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The ’90s Revisited: Incredible Hulk #350

90s_revisited

incredible_hulk_0350Before the Fall

Writer: Peter David
Penciler: Jeff Purves
Inker: Terry Austin
Letterer: Joe Rosen
Colorist: Petra Scotese
Editor: Bobbie Chase
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Date: December 1988
Cover Price: 75 Cents

I snagged this issue from a quarter bin because of the cover. Hulk, Thing, and Dr. Doom??? Yes, please! Of course, then I opened the issue, and first thing I really take in text-wise is a note to pick up Fantastic Four #320, first…apparently this issue picks up where that one left off.

How DIFFERENT this is from modern-day comics! Where if there’s any crossover like this at all, it’s some MAJOR EVENT, with SPECIAL BRANDING and COVER BLURBS and all that, Part #whatever of 6 or 9 or whatever chapters for some pre-figured collected edition!

Instead, no…it’s an issue I grabbed completely on its own, essentially my "first" in that I don’t know I’ve read anything from early in Peter David‘s run, know only tangentially/broad stuff from it, etc…and EVEN THOUGH the issue refers me to another first…I can STILL follow along in this issue, as it catches me up on or refers to essentials so that I can read this as it is, as a one-off issue, not part of some mega-event or gigantic crossover.

Much of this issue is a bit of a slugfest, with the Thing coming out the worse for the issue’s portrayal. We open on the Thing standing over the beaten-down form of the gray Hulk, while a green Hulk approaches, challenging him. Apparently the Thing has recently been greatly enhanced, with an odd extra-rocky physical shape and strength beyond what he’d had before, allowing him to come out on the winning side against the Hulk! While he tangles with the green Hulk, the gray Hulk wakes and is met by Dr. Doom, who reveals to him that the green Hulk is an advanced robot, and prods gray Hulk into challenging the Thing smartly. So he does–luring Thing into a hit-and-run match that with further strategy leaves Thing defeated, and gray Hulk finds himself ultimately chatting with Beast and being drawn into some other big thing going on.

That this is not some numbered chapter of some big event goes to the way Marvel comics used to be–simply a shared universe. Some villain might decide to tangle with a hero he doesn’t usually, but then that hero seeks out the usual hero for advice, thus drawing them into things, and eventually you have a "story" that effectively spans multiple titles…yet it’s not officially billed as such. Of course, this style was also when "collected volumes" and "graphic novels" as they’re known in 2018 were 20+ years in the future. Single issues were just that–single issues–and the Marvel Model was not All-Event, All-the-time.

Story-wise, I like what I got here, overall. It’s not my usual fare, and in some ways a bit "talky" and a bit "basic" or "convenient" (Dr. Doom palling around with Hulk and finding old Eternals tech, etc) and Thing vs. Hulk being something, and so on…but for an issue I picked up for 25 cents, it’s not bad, and was an entertaining sort of read, as well as a bit of a time capsule. 1988…30 years ago!

Visually, this definitely carried what I see (remember?) as a "house style" for characters, making them all definitely recognizable and such. While Thing is extra-rocky and I’m not fond of the look, I recall just enough Marvel history to know that he’s had several odd appearances, and that this was a temporary shift for him, obviously going on at the time this was published.

I’m sort of curious to read the Fantastic Four issue referenced, and even to follow this into Avengers Annual #17…but not really enough to make a big focus of tracking the issues down. If I think to, I may look for them in dollar bins at upcoming comic events I attend, but mostly I just enjoyed this as a 25-cent issue and something "different" to read. Though it’s only a "middle chapter" essentially, it has a definite sense of "authenticity" about it that I do not get from contemporary Marvel comics.

And look–it’s #350, a nice "anniversary-numbered" issue, and it’s only 75 cents, the standard/usual price. Not artificially inflated. And to my knowledge, no variant covers. It’s just a comic that’s glad to be a comic, that works as a comic, and doesn’t try to be anything else.

Definitely recommended if found in a bargain bin, but though more enjoyable in its way than many modern comics, not overly spectacular in and of itself–it’s not worth putting a big hunt in.

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The ’90s Revisited: Thor #500

90s_revisited

thor_500Sunlight and Shadows

Writer: Wm. Messner-Loebs
Artist: Mike Deodato Jr.
Lettering: Jonathan Babcock
Color Art: Marie Javins
Computer Separations: Malibu
Editor: Bobbie Chase
Editor-in-Chief: Bob Harras
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Date: July 1996
Cover Price: $2.50

I’ve long been "aware of" this issue. I vaguely recall seeing advertising for it–either in house ads, or Wizard Magazine, or both. And I’ve seen the cover image a number of times over the years. But somehow, I never before now actually got to READ the issue. I don’t THINK I’ve even owned a copy before now, as it’s not one that I "commonly" find in quarter bins and such. So when I recently came across it in a dollar bin, it felt like a no-brainer to pick up, to finally satisfy my curiosity at its content.

