Thursday, April 23, 2009

Marvel 1989 Week--Incredible Hulk #354!!

If you want to make some changes, make some bloody changes!!

Because let's face it, by the late 1980s, the Hulk was a tired, tired concept. It's frankly surprising it succeeded as long as it did, because infant talk "Hulk smash" leaves you limited opportunity for character growth. And every attempt to shake up the formula--Hey, let's give the Hulk Banner's brain! Hey, let's separate them and make the Hulk a completely mindless brute; Hey let's exile Hulk from Earth!!; Hey, let's make Rick Jones the Hulk for awhile!!--was short-lived and never quite a real departure from the status quo. Now the military's pursuing Rick Jones instead of Bruce dee da.

Even Al Milgrom's reversion of Bruce Banner to the gray Hulk, who was reasonably intelligent but cranky as hell and who only came out at night, was merely an excuse to give Rick Jones someone to fight and Thunderbolt Ross someone to hunt.

Then along comes Peter David. And after a year or so of noodling around and putting young Todd McFarlane through his paces, suddenly one month we open the latest issue of Incredible Hulk to fins, with no warning or foreshadowing:

*Hulk had a new secret identity, Joe Fix-it!
*Hulk had a steady home--in Las Vegas!!
*Hulk had a steady girlfriend...not Banner, but Hulk!!
*Hulk had a job...that's right, a j-o-b, as an enforcer for a casino owner.

Wha' the??

That's not just rearranging the deck chairs, is it? Which brings us to:

Nice teethOne of the more interesting aspects of the current sitaution was the power struggle between Banner and the Hulk.

The Hulk of Amontillado?You see, Hulk has a good thing going in Vegas, and he doesn't want Banner to queer things. But, Banner's in charge during daylight hours.

We don't need no education...
Even in his dreams, Bruce is a loser(That was a dream sequence, by the way...) The reality, it was even more interesting:

Next time, just try using a post-it note or something...Hulk would do things like lock himself in a cave, or a hotel with no clothes, so when Banner woke up he couldn't just leave Hulk's nice life and travel the back roads of small towns as melencholy piano music tinkled in the background (oops, that was the TV show).

Our problem this issue? The Maggia is trying to muscle in on his boss' casino.

MacGuyver is shutting us down??The who??

Oh, the Maggia...uh, who?I never figured out why Marvel didn't just say mafia. Were they afraid of being sued for trademark infringement?!? Or did some arcane clause in the Comic Code prevent mentioning mafia, so we had a zuvembie situation?!?

Meanwhile, Banner decides to investigate why Hulk is so invested in the status quo. And meets the gray goliath's hot girlfriend.

Is it cheating if you make it with your other personality's girlfriend??Did I mention there was a hot girlfriend??

Cheesecake a la PurvesAnd Bruce realizes that he has the power...for now, at least.

Sure, Bruce, plot to make the Hulk unhappy, because that ALWAYS works out well
Constipated Hulk
Again, these guys need to invest in a memo book, or a voice recorderMeanwhile, our zuvembie gangster organization is laying down the law...but Joe Fix-it isn't having any of it.

Least swanky Vegas convention room EVER
The nattily clad Mr. FixitWhich of course, leads to a fight.

Since it was well established that bullets bounced off of Joe Fix-It, it's hard to see why anything thought a few tough guys with crowbars could get the job doneNow, zuvembie mafia leader, if Man-Mountain Marko is really your best example, maybe you shouldn't be bragging up this little program of yours.

Hulk smash?Now, before the battle royale, we do have to acknowledge one little reservation that many have about Peter David's writing. Specifically, his humor.

David can be a pretty funny guy. The problem is, he knows that. So sometimes he ends up trying to play up that aspect of his writing, and unfortunately sometimes it seems as if he's structuring entire scenes and conversations just to get to a particular punchline, which is often not quite as funny as he seems to think it is. Even back in 1989, we saw examples of this:

See, it's funny because there are celebrities who are also named Bruce...So when we get the climactic battle, rather than show the fight, we get the set-up for the comedy bit:

If he's broke, how could he hire a new enforcer??And then, of course, because it's set in Vegas, the betting gets out of control...

Those wacky zuvembie mobsters will bet on anything!!...and the odds keep shifting based on how many goons Fix-It is throwing through the wall...

Perhaps the greatest sound effect EVER...and even the cops get in on it...

It's wac ky...because the police are doing it, too!!...and then we get to the overplayed and not really twist "make it look like the Hulk lost--but surprise them by showing that he actually won!" ending:

What the?? That's unexpected!!
Wait for it...wait for it...
Sudden unexpected reversals are funny!
Result: gales o' hilarity
If this were a 70s sitcom, it would be time to laugh and freeze frameSo, yeah, David's timing, and emphasis, and originality in his jokes isn't always the greatest. At least when he tries so hard, instead of letting the humor unfold naturally.

But I've got to give the dude mad props, because instead of just giving us the same old same old in a gray color, he decided to really shake things up and make the Hulk fresher than it had been in years. He took a chance, he committed to it 100%, and by Odin it worked pretty darn well.

There's a lesson in that for a lot of today's comic creators, methinks...


Apparently, it was Unofficial Sub-Mariner Month at Marvel, because Hulk's old partner from Tales To Astonish was all over the place in April 1989.

He had a back-up story in Solo Avengers #17...

Oh, yeah, Sandman was a good guy for awhile......a coverboy stint as Pirate Namor (whom we really, really need to see more of) in Marvel Fanfare #43, in a story by Bill Mantlo and Mike Mignola!!...

Seriously, I want more Pirate Namor NOW...and his own 12 issue mini-series going on, written by Roy Thomas!!

An ass shot to rival any Green LanternThat's a whole lotta Subby going one. But, as with Aquaman, it never seems to stick. Can sea-dwelling heroes just not succeed, or what??


Booksteve said...

That Subby limited series is one of my favorites! Roy pulled out all the stops to tie together just about every freakin' bit of continuity in the character's history! Amazing!

Anonymous said...

I missed the Joe Fix-it phase of the Hulk. I'm thinking I definitely need to go back and check those issues out.

Siskoid said...

I loved Joe Fix-It and was really sorry to see it go when it was all said and done.