Essential Hulk, v. 4
Collects: Incredible Hulk #143-70 (1971-3)
Released: September 2006 (Marvel)
Format: 608 pages / black and white / $16.99 / ISBN: 0785121935
More than any other of the mainstay, stalwart titles at DC and Marvel, the Incredible Hulk can withstand mediocre runs.
Perhaps it’s just me. But even though I know the stories in Essential Hulk, v. 4 aren’t classic or iconic, they have a certain appeal that non-Hulk stories do not. The Hulk can go anywhere — the scope of his stories is immense, sprawling. He arrives like a meteor strike, his movements formed only by chance and villainy. In Essential Hulk, v. 4, he ranges from Canada to Latveria to the ocean floor and Jarella’s subatomic world. When most of the Marvel Universe is stuck in New York, this is refreshing.
If that doesn’t rock your socks, the highlight of this volume is the art of Herb Trimpe. Perhaps the artist most closely associated with the Hulk, Trimpe begins his long association with the Hulk in this volume. His work is good — more comfortable than standout, as gross exaggeration of the Hulk’s physique over the years has made his Hulk seem a little small in comparison. But for those who don’t pay attention to such things usually, this book shows the difference an inker (and reproduction, I fear) can have on a penciller’s work. Lines go from scratchy to clean and back again, heavy to light, etc. It’s not Trimpe’s fault, but it doesn’t bring out the best in his pencils.
The Hulk has a few of his B-grade villains created in this book: Bi-Beast, Zzzax, Harpy, the Wendigo. The creation of the Bi-Beast is bizarre and wonderful, something truly worthy of Jack Kirby’s fertile imagination. Instead, he was created by Steve Englehart and Trimpe.4 The thought of a comic with both Bi-Beast and MODOK but without the participation of Kirby makes me doubt Stan Lee’s all-encompassing wisdom.
As for the plots … well, they’re provided by a bunch of Marvel’s best in the ‘70s, but that doesn’t make the plots great. Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway, Archie Goodwin, Gary Friederich, and Englehart combined on the 28 stories in this volume, although few are memorable. (A side effect of the sprawling nature of the Hulk’s travels is that it often leaves a disconnect between stories.) Perhaps the worst of the stories is the “marry in haste, repent at leisure” wedding of longtime leading lady Betty to the man who had held a torch for her for years, Glen Talbot. The stories occasionally gain traction — the Hulk’s foray into Canada, for instance, when he first battles Wendigo — but mostly they’re as aimless as the hulk.
I liked this volume. But then again, I like this style of the Hulk.
Rating: (3 of 5)