BHOC: INCREDIBLE HULK #191

This was another book picked up from the Big Bin of Somewhat-Older Comics at my local drugstore. It was in all likelihood purchased by my brother Ken, who had an interest in the Hulk at this time thanks to the television movie. But I wound up with it eventually. I wasn’t ever really a big Hulk fan during this era. He was a good character, but I just didn’t have any aspirations towards being a childlike man-monster, so that wish-fulfillment aspect simply wasn’t there for me. It probably didn’t help things that, thanks to his circumstances, te Hulk was seldom the driver of his stories–he was more reactive than active. All he wanted, seemingly, was a few friends and to be left alone.

I will say that reading these formative Marvel comics was akin to excavating an archaeological dig for me. There’d be constant references to characters and stories from the past, and so I felt like I was decoding the stories often as much as experiencing them. Here, not only do we get the Toad Men from the Hulk’s second appearance, but also the Shaper, Crackajack Jackson and Jarella as well–and that’s pretty much right off the bat. There would be context clues to help understand them all and their role in the Hulk’s life, but there was also a feeling of there having been dozens of stories about all of them already, all of which mattered in a way that last month’s DC stories didn’t.

So what’s going on here? Last issue, the Shaper of Worlds created a paradise planet for the Hulk, which included seemingly resurrecting his dead friend Crackajack Jackson and his true love Jarella. But the Toad Men spotted the no-longer-desolate asteroid and investigated, attacking. The Hulk was forced to surrender to prevent Crackajack and Jarella from getting hurt. Now, the Toad Men bring them all back to Toadworld, a mechanized planet whose very functioning is driven by the slave labor deep within the planet that drives their machines. The Toad Men intend to put the Hulk to that labor–but before they can do that, they learn that the mighty Shaper of Worlds was responsible for the Hulk’s bliss. The Toad King would love to get his hands on the Shaper, and he intends to use the Hulk to do it.

The Hulk, however, isn’t down with this plan, and he savagely attacks, bursting the bonds that confine him and going to town on the Toad Men. He’s outnumbered and forced to simultaneously protect his friends, but he gives a good accounting of himself–nothing the Toad Men are able to do even slows him down. But finally, Jarella intercedes. Sickened by this display of violence, she asks the Hulk to do what the Toad King asks. It’s an uncharacteristic request, and the Hulk is confused by it–but he could never refuse Jarella, so he goes along with it.

But even the Hulk would be no match for the Shaper’s ability to reconstruct reality itself, so the Toad King has a simpler strategy. He has the Hulk fitted with a Skrull Nulltron Bomb and sets him off to find the Shaper. When the Hulk does, the Toad Men detonate the bomb, and it disrupts the life functions of both the Hulk and his target, rendering them unconscious. From there, the Toad Men swoop down and carry off their objective, leaving the senseless Hulk behind as they have no further need of him.

We pause here for the letters page, GREEN SKIN’S GRAB BAG (all of the 1970s Marvel letters pages had funky titles such as this one.) This time one of the letters was from Peter Sanderson, who would go on to be a researcher and historian for both DC and Marvel over the years. I would pore over these letters pages especially closely, trying to divine from context further clues about what had transpired in other recent issues that I might one day be able to locate.

Anyway, the Hulk is located by Glorian, the Shaper’s apprentice, who rousts him. Upon learning of the Shaper’s fate, Glorian conveys himself and the Hulk across the cosmos to Toadworld on his magic rainbow, intent on pleading with the Toad King for the Shaper’s liberty. Glorian tells teh Toad Men that they need not resort to violence, that the Shaper will be happy to grant their wishes. But the Toad Men are, well, Toad Men, and they will not beg. One of them pulls a weapon and cuts Glorian down, which causes the Shaper to cry out in anguish. As such, he loses control of the illusion he created for the Hulk, causing Crackajack and Jarella to return to their actual forms as small lizards. The disappearance of his friends drives the Hulk into a frenzy, and he goes berserk.

True to his brand, the Hulk starts wrecking up Toadworld. He demolishes the standing Toad army and defeats the Toad King in one-to-one combat. Eventually, the Shaper calls a halt to the fighting, and offers to restore the Hulk’s paradise for him. But the Hulk refuses: If paradise is not real…then it is not paradise. The Toad Men still want the Shaper’s dreams, however, but he coldly refuses them. He transports the Hulk back to Earth before he himself departs, leaving the battered Toad King sobbing in the ruins of his now-destroyed civilization.

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