Wednesday, February 22, 2017

A Green Behemoth and a Crystal Girlfriend, Part 2

So Hulk's gal Betty has been turned into a fragile glass statue and the Hulk has been busy fighting imaginary opponents. Or, as they say in a Comic Book Universe, it was an average Tuesday.

Those were the events we looked at last time. This week, we have to jump over to Avengers #88 (May 1971) before jumping back to Hulk #140 (June 1971).

What we have here is a two-parter that is justifiably considered a classic, with Roy Thomas writing a script from a plot by Harlan Ellison and Herb Trimpe's art never looking better. So I'll get my main pet peeve out of the way first.

There was no reason for this story to be split between two different books. Making it a two-parter is fine. In fact, I think it could have been expanded into a three-parter and been even more epic than it is. But the entire story should have been contained with the pages of Hulk's book. 

Guest-starring characters from other books set in the same shared universe is fine and using those guest appearances as a way to advertise other books is also quite legit. But I am philosophically opposed to forcing someone to buy a book they may not normally buy in order to get a complete story. Also, though the Avengers do help move the plot along, nothing they accomplish takes them out of the realm of "guest star." The focus of the story is on the Hulk throughout both issues.

Oh,well. Enough of my whining. The story begins with Reed Richards and Professor X rigging up a trap to finally capture the Hulk and perhaps cure Banner. In the meantime, the Avengers are getting involved in some shenanigans in New Orleans that takes them into the surrounding swamps, where they fight monsters and eventually find a cavernous underground facility.

 That facility is the home of a humanoid bug creature named Psyklop. Psyklop's people inhabited the Earth before we pesky humans showed up. Now he wants to use the Hulk's life energy to feed the Dark Gods his people worshiped and use them to once again take over the world.

To do this, he captures the Hulk via a teleportation ray, then uses a shrink ray to make the Hulk more manageable.

But when the Avengers fight their way through various monsters to reach Psyklop's control room, things get out of control and the Hulk is shrunk into nothingness. In a snit, Psyklop zaps the Avengers back to New York City and removes their memories of recent events.

So the Avengers are abruptly taken out of the story, after functioning largely as a distraction so Psyklop's science experiment can go awry. As I said earlier, this is why (aside from fairness to readers) I think the story should not have been a crossover.

And, if I may be allowed to second-guess one of the best comic book writers in the business (and one of the most renowned writers in recent decades--remember that Harlan Ellison is providing the plot, though a lot of elements involving the Avengers might have been added by Thomas), there are several extraneous elements to the story that might have been smoothed out had this not been a crossover. Reed Richards and Professor X really don't affect the story at all with their attempt to capture the Hulk--Psyklop could have beamed the green guy away from anywhere. And what the Avengers accomplished could have been done in a number of other ways without the need to involve them in the story at all. That last point is made more valid, I think, by the fact that they are so abruptly removed from the story.

Removing these characters also could have allowed a little more time to be spent with the romance and palace intrigue that enter the plot in the next issue.

Hulk #140 begins with our hero now on a microscopic world, where he promptly saves a city from being destroyed by a pack of huge animals.

This is where the story really starts to hit the right emotional notes despite its brevity. The city is inhabited by a green-skinned, humanoid race ruled by a beautiful queen named Jarella.

The Hulk is now the city's savior, so Jarella decides he should be king. When a technology that either involves magic or telepathy is used to teach the Hulk the local language, it also gives Banner's mind control of the Hulk's body. Banner, figuring he can never get back to Earth and Betty, decides to just go with it and marry the queen.

But this does not please a jealous nobleman, who sics some assassins on the Hulk. It's never-ever-ever a good idea to sic assassins on the Hulk.

So it appears that Banner/Hulk is about to finally get a happy ending. But that's not to be. Psyklop has located Hulk and returns him to Earth. This causes the Hulk personality to take over again and really tics off the Hulk. And it's never-ever-ever a good idea to tic off the Hulk. Psyklop gets a major beat-down until his Dark Gods show up to haul him off to some nether region to be eternally punished for his failure.

I probably spent too much time complaining about the crossover thing, because this really is a classic story, pulling honest emotion out of the Hulk's perpetually tragic existence. Jarella would eventually return in other stories, but it is noteworthy how fondly remembered she was from just this initial appearance.

But what about Betty Ross? She's been a lifeless glass statue for three issues now. Isn't about time somebody did something about that?

Well, someone will. Because the solution to being turned into a lifeless glass statue lies in psychiatry! We'll take a look at that story in two weeks. But before that, we will take a break from the Hulk with a side trip to the latter days of the Wild West.

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