This was another issue of INCREDIBLE HULK purchased by my younger brother Ken and which eventually ended up in my possession. Ken had become a regular reader of the adventures of the Green Goliath, inspired by the TV show, and he’d stick with the series for several months–which meant that I got to read it during that period as well. Eventually, once his interest flagged, he stopped following the title, but I picked up right where he left off, at that point a full-on Marvel reader.
Roger Stern had taken over writing the book on the fly from Len Wein an issue or so earlier. It would still be another issue or two until he started to really put his stamp on the series–here, he was mostly trying to wrap up Len’s assorted business and tell engaging adventures. This was one of Roger’s earliest assignments, but he’d go on to plenty more over the years, both at Marvel and elsewhere. He had a good working knowledge of the history of the universe and also a firm understanding of the characters and what made them tick. I don’t know that he ever quite achieved comic book superstardom, but for a few decades, he was one of the best and more reliable scribes in the business, a fellow whose name on a splash page was an indicator of a baseline of quality.
We haven’t talked a whole lot in these pages about Sal Buscema, who was another of the under-heralded artists of the 1970s. He’d inherited INCREDIBLE HULK from Herb Trimpe, who had done a long stint on the series before that, and proceeded to stick with the book for about as long–it really became Sal’s signature title. As I suspect Sal would be the first to tell you, he wasn’t the most florid artist in the business, focused on making beautiful pictures. No, where Sal excelled was in telling the story in the Marvel style, as excitingly and effectively as possible. During this period, he was being inked by Alfredo Alcala, a combination that’s a bit unlikely but which I thought worked great for the Hulk. Alcala’s rough, texture-filled inks made the Hulk feel more like a monster somehow.
This issue picks up where the previous one left off, in true Marvel style. Bruce banner had just been rescued after his Robinson Crusoe adventure at sea–and it turns out that the ship that’s picked him up is commanded by Dr. Walter Newell, a character from old issues of SUB-MARINER better known as Stingray. Banner conceals his true identity from Newell during teh journey home, but upon making landfall, Newell learns it from a handy newspaper article, and kicks himself for having accidentally unleashed the Hulk back into the population. meanwhile, Banner has headed home, there linking up with the rest of the Len Wein-era cast, including sidekick Jim Wilson and Banner’s quasi-girlfriend April. April’s out of sorts as she only learned that Banner was the Hulk during his time away.
The reunion is interrupted by Walter Newell, who intends to rectify his earlier mistake by turning Banner in to the proper authorities. He’s stopped off along the way to Banner’s pad to pick up his Stingray costume, whose built-in armaments gave him enough power to go toe-to-toe with Prince Namor in the past. Banner has no desire to go anywhere, however, and when things get heated, a stray shot from Stingray zaps poor old Jim Wilson. This outrages Banner, and in seconds the Incredible Hulk has made his entrance into the story.
This leads, of course, to the proverbial big fight. I have to say, I liked Stingray–I liked his look. It is a bit odd to see him kind of flying around here, given that his outfit was designed to propel him through the water. But whatever. That manta ray-style cape-thing was pretty awesome, as was his faceless helmet. None of that, though, helps him against the Hulk, who proceeds to hand the aquatic do-gooder his head, smashing him to the ground and moving in to finish Stingray off for what the Hulk perceives as the murder of his friend Jim.
Thing is, Jim isn’t actually dead–he was just stunned by Stingray’s zap (Stingray wasn’t using lethal force.) And so at the crucial moment, Jim shows up again, alive, and yells at the Hulk to stop what he’s doing. The outraged Hulk feels somehow betrayed by this, like he’s being dressed down by his friend for doing the right thing, and in a snit, he leaps away–leaving Jim Wilson and April behind to pretty much exit the series at this point. Oh, and Stingray is all right, though he’s been pounded into hamburger.
This was also still the month when Marvel was running the Statements of Ownership on its letters pages, which gives us some insight into just how well INCREDIBLE HULK was doing in 1977. According to the data listed, the book was selling 173,644 copies on a print run of 393,676, for an efficiency percentage of just over 44%. That’s one of the best percentages we’ve seen since looking at these figures, but it still means that as many copies of the book were being distributed and destroyed unsold as were being purchased.