While we were at Heroes World, by younger brother Ken picked up a comic book as well, this brand new issue of INCREDIBLE HULK, a title he was still following buoyed by his interest in the weekly television show. His interest, though, was waning a bit, and by the next issue he would be finished with the Hulk–but I would take up the baton and continue following the series for several years.
Having finished up the hanging business and plotlines of his predecessor Len Wein, incoming writer Roger Stern really began his tenure as the Green Goliath’s biographer here, with this issue. Roger had been a presence in the background at Marvel for a little while now, working as an Assistant Editor and authoring the occasional piece for FOOM or the black and white magazines. He’d steadily begun to take on more writing work, and began the transition from being an editor on staff to a freelance writer. Stern was one of the most solid craftsmen of the era. He had a fundamental understanding of what made the assorted Marvel characters work, and while he wasn’t as experimental or inventive as some of his 70s predecessors, he more than made up for it through solid craftsmanship. He was one of the stronger plotters at Marvel, a skill that wasn’t always given its due in the 1970s. Roger would seldom just string a few fight scenes together and call it a story.
The issue opens with the Hulk accidentally crashing down in the midst of a picnic being held by a pair of young lovers. But something isn’t right with the Hulk, and after a couple of minutes accidentally terrorizing the two civilians, he spontaneously transforms back into Bruce Banner despite still being angry, and his body expels all of the Gamma radiation from his body for no apparent reason. Banner isn’t too concerned about reasons, though, he’s overjoyed that he appears to be cured of the condition that has made his life a waking nightmare for so long. But this would be a very short comic book if that were really the case.
Meanwhile, over at Gamma Base, the military installation dedicated to hunting the Hulk, the mysterious amnesiac being treated by Doc Samson has gone rogue, escaping deep into the installation. Despite the efforts of Samson and the military to bring him to heel, the man eludes pursuit easily, striking down his hunters with impunity. When Samson and General Ross finally do penetrate his sanctum, they find Ross’s men all mesmerized–and while the man doesn’t quite come out and reveal his identity to the readers directly yet, it’s plainly apparent who this must be.
Which is going to wind up being bad news for Bruce Banner, who even now is attempting to locate a plane flight back to New Mexico and Gamma Base, to share his good news with his circle of friends. Dropped off at a nearby airfield, he runs into Spad McCraken, an obscure character who had appeared in an earlier Hulk story–Stern was always good about re-using even civilian characters that had been established in the past, and so making the Marvel Universe seem a bit more lived in. Spad wants no part of Banner, the Hulk or flying to Gamma Base–his last encounter with the Green Behemoth cost him his plane and lots of argumetns with his insurance carrier. But when Banner mentions money to him, Spad reluctantly agrees to ferry the scientist home.
Following this, there’s a two-page interlude with Len Wein’s Hulk supporting cast of teen Jim Wilson, romantic interest April Sommers and magician and con artist Kropotkin the Great that seems like it more or less ties up their stories for the moment (though Jim, at least, will be appearing further.) Then we move into the final portion of the issue, where we find Spad’s plane on approach to Gamma Base. He’s ordered to land and discharge his passenger–and banner is bewildered to find himself met not by an armored division all worried about his emerald alter ego, but rather a single jeep driven by a rather robotic Captain.
The Captain takes his charges to a building on the base, and when Banner and McCraken enter, their eyes are dazzled by radiant lights. When their vision clears, they’re stunned to see Doc Samson and General Ross are prisoners, and to realize that they themselves have now walked into the clutches of the Hulk’s recurring gamma-powered foe, the Leader! To Be Continued! As Hulk stories go, this one had precious little Hulk activity to it–apart from the opening couple of pages, there isn’t any Hulk action to be found. There is a lot of good characterization and some fun dialogue, but I wonder how well this issue went over with most of the younger readers who were following the series thanks to the TV show, like my brother. It does feel a bit like not giving the people what they want.