The Brute Battles On!

In The Incredible Hulk on March 14, 2010 at 11:20 am

I had the nicest surprise last week: I rediscovered a lost memory of reading.

For the past month or so, Marvel’s Fall of the Hulks event (which I’ve been enjoying immensely, certainly more than is reasonable) has had me feeling nostalgic for the classic Hulk stories of the 1960s and 70s–though “nostalgia” is something of a misnomer since I’ve barely read any of those stories!  My “nostalgia” is really for the more general Marvel aesthetic of the 60s and 70s, an aesthetic that, in the current Bendis-era (which I do not completely hate, incidentally), I have come increasingly to identify with the Hulk as a character, so much so that the Hulk (the “dumb” one, the melancholy brute, the real one) personifies for me the neo-primitivist poetry of that earlier Marvel age.

I’ve written before about that Marvel Treasury Edition that (so I imagined) introduced me to the Hulk at the tender age of six.  Published in 1978, it reprinted, among other things, Incredible Hulk #136 (“”Klaatu! The Behemoth from Beyond Space”) and Incredible Hulk #137 (“The Stars, Mine Enemy”), a fabulous Hulk-in-space yarn by Roy Thomas, Herb Trimpe, Sal Buscema, and Mike Esposito that originally appeared in 1971.  Seeking out more stories from that era, I bought a copy of Marvel Masterworks: The Incredible Hulk vol. 5 last week, which reprints The Incredible Hulk 111-121 from 1969, featuring stories mainly by Stan Lee and Herb Trimpe, as well as the first two issues of Roy Thomas’s run.

I sat down to read.

Something about the first story, “Shanghaied in Space!” from The Incredible Hulk #111, seemed vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t place it.  It was the beginning of a two-parter in which Bruce Banner is kidnapped by a generic alien spaceman who serves the “Galaxy Master,” a low-rent Galactus who manifests as a giant floating Tim Curry mouth suspended in Kirby dots and snarls Stan Lee-isms.  Where had I seen this before?

And then I turned to part two, “The Brute Battles On!” from The Incredible Hulk #112, in which the Hulk and the Galaxy Master throw down.  From the very first page I felt that uncanny prickling on the back of my neck, that certain quiver in the chest one feels upon opening an attic box to discover a stash of crinkled valentines, long forgotten.  It took several pages for me to be sure.  It was the image of the blue cyclops with sledgehammer fists on page four that clinched it.

This was my first Hulk comic.  And it was a Hulk-in-space story, too!  No wonder I was so taken by the Roy Thomas/Herb Trimpe “Klaatu” saga that I found, the following year, in Marvel Treasury Edition #20.

Of course, I had not read the original Stan Lee/Herb Trimpe “The Brute Battles On!” issue from 1969.  I don’t think I ever actually owned a 12-cent Marvel comic back then!  I must have read the reprint of that comic, which appeared in Marvel-Superheroes #66 in September of 1977.

This was, of course, also the golden year of Star Wars, which had hit theatres in May and which I had seen in an Edmonton theatre that summer.  Even allowing for the strange gap between cover dates and actual dates on Marvel and DC comics, it seems likely to me that my six-and seven-year-old attraction to these Hulk-in-space tales owed a great deal to George Lucas.  What a wonderfully knotted formative moment in time this was: 1977.  So many of my later obsessions intertwine here in nascent form, awaiting my adolescent and even adult discovery of those writers (Vance! Davies! Lovecraft! Kristeva! Deleuze!) who would articulate them, spin them out, be adequate to their strangeness and implication, make them visible as forms, as jewels snared in the spider’s web of representation.

I’m planning to revisit The Incredible Hulk #112 more than once in the coming weeks.  In the meantime, I’d be grateful for any suggestions you might have for further reading.  What ARE the greatest Hulk stories of the 1960s and 70s?  What should I read next?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

  1. I so totally identify with what you’re talking about here.

    My favorite Hulk stories are issues 148-157, mostly written by Goodwin. A team-up with Ant-Man, the Shaper of Worlds, the return to Jarella’s world — that stuff pushes all the right buttons for me. There’s one issue written by Thomas and Gerber (and given his sure grasp of the character over in the Defenders, it’s too bad Gerber only wrote that one issue!) and then we come to my other favorites, issues 159-169 written by Englehart. There are other stories I’ve liked over the years, but here you’ve got a span of about twenty issues that for me define the classic Hulk story.

