It’s time for Reed Richards to start putting that big brain to use for constructive purposes. That always works out well! Thanks to 1970 Marvel editorial policy, you won’t be lost if you decide to pick this book up without reading Incredible Hulk #122. That issue isn’t too bad on its own – it features the Hulk beating up a train. The Incredible Hulk closes out 1969 being subdued by the Fantastic Four and strapped into some classic Richards gizmos. That’s where our story opens…
Incredible Hulk #123
Date: January 10, 1970
Read on MU
Writer: Roy Thomas
Artist: Herb Trimpe
“No More the Monster!”
Silver Age comics often burn up page after page with fruitless expository dialog instead of getting to the action. Well, that’s not the case here! Reed presses a button right on the splash page and the Hulk is blown into his constituent atoms. Ben Grimm finds this as alarming as the reader would, but fortunately good ole
Charlie Brown Bruce Banner reappears within a few panels. In the next few pages, Bruce unveils the real party piece: Now he has full control over his transformations and his Hulk form:
Because Reed Richards is always a stick in the mud, he’s like Bruce to stick around the Baxter building for approximately a million years while he runs tests. Ben Grimm, who knows a thing or two about being an irradiated outcast, is having none of it. With the Thing’s support, Bruce convinces Reed to let him get back to his life without delay.
What’s priority #1 for the happy-go-lucky scientist? If you said “romancing the heck out of Betty Ross” you get a gold star. Four panels of general romance is enough to convince Betty to enthusiastically agree to Bruce’s wedding proposal. Everybody else is 100 percent okay with this, including General Ross and Major Talbot. Well, almost 100 percent okay. The General has a little problem down at the airbase. He’s just completed work on the Tripodal Observation Module. It’s a very H.G. Wells-looking gadget (Talbot makes the comparison explicitly), and its force beams deliver the firepower of a whole division! As far as General Ross can see, there’s only one thing in the world that could deter the enemies of democracy from stealing this puppy, and it rhymes with Inedible Bulk.
As if this ham-handed narrative twist isn’t enough bad news, the Leader just happens to be surveilling the conversation where Ross lays out the formidable might of the observation module. The General convinces Bruce to tag along on the convoy that’s transporting the module, and everybody hopes that there won’t be a need for the Hulk to put in a day’s work. Of course, the Leader spoils everything by swooping down in a goofy-looking plane and tearing the module right off its truck. Circa 1970 the Leader is equipped with “mental beams” that can do just about anything. Levitating the gigantic module is a snap thanks to the amplifying effect of the “menta-disk” built into his plane. He also sends the truck off a cliff, and that forces Bruce to Hulk out in order to save himself and the driver.
Although the Leader is smart enough to master the controls of the “Murder Module” in the space between two panels, he’s also dumb enough to think that a three-legged bubble with a generic “force beam” makes him a match for the Hulk. It does not. Even worse, the nerve gas he sprays on our hero pisses him off enough to bring out our old friend the feral Hulk. It takes all of two pages for the Hulk to scrap the module, and Bruce reassumes control just instants before he squishes the Leader to death. As the tormented scientist de-Hulkifies, his nemesis slips away to fight another day (next issue, in fact). Bruce is horrified to find how close he came to committing murder and vows never to become the Hulk again. (See below for a hint on how that will turn out.)
What really makes this issue appealing to me is the way that Mr. Thomas is experimenting with the classic Hulk formula we’ve come to know so far. I believe this is our first glimpse of an intelligent Hulk. It’s not much more than a glimpse, though: The “Banner’s brain in the Hulk’s body” concept will be abandoned by #125. It’s still fun to see the Bullpen testing the boundaries, and it suggests that they’ve already zeroed in on “Hulk vs. Banner” as the truly fundamental conflict that drives this character.
What’s less fun to see here is that even in a story that should involve her intimately, Betty Ross gets completely sidelined. She has about a dozen lines in the whole issue. The only one that addresses the idea of losing Bruce immediately after getting engaged to him is a limp “No … he can’t … you mustn’t!” in response to the news that her dad wants her fiancé to Hulk up again. Bruce’s response to that is an unsatisfactory “I don’t know how I can refuse, darling!” What really burns my biscuits is that Mr. Thomas makes time for General Ross to worry on his daughter’s behalf, but they just don’t feel that Betty’s own thoughts on this situation are worth sharing. Things only get worse next month when Betty reacts with bizarre disinterest to the Leader busting up her wedding, demolishing her childhood home, and critically injuring her father.
Anyway, on the less-contentious characterization front, I also enjoyed the peeks inside the Leader’s sky-high head that this issue offered. He’s motivated by jealousy and loneliness, and Mr. Thomas lays down enough dialog to suggest that this goes deeper than your standard-issue “I’ll show them all” mad scientist rant.
When it comes to the art, Mr. Trimpe does some excellent work on diverse subjects here. His design for the Murder Module is one that Mr. Kirby would be proud of, and he also proves to be a dab hand at drawing the Fantastic Four. Mr. Trimpe is every bit as skilled as John Buscema in 1970, and I think that counts as pretty high praise.
Time to ask …
Who Will Love Incredible Hulk #123?
1970 is in the gutter between the Silver and Bronze Ages, and a lot of Marvel comics from this period are cast in the mold of “guys fight for 20 pages and nothing changes.” This issue of the Hulk is different, as are the ones on either side of it. If you’re looking for a thoughtful exploration of this iconic character, you’ll find Incredible Hulk #122-124 to be a very rewarding read. Make sure you stick with it through #124 to see just how badly wrong a Marvel wedding can go!
Images snipped out of Marvel Unlimited by yours truly.