have the album, with my stamps cut out and taped in place.
(Patient Zero for this plague is Stamp #54, featuring Shanna The She-Devil, clipped from my copy of Hulk #181 and still on display in my damnable stamp book).
And thus, in all innocence, was an historic comic I may have one day sold for thousands of dollars reduced to a fraction of its potential value.
But you know … the worst part isn’t that I cut up so many of my comics.
For me, the worst part is that I was so darn careful about doing it.
I didn’t tear out the stamps. If using scissors, I cut into the page at a right-angle, and excerpted only the stamp, doing minimal possible violence to the comic. For a time I even had one of my dad’s straight razors, and cut the stamp directly from the book, inserting a cutting board behind the stamp’s location, creating a little window onto the following page, and producing an effect just slightly less catastrophic than if I’d used the razor on my throat.
There was no reason for me to take such care, except that I wanted to keep my comics as nice as possible. And there was no reason for me to want to keep those books nice, aside from sensing that they were something precious, something that I’d want to keep, something that might someday be valuable. I wasn’t careless, or heedless, or even especially reckless, but in my studious little way, I condemned myself to for the worst of both worlds, shackled to my comics accumulation for decades to come, while at the same time ensuring I could never profit from my collection, because buyers for carved-up Bronze Age Marvels are few and far between.
I still have my copy of Hulk #181, and every time I take it out, I harbor a naive hope that this time the book will have been miraculously healed, or that I’d forgotten it actually eluded my mad, stamp-slashing rampage. It happened just now, when I looked at it to write this article.
I’m sure this ritual will continue until I go to the big longbox in the sky. For all that I fantasize about restoring Hulk #181 with the proper stamp, then getting it graded and clam-shelled and ready for the market, I know I never will. Given the right circumstances, this comic might even be worth a couple hundred bucks …
… but the story is worth far more! I’ve dined out on this tale for years, laughing at how I scissored up the most valuable comic book of the last thirty-five years while simultaneously buying and preserving two copies of Human Fly #1 as an “investment.”
I’ve even come to accept that the ritual sacrifice of this comic made it uniquely my own, bound to me for all time, and thus becoming more personal and important it could ever have been as a complete but accidental treasure. That I destroyed this book, yet kept it, and still think about it, and write about it, makes it precious in ways a professionally graded and preserved copy could never hope to attain.
like the Hulk, I think about this stuff a lot
Only through its desecration did this copy of Hulk #181 become completely mine, a part of my journey through life and collecting, a bridge to my twelve-year-old self in the long-lost summer of 1974, conceiving a life-long love of comics and dutifully collecting his Marvel Value Stamps.
I wouldn’t have it any other way!
(No, I’m not buying it, either. Leaving now to go find that razor).
This column was originally published at The Longbox Project.
NEXT MONTH: #154 Topps Star Wars Card Trader
Sad news came late Tuesday night that Herb Trimpe had passed away at the age of 75.
I thought I’d help remember Mr. Trimpe by posting links to a pair of his creations previously reviewed here at Longbox Graveyard.
I greatly admired Herb’s stand-out work on “Sincerely, the Sandman,” from Incredible Hulk #138 … my Dollar Box review is here.
I was also taken with Mr. Trimpe’s run on Marvel’s Godzilla comic — a book that was better than anyone might have reasonably expected. I reviewed the entire run here.
My condolences to Mr. Trimpe’s family. It is so sad to see the old guard leaving us.
Celebrate Herb Trimpe’s life by remembering the man … and reading his work!
Herb Trimpe, 1939-2015
Once again, Paul has allowed me, your old pal, Dean Compton, to venture into the Bronze Age with you guys! It’s funny, but I have noticed that whenever I get out of my 90’s comics bubble, (which all of you can read more about at The Unspoken Decade) and come here to chronicle some Bronze Age favorites, I only deal in the very bright (as my prior articles on SHAZAM! and All-Star Squadron prove) or the very seedy (Punisher, this article) elements of the age. Just like Billy Joel, I don’t know why I go to extremes, but unlike Billy Joel, I allow characters like Hulk to take me to extremes. Also unlike Billy Joel, I cannot play the piano.
