This issue of INCREDIBLE HULK was another book that I got from my 5th and 6th grade friend Donald Sims. He was a sporadic source of issues that came out before I started reading, in particular Marvel titles, which was very valuable in these days before trips to back issue outlets became more common. This cover was typical for the time, with multiple word balloons attempting to add energy and menace to the situation. Pretty much all of the Marvel covers of this period carried such cover copy, usually with either the hero himself or else the enemy he was fighting proclaiming that the good guy was done for, that he was finished, doomed, etc. Somebody certainly thought that showing the lead character being overwhelmed by impossible odds was a good way to sell comics. Looking at it now, I feel like four word balloons (including an interjection from a minion that’s totally superfluous) is a bit much here–one balloon could have gotten the same job done here.

HULK was an extremely popular book in the late 1960s and early 1970s–there was something about the hyper-mighty monster being persecuted by people wherever he went that really spoke to the more casual audience for comic books in that decade. Or perhaps it was the fact that any given issue of HULK was more likely than most to be chock-a-block full of ridiculous action. It was a title that I wasn’t all that enthralled about at the time. The premise felt a bit limited to me, with the Hulk not really having much of a supporting cast or even a goal, wandering hither and yon and fighting a variety of other monsters, super-villains and the ever-present Military -Industrial Complex. I suppose it’s just the way my fantasies leaned–I never wanted to be a super-strong simpleton, and while I had my own issues with anger, I didn’t relate them to the Hulk’s struggle. But it was a super hero comic, at least ostensibly, and so I tended to read it when available.

The story in this issue was the first part of a three-part adventure designed to wrap up outstanding plot threads from the cancelled WARLOCK series. Marvel was pretty thorough about using its existing titles to clean up lingering business from the books it had ended. I don’t know how many HULK readers might have been following WARLOCK, or cared, but it made for a fine background for an adventure in any case. The issue opens with the Hulk having been shot into space by the Inhumans in order to get rid of him. The brute doesn’t understand what is happening, and so he pounds on the side of his ship, struggling to liberate himself, unaware that he’s fouling up the guidance system. He winds up crashing down on Counter-Earth, the parallel world created by the High Evolutionary situated on the other side of the sun, the world in which Warlock was the one and only super hero, a kind of quasi-Christ figure.

The issue takes a few pages out at this point to check in with Betty Ross and her father General “Thunderbolt” Ross–Betty is depressed because her husband Glenn Talbot is believed dead, as is Bruce Banner, the man she really loves. But the scene cuts elsewhere, to behind the Iron Curtain, where a captive Glenn Talbot is in the process of escaping captivity. Or so it appears–the comments made by the head of his pursuers makes it clear that Talbot has been released for some nefarious purpose which will become apparent in future issues. Back on Counter-Earth, the Hulk’s capsule is recovered at splashdown and Bruce banner is retrieved by the authorities. but he’s got a counterpart on Counter-Earth already, one whom his rescuers realize is elsewhere. This makes them assume that their new arrival is a spy for the radical Adam Warlock, who has been causing chaos and upsetting the status quo. Their pointed questioning makes Banner anxious, and that’s always an unfortunate thing to do, because as his pulse rate increases, he transforms into the Hulk and begins trashing everything in sight.

Elsewhere, at the White House, the ground outside of which are filled with protestors demanding that the government free the captive Adam Warlock, the President is informed of the Hulk’s rampage. The President in this instance is secretly the Man-Beast, a creation of the High Evolutionary and a recurring villain in the WARLOCK series. He’s looking to use the power of his new position to start an all-out war between America and the rest of the world that will destroy humanity, leaving himself and his fellow New Men as the only survivors. This page was one of two in this issue that was drawn across a single board, a cheap cost-saving measure that impacted throughout the Marvel titles for about a year. Artist Herb Trimpe’s style is broad enough that the difference in reduction isn’t as immediately apparent here is it would be in other hands, but it’s still a bit rougher and cruder than the rest of the job around it.

The Man-Beast dispatched his minions to bring the Hulk’s rampage to a halt. By this point, looking for a place of peace and solitude, the Green Goliath has taken up a position within the top of the Washington Monument–but the New Men think nothing of blowing the top off the place in order to get at the Hulk. A couple of pages of aggravated smashing commence, until one of the New Men is able to fit a gas-emitting helmet onto the Hulk’s head that causes him to pass out and revert to his scrawnier Bruce banner identity. So he’s in custody once again.

While this is going on, the Man-Beast gets a report from a hidden laboratory that all of the New Men’s attempts to break the will of the captive Adam Warlock have come to nothing. As the issue wraps up, a Rigellian Recorder appears from out of nowhere, incapacitating the inquisitioner attempting to subvert Warlock’s mind. The Recorder indicates that he was sent her to locate the missing Warlock by his father-figure, the High Evolutionary, and he freed Warlock from confinement. To Be Continued! This story was apparently plotted by Roy Thomas, who had come up with the Warlock concept as a Marvel answer to Jesus Christ, Superstar, making the protagonist a direct Christ analog–one that he’d take even further in the issues ahead. Roy didn’t end up scripting this issue, that task fell to the omnipresent Gerry Conway, who was everywhere in these days, and who did a solid if undistinguished job of it. This was all before Jim Starlin came along and found something new and interesting to do with Warlock (and then spent decades doing it over and over again) so the character was still a bit formative, for all that he’d appeared in close to a dozen stories already.

4 thoughts on “BHOC: INCREDIBLE HULK #176

  1. I seem to recall that the Man-Beast’s henchmen on page 17 were supposed to represent Nixon’s subordinates, which would make the Man-Beast himself a Nixon analogue. The purple-skinned henchbeast seems to bear a slight resemblance to Spiro Agnew. And of course, Steve Englehart was doing a similar riff over in Captain America at the same time, culminating with the leader of the “Secret Empire” (also a Nixon stand-in) committing suicide in Cap #175.

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  2. Tom, can you explain what you mean by “drawn across a single board, a cheap cost-saving measure that impacted throughout the Marvel titles for about a year” –> does that affect Trimpe’s layouts here of the panels?

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    1. For about a year, Marvel did this thing where they’d have the artists turn a board on its side and draw two pages worth of material on it (while still only paying for one, thus the savings.) So those pages were drawn much smaller than a typical page and consequently didn’t reduce and tighten up to the same degree the rest of the book did. So the line work often appears thick and crude, and the lettering is often a bit larger than elsewhere.

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