Monday, June 11, 2018

Marvel Super Heroes #101

Superhero vs Superhero
Marvel Super Heroes #101
Hulk vs. Everybody?!?

…even the US Justice Department

“The World, My Jury!”
Writer – Gary Friedrich
Penciler – Dick Ayers and Herb Trimpe
Inkers – John Severin
Letters – Jean Izzo
Colorist – Michele Wolfman
Extra Dialogue – Roy Thomas
Editor – Stan Lee
September 1981
Originally published in The Incredible Hulk #153, July 1972

Here we start off a week of Hulk vs other hero contests in a little sub-topic I’m calling It’s Not Easy Being Green. Today’s book brings up a very interesting question:

Does the Hulk qualify as a hero?

I had to analyze both points of view before starting this week of reviews. Given that he undoubtably saves people’s lives, my first gut instinct was an unequivocal yes. However, in reading through these three issues I come across at least one instance where he endangered a large number of lives accidentally.

The Hulk may be a bestial man-child, but he still has a semblance of rational thought tucked away in his giant head. So when he flies off half-cocked, knocking over buildings or downing airplanes we have to take him to task.

In many ways, the Hulk is an anti-hero – a guy that does the right thing most of the time, but frequently for selfish reasons. I prefer to look at him this way, given the amount of wanton destruction he’s caused over the years. However, I will state that there are points in Marvel’s history where they have turned him into a villain, and I feel that those moments ruin the character. If the Hulk topples a casino, there should always be another character on hand to protect any innocents that would be injured in the fallout.

And I really prefer the older Hulk stories because the writers of that day knew this to be the case. And boy are we going back pretty far for this one, a reprint tale from Hulk 153 that has some astonishing goings on as Hulk takes on his biggest challenge yet: being held accountable for his actions. This is a star-studded affair too folks, so hold on to your hats.

We begin in a court of law, although I might take writer Gary Friedrich to task on his breadth of legal knowledge. In criminal law, by very definition, conspiracy is an agreement between two or more persons, thus there is no way the Hulk could be considered to have conspired with himself as the judge suggests here. What I think the Hulk should be charged with is reckless endangerment, but there’s probably LOTS of ways to get his charges reduced from that given that he has a reduced mental state and is in need of constant guardianship…

What I’m saying here is this: the story is based upon the conceit that once the Hulk has been caught, the US District Attorney’s office would throw the book at him…or several books at him, possibly an entire library of books in hopes of finding something that would stick. Anything that would keep the Hulk off the streets. I get that.

I don’t agree with it, but I get it.

The courtroom drama is only half this tale, because our tale really begins with the Hulk smashing up an airport at the end of last issue. He was captured by SHIELD in Nevada and Matt Murdock assisted in gaining the monster’s trust. Even though SHEILD sedated his alter ego Bruce Banner, General Thunderbolt Ross did something to dial his numbers all the way back up after takeoff. Thus the flight back to New York ended with the Hulk disembarking in Banner’s place, and now the green goliath is tearing up the airport.

Lucky for us a few friends dropped by to meet the plane…

Marvel supes-on-supes battles rarely get as good as Hulk vs Thing. They’ve been punching each other’s lights out since issue 12 of The Fantastic Four and there is something so satisfying at seeing the pair go at it. Visually, the contrast of green and orange (with that slight dash of purple) creates one of those complementary color triangles that everyone reacts too on a subconscious level. Their figures are another draw here, as they are human yet misshapen. We can root for them to bash each other’s brains in without feeling remorse or regret because these aren’t PEOPLE hitting each other, but invulnerable monsters. On a psychological level, the pair represent our emotional Id-like child response set opposed to the cunning and craftiness of our Super-Ego without an Ego to mediate between them.

And it is pure fun to watch them smash stuff.

As Matt Murdock skulks off to change into Daredevil, round one of the behemoths’ conflict goes to Hulk.

When the monster turns back toward the crowd, we find jolly J. Johan Jameson in attendance with puny Peter Parker pretending to get sick so he can slip away and don some web-patterned tights.

That opportunity comes as Daredevil makes the scene, albeit only for a brief moment before the Hulk swats him away.

Reed Richards, the FF’s leader and Mr. stretchy-pants himself, sends in Johnny Storm to keep the Hulk occupied while he works on a device to stop Banner. Storm is known better by his other name: the Human Torch. Here he blinds the Hulk with a light burst that probably even Daredevil can see.

About this time Spider-Man finally jumps in, Parker having ditched triple-J in time make a two panel arrival and departure. He does…nothing! and I feel his cameo isn’t really earned. Meanwhile the Thing lands a good one as our artist and inker duo look to forget to earn a paycheck.

Yuck, guys. Maybe this is all inker/deadline issues though. There isn’t one item in background here, and that lends to the idea that this was a rush job, final page, tacked on kind-of-thing.

Also it is the ONLY time we see Spider-Man. It’s like they forgot Peter was in the pages before trying to get away from Johan. And that might very well be. The scenario in the bullpin could have been they sent this battle through to the editor and he kicked it back at them. “Where’s Spider-Man? Why isn’t he in this? Peter wouldn’t just abandon his friends. Put him in.” You can even hear Stan’s voice.

Thus Spider-Man shows up, gets told to take a powder and, unlike every other time that happens, he does!

