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. · 119 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.

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. · 186 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. · 101 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. · 126 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. · 110 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. · 84 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. · 85 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. · 98 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 #77

Posted in To Be HULKinued · Dec. 2, 2016, 1:18 p.m. · 128 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.

Tales to Astonish #76

Posted in To Be HULKinued · Dec. 1, 2016, 1:18 p.m. · 128 words

"I, Against a World!" — There is a thing you should know about me and it is this: I am an absolute sucker for stories set in a grim, ruined future. So this story, which has the Hulk battling an army in a setting that feels like Mad Max gone Mediaeval, gets me tremendously excited -- which may not be a true reflection of its quality. Actually, the ten pages Lee and Kirby have this issue doesn't give them much space to flesh out the setting, but when the metallic tripods of the Evil One stomp through the wreckage of Washington on the last page I get the same goosebumps I get from things like Days of Future Past and Maniac Mansion 2. You know, the classics. GOOD.

Tales to Astonish #75

Posted in To Be HULKinued · Nov. 30, 2016, 1:18 p.m. · 123 words

"Not All My Power Can Save Me!" — It has now been five issues since the US Army declared Bruce Banner dead, but they're still trying to figure out his last invention, the mysterious T-Gun, as the Hulk smashes his way back into Washington D.C. One random T-Gun blast later and the Hulk is transported an unspecified number of decades into America's grim dark future. There then follows a sequence that anticipates the first Planet of the Apes movie by a couple of years, right down to the Hulk stumbling across the remains of a patriotic monument in the midst of a ruined city. From galaxy-hopping adventures to time travel in the space of two issues: it's a Klassic Kirby Kurveball. VERY GOOD.