As usual, I also picked up this issue of MARVEL SUPER-HEROES, the regular reprint series that dusted off stories that had appeared in INCREDIBLE HULK a few years earlier and put them in front of a contemporary audience. Marvel kept up a full reprint line for most of the 1960s and 1970s, with these earlier stories providing some additional revenue and shelf space for the company (especially in the era in which there were no reprint payments for creators, a situation that had been rectified by the time this issue came out.) That’s a new cover by artist Herb Trimpe, and looking at it now, my eye is drawn to the two tangents with the logo–the arrow on the left and the Hulk’s shoulder. As art director, John Romita was a fiend for pointing these out and keeping them from getting into print, so this must have been a cover that he missed along the way.
It must be said that the Hulk of this era was a difficult character to make interesting across the long haul. He was wildly popular in the 1970s, in a time when the majority of comic book sales were still impulse purchases rather than being sought-after by hardcore regular readers. And the Hulk stories tended to be satisfying as single confections–the plots were often simple enough to allow for a ton of action and destruction, and while they’d often be continued from issue to issue, it almost didn’t matter whether you read the next one. On the other hand, as a going concern, I found the Hulk’s tendency to wander the Earth and get into trouble a bit of a deficit in terms of setting up a supporting cast and running subplots. Some writers did this better than others during this time, but the series as a whole was somehow not as mythos-based as most other Marvel fare.
Editor Stan Lee remained in place writing Hulk stories for longer than many other books, but by the time of this story he had handed off the series to his number two, Roy Thomas, who seemed to enjoy working on it. Artwork was provided by Herb Trimpe, an artist who became strongly associated with the character given how long he remained on the book. Prior to this, the Hulk had suffered from rotating artist syndrome, so having Trimpe as artist-in-residence gave the series some needed visual stability. Trimpe based his style on that of Jack Kirby, so his work was often blocky and geometrical. And he always told the story with gusto.
In this issue, Bruce Banner has sought out the Fantastic Four hoping that they can cure him of his monstrous transformations. After a typically perfunctory fight last issue, Reed Richards gets down to cases here, using Banner’s notes to create a device that’s meant to get rid of the Hulk. And it works! But the Hulk isn’t gone, it’s simply that he now has Bruce Banner’s mind (as he would occasionally have during the preceding decade) and now he can control his transformations. Banner, though, wants no part of being the Hulk, and so he swears off ever becoming the Green Goliath again. He just wants to settle down and marry his long-suffering girlfriend Betty Ross.
Elsewhere, the military has completed work on a new weapon, the Tripodal Observation Module, or T.O.M. for short. But the thing has another name as well: the Murder Module, and the gamma-enhanced Leader wants it for himself. Realizing that he’s going to need extra security to transport the thing to its eventual destination, General Thunderbolt Ross does one of his typical 180 degree turns and asks Bruce Banner–whom he has hounded as the Hulk and hated as his daughter’s boyfriend–to go along to safeguard the delivery. Wanting to cement good relations with the man who’ll soon be his father-in-law, Banner agrees to ride along as a guard.
To the surprise of absolutely nobody, the Leader does go ahead and attack the transport convoy while it’s en route to its destination, blasting the rig that’s hauling the Murder Module. Bruce is able to become the Hulk to save his own life and that of the driver in the fall, but he’s suddenly faced with the Leader at the controls of the weapon of mass destruction–and the villain’s gamma-enhanced intellect allows him to master the craft’s controls virtually instantly. Banner has another deficit to overcome: being rational, he simply cannot get as angry as his primitive alter ego, and thus his strength as the Hulk, while still incredibly formidable, can’t grow to the degree that it might in a life-or-death combat situation.
Unfortunately for the Leader, as he presses his attack, driving his foe to the edge of death, the Hulk begins to fight back, his savage persona beginning to break through the veneer of Banner’s dry intellect. The savage Hulk has no problem annihilating whatever the Leader can throw at him, and he obliterates the Murder Module, and is seconds away from crushing the Leader himself into paste before Banner’s intellect reasserts itself and he’s able to stop himself short of murder. As the issue closes, the Leader runs off for his life, while Banner realizes that his Hulk persona is not so easily sublimated, and so he can never become the Hulk again! To Be Continued! It’s pretty clear from this story that the Hulk with Bruce banner’s brain isn’t going to be a long-running status quo, but rather a condition that will only last for a story or two.