Welcome (Pinned Post)

Posted in Quick Read · Sept. 1, 2018, 9:23 p.m. · 145 words

Hi. This is my blog. Ideally, below this entry you would find posts on a variety of different subjects, like stuff I've read or watched, places I've been or other items of topical interest. You know, the basics. But as I write this (September 1st 2018) the vast majority of blog entries are devoted to reviews of comic books featuring the Incredible Hulk.

Maybe some explanation is required. It's pretty simple: in 2012 I decided to read and review all the Incredible Hulk comics from the beginning. Six years later, I have got through 35 of them (Incredible Hulk vol. 1 and Tales to Astonish up to issue #88). There are still a few more to do, but I hope to get around to them. While I'm working on that, there will be some posts on other topics in this space.

To Be Hulkinued, as they say.

Tales to Astonish #88

Posted in To Be HULKinued · March 8, 2017, 2:48 p.m. · 77 words

Gil Kane blows into town, and his dynamic, cartoony style helps clear out the cobwebs after John Buscema's too-stiff, classic illustration approach. Kane is the first artist on the title to ink his own pencils since Ditko, and it's not entirely clear if he's clicking here with Stan Lee, who actually interrupts his usual compulsive logorrhea to leave one panel entirely wordless. The story is not much better than OKAY, but the new visual direction shows promise.

Tales to Astonish #87

Posted in To Be HULKinued · Jan. 28, 2017, 7:39 p.m. · 128 words

"The Humanoid and the Hero!" — After having something of a change of heart on the destroying-the-Hulk issue, the Army tries to help take down the Humanoid instead, in a lengthy fight sequence. But more importantly, this month's subplot features the return of Boomerang, with a repeat appearance that sees him immediately binning his old costume, having decided the smock covered with suction cups was not a good look. Sadly his definition of improvement involves replacing the baggy cargo pants with a standard tights and trunks combo but keeping the spangly 'B' chest emblem, this time accented by decorative bandoliers and a cummerbund with a glued-on boomerang pointed at the crotch. The end result is an outfit that's a slightly different flavour of terrible, but an OKAY comic.

Tales to Astonish #86

Posted in To Be HULKinued · Jan. 24, 2017, 4:11 p.m. · 118 words

"The Birth of... the Hulk-Killer!" — It's time for pulse-pounding plot contrivance in the mighty Marvel manner as Bruce Banner, who hasn't been seen since issue #70, reappears for the three panels necessary to reprogram the Orion missile and save the day before Hulking out again. Other returning characters this issue include Boomerang, who shows up for a training montage in order to demonstrate that he has new powers and skills (but the same old costume). And while this is going on, the Army stumbles on the Leader's hideout and activates his long-dormant secret weapon in hopes that it will take out the Hulk. What could happen next? If your answer was:

take a drink. Readable, but deeply OKAY.

Nicholas Fisk

Posted in Quick Read · Jan. 24, 2017, 11:23 a.m. · 255 words

There's a strange repeating process I've noticed on social media over the past several years, which is that every few months British people of my generation will be talking about their favourite childhood books and suddenly everyone will remember that Nicholas Fisk existed.

People may have forgotten Fisk's name but they remember his stories. 25 years ago his novels were in the children's section of seemingly every library in the UK. Librarians must have loved him. He wrote sf and fantasy and horror for what would probably now be called middle-grade readers; his books were often unsettling and they left an indelible mark. There was Grinny, a sort of sinister flip-side to Mary Poppins. Monster Maker, a fantasy-horror story set in a special-effects studio, which was adapted for television by Jim Henson.

And Time Trap, an odd, troubling book about gang violence and an antiseptic future and time travel and the Blitz: a book I didn't read so much as worry at, the way a dog worries at a bone. I would borrow it from the library every few weeks and try to decide if I liked it. (Last year I happened to notice that my local library had a copy, so I borrowed it again. I'm still trying to make up my mind about it.)

