By this point, my brother Ken’s interest in the Incredible Hulk had waned, as it typically did with his passing fancies for one comic book or another. But having read the most recent bunch of issues from his copies, and getting further and further into the Marvel books, I was hooked enough on things to buy the next issue of MARVEL SUPER-HEROES when it showed up on the 7-11’s spinner rack during a routine Thursday excursion to it. It probably helped that MSH was reprinting older Hulk stories from the 1960s (albeit the very late 1960s), a period whose comics I just generally liked, even in reprinted form.
This particular story was produced right at the tail end of editor/scripter Stan Lee’s time working on the character. Now, Stan Lee is a polarizing figure these days, and you can certainly espouse that he took too much credit for the stories he was working on (he did) and that he could be self-serving (he could). But he also scripted well–I always found any book that contained Stan’s language to be entertaining and to read well. I have no doubt that artist Herb Trimpe worked out most of the plot and the pacing to this issue on his own as he was drawing it, but it was Stan’s “frosting” that made the confection so tasty to me. Other people disagree, decrying Lee’s copy as banal and saccharine, and they’re entitled to those opinions. I can only tell you how it was for me as a young reader.
The Hulk was incredibly popular during the 1970s–for some reason, the idea of a man who transformed into a raging, unstoppable brute whenever he got upset really caught the public fancy. It might be that he was also a very simple character, and that the series wasn’t trying so much to do the sort of soap opera the other Marvel titles largely traded in. Lee and company were fine with a structure that saw the Hulk and his alter ego Bruce Banner traveling hither and yon, sometimes in search of a cure, other times simply moving because there was nothing else to do, and stumbling over trouble along the way. These often weren’t deep stories, but they were always colorful and entertaining, and could largely be read in single installments without a reader feeling like he had missed something. (It’s perhaps no wonder that the same format was largely picked up for the eventual INCREDIBLE HULK television show, which was preparing to launch as a regular weekly series right when this reprint came out.)
I haven’t spoken all that much about Herb Trimpe, the artist on this particular story, but I liked his tenure on the character very much. Herb was one of those backbone players of the Marvel Bullpen in the 1970s–omnipresent, often on the strips that nobody else wanted to handle. He wasn’t a great artist, but he was a good one, dependable, thoroughly professional. And INCREDIBLE HULK was an assignment that he genuinely enjoyed, which led him to be something of an anchor man for the franchise for many years. It’s common knowledge that Herb went through some very rough times in the 1990s when tastes had changed and he was let out of his Marvel contract during the industry’s implosion, which is both sad and a cautionary tale for the artists following him.
As this story opened, Bruce Banner was pulling himself together after his latest Hulk-out last issue. Heading towards civilization, he finds himself in a small town in South America (in the nation of “Costa Salvador”), one dominated by an enormous metallic statue. What’s more the townspeople all appear glassy-eyed, and Banner can feel his own mind growing sluggish. One of the townspeople who doesn’t seem to be as stupefied as the others tells Banner that the statue was the creation of the Great One, who bends all others to his will. But Banner panics at this revelation, his blood chemistry changes, and he transforms into the Hulk. Now, you would think it’d be easier to dominate the Hulk’s weaker mentality, but the opposite is true here. Rather than simply destroying the statue, though, the Hulk leaps towards a castle dominating a nearby hill, where the Great One is said to reside.
The Great One, it turns out, is Maximus the Mad, exiled brother of Black Bolt, ruler of the Inhumans. Cast out into the world along with his band of Evil Inhumans, Maximus figures he might as well dominate the world of man, and so he’s started with this one statue and one town. His intention is to get his brainwashed servants to build him another statue, and then another–all increasing the range of his mind control exponentially, until he’s in command of everything. But he hasn’t reckoned with the arrival of the Hulk, who tears through the barrier preventing entry into Maximus’ complex. The Evil Mutants race to the defense, and what follows is a round-robin fight in which each Evil Inhuman hurls themselves at the Hulk in sequence, giving each one an opportunity to show off their individual abilities and for the Hulk to clobber them.
This seems to be the Hulk’s inning unilaterally, except that the big brute is having trouble keeping his mind on why he is fighting. Possibly Trimpe intended that the invisible broadcasts from the Statue were still affecting him, but Lee doesn’t touch on this idea at all. And it doesn’t matter much, as the Hulk is massacring all comers. But then, troops begin to drop from the sky–it’s a counter-offensive by the military in response to the threat posed by Maximus and his subjugation of the area. Now, you would think the Evil Inhumans’ goose is cooked at this point, but Maximus is more silver-tongued than that. He suggests to the Hulk that they have a mutual enemy in the army, and that the Green Goliath should join forces with him and his to repel them–otherwise, they will try to destroy the Hulk as well as the Evil Inhumans. And as the issue reaches a close, the dimwitted brute wrestles with this question: will he cast his lot with Maximus the Magnificent or go his own way? To Be Continued!