Picking up the story from this one page insert, we have Hulk swinging Daredevil into the tail of a fighter jet…

…before turning back to tackle the Thing. Reed has gotten his Nega-Gamma gun together by this point and ends this fight by knocking the Hulk out. It isn’t exactly what Reed expected. His Nega-Gamma burst should have turned Hulk back into Banner. 

Also, Reed swooping in at the last minute doesn’t seem to have been what the Thing was expecting either. You can’t argue over a knocked-out Hulk however, which Reed certainly won’t. He quickly gets SHIELD over to wrap the Hulk up like a Thanksgiving turkey.

The book even brings in a cameo by Iron Man’s alter ego to hook Ross up with a way to contain the Hulk until he can stand trial.

But Matt Murdock’s piece in this isn’t over yet. Appears his ineffectual two seconds of battling jade jaws has made him feel a bit responsible for the man-monster's predicament. As he tells lifetime pal and new District Attorney, Foggy Nelson, he just can’t stand by and has signed on to mount a defense for the Hulk as his legal counsel. 

What follows is not recommended reading for any lawyers out there, nor anyone who’s watched an episode of Matlock. It is a farcical travesty of just with perhaps the most biased judge I’ve ever seen ruling in a courtroom where the Hulk is presumed guilty until proven innocent. And while there is AMPLE evidence that would make the case against the Hulk for being a danger to others, at no point is any of that even brought up. 

Starting with the fact that the court date is rushed owing to the fact that the Hulk might burst his bonds at any moment. Oh, and no bail is set, but they don’t even flirt with the idea of mention that.

Not mention the fact that they wheel in the defendant bound up like Houdini in the middle of one of his stage acts, something that Murdock spins his wheels to get reversed…

…but for all those rotations it appears he gets no traction to that argument and fairly accesses the justness of such actions by the judge to reporters outside.

Where this does make some ground is with some free-thinkers outside the courtroom. You know the type: hippies.

But while these flower children are all on Murdock’s side from the steps of the courthouse…

…it’s clear that the one holding the gavel cares about only one thing: finding the Hulk guilty.

We take a break from the circus of the trial to check in on Reed, who is visited by Foggy. Appears Reed too has some conscious problems since the Hulk’s capture. Problems that have him obsessing over the Nega-Gamma gun, trying to find out why it didn’t turn the green beast back into Banner.

Back in the courtroom, Murdock tries another tactic: convincing the jury that there are two sides to the Hulk. For this, Murdock calls on some pretty spectacular friends of the Hulk’s.

But after starting his line of questioning with Iron Man…

…somehow THIS is allowed to stand as a sustainable objection.

Although I have to agree with the judge here. Iron Man is clearly not answering the question.

It only takes one more argument from the prosecution and this looks to be the end of Murdock’s defense, except for one last surprise witness….

It turns out to be the Hulk himself. The man-monster acquits himself reasonably well insofar as making the case that he’s not mentally competent to really stand trial for his actions. 

Unfortunately, the judge isn’t having any of that, ordering the trail to continue. As the defense rests…

…an odd figure pops up beside the judge! Surprise!

Reed Richards! You made the judge poop his drawers. I chuckle every time I see this because it is so absurd…so preposterous…that our brilliant Dr. Richards rises up unannounced and unwelcome beside his honor. I mean if anything in the book should warrant a contempt of court finding, it is disturbing court proceedings without the judge’s permission.

And I find few things as disturbing as seeing a man come out from under the desk of a guy wearing robes who’s been sitting there for hours.

The judge blows his stack at Reed (‘natch), but does allow him to present his case for using the Nega-Gamma gun on the Hulk a second time in hopes of turning him back into Robert Bruce Banner.

Seeing that such a transformation might avert the jury from having to pass judgement, the judge agrees as does Murdock, who wants desperately to give Banner a chance at a normal life again. As for what the Hulk wants? 

Let’s be honest: in this court of law no one is going to give one moment of thought as to what the Hulk wants. Such matters of the legal standing of monsters and their right to exist would have to be part of a working Marvel continuity’s everyday courtroom drama. I think Hulk’s very cousin had an entire volume of her solo series dedicated to that very premise. But at this time in their publications Marvel wasn’t sharp enough to consider what the real world ramifications of a universe of monsters and superpowers would actually be like.

So they let Reed shoot him.

And the effect is the exact OPPOSITE of turning him into Banner. It makes him so strong that he shrugs off the chains previously keeping him motionless.

As he escapes, we are left to wonder if Reed did that on purpose or not. Matt Murdock seems to think so. 

The ending for the Hulk isn’t so wonderful, as we find a blocks away his landing has him buried in rubble and his hand looks motionless.

Included at no extra charge is this Star Wars-themed Hulk poster that looks more interesting than the story included in this issue.

What did SoC think? Overall not the best Hulk story going. The art was weak and the logic of the story bounced from good to bad and back again. The courtroom drama held promise, but in execution (pardon that pun) it came off as unrealistic and skirted neat story conundrums like how do you hold the Hulk accountable given his reduced mental state and who or what could you appoint as a guardian over what is possibly the most powerful creature on the planet. There could have been an intelligent story done in a thoughtful way that still relied on Reed swooping in due to a bothered conscience at the end, but this wasn’t it.

Sadly, I require more Hulk-pounding. Bring on the next book!

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