Fisk died last year at the age of 92, after a long retirement. I only ever knew him through his books, and I regret never getting the chance to meet him. I hope he knew how much he mattered.

Tales to Astonish #85

Posted in To Be HULKinued · Jan. 17, 2017, 11:15 p.m. · 108 words

"The Missile and the Monster!" — Wherever he goes, whatever he does, the Hulk can't seem to escape Soviets trying to foul up US weapons tests. This issue's saboteur turns out to be last issue's sinister Hawaiian shirt man, who has hidden a frowning robot in the trunk of Rick Jones's car in hopes of disrupting the takeoff of the Orion missile. Well, there's no such thing as a free launch, after all. John Buscema gives the Hulk an odd slab-like torso here, but his Hulk's head — floppy-haired, no lips, unibrow — is closer to what would end up on kids' lunch boxes than any one else's thus far. OKAY.

Tales to Astonish #84

Posted in To Be HULKinued · Jan. 14, 2017, 1:06 p.m. · 201 words

Reading Jack Kirby comics is often more about the journey than the destination and this sadly marks the dead-end conclusion of his run on the Hulk. Kirby had been filling in on the Sub-Mariner co-feature in Astonish, setting up a storyline that would unite the book in a thrilling crossover battle. But then he stopped drawing Namor and abruptly gave up doing layouts for the Hulk, with the result that in this issue the two pass each other in a movie theater but never actually meet. Instead, the Hulk watches some news footage that conveniently wraps up the Boomerang plot of the last several issues, then has a fight with a train. I love ya Jack, but this is an AWFUL way to go out.

Also noted:

  • If you're wondering how to spot a Marvel comic that was slapped together in a last-minute deadline crunch, an art credit to "Almost the whole blamed Bullpen" is a pretty good place to start.
  • Meanwhile in subplot land, Rick Jones finds a way to drive out of Florida — by borrowing a car from a sinister cigar-smoking man in a Hawaiian shirt, who warns him not to look in the trunk. What could possibly go wrong?

Tales to Astonish #83

Posted in To Be HULKinued · Jan. 2, 2017, 6:22 p.m. · 185 words

"Less Than Monster, More Than Man" — Let's say it's 1966 and you're in the mood for a story about a secretive high-tech espionage organization whose members are referred to only by a numeral ("Number One", "Number Two", "Number Six" and so on) as they carry out strange actions in pursuit of obscure but presumably sinister goals. Unfortunately, The Prisoner won't debut on TV for another year so you'll have to settle for reading Tales to Astonish, where the Secret Empire also does all of the above. Sadly, the Secret Empire must be the most self-sabotagingly vindictive shadowy enterprise of all time: after failing to kidnap Betty Ross last issue, Boomerang embarks on a perfectly credible Plan B, but with no support from Numbers Two to Nine, who are busy meeting to discuss killing him off until Nine throws a stun grenade at the rest. It's the sort of group where the failure to wear a metal bucket under your villain robes can be described as "blind confidence". Meanwhile, the Hulk goes out looking for food and comes back carrying General Ross and Rick Jones. OKAY.

Tales to Astonish #82

Posted in To Be HULKinued · Dec. 27, 2016, 5:09 p.m. · 100 words

"The Battle Cry of the Boomerang" — It's plot-counterplot this issue, as the Hulk returns to the surface, where he is attacked by the US Army, which is looking for Boomerang, who has kidnapped General Ross's daughter on the orders of The Secret Empire, whose members are busily murdering one another whilst watching proceedings on a view screen, classic supervillain style. Jack Kirby is listed as "designer" in the credits, meaning that although he didn't have time to actually pencil the comic, Stan wanted his story ideas. He threw the kitchen sink at this one (but Boomerang still looks rubbish). GOOD.

Hulk Smash #1: The Business

Posted in To Be HULKinued · Dec. 7, 2016, 1:18 p.m. · 140 words

Briefly skipping ahead, here's a page I love from The Incredible Hulk #383, written by Peter David and pencilled by Dale Keown.