Another thing Billy Joel and I do not have in common is the fact that he was a living, breathing being when The Rampaging Hulk debuted in 1977, while the world would have to wait with bated breath for two more years for me to emerge. That’s just another reason for me to be jealous of Billy Joel. I mean, he had a great career, he married Christie Brinkley, and he also had the chance to buy something as cool as The Rampaging Hulk right off the shelf.
There’s no proof that Billy Joel frequented 7-11 after 7-11 while on tour, pushing back magazine after magazine until they were dog-eared so that he might find these Hulk comic books, but there really isn’t any proof that he didn’t either, and I prefer to think that we live in a world where the Piano Man demanded his tour bus stop at newsstands as he tried to find these. I also prefer to think that his tour bus is shaped like a giant piano, so my thoughts are most likely not worth much. Besides, isn’t that a funny image to have in your head now?
The images in The Rampaging Hulk usually are not so funny. They tend to be somewhat visceral, as black and white does Bruce Banner’s green alter ego very well! Of course, it does not hurt that we get some great art by several masters. The first few issues are done by Walt Simonson in what i think may be his most underrated work ever, which is nothing short of a war crime in my book.
Before I show you any of that though, let’s discuss the magazine…I hear you whining, Ok, one picture from Simonson, but then it is right back to the background behind The Rampaging Hulk!
Now that your appetite for Walt Simonson has been momentarily sated, let’s chat a bit about the background of this magazine. It started in January of 1977, which is a good year and a half before Hulk debuted on TV. With issue #10 of the magazine’s run, the magazine will become full color and start to focus more on adventures like the ones TV Hulk would have, and it would also start to have lots of interviews with the cast and crew of the show. After those changes, I find myself disenchanted with the magazine. I know this is probably blasphemous, but I have never cared for the Lou Ferrigno/Bill Bixby Hulk TV show. Even as a youngster, I thought them to be cheesy and silly. Later, when I saw the made-for-TV movies with Daredevil and Thor, I liked them more due to my penchant for crossovers, but I still hated the changes that were made to Thor and Daredevil.
That having been said, I wonder why this was launched when it was. Was there an outcry for more Hulk material in 1976 and 1977? Was this just added in anticipation of the TV show? If it was added for the TV show, they did it in a rather odd way, as the first none issues deal with filling in gaps in Hulk’s history.
That’s right. This title is set YEARS earlier than when it is released. In fact, it is designed to fill in gaps between the end of Hulk’s original series (which only lasted six issues, believe it or not) and when he started appearing regularly in Tales to Astonish,so in many ways, this is one of the first “retcon” type of title. Of course, it apparently caused more harm than good, and so later it was determined that these stories were all fake, told by one of the characters located therein. I find it sad that they could not work any of these into continuity (for whatever that is worth) because these issues are very fun and very solid. Doug Moench writes most of them (Jim Starlin writes a GREAT issue) and while I do not think it stacks against his Master of Kung Fu or Moon Knight work, I still like it a lot, and it is probably unfair to make the comparison. It is sort of like comparing albums by The Beatles. I mean, Rubber Soul isn’t as good as Revolver, but they are both amazing albums by amazing creators.
One big complaint that I have about the magazine is that it did not really take advantage of its medium. When I did my Punisher article here at LBG, I noted that the black and white magazines put out by Warren, Marvel, Skywald, and others during the 70’s had a dangerous vibe to them. Many of them were a little more violent and offered a little more sexuality than color comic books (regulated by the code) could. I was not interested in the Cinemax adventures of The Hulk, but I would have liked to have seen this medium used more effectively, even if the storylines were a little more mature with some social commentary and whatnot. This magazine cost a buck in 1977, which means that the people who could afford it not only wanted more for their money, but they also were almost certainly an audience of an older age, one who would have expected some meatier stuff than what they got. Jim Starlin’s issue has some excellent death/outer space imagery (IMAGINE THAT) that fits into the grindhouse/nigh-seedy feel of 1970’s black and white magazines, but the rest of the series sort of falls flat.
