Well, we're in the final hours of waiting until INCREDIBLE HULK #611 comes out tomorrow, so I wanted to do something special to commemorate. I'll break this up over a few days--and it will likely be interrupted by the chaos that is IH #611 tomorrow--but for now, let's step in the Way Back Machine: here's a posting first made on the Incredible Hulk Message Board on July 8, 2004! Without further ado, presented just as it was then...
Why I Thought Bill Mantlo Was
The Best Hulk Writer, Period.*
(* as of 2004!)
Part 1: The Incredible Hulk #245-271
Yeah, I know, I've said it before, haven't I? Bruce Jones is, in my estimation, the writer who has had the worst "take" on my favorite character in the entire 42-year history of said character. (Note: This statement is quite different from "Bruce Jones is the worst writer to ever be on HULK," which implies largely that Bruce Jones is a bad writer; past stories have proven this to be far from the case.)
But who's the best INCREDIBLE HULK writer there is, to date? Who captured, as the French call it, the "Je nai sais quoi," that which words fail to adequately describe? At the risk of sounding pretentious (TOO LATE!), I'm placing my vote for Bill Mantlo, who I only wish could read and adequately respond to the praise I'm about to heap upon the man in big, stinking buckets.
Bill Mantlo had a gift for building on the portrayal of ol' Greenskin that Roger Stern had established directly before him. At a time when the Hulk television show was king, the title did become formulaic and, to an extent, there existed surface similarities to the current run in that regard. Bruce Banner began the run a nomad, a fugitive because of the beast within him. Hounded by the United States Army, with "Project: Greenskin" increasingly scaled down in scope, one man, Glenn Talbot, its increasingly-obsessed center; distanced seemingly forever from those he loved, Betty Ross and Rick Jones; forced to seek sanctuary among monsters similar to the one within him; with heroes in the eyes of the world-at-large cum villains in the eyes of the Hulk, Bruce Banner struggled onward.
Mantlo's first triumphs came in the form of a nagging plotline left over from Len Wein's days on board the emerald behemoth's title--what to do with Jarella? As Hulk fans may remember, the alien woman of the Hulk's dreams met her demise whilst rescuing a small child from falling debris during a battle between the Hulk and the robotic Crypto-Man, sent at the whim of a mystery enemy whose identity remains unknown to this very day. (Hmm...) The Hulk then embarked on a brutal rampage, refusing to believe Jarella dead. After finally gaining acceptance of his loss, well...what became of Jarella's body? We the readers discovered alongside the Hulk that Gamma Base still possessed her dead corpus. Whether they wanted to dissect it for military applications or merely contain it for fear of other-dimensional contagion, the Hulk didn't care and neither did we. She had to be freed, whatever the cost, and given a proper burial on her homeworld of K'ai! The storyline in those first four issues pitted the Hulk against a howling-mad Talbot in Mandroid armor and Captain Mar-Vell, himself an alien. The Hulk returned to K'ai, finding it a wasteland beyond description thanks to his own interventions. Finally, he found the Gardener, divesting him of his Soul Gem and in so doing gave the planet back its life. Finally, in a bittersweet moment, the Hulk said his final goodbyes to Jarella and left, returning to Earth, contented for only the moment.
Yes, the Hulk is a rampaging engine of destruction, but he is also, first and foremost as Mantlo establishes, a man, with a full range of emotions, just a lot less control of such emotions. He's not dumb, but rather, his brain can be "clouded" at times. He can tap into the intellectual half of himself, into Banner, but clearly doesn't like doing so, preferring to rely largely on instinct, on strength, and yes, savagery.
And so it went, with the Hulk not only surviving but thriving in battles sometimes much larger than himself, against opponents such as the Silver Surfer, the 3-D Man, Thor, the Presence, the Absorbing Man, Dire Wraiths, Avalanche, Landslide, the Corrupter, the High Evolutionary, Glorian, and the Galaxy Master. Along the way, he also discovered new allies and menaces, such as Woodgod's group of Changelings, the U-Foes, Sabra, the Arabian Knight, the Soviet Super-Soldiers, and the Texas Rangers. Colonel Glenn Talbot went insane and embarked on his final vengeance streak against the Hulk, perishing in Japan as his War Wagon downed in flames. All the while, the Hulk was a vital character, immersed in the narratives, especially in the battle with Sabra, during which he provided unique childlike insight into the Israeli/Palestinian conflict (Read INCREDIBLE HULK #256! Now!). The Hulk had a sense of worldliness, of this and other worlds.
This first third of Mantlo's run climaxed beautifully, with an emotional, heartfelt reunion between Bruce and his true love, Betty, and his best friend, Rick Jones. Rick even began to gather a new Teen Brigade, echoing his roots in the 1960s Hulk tales. Betty and Bruce remained at arm's-length, however, with her fondly wishing for a life without the Hulk, with a cure for Bruce. Rick, by contrast, seemed to be eager to move into the role, if role there could truly be. But it seemed, especially through these last few issues, that Bruce and Hulk would never be free, that the Hulk would always be there.
Then came Bereet. A leftover from the days of the RAMPAGING HULK magazine series, itself full of historical inaccuracies yet allegedly taking place between HULK #6 and TALES TO ASTONISH #59, Bereet came to observe the "real" Hulk, and in doing so established that the RAMPAGING stories were a fallacy, a fiction, created as entertainment for her Krylorian brethren. This time, she wished to do more research, to immerse herself in the Hulk's world and film a documentary feature she could show to her race in hopes of further renown and treasure. She couldn't have known what she was getting into, as no sooner did she arrive than so too did three extraterrestrial invaders: Night-Crawler, of the Dark Dimension (himself introduced in INCREDIBLE HULK #126); Torgo of Mekka (he of the Lee-Kirby FANTASTIC FOUR circa #91); and Amphibion of Xantares (introduced in TALES TO ASTONISH #72), two of the three of whom the Hulk battled before. Collectively known as the "Hulk Hunters," their duty, as given by Empress Daydra of the Sagittarian Empire, was to recruit the Hulk to help defeat one he had thought he'd killed--the Galaxy Master. The spacefiend had also recruited a herald, one to prepare worlds for his coming: the Hulk's old foe, the Abomination, whom the Master had also made stronger than ever.
While the Hulk was exiled offworld, Bereet decided to insert herself into the lives of those the Hulk and Banner loved, seeing firsthand Betty's disdain for the lunacy Bruce's life had become and for those that life attracted. She also saw the plight of Rick Jones, who believed that the Hulk potentially would not return and sought to make himself a new, replacement Hulk (ages before such a thought would become commonplace to superhero comics). The attempt failed, however, and Rick lapsed into a coma, his body surrounded in an eerie, gamma-green glow. Only Bereet's machines kept him clinging to any sort of life...and the Hulk was nowhere to be found.
Having defeated the Galaxy Master and the Abomination, the Hulk was lost in the cosmos. He surfaced on the world inhabited by intelligent animal-like creatures, the most recognizable of which was Rocket Raccoon. Borrowing heavily from the Beatles' hit "Rocky Raccoon," the Hulk was set on a quest to find Gideon's Bible for the weaselly Uncle Pyko. Once he did so, Pyko arranged a journey home for Greenskin...
And that's where the first third of Bill Mantlo's run, the part that actually, astonishingly, features the savage incarnation most extensively--ends. The dramatic ramifications of the final pieces of this act will be examined next time, in my analysis of issues #272-299.
(Yup, it's TO BE HULKINUED, suckers!:-P)