November 9, 2008

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Essential Incredible Hulk Volume 2


Written by Stan Lee (and a few others)
Illustrated by Marie Severin and Herb Trimpe (and a few others)
Marvel Comics

I really don't know why it took me about four years to read more of the old Hulk stories. I guess it's just that there's so much out there to read that it's easy to forget to grab more of a particular title if you happen to lose track.

At any rate, I finally remembered to put this on hold from the library and was rather surprised to find that, despite trying repeatedly to give the writing duties away, Stan Lee just had to keep his hands on the Hulk. (Years later, this would cause an emotional strain on the Hulk, who sued unsuccessfully in New York courts for pain and suffering. "You managed okay with John Byrne," the court wrote in a brief rebuttal to the claims of the Emerald Giant, "so Mr. Lee is not required to pay you anything.")

At the tail end of his run in the split story format and the beginning of his own mag, the Hulk kinda gets tossed around a bit. He's in Asgard, taken to another dimension, tossed to China, and even ends up with the Inhumans, of all places. He's still alternating between bestial and somewhat smart, depending on Stan's mood. In fact, the stories here seem rather scattered because of this. It's just hard to think of the Hulk taking on the Mandarin, for instance, let alone that the Mandarin would care enough to seek the Hulk out, and then team up with the Sandman to try and take him down.

And what's up with Baker, anyway? Is he like the slut of supervillains? Teams up with the Wizard, Blaastar, Hydro Man, the Mandarin, Doc Ock, and that's just for starters. I mean really, Sandman, have a little respect. What's next? The Ringmaster?

Speaking of which, Stan's use of other characters' villains here doesn't seem so much as a way to try and make the universe cohesive as it is an attempt to keep the Hulk going when maybe it should have taken a break, ala X-Men. Banner's alter ego basically makes the tour of the Marvel U, fighting someone from everyone's villain queue save the X-Men. I mean, when you're taking a person to see Kazar, without taking enough time to build your own group of villains, there's something wrong.

This is not to say that fans of old comics should bypass this one. Stan gets very political in here, taking a lot of stances against war and bloodshed, often stating that no matter how angry he is, the Hulk does not want to kill anyone. (Stupid? Out of character? Maybe, but there's something nice in this era of another Viet Nam about reading how authors of that day were trying to protest a senseless war anyway they could.) He also does a nice job of the Betty-Bruce-Glen Talbot love triangle, in a nod to the old romance comics days. What's odd is that at this time, Thunderbolt Ross is still fairly neutral on the Hulk, often admitting only he can help. The trouble is just that Stan can't seem to pin the Hulk himself just yet. Maybe that's why he kept on writing him, I don't know.

Artistically, there is a lot more cohesion because of the title only having two pencillers this time, Marie Severin and Herb Trimpe. They move the Hulk towards the more muscle-bound monster that I'm familiar with, trying less for a Frankenstein and more for a really huge guy with muscles who could eat you for lunch. (The cover above, by Severin, is a perfect example of this.) Trimpe will take on the pencilling chores for quite some time, which is a good thing. What's ironic about the monster styling is that it actually gives the Hulk more facial expression, not less. As we move through the 1960s, Marvel's art, already good, is getting even better.

I can't say I liked this as much as I thought I would, but it's still so great of Marvel to make these available to old-school fanboys like me. I love the Essentials, and will never shy from reading one. If you like reading old comics or have a soft spot for the Hulk, this one's for you.