Wednesday, February 15, 2017

A Green Behemoth and a Crystal Girlfriend--Part 1

Poor Betty Ross. Being in love with a man who turns into a big, green monster at inconvenient moments is bad enough. Having a nervous breakdown makes it worse. Getting kidnapped and used as a medical guinea pig by a supervillain is even worse than that. But getting turned into an unliving statue of fragile crystal as a result of all that just takes the cake. Betty really shouldn't even get out of bed in the mornings. Whatever happens to her, it won't end well.

The Incredible Hulk #138 (April 1971) begins with Betty in a hospital, recovering from her nervous breakdown. The Hulk, in the meantime, has just returned to Earth after fighting some ill-tempered aliens in a space ship during the previous issue. Turning back into Bruce Banner, he sneaks into the hospital to visit Betty.

That would be all fine and good, except the Sandman is also in the hospital. After a recent fight with the Fantastic Four, the villain is turning into glass. One hand has already transformed and he's worried that the change will continue. He's heard of a complete blood transfusion technique that a doctor at the hospital has developed. In desperation, he wants to try that as a cure.

Actually, though its called a transfusion, it seems to involve swapping blood between two people. The process isn't clearly explained (and it doesn't have to be--Comic Book Science works best when the techno-babble is kept to a minimum), but when the Sandman forces the doctor to use Betty as a donor, she apparently ends up with some of his blood in her after donating her blood to him.  But in terms of plot exposition, it all works well. We know why the Sandman is doing this and we know what the purpose of the medical technique is. Anything else is extraneous.

[By the way, I just realized I answered my question I raised a few weeks back about when to use techno-babble in a comic book story.]

Banner sees all this and Hulks out. A nifty fight between Hulk and Sandman follows, which eventually ends up shifting to the Atlantic Ocean, allowing Hulk to kick up a whirlpool and disperse his sandy opponent.

But what about poor Betty? The Sandman's blood is having a rather detrimental effect on her--she
turns into an unliving statue of fragile crystal.

You would think this is the sort of thing that should be dealt with right away, but Betty's dad (General Ross) and Major Glenn Talbot (a character defined entirely by his constant whining that Betty doesn't love him) spend Hulk #139 distracted by another problem. The gamma-irradiated villain known as the Leader shows up with a plan to capture the Hulk. He wants to use his mental abilities to power up an experimental "Brain Wave Booster" and force the Hulk to hallucinate that he's being attacked one-after-another by all his old enemies.  Of course, the Leader is planning on double-crossing everyone eventually, but not before the Hulk overexerts himself and dies from heart failure.

Trying to give the Hulk a heart attack doesn't seem like a wise plan to me, but I haven't had my brain enhanced by gamma radiation, so what do I know?

The bulk of this issue is Hulk being attacked over and over again by various enemies. It's yet another nifty fight, showing us several of the bouts against his opponents in detail, then giving us a splash page showing the battle continue against a horde of additional sparring partners.

The Brain Wave Booster is sabotaged by Jim Wilson (a reoccurring character who had more-or-less taken over Rick Jones' role as teenage sidekick). The story comes to a nicely ironic conclusion with the Leader nearly catatonic as he hallucinates that he's being attacked by multiple Hulks.

Written by Roy Thomas and drawn by Herb Trimpe, these two issues are both a lot of fun, giving us solid plots, super-scientific devises and cool fight scenes. It can be legitimately argued that Roy Thomas may have gone a little overboard during his run as writer in continually dumping personal tragedies on the Hulk and his supporting cast. Even Peter Parker caught an occasional break and had a good day. But, on the other hand, tragedy is the lynch pin of good drama and the whole point of the Hulk's character.

But what of Betty? She's still a crystal statue. Well, it will turn out that Hulk will have to spend some time as the king of a microscopic world, dealing with palace intrigue and assassination attempts, before we can focus our attention back on the poor girl. We'll take a look at that next week.

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