Friday, February 26, 2010

32: Incredible Hulk #5

Incredible Hulk #5
November 1, 1962

  • In the first half of this comic, we meet Tyrannus. And although he's not a terrible villain, there are signs that he's not been thought through terribly well. Though dressed in garments evoking Roman imagery, he claims that he "was a brilliant master of black magic a thousand years before", and was "banished to the center of Earth centuries ago by the accursed Merlin the Magician" - kept alive only by the the underground Fountain of Youth, which had been sought (but never found) by Ponce de Leon. And yet, despite all this talk of magic and enchantments, not a lick of mystical prowess is seen. Instead, all of Tyrannus's devices are mechanical in nature, from the digging vehicle with which he captures Betty Ross, to the robot he pits against the Hulk in his gladiatorial arena.

    Fighting robots in a faux-Roman arena?
    The term for this might be "concept drift".

  • That's not all that's off. See if this sounds familiar: We have a villain who lives under the Earth in a series of caverns and catacombs. His feelings of megalomania have only been encouraged by the race of bizarre, pale-skinned creatures who embraced him as their leader. Sure enough - it's the Mole Man from Fantastic Four #1! Or near enough, anyway, to make you wonder how Stan could have possibly written what's essentially the same story just over a year apart. Between this and the retread of FF #2 just a few months ago, we could be forgiven for wondering if Stan & co. were just getting lazy and intentionally reusing the same plots. I suspect it's more likely this is just another sign of how unplanned the Marvel Universe really was; rather than carefully plotting out a considered course for their line of books, Stan was just winging it the entire time and writing at a breakneck pace. Which, given how many books he was helming at the time, is certainly understandable! And, frankly, a testament to his ability that as few clunkers slipped in as did.

    Y'know what should have been her first clue?
    That his name was Mr. Tyrannus!

  • Last issue Banner rigged up a machine in his secret hideout that would let him transform from human to the Hulk at will, diminishing the power of the monster theme and effectively giving him a glorified superhero suit he can jump into at a whim. Here we see the other reason it's a bad idea: By blurring the lines between man and monster so much, the Hulk's motivations become so fuzzy and ill-defined it hardly seems the Hulk at all. For instance, in the second tale in the issue, the Asian principality of Llhasa sends a plea to the US to give them aid against the fearsome General Fang. Overhearing the bulletin on his radio, Banner turns himself into the Hulk, disguises himself under a coat, hat, and scarf, and boards a jetplane! Does this sound like something you'd expect the Hulk to do? Or, instead, the Fantastic Four? With one ill-advised decision, Stan has turned the Hulk from a misunderstood monster into a not-very-reluctant adventurer.

    You know why Hulk no longer flies coach?
    This!  This is why!  Right here!

  • Ah, yes. The story of General Fang. Even ignoring the ridiculous airflight hiccup, it's a very strange tale indeed. After Banner hears the radio bulletin and turns himself into the Emerald Goliath with the push of a button, the first thing we see the terrifying Hulk do is ... step over to Banner's library and grab a book entitled STRANGE MYTHS AND LEGENDS. Once they arrive, the Hulk dons a furry white costume he'd packed, because apparently the only thing sure to frighten General Fang and his communist armies is ... the Abominable Snowman. And while Fang fails to stop the Hulk with a holographic projection of a red dragon, his armies attack with tanks, missiles, an uncountable mass of horseback riders, and paratroopers. And if you think one of those sounds oddly anachronistic, you'd be right.

    The Hulk as The Snowman.
    (Though some call him Yeti.)