That doesn’t make it a bad read though, and in fact, I highly recommend it just for the art of Walk Simonson, George Perez, Jim Starlin, Kieth Giffen, and more! In fact, there’s so much incredible imagery that it is going to be beyond difficult to keep this article to a manageable level; some of you probably already find it too wordy, so here’s some more Simonson!!!
I also want to give props to Alfredo Alcala for his great inking job; he makes Simonson come alive in a way I think many others could not. Alcala is a favorite of many pros I know, and this really makes one see why.
The basic story is that Hulk is thwarting a secret invasion of Krylorians. He does this working alongside his pal and the mascot of the Marvel Universe, Rick Jones. Of course, we all are probably aware of how intertwined Bruce Banner and Rick Jones are due to Rick basically being the catalyst for the chain of events that formed Hulk, but in case you didn’t know, Walt Simonson and Doug Moench break it down in a really cool manner.
We see very little of the traditional Hulk supporting cast. After issue #1, there’s no Better Ross, Thunderbolt Ross, or Glenn Talbot. Due to flying saucers being spotted over London, Hulk and Rick Jones head for Italy. What I especially enjoy though, is how jingoistic Thunderbolt Ross is. I mean, there’s certainly no surprise that a general in the U.S. Army is very blindly patriotic, but few would convey it in as humorous a fashion as good ‘ol Thunderbolt.
I have no idea what a milksop is, but I am working that into my everyday insult collection. Instead of hurling expletives at the drivers in Atlanta, I will shoot a milksop or two at them. My road rage is becoming more refined, and I feel like that makes me a better person. It doesn’t, but at least it makes me feel like it.
That’s really the last we see of the usual gang of Hulk Hangers-On! (Hello Stan Lee alliteration) Instead, Hulk and Rock head for Europe, where they meet the Krylorian who is on our side, Bereet!
That name may sound familiar, because she was the alien Starlord forgot he had aboard in the incredible Guardians of the Galaxy movie. She is a neat character, and due to her gentle nature, status as a techno-artist, and neat tricks like a spatial distorter and a banshee mask that doubles as a supersonic ship!
Once this trio joins forces, they gallant all across Europe, thwarting Krylorian plan after Krlylorian plan. Their adventures also lead them to meet The
Uncanny Original X-Men! I do not know if Walt Simonson ever got to do the original X-Men elsewhere (other than a stint on X-Factor, which only sort of counts in my eyes), but he does them justice here. His Danger Room sequence packs in more excitement than many other artists rendition of the X-Men in action against actual foes!
The Danger Room sometimes seems like a false danger, in that they are holograms and the like. I know that these holograms can be deadly, but there’s something much more viscerally satisfying about watching these young mutants dodge spiked balls and knives on poles. The danger comes to life, as it does when Simonson draws the Hulk completely unleashed!
Moments like the X-Men’s arrival propel this title, but I think the best overall issue is the one Jim Starlin wrote and drew. Jim Starlin has so much talent; I wonder if he could lend me some. We often discuss Starlin and his greatness, and I think nearly everyone would agree that he is indeed one of the all-time greats, but I think we often overlook his ability to do good Hulk stories. One of my favorite Hulk moments of all time happened in Infinity Gauntlet, where he and Wolvering are chatting on the roof of Avengers Mansion. The dialogue is perfect, and the if the characterization where anymore spot on, Gordon Ramsay would be here to tell you all about it,
Jim Starlin also draws a tremendous Hulk, as evidenced by his bittersweet standalone story in The Rampaging Hulk.
