Picked up this issue of INCREDIBLE HULK on that week’s Thursday trip down to the 7-11 for the new comics, a trip I made like clockwork every week. While I was still a bit lukewarm on the character, the series as a whole had been growing stronger, mainly as new writer Roger Stern began to find his feet and figure out his craft. Whereas in the past, the Hulk had often starred in stories short on plot and long on mindless violence, Stern had brought in and developed a supporting cast for the series and spent effort in delving into the psychology of the great green behemoth and his alter ego, asking questions that almost nobody had thought about up until this time. In later years, some of the answers Roger provided would be overwritten by future authors, but that’s the way of the world in serialized comics. In the here and now, he was giving the series additional texture that it sorely needed.
Roger’s storyline began with efforts on the part of recurring character Doc Samson to psychoanalyze the Hulk, to get to the root of his dual persona. Psychoanalysis was a much-discussed thing in the 1970s, and so this tracks as a relevant of-the-moment notion to apply to this fictitious character. Thanks to an overdose of gamma radiation, the Hulk was stuck in his Hulk form for a week or two, requiring Samson and the personnel at Gamma Base to look after him, to keep him out of trouble. This became a much greater problem after Karla Sofen, an old colleague of Samson’s who had stolen the empowering gemstone of an old Captain America villain, showed up to help Samson with his process. She was really there to steal military scientific secrets in her Moonstone identity. But the Hulk had come upon her and a fight had broken out. As it burst the confines of the building. Sofen resumed her civilian form, making it seem as though the savage Hulk had attacked an innocent woman.
Samson has a much better understanding of the Hulk’s personality now, and so he gamely attempts to talk him down from his rage, and almost succeeds. But his efforts are thwarted by Sofen, who uses her Moonstone powers to zap the Hulk with an unseen laser, driving him back into a fury. Samson was hoping to help redeem the Hulk in front of the news camera that had shown up in response to the kerfuffle, but now he finds himself hurled bodily from the battlefield by his patient. And of course, this is a perfect cue for General Ross and his military machine to move in to try to out down the Hulk. Bad move–the Hulk may not quite understand what’s going on, but he knows perfectly well how to demolish tanks and the like.
Another element on strong display in this issue is the artwork by Sal Buscema. Sal has stated in the past that his favorite assignment was drawing INCREDIBLE HULK, and that joy is easy to discern on these pages. While Mike Esposito’s finishes are a little bit sparse for my tastes, the storytelling is spot-on and fun, and the characters, especially the Hulk himself, emote in a genuine fashion. Sal was swiftly becoming the face of the Hulk in the latter portion of the 1970s and first half of the 1980s–everybody else who drew the character took cues from his version.
Moonstone rejoins the battle at this point, and she’s misinterpreted as a new super hero by the media due to her actions. She still has her sights set on looting Gamma Base of its secrets, but she figures that she’s got to finish what she started first and get the Hulk out of the way. So this becomes a running battle between the two on the grounds of the base, with Moonstone slowly realizing that, even with her great power, she’s maybe gotten herself in over her head. The Hulk never stops, never gets tired, and keeps on getting stronger. But that said, Moonstone’s real weapons are words, and she strikes at the Hulk’s sense of self, calling him a monster and driving him into an even greater fury.
But Moonstone’s back is figuratively against the wall. She’s used up so much of her energy on this fight that she’s having a hard time remaining in her Moonstone costume and form. It’s a this point that General Ross shows up, armed with a Gamma Gun and intent on taking down his eternal quarry. He sees Moonstone transform back into Karla Sofen the same way that the Hulk does. But the General’s been going through some tough times of late, and as Karla transforms back and forth between her two identities, she causes Ross to have a full-on nervous breakdown. He crumples to the ground between the Hulk and Sofen.
It’s at this point that dopey old Doc Samson shows up again, and he of course assumes that Ross’s collapse was due to the Hulk’s actions. He flips out, calling the Hulk by the same name that Moonstone had used, monster. And the Hulk has had enough. Backhanding Samson away from him, he leaps off into the night sky. And the issue ends with Samson swearing to do something about the Hulk, Ross unconscious, and Karla Sofen still safely ensconced among them. It isn’t quite To Be Continued in a literal sense, but the ongoing soap opera of the Hulk’s life would continue to play out from here.