Hulk #383 was published in 1991 and I can still remember where I bought my copy and where I read it. Eleven year old me didn't get the Abomination's joke about Ted Turner (although it made 32 year old me laugh out loud just now) but he loved the last panel, where the Hulk says a cool thing and hits someone.

Mainstream comics of the '90s largely aspired to be about characters saying a cool thing and hitting someone, and having set so low a bar most of them have unsurprisingly not stood the test of time. But I still think this is great.

Tales to Astonish #81

Posted in To Be HULKinued · Dec. 6, 2016, 1:18 p.m. · 147 words

"The Stage is Set!" — While Bruce Banner wanders shirtless through underground tunnels, Gamma Base comes under attack from possibly the worst wardrobe Kirby ever gave a supervillain. This is the murderous menace of the man called Boomerang, who arrives swathed in red cargo pants, a pointy metal helmet with bolt-on goggles, antenna and a chin-strap, and a baggy canvas shirt adorned with suction cups and a spangly letter B strapped across the chest. Readers of the whacked-out cosmic Sixties Marvel comics often took the strait-laced Kirby for a habitual drug user; here he has apparently mainlined a heroic dose of some narcotic that totally destroys your fashion sense. EH.

Tales to Astonish #80

Posted in To Be HULKinued · Dec. 5, 2016, 1:18 p.m. · 130 words

"They Dwell in the Depths!" — The Hulk gets caught up in a subterranean turf war between the evil forces of Tyrannus and visiting Fantastic Four c-lister The Mole Man. The undoubted highlight of this issue is the Mole Man's robotic Octo-Sapien, a sort of metal bulb on legs surrounded by droopy nozzles and topped off by a villainous frowny face, the combined power of which somehow manages to turn the Hulk back into Bruce Banner. This one scales the heady heights of OKAY.

Tales to Astonish #79

Posted in To Be HULKinued · Dec. 4, 2016, 1:18 p.m. · 113 words

"The Titan and the Torment!" — Readers who were unengaged by last issue's utterly generic mad scientist plot (and I assume that's basically all of them) will be pleased this time around, as the villain in question accidentally kills himself after a four-panel tussle with the Hulk. There then follows a fight with Hercules, briefly on loan from the Thor comic. The art is inconsistent with occasional sojourns into actually dire, and the story feels like a deadline-week afterthought. It's the Contractually Obligated Hulk. AWFUL.

Tales to Astonish #78

Posted in To Be HULKinued · Dec. 3, 2016, 1:18 p.m. · 147 words

"The Hulk Must Die!" — Bill Everett's pencil and ink art for this issue gives it a look that's somewhat unique for the Marvel era, both strangely angular and surprisingly detailed. The relentless forward motion of Kirby's story layouts prevents the art from getting totally bogged down in Fiftiesish Joe Maneely-style noodling, although it has to be said that the Hulk spends most of this instalment failing to climb out of a hole he's fallen into. Meanwhile, an evil scientist in the employ of the US Army plots to overthrow humanity with an array of Hulk-powered machinery. EH.

Tales to Astonish #76

Posted in To Be HULKinued · Dec. 2, 2016, 1:18 p.m. · 157 words

"Bruce Banner is the Hulk!" — Readers of the early Spider-Man comics will remember the unsettled period after romance artist John Romita took over from series originator Steve Ditko, and the scenes of Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy hanging out in the Coffee Bean suddenly became much more compelling than Spidey's latest battle with the Vulture or Doc Ock. Something similar afflicts the action scenes this issue, which has Jazzy Johnny providing finished art over Kirby's pencil layouts: the Hulk's time travel plot climaxes with a fairly uninspiring battle vs. The Executioner before literally fading away. In the present day, where Bruce Banner is thought to be both dead and a traitor, a guilt-wracked Rick Jones confesses the secret of the Hulk's identity to Major Talbot. Deeply OKAY.