That’s some of my favorite Starlin work, and if that double-page splash doesn’t convince you of Starlin’s greatness, then I guess you only have about 439783498734983 other great things he did to convince you. Something about the black and white of this magazine makes Starlin’s work sinister at the edges; that’s perfect for this book and the story he tells here, which takes Hulk away from the main tale of beating up Krylorians left and right. Starlin does not ignore the main story though, as he bookends his tale of outer space and magic with how Hulk got there and how Hulk got home in one of those bittersweet tales that Jim Starlin is really good at doing.
The other two big highlights of the series are Hulk meeting people from the rest of the Marvel Universe before he “actually” would have met them. His meeting with Namor, the Sub-Mariner is a 2-parter, and it is one of the highlights of the book to me. Namor is a favorite of mine, and I love the line of nobility and savagery that he manages to walk! Or is that swim? OR EVEN FLY? The possibilities remain endless!!!
A Hulk vs. Namor fight almost always delivers. Namor’s arrogance and prodigious strength of his own almost never allow him to admit defeat in the face of a foe, even one as superior in strength as the Incredible Hulk, while Hulk, well, HUlk just wants to smash, of course.
I am unsure when Namor got all He-Man/Conan, but that is what he decided is necessary to beat Hulk on this cover.
One thing is for sure, though; I have no problem believing that indeed, is the axe of Namor. Look at how ornate it is. Also, did they build a replica of the domed cities of Atlantis on his shield? That seems pointless, seeing as how while it may look beautiful, that part of the shield is just gonna get crushed, unless you are fighting Hulk, in which case it will get SMASHED.
I especially like the post fight sequence where Namor sees off the Hulk and the Hulk’s pals.
Also, Namor obviously lays down his smooth game on Bereet, as they become smitten with each other. I am glad Namor is not real, lest he would steal every single lady living on the surface…and some of the married ones too! Just ask poor Reed Richards! (By the way, I think there is no contest. As much as I love Namor, Sue and Reed belong together. Butt out Atlantean!!!!)
Also, isn’t it funny how Namor is talking up how green Hulk is? I mean, we all know he is green and all, but it tickles my funny bone to see Namor refer to him as green when the comic book is black and white. It shouldn’t, but hey, it’s a little pleasure, and if life isn’t about little pleasures, what do we have? Maybe a Hulk vs. Avengers story?
The last two issues before the magazine went color featured Hulk taking on/teaming up with the original Avengers…BEFORE THEY WERE AVENGERS! I find it a smidge surreal to see, but it gets pulled off fairly well, and if you say you aren’t intrigued by this cover featuring the funeral of crystal-encased Hulk, you’re guilty of perjury in the court of comic books, son!
Sal Buscema does a great job on this issue, as we wrap up the retcon portion of The Rampaging Hulk (which would be renamed “HULK” with the following issue) with a bang. The story starts in #8, and it is a really good example of the Marvel “when heroes meet” formula, in that when heroes meet in the Marvel Universe, they fight.
One of those fights that I think we all love, is Hulk vs. Thor. Thor, the noble warrior, the scion of Asgard, and the sort of arrogant prick, takes on Hulk, who is savage, unrelenting, and uncaring. I think that on the surface, we are all required to cheer for Thor, but deep down, many of us hope Thor gets put in his damn place. It’s sort of like watching a car chase on Cops. I mean, we know that the people speeding away did something wrong and are causing problems, but man, those cops act so full of themselves and righteous that I’ll be damned if we don’t start cheering for the bad guys to get away about 3 minutes into the chase.
Unless you are me, then you are cheering for the bad guys the whole time (unless they murdered someone or are putting too many other drivers/people in danger). But I am of the 90’s folks, when things were extreme and we loved “Stone Cold” Steve Austin for being the bad guy! To the kids reading, I have two things to say: Mine is not the example to follow, and also, go read an actual comic book!
For the rest of you, here’s Thor and Hulk punching on one another.