    The melancholy and oddly passive Hulk of that era — always struggling against manipulations he can’t comprehend — seems truest to the character’s inspiration in the 1931 version of Frankenstein. (Actually, in the comments section of another blog a while back, I realized that for all these years my ideal Hulk was really Mongo from Blazing Saddles….) The Hulk who lashes out in anger because he’s scared and confused was a character I could identify with and root for; I can’t feel any affection for the testosterone-driven “asshole jock on steroids” type that some later writers have tried.

  2. Thanks so much for those reflections and recommendations, RAB. I will seek out those issues–after all, how can you go wrong with Englehart and Gerber?

    It’s a shame that Marvel Masterworks have such a slow release schedule; Vol. 5 is the most recent edition (ending at issue 121), and reading these in the B&W “Essential” editions just wouldn’t be the same. I suppose I could subscribe to Marvel’s online archive, though.

  3. There are a LOT of great Hulk stories! And incredibly easy just to say “anything with Kirby, anything with Kane” (and what about Marie Severin? but oh that one where the Leader captures the Hulk, or the first Abomination story, those are awfully hard to beat), but for me it’s the Wein/Trimpe run (I think beginning around about #174) with the Cobalt Man, the Inhumans, and Warlock on Counter-Earth, that then segues into the “fugitive” Hulk stories before finally winding up with paranoid military intrigue in New Mexico, Siberia, and Bruce Banner’s brain in #200…that right there’s the dusty smell of the attic, for me. But I think you’d most enjoy the “fugitive” parts, Jim: done-in-one stories that in my memory concentrate mainly on Banner’s evolving relationship with his alter ego, and thus (natch) himself. Melancholy, hell there’s even a story about Appalachian coal miners in there…!

    Also, “His Name Is Samson” is a pretty tense little story I’m sure you’d enjoy — maybe my favourite Thomas/Trimpe joint, straight out of Marvel Treasury Edition #5, sadly the issue number escapes me — bet you anything you’d be tempted to an essay by that one!

  4. Thanks so much, pillock (I really should stop calling you by former names–sorry)! I knew I could count on you for some guidance here. Between your suggestions and RAB’s I should basically just order pretty everything between 150-200 of the old series. Wein /Trimpe sounds especially exciting to me for some reason–Warlock has always been favourite of mine, ever since that utterly amazing story that I have been intending to write on at length for about (literally) five years or so: “Spider, Spider on the Moon” from Marvel Team-Up #55 by Mantlo and Byrne.

  5. No, “plok” is fine — someone at wordpress just scooped it before me, so I came up with a clever substitute. But it’s not clever if no one remembers it’s a substitute!

  6. Just to clarify in my inimitably pedantic manner, the Warlock and Counter-Earth story in Hulk issues #176-178 was written by Gerry Conway, not Len Wein. Wein picks up the title with #179 and continues until #222.

    (Also, the British Airline Pilots Association would like to point out that it takes a chap six years to become a fully qualified airline pilot, and not two.)

  7. Shoot, well of course it was Gerry Conway, damn. I seem to have a blind spot for Gerry on everything that isn’t Spider-Man, for some reason!

    I’ve been sitting here trying hard to remember Wein Hulks after #201 (the one with the Mole Man and the adorable little Russian girl, I think!), and not having too much luck. There was a Man-Thing crossover in there I thought was not too bad, another example of how SF tropes from the 50s and 60s get replayed especially well in the presence of Bruce Banner…and as a bonus, Banner even takes a swing at somebody! Another “fugitive” story, with Sal Buscema drawing it, I believe. Later on during Sal’s tenure there’s a Defenders/Hulk crossover…

    …Hmm, I should just pull out that longbox. I don’t know why it all gets fuzzy after that.

  8. […] brute in question is the Hulk, of course, as imagined by Stan Lee, Herb Trimpe, and Dan Adkins in The Incredible Hulk #112.  My first Hulk […]

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