I continued to prowl through the 3-Bags at all of our local department stores and toy stores whenever I got the opportunity, and it was always exciting whenever a new batch would show up. They represented another batch of comics that I had missed buying when they were new on the racks that I had a second chance at. Now that I was following so many Marvel titles, this represented a great opportunity. This issue of INCREDIBLE HULK came out of one such 3-Bag purchase.
I don’t think I ever took any particular note ot writer/editor Len Wein in those days. I was aware of the name, but didn’t think any more or less of it than of those of the other many creators working in comics. But looking back, Len worked on several of my favorite runs, and even when he wasn’t producing trend-setting material, he always delivered the goods in a solid, dependable manner. His era of HULK is particularly nice in this regard. The HULK was Len’s favorite Marvel character, so he perhaps had a bit more personal investment here. This is very much a defining period of HULK for me, what I think of when I think about the character in the 1970s.
Len was joined in his efforts artistically by Sal Buscema, who had succeeded Herb Trimpe, the longtime artist of the series, and who would go on to do a long run that would match if not exceed Trimpe’s. Sal clearly loved working on the HUlK more than other characters, and his version of the character is an emotional, expressive child. Sal’s particular style of exaggeration worked well in depicting the Hulk’s outlandish feats of strength. Additionally, he was sympathetically inked here by Joe Staton, who would soon move over to DC to become a penciler more than an inker. Staton’s work had a cartoony edge to it, but that mixed in with Sal’s stylization really nicely.
The story in this issue is less a story and more a series of events that move in a certain direction. It was accurately said about the output of the two major companies in the 1970s that the DC books were concerned with intricate plotting to the detriment of characterization or genuine emotion, and the Marvel books were often fight scenes broken up by interludes of pure emotion. It wasn’t quite so cut-and-dried as that, but this issue is a good example of the latter. The book opens with the Hulk, depressed about the death of his girlfriend Jarella, accidentally getting in the path of a high-tech tank full of criminals that’s on a mission in the city, and then getting pissed off and battling it. The Hulk demolishes his opposition, but not before the tank has lobbed a shell into a correctional facility, breaking open a cell holding a huge cardboard box.
His immediate rage spent, the Hulk calms down in a back alley and slowly transforms back into Bruce Banner. Banner had the foresight to pin a number of traveler’s checks to the inside of his purple pants pocket, and this cash (not sure where he got the money in the first place; he definitely wasn’t working any sort of a job at this point) is enough to get him fitted with new clothes. He thereafter seeks out a room for himself, and meets April Sommers, the landlord of the new apartment he rents for himself and clearly set up to be a possible romantic interest. We also check in with Jim Wilson. the Hulk’s young pal, who is also in the city and who is being pursued by some no-goodniks. I had already seen this situation get resolved in later issues, so I wasn’t all that worried about Jim’s prospects here. And out at Gamma Base, Doc Samson rescues a mysterious figure who wandered out of the desert, a subplot that would go on for several issues.
Back at that cell with the cardboard box, we find that a pipe has leaked since the damage to the building and dripped water into teh box. This is all that its occupant needed to free himself–and reveal himself as the Absorbing Man, an old enemy of Thor’s. Trapped in the cardboard box, all he could change himself into was cardboard (though why he couldn’t become human again and just rip his way out is a mystery lost to time.) But the dripping water has allowed him to become water himself and get out of his prison, and he completes his breakout in spectacular fashion. Watching the news coverage back at his new apartment, Banner can feel himself getting tense, and he tries to calm down before he turns into the Hulk and wrecks this new supporting cast set-up he just made for himself.
The cops begin to bring up heavy ordinance to try to take Crusher Creel down, but before they can really unload on him, the Absorbing Man is teleported away to a featureless void by They Who Wield The Power, a group of shadowy figures that Len had first introduced in MARVEL TEAM-UP and was now getting back around to here. They were one of those running mysteries in the 1970s that eventually reached a revelation under other hands–and not a terribly convincing one in this case. They outfit the Absorbing Man with a swanky new costume and tell him that for their own reasons, they want the Hulk destroyed. That sounds good to Creel, and so the stage is set for a fight between the two in the next issue. To Be continued!