This is another book that I got out of a 3-Bag, and one that was probably of more interest to my younger brother Ken. He was more of a Hulk fan than I was, at least in these days. I never had a great affinity for the Hulk, in the same way that I was indifferent to monster movies most of the time. But the book and the character were extremely popular during the 1970s–along with Spider-Man and Conan, the Hulk was probably the most merchandised Marvel hero of the era. (Captain America got a decent amount of play in this regard as well.) And now with the advent of his television show, he was riding a wave of renewed interest. All of which is to say that there wasn’t much I could do to avoid the Hulk in 1978.
And really, this is a good, solid HULK run to come in on. The Hulk was writer/editor Len Wein’s favorite Marvel character, and so he imbued the series with much of the same pathos that had made his SWAMP THING so appealing. Sal Buscema had taken over from Herb Trimpe, and would helm a long stint as the Hulk’s primary artist–long enough that the Hulk is still the character I most associate Sal’s work with, even though he did Spider-Man longer. At this moment, Ernie Chan had been brought on board to ink/embellish the title, adding the same sort of texture and detail he was bringing to CONAN. Sal and Ernie were a good match for the Hulk–they made it look like a proper monster strip while maintaining the super hero flavor underneath of it all.
This particular issue introduced the Constrictor, who would go on to become a mainstay B-level super-villain throughout the Marvel pantheon. In this initial appearance, he’s a bit more dangerous-seeming and deadly than he would later turn out to become–one had to be in order to take on the Hulk, after all. In some ways, he reminds me of Boomerang, another mercenary agent type who had his start mixing it up with the Hulk before going on to battle foes more in his weight class. Anyway, the story opens with the Hulk’s pal Jim Wilson being accosted by a henchman of the Constrictor’s, Wilson is able to get away from the man–who is himself murdered a few seconds later by the Constrictor for his failure. (And if the Constrictor was so close, why didn’t he finish off Jim himself? Such are the vicissitudes of comics sometimes…)
From there, we check in with the rest of our cast. Bruce Banner is still rooming at a cheap flop house, where he’s confronted by his landlord and soon-to-be-maybe-girlfriend April Sommers about recent events. Bruce hasn’t come clean to April about his identity and alter-ego, and he’s wrestling with whether he needs to do that or not. Here’s a clue, Bruce: you definitely do! Elsewhere, Betty Ross has emancipated herself from her father General Thunderbolt Ross and undertakes a makeover, turning herself into a 1970s Charlie’s Angels-style bombshell. This would be a transformation that wouldn’t last, which is a good thing, as it really didn’t suit Betty’s personality. And out at sea, SHIELD has salvaged a strange man-sized capsule that’s brimming with Gamma radiation. Nick Fury orders his men to notify Gamma Base about their find–but this is a plotline for another issue.
Having eluded his pursuer, Jim Wilson makes his way to a phone booth and calls information, trying to track down Bruce Banner’s whereabouts in the city. There’s no listing for a Robert Bruce Banner, nor a Bruce Banner–but Jim hits paydirt with “Bruce Roberts” (not the greatest alias there, Bruce…) Getting Banner on the phone, Jim fills him in on what’s been going on and how he was just almost mugged–but then the phone booth is shredded around him as the Constrictor appears. His agent had planted a tracker on Wilson, allowing him to follow the youth. And apparently, the Constrictor has employers on the west coast who have put out a hit on Jim Wilson, and the Constrictor is here to carry out that contract.
The issue’s letters page comes in right about here, and it includes a long, fun letter from Ralph Macchio. Ralph had been a regular letter writer who had recently been hired on staff at Marvel as an assistant editor. But here, he takes the time to pen a long complimentary missive to Wein about his recent HULK stories–and Len opts to print it. Macchio would go on to have a 35+ year career on staff with Marvel.
We’re in the back half of the book by this point, and ol’ jade-jaws hasn’t put in an appearance. So you just know the action is about to start. Banner has come in response to Jim’s call, finding the abandoned building into which he fled attempting to elude the Constrictor. But to no avail. The constrictor has captured Jim and dragged him to a waiting car. Banner attempts to stop them, and the Constrictor chooses to run him down. Bad move, of course–as Banner changes into the Hulk and the car pancakes against his mighty green chest.
The Hulk is pissed that the Constrictor tried to hurt his friend, Jim, and the Constrictor isn’t impressed by the Hulk’s formidable strength since he’s packing a pair of retractable electrified adamantium whips–might want to rethink your self-opinion there, friend Constrictor! Anyway, the paid have a multi-page tussle in which the Constrictor’s speed and agility helps him to not be pounded into a greasy smear on the ground by the Hulk. Ultimately, though, the Constrictor turns out to be a klutz of the first order, and he ends up entangling his whips in a high-tension power line from an exposed lamppost, shorting out all of the current for a city block and zapping him good. And on that note, the issue ends, as Jim and the Hulk walk off into the sunset and next month’s adventure.