I’ve gone over this before, but it bears repeating. In 1978, there were no trade paperbacks, no Marvel Masterworks, no organized system reprinting the comic books of earlier days. There were a few scattered and irregular collections and that was about it. But Marvel, at least, maintained a regular and robust reprint program as a series of monthly titles, reprinting the stories that had made the company famous in the 1960s. Virtually every book that sold past a certain point had a sister reprint book, and this was how we read a lot of those earlier adventures of our favorite characters, and got up to speed on what was even then being billed as the interconnected Marvel Universe.
One such title was MARVEL SUPER-HEROES which was dedicated to reprinting earlier issues of INCREDIBLE HULK. I got this one out of a 3-Bag, likely along with one or more of the books I’ve written about over the last few weeks. It reprinted an issue from 1969, and even on just this splash page you can see the influence that Jim Steranko was having throughout the line–here, artist Herb Trimpe gives this alien commander a uniform that looks like it was pulled out of Nick Fury’s closet. This was a look that Steranko himself was borrowing from Wally Wood’s earlier science fiction comics, and it certainly makes this unnamed alien seem pretty imposing.
Stan Lee was still writing the Hulk’s adventures at this time, though he’d only last on the book for another handful of issues. By this point, he had distilled his approach to the character down to almost a formula, after several years of trial and error–and it was a formula that made the Hulk one of the most popular strips during the 1970s. When we pick the story up, Bruce Banner has succeeded in destroying a doomsday device left in the Savage Land by the purple aliens on behalf of their leader, the Galaxy Master. But this has seemingly cost Banner his life. Ka-Zar and Zabu go in search of some rare herbs that can maybe revive Banner–but while they’re doing that, the aliens, wanting to find out what happened to their weapon, pull Banner into space in order to interrogate him.
In what is perhaps the least effective interrogation technique ever, upon discovering that Banner is at death’s door, the aliens revive him, so they can learn what has transpired. Upon probing Banner’s psyche, they learn that he alongside Ka-Zar destroyed the idol-like Umbu, whose artificial body contained the aliens’ doomsday weapon. Satisfied that they got what the came for, the aliens proceed to undo all of their revivification efforts by tossing Banner into an airlock and opening it to the void of space. But you’d think they would have studied those mind-probe recordings more closely–because as Banner is faced with death, his heart races and his body chemistry changes, and he is transformed once more into the unstoppable Hulk.
And it turns out that the airless, ice-cold void of space doesn’t bother the Hulk a bit. Heck, he can even still talk in it. But he’s angry that the aliens tossed him our into space to die, and so he begins to go to town on their spaceships, tearing them up despite their mighty weapons. The aliens cannot believe what they’re dealing with and dispatch one-man fighters to scrape the Hulk off the hulls of their ships. These too have the flavor of Wally Wood by way of Jim Steranko–Steranko was a huge trend-setter in 1969 visually. It’s page upon page of action as these boys try to blast the Hulk into space, but to no avail.
But the Hulk’s had enough at this point. He realizes that the ones ordering the attacks upon his person are inside the ship, and so he begins to make his way into the interior. Unfortunately, he does so by climbing down one of the main thrust exhausts of the ship. Seeing this, the Commander has the engine turned on, intending to fry the Hulk to a crisp. I don’t have to tell you how that works out for him, do I? That’s right–the Hulk struggles his way forward to where the engine assembly is and destroys the entire thing, causing catastrophic damage to the flagship and sending it hurtling Earthward toward the ship’s home planet.
The ship falls to the surface and makes a successful emergency crash landing. But it carries the Hulk with him–and the green behemoth is overjoyed that his supreme power has once again allowed him to come out on top against the foes who would harass and hound him. But his moment of victory is interrupted by an unearthly voice. This is the Galaxy Master itself, which manifests as a gaping cosmic fanged mouth, and which tells the Hulk that all of his strength will be no match for the Galaxy Master’s power. And with that challenge uttered, the issue ends in not a To Be Continued but rather what had become Stan’s regular Hulk sign-off: To Be HULKinued!