Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Hulk Does Not Love Lizards

Most issues of Marvel Team-Up featured Spider-Man teaming up with some other fairly random denizen of the Marvel Universe. This was fine--since Spidey's personality made his interactions with other characters a lot of fun.

But all the same, it was nice to get an occasional departure from this formula with a story that tossed two pretty much randomly chosen characters together for an adventure. One of the advantages of a large and vibrant comic book universe is that it produces these opportunities.

This is what we get with Marvel Team-Up #104 (April 1981, with script by Roger MacKenzie & art by Jerry Bingham). We get a few pages of Ka-Zar hunting a misbehaving T-Rex, then encountering some mercenaries who are scouting out the Savage Land for as-yet unknown purpose.

We then get a few pages of the Hulk having an encounter with the San Francisco police that ends as badly as Hulk's encounters with the authorities normally end. Both these vignettes are very well-written, especially the Hulk sequence, but there's a downside to them that I'll get to in a moment.

The Hulk un-Hulks and becomes Banner, who takes a job on a cargo ship. That ship turns out to be smuggling high-tech weapons, AIM agents and MODOK to an unknown location. When Bruce and another crewman stumble on to this, they and the rest of the crew are taken prisoner. MODOK recognizes Banner and keeps him too sedated to Hulk-out.

MODOK's plan is to set up shop in the Savage Land (those were his agents who got beat up by Ka-Zar earlier), capture a bunch of dinosaurs and subject them to the same procedure that made him Big Head Guy with vast mental powers.

At first, the plan goes well. A bunch of dinos, along with Ka-Zar are captured. MODOK decides to have some fun before proceeding with his plan by tossing Ka-Zar and Banner into the cargo hold where the captured dinosaurs are being held. This doesn't end well. 

Between the two heroes, they make quick work of the dinosaurs and trash MODOK's chair, rendering the villain helpless. The issue ends with the freed crew of the ship taking the captured AIM personal back to the U.S. 

Next week, we will look at a Gold Key Star Trek story written by Len Wein that was a lot of fun, but depended on a contrivance near the conclusion to set up the final confrontation. Here, we have the exact same situation. The story as a whole is a lot of fun and it is well worth reading. But towards the end...

I'm not bothered by MODOK tossing the two heroes to the dinosaurs rather than just killing them. That fits his personality--as the concept of death traps fits the personality of any egotistical and arrogant super-villain. But Banner is supposed to be sedated. To be fair, there is narration explaining that Banner's pure fear made him Hulk-out despite the sedation, but that's something MODOK would have known to guard against. Give him an extra dose of sedative, MODOK. Shut down his brain with a mental blast. You still get to watch him being eaten alive, so it doesn't spoil your fun.

Also, though he is chained at first, Ka-Zar still has his knife.

That's what makes the opening scenes a sort of Catch-22. Giving Ka-Zar and Hulk their own brief stories was a great way to introduce the characters to any reader not familiar with one of them. Both sequences really are well-written.

But losing those pages meant that MacKenzie had to rush through the ending, forcing him to put in several contrivances to set up the finale. As is the case with the Star Trek story we'll be looking at next week, it doesn't ruin it and we still have a good time, but its not quite as good as it might have been.

I suppose that having a specific page requirement is both a blessing and a curse for a talented writer. It would train a writer to be concise in his plot development, but there would be occasions when fitting a particular story into 22 pages would have forced a little bit of cheating on proper story construction.

In this case, if the opening scenes had been dropped or shortened, there might have been time to flesh out the ending. But then we would have lost some strong action sequences and a look at the Hulk that generates sincere emotion. Catch-22. There's no right answer.

Oh, well. We still get to watch Hulk slug a tyrannosaur. That's always worthwhile.

Next week, it's Captain Kirk vs. Space Pirates.

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