Plus, there’s the fact that it was "A Marvel 1st! Fantastic 500th Issue!" (as the cover proclaims). Back when Marvel titles had their LEGITIMATE numbering scheme, and many titles had high numbers, at that. This was Thor‘s 500th issue. Captain America was in the mid-400s; Fantastic Four had hit 400 about a year earlier, and Avengers had just crossed the 400 mark…and Uncanny X-Men wasn’t terribly far behind closing on 350ish, and I think even Incredible Hulk was somewhere in the latter 400s.

One of the more striking (for me) aspects of the cover is that THIS Thor has a rather savage look to him, and lacks really anything familiar-looking except the hammer. Wild, extremely-long hair, some sort of skintight costume that I would have sworn from "memory" was actually a shirtless-Thor getup (a trick of coloring, perhaps, given he IS shirtless within the issue, and the image for the next issue also shows him shirtless), and could almost be ’90s-Sabretooth’s brother quite easily by appearance.

As the issue opens, Thor is in the ruined city of Asgard, wondering what happened and where everyone has gone. He gets in a fight with some Trolls that have claimed the area, and eventually comes across several imprisoned/enslaved individuals…including Dr. Stephen Strange, aka Dr. Strange! Strange catches him up on a bit of recent stuff (presumably recounting the previous issue or few issues, if the reader–like myself–has not read them), and we head into the Enchantress teaming with a Frost Giant. When the Frost Giants attack Asgard’s ruins, they find Strange and Thor battle-ready; as well as a surprise "ally" in Ulik the Troll. Amidst the unfolding situation we learn that Odin had a plan to save the gods, involving their being sent to Earth as mortals with no memory of who/what they truly are. Thor regains his hammer, repels the invaders, and stands amidst his small band of allies as they realize their fight is not over, but must be continued on Earth!

Rounding out the issue, we have some pages of frivolous back-matter…a double-page quiz, a double-page primer of several of Thor’s looks over the years, a double-page ‘family tree’ of Odin; a double-page fact-sheet of Thor’s hammer, and two pages of letters (remember "letters pages"???).

The cover proclaims this as a "Double-Sized Issue!" but I only count 26 pages of story-content. I’m pretty sure–even in the 1990s–regular Marvel comics were NOT short 13-page stories! So that’s a bit misleading…at least if one (like me) counts an issue’s size on its STORY content, not so-called or frivolous "bonus content"/back matter (that if ever TRULY "bonus" would not be included in paid page count anyway). Including the backmatter and letters pages, I only count 36 non-ad pages, which still would suggest a non-double-sized issue would be only 18 pages. So while this might feel like a "bigger" issue (it does have "extra" pages/content), I don’t see that it qualifies as double-sized.

Then there’s the price of the issue: a big, round number 500, a Marvel first at the time, and the cover price was "only" $2.50 (at least the edition I have–if there were variant/other editions, I’m not aware off the top of my head) which is not MUCH more than the $1.50-$1.95ish I think most issues were at the time…while extra-sized issues tend to pose a better value as the extra pages don’t require an extra cover and separate physical production, I would expect a truly double-sized issue to have been in the $3-4 range in 1996.

Art-wise, the issue is not bad. I recognize Deodato‘s name at LEAST from being aware of his Wonder Woman work. Overall, though, I can’t say this issue’s art really stands out in and of itself…what stands out is the "Savage Thor" look as a character design, not necessarily (offhand) the art as art. Presumably Marvel was really going for the changed-up look to Thor, getting away from the ‘classic’ look(s), infusing the character with the wilder ’90s sensibility, and Deodato brought that to this issue quite successfully! Whether its Malibu‘s coloring, the art itself, or other factors, this vaguely puts me in mind of some Ultraverse stuff, with Thor on the cover looking like a wild-haired Hardcase with a hammer. I think the main complaint I’d have with the art is the stupid ’90s trend of double-page splashes where you have to physically turn the entire issue 90 degrees to follow. I’m pretty sure that the same dimensions could fit proportionately on a single page without having to be blown up double-sized, especially when there’s little to no dialogue to be read!