So we get to see “The Avengers” team up and stave off a threat to the planet before they even existed! I find great comfort in the fact that Hulk treats them about the same before, during, and after his tenure as an Avenger. I like the world to be a simple place…at least sometimes.
The editor of the book provided an epitaph of sorts for The Rampaging Hulk era of this magazine:
It is very true that some of the greatest artists stepped in to try their hand at Hulk. I have already mentioned several of them, but I would be remiss if I did not show you some of what George Perez did. Perez is, in my opinion, the best artist in comic book history not named Jack Kirby. Controversial? Perhaps, but no one makes the page live for me like him.
He never did a regular feature on The Rampaging Hulk, but he did do a pin-up gallery featuring the history of a few of Hulk’s associates and enemies:
One thing I found fascinating about this gallery (and there are a couple more Perez Pin-Ups in the book) is that one can see the vast impact different inkers can have on the same penciller. That’s something that can be hard to notice for the artistically disinclined such as myself. Here though, it’s as blatant as a bank robbery in broad daylight where the perpetrator is dressed like the Hamburglar and is carrying big sacks with “$” on them. The Stranger looks mighty different than the Silver Surfer. Kieth Giffen gets to do his own gallery in issue #4, and he channels his best Jack Kirby!
I love Giffen’s work and how he has the ability to take on so many different styles. Look at this next to his stuff from the 90’s, like Trencher, and one would be astonished to find out it was the same guy working on both.
The only other thing to really mention is the back-ups, but I won’t spend too much time on them. For those picking up the magazine, like say, Billy Joel, they’d get treated to some sweet back-ups featuring Bloodstone, Man-Thing, and Shanna, the She-Devil, among others.
The back-ups are one of the most enticing elements to the black and white magazine boom of the 70’s. I have heard many folks talk to me about Bloodstone. I am not a huge fan, but just even just skimming through it made me realize that I will be back into these soon to learn more about this guy. The Man-Thing stuff interested me a great deal, as Steve Gerber can really write that sort of character just so much better than anyone else. Of course, it still could never live up to this pin-up:
All in all, I’d say the series is solid. I’d say it is must-read for Hulk fans, and a I would say the Simonson and Starlin issues (#1-4) are must read for any fans. The rest is good, but one would not be missing out on something spectacular if one were not to grab them. The series is a fun read, and the arch does definitively conclude in issue #9, so if you have the completionist bug and get #1, you will find it enticing enough to grab all 9. I also think that these have been re-printed in an Essentials volume, which would be one of the rare Essentials that would not lose anything by now being in black and white.
I want to thank Paul again for letting me write about these Bronze Age gems! I highly encourage you to check out all the cool stuff here if you haven’t, and when you are out of cool stuff here, come check out The Unspoken Decade! JNCO Jeans are coming back, so why not check out some 90’s comic book action as well? You’ll find it at The Unspoken Decade! Let Paul and I know what you think below, and I am looking forward to my next article here at The Longbox Graveyard! Hell, I am looking forward to Paul’s too!
This month The Dollar Box looks at The Incredible Hulk #138 (April 1971) — a lost classic from Herb Trimpe and Roy Thomas!
I have a confession to make. The Hulk is one of those Marvel heroes that I dearly love … but I’ve never been a fan of his Silver and Bronze Age comics. While I dutifully collected The Incredible Hulk for years, most of the time I preferred the Hulk’s guest appearances in other books to the monster-of-the-month/Hulk SMASH fare on offer in the Hulk’s own book. To be honest, most issues of The Incredible Hulk are forgettable.
Incredible Hulk #138 is not one of those issues.
