BHOC: INCREDIBLE HULK #228

The week’s trip to the 7-11 on Thursday for the new releases brought me this latest issue of INCREDIBLE HULK, a title whose purchase I had picked up from my younger brother Ken. But by this point, it was simply a regular part of my monthly purchases, and so any thought of it being something that my brother had started was vanishing away. The Hulk was probably about as popular as he had ever been among kids thank to the live action Bill Bixby/Lou Ferrigno television series airing weekly on CBS–thus warranting the “Marvel’s TV Sensation!” blurb on this and other covers. Moreso than AMAZING SPIDER-MAN or FANTASTIC FOUR, both of which sported similar blurbs at different times, at this moment INCREDIBLE HULK had truly earned it. The Hulk TV series was a bonafide hit, and had brought more attention and fans to the series.

Regular writer Roger Stern, with some scripting assistance from Peter Gillis, creates a new recurring villain in this issue built out of spare parts from two earlier CAPTAIN AMERICA stories. In the first, during Steve Englehart’s Secret Empire/Watergate storyline, a villain pretending to be a hero called Moonstone had appeared. He had gained his powers from a chunk of rock from space, but wasn’t all that interesting apart from the story he was in. Stern gave this item to a rather strange choice in order to pass on the mantle of the identity to her. This is Karla Sofen, who had made only one previous throwaway appearance. In that story, she not only didn’t have a last name, but she was also sporting fewer clothes than you would think: artist Frank Robbins drew her topless apart from a pair of criss-crossed bandoliers .However somebody, likely in editorial but possibly the Comics Code, thought this was a bit too much, and so Karla’s upper torso was colored as though it was attired, even though anybody looking at the artwork closely would know that she wasn’t. What make this character, apart from the fact that she was a gun moll for evil psychiatrist Dr. Faustus, ripe for a comeback is something only Roger Stern knows for sure. But it’s an interesting use of unlikely pieces.

Stern’s ongoing plotline at this point involved gamma-powered psychiatrist Doc Samson analyzing the Hulk and attempting to get to the roots of his psyche, to see if he could be made into a positive force even apart from his Bruce Banner alter ego. As the Hulk has been stuck in his rampaging form thanks to an injection of gamma-irradiated drug, they kind of have no choices at this point. So this issue opens with the Hulk completely demolishing a device designed to test the upper levels of his strength, but being praised for his efforts in unlikely fashion by Samson and his buddy Jim Wilson. But there are reporters on Gamma Base at this point, and they give commanding General Thunderbolt Ross the third degree concerning Samson’s attempts to control the Hulk.

And this is where Karla Sofen comes in. Watching the news reports about these efforts, she calls up Doc Samson and offers her services to the effort. Samson is familiar with her from the past and considers her another figure outside of the psychiatric mainstream like himself. So he’s glad to have the help. But what Karla is actually after is access to the Base and the top-secret equipment being developed therein. She reasons that she can steal it and then sell it to the Corporation, the evil conglomerate that’s been appearing in the background for the past year or so across multiple titles, including CAPTAIN AMERICA and MACHINE MAN as well as INCREDIBLE HULK. That evening, as she stealthily makes her way to where her objective is kept, we get a demonstration of her super-abilities.

Unfortunately for Karla, the Hulk is restless this evening, and when he leaves the confines of his room, he triggers an invisible beam that sets off alarms throughout the complex. Not wanting to get caught in her regular human identity, Karla transforms herself into her super-villainous identity as Moonstone. She attempts to flee to safety, but instead winds up running right into the Hulk. The monster isn’t all that bright, but he recognizes Moonstone as somebody who shouldn’t be here, a threat to the base, and so he attacks her as an intruder.

Interestingly, most of the suspense in the back end of the story is all on Moonstone’s side, as she’s clearly outmatched by the Hulk despite an impressive array of abilities that include super-strength, flight, the ability to become unsolid and the power to fire zap-bolts from her hands. But rather than rely on her moonstone-granted traits, Karla instead begins to use psychology against the Hulk, baffling him by presenting as a fragile female and a judgmental authority figure, among others. This all serves to confuse the Hulk, who lashes out more and more as he grows ever more frustrated by what is going on. Consequently, as the Hulk is being blinded by his mounting rage, Moonstone is able to remain one step ahead of him.

And then, As Samson and Base Security converge upon the spot where the fight is taking place, Monstone plays her trump card. Pushing the green-skinned Goliath to even greater anger by mentioning his lost love Jarella, Moonstone transforms her appearance back to that of Dr. Karla Sofen–so that when the soldier and Samson arrive, it looks as though the Hulk has gone berserk and lashed out violently at the psychiatrist who was trying to help him. It’s a neat frame-up–and it’s where this issue was To Be Continued. Mention too should be made of the fine artwork of stalwart Sal Buscema, here finished by Bob McLeod, who gives the end product an appealing Wally Wood-esque flavor. It’s a good match of Sal’s storytelling and McLeod’s polish.

6 thoughts on “BHOC: INCREDIBLE HULK #228

    1. New Mutants saw more of that artistic team up though. McLeod was my favorite inker for Sal, followed by Dave Hunt and then the team of Akin and Garvey. Klaus Jansen kinda makes the list further down. His finishes over Sal always did look great but Jansen overpowers everyone he inks so it feels more like his art than Sal’s.

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  1. I would’ve liked to have seen McLeod ink Curt Swan. Somehow I think it would’ve been a complimentary match. Over Sal’s drawings Bob gives a similar feel as Joe Rubinstein might, but not as subtle. A few faces here don’t look like typical Sal faces. There’s a dimension added that Joe would’ve brought too, but maybe less… rubbery. Gerry Talaoc was a fine inker for Sal. Milgrom could be, sometimes. Adkins, yes. Akin & Garvey, OH, yeah. Especially on Rom, making him really gleam. Klaus was my favorite inker for Sal, because of an extra kinetic energy he gave, & that cinematic lighting sense. I don’t think anyone “overpowers” Sal Buscema. šŸ˜‰

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    1. Dr. Karla Sofen as Moonstone was 1 of my fave villainess. I get that rehabilitation is a worthwhiheile character arc. But you need good baddies, too. She”s up there w/ Scorpion, Sabretooth, & a few other. Stern used her really well in the Avengers’ “Siege” story. The rivalry between her & Zemo was another layer.

      Seeing the green Hulk holding her on that last page made me think of Palmolive liquid dish soap. Sofens your hands while you do dishes (break dishes, in Hulk’s case).

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