Story-wise, I didn’t really "get" much out of this issue. Something to it felt rather repetitive, as if Thor is always finding Asgard in ruins, the gods missing, and having to seek them out. Or always coming across an unexpected ally in odd circumstances. Or always fending off/facing attacking trolls and/or frost giants or dealing with the Enchantress. I definitely got the sense that this was a latter chapter of a story, and suspect I’d appreciate it a lot more if I’d read the previous several issues. I also have the 21-years-later knowledge of the title running only to #502 or so before reverting to Journey Into Mystery again for about a year, while Thor was in the Heroes Reborn world, prior to the launch of the Heroes Return iteration of the title. That there are 2 more issues of this title AS Thor make this feel like a not-quite-penultimate chapter. Of course, having had only the initial "hype" around the time this issue was originally published combined with its continuing "mystery" to me for just over two decades, I cannot be too surprised that this failed to meet a thus-built set of expectations of grandeur and awesomeness.

Given the 20+ years since this was published, the 1998 reboot, the JMS reboot, the last few years’ Unworthy Thor stuff, and the new Legacy renumbering to #700 (200 issues SINCE this one!)…this doesn’t feel all that relevant nor particularly memorable or of any real significance…at least as a random, arbitrary single issue.

If you’re seeking it out already because of a personal interest, this is well worth the $1 or so if it’s in a bargain bin. I don’t recommend it just for the sake of reading a #500, or just to read an arbitrary anniversary issue or such. If you’re reading stuff from this period it’s probably more worthwhile, or as a focal issue to build a short reading-run around. Had I gotten this from a quarter-bin instead of $1-bin, I probably would have snagged from #490 or so through #502 and perhaps tried to read the run as a larger single story.

This issue leaves me curious as to the full "end" of the volume, and I realized I have the Journey Into Mystery run that followed as a collected edition, so if I get particularly ambitious, I can probably fill in context before and see where things go quite easily if I so choose.

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The ’90s Revisited: The Incredible Hulk #444

incrediblehulk444Cable Vision

Writer: Peter David
Penciler: Angel Medina
Inker: Robin Riggs
Lettering: Richard Starkings and Comicraft
Colors: Glynis Oliver
Enhancement: Malibu
Assistant Editor: Polly Watson
Editor: Bobbie Chase
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Price: $1.50
Cover Date: August, 1996

It’s amazing how much “context” can play a role in a random issue working or not. This issue is labeled as Onslaught: Impact 1, meaning it was an “impact” issue of the first month of Onslaught. From what I recall, there were two types of issues associated with Onslaught: the Phase 1/2/3 issues, and the Impact 1/2/3 issues. Phase were main parts of the “core” story, while the Impact issues were much looser tie-ins…literally “impacted” by Onslaught, but not having much to do with the main story.

I pulled this issue from the quarter bin for that Onslaught tag. Reading it reminded me just how “loose” the tie-in could be. The basic premise of this issue is that Onslaught has basically wiped the Hulk’s mind, setting him on killing Cable. Banner’s been blocked out, so there’s just the mindless, mission-centered beast. The issue opens with Cable already beaten and barely conscious…the only other ally trying to save him is X-man Storm. The issue is basically one long fight-scene, as Storm turns the elements on the Hulk, and a death-ready Cable rallies and does what he can in his state. Eventually the two manage to develop a risky plan to break Onslaught’s control, and restore the Hulk.

Story-wise, there’s not exactly a lot to this issue. And yet, it shows that David “gets” the X-characters, writing a decent Cable and an impressive (at least power-wise) Storm. But, being a big fight sequence, there’s not exactly much character development…moreso we seem to have had a plot point (Onslaught possesses Hulk) that had to be dealt with to get the Hulk from there to the next plot point (back to being himself again, but Really Very Ticked-Off At Onslaught).

Visually, the art’s not bad, though nothing wonderful. The coloring seemed somehow kinda dull, and the Hulk’s shade of green especially a bit different, more subdued, than what I’m used to for the character. I’m also not all that familiar with this particular interpretation of the Hulk…but knowing this was the “Banner’s consciousness/Hulk’s body” era…and the mid-’90s (and this being a single, isolated issue I’m reading) that mostly gets a pass.

Overall, not a bad issue, but nothing spectacular. I don’t believe I’d ever read this back in the ’90s when originally published, so it was interesting to read a loose tie-in to Onslaught, and getting a single-issue “feel” for the “impact” of that story on this title prior to the bigger shakeup of losing Banner but keeping the Hulk that was the status quo once Onslaught ended.

As a 25-cent issue in an age of $3.99 comics, this was a decently enjoyable issue…but I’m not sure I would care for it without already having a working knowledge of the “main” Onslaught story. Taken by itself as a random issue and being a big fight scene, it’s not really something to specifically seek out unless you’re looking for all the Onslaught issues, or a complete PAD run on this title.

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