Herb Trimpe isn’t my favorite Marvel artist (and I gave him short shrift when I reviewed his later Godzilla work over at Longbox Graveyard), but when revisiting Trimpe’s work it is important to place it in context. For much of his Marvel career, Trimpe was an inventory artist, paid a salary to draw a certain number of pages a month, sometimes as the regular penciler on a book, and other times pitching in wherever needed — and much of Trimpe’s work from this era is of an assembly-line quality. But that doesn’t mean Trimpe wasn’t a fine artist, and when he had the inclination (or possibly just had the time!) he could produce some stand-out storytelling.
With Incredible Hulk #138, we’re served notice the moment we look at the cover that “Sincerely, The Sandman,” won’t be another disposable Hulk story. With the name of the story embedded on the side of the building where Hulk and Sandman square off, this cover reminds a bit of a Will Eisner Spirit splash page, and the scene even bears a passing resemblance to a climactic panel from Eisner’s 1948 Spirit tale, “The Story of Gerhard Shnobble.”
“Sincerely, The Sandman” is a slight tale, aspiring to little of the theme or allegory of Einser’s work, but both Trimpe and Thomas bring something extra to what on paper sounds a by-the-numbers superhero tale. The plot is simple enough to summarize in a sentence: the Sandman terrorizes a hospital, threatens Bruce Banner’s girl Betty Ross, and then Banner Hulks out and fights the Sandman. Aside from the “fearful fate” promised to Betty Ross on the cover, the story isn’t especially memorable …
|spoiler — Betty gets turned into a glass statue!|
… but it is the style in which this story is told which makes it worth revisiting, all these decades later.
Trimpe follows-up his cover with a full-page sequence showing a mournful Hulk changing back into Bruce Banner.
Writer Roy Thomas must have been inspired to stretch himself a bit, as well, juxtaposing The Sorrow of Love by William Butler Yeats with Trimpe’s panels (similar to the way he disposed of Ultron by way of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Ozymandias at the conclusion of Avengers #58).
Thomas’ literary bent continues in the way he handles The Sandman. Our villain is familiar enough at first, though readers expecting the striped-shirt Sandman of Amazing Spider-Man fame may need a moment to recognize the disguised Sandman, who is sporting his Frightful Four costume.
Thomas’ characterization of Sandman is especially good. Our bad guy is desperate for a blood transfusion to get rid of that glass hand that he’s sporting, and he’s not afraid to hurt people to get what he wants.
But no sooner is Sandman getting his transfusion (which in the fashion of a convenient Silver Age coincidence, is coerced out of Bruce Banner’s gal, Betty Ross) than Sandman is quoting … The Charge of the Light Brigade from Alfred Lord Tennyson?
This sequence also shows a subtle bit of comics artistry by Trimpe & Thomas — though it is impossible to judge if it was intentional or just a byproduct of ballooning the page — as the story manages a seamless, tension-building cutaway by overlapping the Sandman’s monologue with a stressed-out Bruce Banner silently watching the scene unfold from hiding.
What is certainly not an accident is the way Trimpe uses color and full-page composition to show Betty tortured by a nightmare of the Hulk …
… or the full-page shot which follows (in which I detect further Eisner influence) using the geometry of the hospital and juxtaposed images of our characters to advance parallel storylines.
This is good stuff by any standard, and shows a real mastery of the style of storytelling that comics (and only comics) does so well. The first half of Incredible Hulk #138 is good enough that we can forgive the conclusion, which is about what you’d expect, as the Sandman’s boorish ways finally push Banner into Hulking out …
… with the usual fist-opera consequences.
Hey, this is the Hulk we’re talking about, after all. Sandman manages a Francis Bacon reference in the fight that follows but it’s otherwise the kind of thing we’ve seen before.
Which shouldn’t obscure the quality of this exceptional issue, which bore a fifteen-cent cover price when it was published in 1971, but will today run you around ten bucks in “Fine” condition. That price is too rich for a book you’re likely to find in a genuine “dollar box,” but it is a steal for a superior story from this era — and it is a small price to pay for a renewed appreciation of Herb Trimpe’s talents, who deserves greater respect than I had given him (and definitely deserved better than he got from Marvel).