May 28, 2017

The 40 Years of Comics Project - Day 823: Incredible Hulk Annual #13, 1984

(As I said, starting up Hulk week here at the 40 Years project. I'll blog more about this tomorrow, but this was actually a really, really cool story.)

One of the writers from the Seventies that I haven't paid nearly enough attention to is Bill Mantlo. If I'm to draw an analogy that puts his position in this era of comics in perspective, I'd say that if Steve Gerber is like 90s Morrison, Mantlo is like Mark Waid during the same time. Gerber pushed at boundaries with little compunction about the sense his stories might be making. Mantlo stays a little more on the side traditional superhero tales, but there's something just outside of the norm about them, and that makes them stand out. I don't know much about his run on Incredible Hulk, but today's story is just excellent, and a little touching.

At some point, Banner's personality has been destroyed, sacrificed for some reason, leaving only the Hulk. Rather than kill him, Dr. Strange places him at a dimensional nexus and randomly places the Hulk into worlds in which he might find some kind of satisfaction. If the Hulk sinks into despair or despondence, he is returned to this nexus to try to find another world. Not a bad life for a giant green rage monster with no humanity. And as I say, I don't have a lot of context for this storyline, but in a lot of ways I think we see the closest the Hulk's likely to get to this kind of satisfaction in today's story.

Finding himself on a planet that looks idyllic, but is in fact highly toxic, the Hulk falls prey to what, initially, looks like a nasty parasitic creature. But here's the first lovely aspect of the tale. This creature, and its species, may look like skeletal spinal cords, may have fanged mouths that hearken back to our vampiric fears, but it is in fact an intelligent and compassionate creature, and the species engages in symbiotic relationships with the animals on this world in order that they might survive the toxicity of the environment. The creature attaches itself to the Hulk so he can eat and survive, and, in a very interesting twist, the two become friends.

The rest of the story becomes a cautionary tale about the attachments we make, the loves we feel, and the danger that unconsidered ambition can have. I've never been a fan of the Hulk, but the last couple of stories of his I've read have really opened my eyes to the ways that the character can be handled by a good writer. I always wondered how it was that a character like this can possibly fit into a superhero universe, but the perspective of the Hulk as commentary on the dangers of unrestrained emotionality, and also on the dangers of repressing our emotions, is a really interesting one to take. I'll try to bear that in mind as I progress through the week.

To be continued.

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