BHOC: MARVEL SUPER-HEROES #71

Pretty sure that this was another issue that was bought by my brother Ken. He continued to follow the Hulk’s adventures regularly for a few months before his attention shifted elsewhere and I wound up picking up both the baton and the issues he’d already bought. It’s another reprint of a nine-year-old story from 1969–throughout the 1970s, Marvel maintained a full line of reprint titles both to carve out greater space for the organization on the fiercely competitive and shrinking newsstand outlets, and to further indoctrinate newcomer readers into the interconnected majesty of the Marvel Universe. Plus, it was a way for audiences of this era to experience the work of Stan Lee apart from Bullpen Soapboxes and having his name above the title of every comic in the line, presenting it.

The last issue of this story was very much a dogleg in the adventure, one that could have easily been skipped: the Hulk begins the issue trapped in the Leader’s Plastithene cocoon, and he ends it the same way. Nothing of any real consequence happened along the way. But now it’s time for the wrap-up–the Leader has taken over Thunderbolt Ross’s military base, including its missiles, and he intends to fire a few off, start up World War III and then rule over any irradiated survivors. Also present is Betty Ross, who pinned all of her hopes for defeating the Leader on the brutish Hulk, who promptly failed. But she hasn’t yet given up hope that the big green galoonb may still be able to come through.

Inside his Plasti-thene prison, the Hulk had heard the Leader’s plans–and for all that humanity has hunted and hounded him constantly, he cannot stand by and let throngs of innocent people die in nuclear fire because some big-headed goon wants to become king of the cockroaches. And so, he marshals all of his awesome strength, power which grows as he gets angrier and angrier, until finally he burst free of the restraining Plasti-thene a second time. Artist Herb Trimpe channels a little bit of Jim Steranko in making this a splash page with multiple vignettes in it. In 1969, there was no more influential creator on the look of Marvel comics than Steranko, and Lee was encouraging all of his artists to follow in Jim’s experimental footsteps a bit more.

But the Hulk still has to overcome a foe that’s neutralized him twice in the past: the Leader’s all-powerful Super-Humanoid android. So they can whale the tar out of one another without damaging any of the equipment, the Leader teleports the two combatants to a nearby volcanic island–where you find one of those near New Mexico I’m not quite certain. Anyway, the two fighters engage in a multi-page battle, and this time it’s Lee who takes a page from Steranko’s playbook for the wrap-up, choosing to have the latter part of the fight scene take place in silence, carried entirely by Trimpe’s visuals. (No doubt he still vouchered for the script on these pages regardless.) The Hulk succeeds in throwing the Humanoid into the volcano and then setting it off, finally destroying his foe. But he still needs to stop the Leader’s missile.

The Hulk makes his way back to the military base, where the Leader is monitoring his successful launch, waiting for the Iron Curtain countries to fire a retaliatory counter-attack that will set off his war. He makes a run for a bunker when the Hulk bursts in–but Betty Ross goes to the Hulk and tries to calm him down, turning him back into Bruce Banner. Seems that Banner had been building T-Bolt Ross a Hunter Missile, with which he can still shoot down the Leader’s weapon, if he can program it swiftly enough. The Leader’s missile must have been conserving fuel or something, because the whole sequence of events since the Leader launched had to have taken at least a quarter-hour. But still, Banner’s Hunter Missile fires off, and in the space of a page catches up to and eliminates the Leader’s weapon! Yay team!

The Leader is nonplussed by this, however–he realizes that he’s sitting in the center of an entire missile base full of ICBMs, and so he moves to simply launch another one at the Soviet Union. The stress of all of this heroism, though, causes Banner to turn back into the Hulk, who confronts the Leader in his bunker. And the Hulk hasn’t come this far to fail. He leaps into the air, intent on catching up with the leader’s latest missile and destroying it. It would probably have been a good idea to incapacitate the Leader and his control panel so that he couldn’t, say, launch a third missile if the Hulk succeeded–but, hey, the Hulk wasn’t all that bright in these days, and he’s doing the best he can.

And it turns out that’s good enough! The Hulk is able to catch up to the missile, divert its course and destroy it, though the blast knocks him out and he falls from the sky. Back at the base, the idiot Leader talks himself out of making a third launch, since his mental control of the base personnel is weakening. What, you can’t push another button, Leader? Anyway, being smart enough not to stay where he’ll immediately be captured, the Leader swipes a jet and vamooses, having destroyed all evidence of his presence somehow, and convinced that Betty Ross, as a “lone hysterical female”, can neither impede his progress nor convince anybody at the Base about what he’s done. And as the Leader jets away, he’s almost struck by the falling form of the Hulk–who must have been falling for a good five minutes somehow, given everything the Leader’s done up to this moment. Time occasionally passes strangely in these 60s Marvel books. Anyway, the Hulk hits the water, but it’s Bruce Banner who surfaces, semi-conscious and in danger of drowning. And that’s the cliffhanger that the issue ends on. But it’s not one the next issue would resolve. See, the policy that marvel had in these days was to only reprint a given story once–they were concerned that they’d lose too many readers by reprinting a given story a second time. So, since the follow-up story had been included in ORIGINS OF MARVEL COMICS, it got skipped over in the run of MARVEL SUPER-HEROES. This was one of the things that made collecting these reprint titles difficult–not only did you never know when an issue might be skipped over for some reason, you also didn’t necessarily know where it might have been reprinted earlier.

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