This was another issue that came to me fresh out of a 3-Bag of nine month old comics purchased at a department store or a toy store. I had just transitioned over to buying INCREDIBLE HULK for myself–prior to that, it was a series that my younger brother Ken had been following for a while, but when his interest in it flagged, I picked up the baton and ran with it. I found the Hulk as a character in this period somewhat limiting–he wasn’t really a super hero as I understood such things (and preferred them to be in my narrow-mindedness) and so while I enjoyed the stories for the most part, I was never all that into the series as a whole. This, though, I remember as being a pretty good issue.
A lot of that, I think, had to do with the skills and investment of writer/editor Len Wein. Wein was one of those guys who was everywhere among the early comic books that I had purchased but whose work never really stood out for me at the time. Which is a bit puzzling, as he was the connecting touchpoint between any number of early comics that I loved and that formed my tastes as a reader. He was just somehow ubiquitous and underappreciated by me. At Marvel, the Hulk was Len’s favorite character, and so it feels as though he gave his work on the series a bit of extra effort. Len himself was a big teddy bear, not that different in demeanor from the manner in which he’d write the Green Goliath when he was momentarily at peace.
Visually, Len was being backed up by Sal Buscema, who had succeeded long-running INCREDIBLE HULK artist Herb Trimpe on the title and was in the midst of establishing his own extended tenure on the character, one that come to rival if not exceed Trimpe’s. Sal was a straightforward storyteller with an excellent command of communicating the nuances of a story in images, and his Hulk boasted an exaggerated physical power that truly defined the character. Sal’s Hulk routinely did things that were flat-out impossible, but you believed in them due to how earnestly and directly they were portrayed. In this period, Sal’s work was being inked/finished by Ernie Chan, a Pilipino artist who added a nice sense of texture to the work. Chan was probably best suited to working in black and white, but his style worked well as a complementary flavor on INCREDIBLE HULK, which as I’ve said, was perhaps more monster comic than super hero strip.
The story picks up from the previous issue, in which the Bi-Beast, a twin-craniumed behemoth from a hidden island in the sky had taken control of the SHIELD helicarrier, threatening to use its systems to launch nuclear missiles around the world in revenge for the inadvertent destruction of its home. Unable to halt the B-Beast, Clay Quartermain, Gaffer and Thunderbolt Ross had brought the Hulk about, figuring that he had been the only thing that could stop the Bi-Beast in the past. But the Bi-Beast has control of all of the Helicarrier’s systems and so he turns its defenses against the Hulk, staggering him. What’s worse, as soon as the green juggernaut realizes that it’s General Ross who is pulling his strings, he goes off-mission and instead attempts to crush his old foe. It’s only Gaffer’s pleading for the Hulk’s help that gets him to relent.
In order to do so, the Hulk must climb up the enormous Omni-Launch Device and remove the power core situated at the top in order to prevent the missiles from being fired. This he does, battling his way through the thing’s defenses–but the loss of power also cripples the Helicarrier, which totters in the sky. (It’s difficult to believe given how many times we’ve crashed one of these things in the intervening years, but at this point in the game, the Helicarier had never before fallen from the sky.) As Gaffer and the others attempt to restore some auxiliary power and prevent them from crashing, the Bi-Beast himself shows up to investigate why everything has stopped working–and he hurls himself at the Hulk, hungry for revenge on the creature who has once again foiled his scheming.
What follows is, of course, a smash-fest of the sort that was the Hulk’s stock-in-trade in those days. The two raging monstrosities battle throughout the Helicarrier, eventually making their way up above deck to continue their struggle on the flight deck itself while Gaffer, Ross and Quartermain attempt to get the ship stabilized. There’s also time for a brief subplot cut-away to Doc Samson and the strange amnesiac who he wound wandering out of the desert–and who here eludes Samson and begins to break into a top security section of Gamma Base. Having read subsequent issues already, I knew that this guy would turn out to be Sam Sterns, the leader, reverted to his non-Gamma form.
Finally, in the climax of the issue, the Hulk is able to knock the Bi-Beast off of the Helicarrier just as the Gaffer manages to get it hovering again. But the Hulk’s rage is so great that he leaps after his foe, colliding with him in midair. As the two monsters vanish from sight, continuing their battle on the way down, Thunderbolt Ross feels guilty about having sent the Hulk to his death. Which is a bit crazy in that the Hulk takes leaps across spans this high routinely, so why Ross would think this fall was going to hurt him is a bit difficult to parse. But it does make for a nice final sympathetic note to go out on–Wein was usually a shmaltzy and sentimental writer, so this was right in his wheelhouse.