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1984-07-01 00:07:10
Previous:
Defenders #133
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1984/Box 20/EiC: Jim Shooter
Next:
Avengers annual #13

Hulk #297-300

Issue(s): Hulk #297, Hulk #298, Hulk #299, Hulk #300
Published Date: Jul-Oct 84
Title: "Sleep, my child... and peace attend thee all through the night!" / "Sleepwalker!" / "Strange days have found us!" / "Days of rage!"
Credits:
Bill Mantlo - Writer
Sal Buscema - Penciler
Gerry Talaoc - Inker

Review/plot:
So there's no doubt that this arc is Bill Mantlo's greatest work on Hulk, and it's probably his greatest work at Marvel. We've been building to this since at least Hulk #292, and it shows Bruce Banner's struggle to retain control of his inner rage. And when he loses it, he tragically loses all the way. Plus, it ends with a huge super-hero fight, and who doesn't love those?

This doesn't mean it's a great story, however. Bill Mantlo wasn't one of Marvel's top writers, and this issue has a lot of his usual problems. Too much melodrama. Stilted dialogue. And one of the biggest problems is similar to the problem with the way this uber-story began back in Hulk #272. That's when Bruce Banner gained control of the Hulk. But he didn't do it through science. And he didn't do it through psychology or meditation, learning to control his inner beast. No, he gained control of the Hulk because a space turtle used a mega-dose of gamma rays to send the Hulk home from an adventure on another planet.

Similarly, Banner's reversion to the Hulk is due to the manipulations of Nightmare. Banner hasn't slowly been losing his grip on his mind because he's been bad at reigning in his aggression, or because he was too cavalier in working with gamma radiation in his lab, or anything that is specific to the character of Bruce Banner. There's no character arc here. Just good things happening, and then bad things happening.

Now to be fair, Nightmare works a lot better than Uncle Pyko. Nightmare is a metaphorical character. He represents the fears of whatever character he's tormenting. So you might say that it was Banner's fears that caused him to lose control, ironically causing exactly what he was afraid of. And there's also a quick line of dialogue that says that Nightmare was just helping things along and that what happens in this arc would have happened eventually. But that's not what we've been seeing. We've seen Banner plagued by nightmares; stalked by a savage Hulk in his dreams. And Nightmare makes it clear, he's doing this to the Hulk not because the Hulk is his great nemesis, or because Banner's anguished brain was like candy to him, but only because the Hulk is friends with Dr. Strange, and Nightmare hates Dr. Strange. So this is really a Defenders story.

But whatever. We've plowed through Mantlo stories much worse than this. So we're going to dig in and enjoy this one for what it is. And vaguely literary concerns aside, it really is a lot of fun.

We start with the Hulk in the aftermath of a huge rampage in New Jersey. He's not talking like Banner any more. He's back in pure Hulk smash mode. "What is wrong with Hulk? Why can't Hulk remember where he is going?"

Then we switch to Gabriel Jones from SHIELD, surveying the destruction with Kate Waynesboro. As my friend Wanyas points out, Gabe Jones is such a badass, he answers caption boxes.

Back to the Hulk, who is attacking the local wildlife.

Eventually the Hulk falls asleep and begins to dream. Or rather, have a nightmare. And now we learn who's been behind all of this.

And let's face it: Sal Buscema draws an awesome Nightmare. So let's just revel in it for a bit.

The gist of it is: Nightmare hates Dr. Strange, but can't beat him directly. So he's going to send the Hulk after him. On the way to Strange's house in Manhattan, we see a vicious, angry Hulk, certainly unlike what we've seen for the past 30 issues, and really nothing like what we've seen before.

But so far he is still talking. He's got some intelligence left.

SHIELD catches up with the Hulk, but Gabe is still trying to subdue, not kill the Hulk. His attack is ineffective.

That doesn't stop Gabe, though. Gabe is still a badass.

Kate's melodramatic sobbing is enough to briefly turn Hulk back into Banner, but only briefly.

Despite the fact that both Kate and Gabe were hit by the Hulk, they aren't dead. So they catch up with the Hulk again a little later, at the Lincoln Tunnel. This time, Kate's sobbing doesn't even transform the Hulk into Bruce for a second.

But she has it better than Gabe. In Gabe's second confrontation, we're told, "One backhand blow, and yet Gabe feels rib cage and collarbone crack."

The Hulk is a lot more feral now. No dialogue. Just growls. Until he reaches Dr. Strange's house. Dr. Strange responds, and halts the Hulk with a single finger.

He probes the Hulk's mind, and discovers who's been manipulating the Hulk.

Inside the Hulk's mind, Dr. Strange restores Bruce Banner. Strange's plan is to drive Nightmare out, and return Bruce to his old status quo, sharing a body with the Hulk. Banner has other ideas, however. Inside the Hulk's brain, Banner chooses to transform back into the Hulk, where he confronts Nightmare. The Hulk basically punches Nightmare out of his head. But that's it for Banner. Strange says, "...the personality of Bruce Banner is no more." What's left is a completely savage Hulk, who leaps away after weakening Strange by pounding relentlessly on his mystic shields.

Once it's determined that the Hulk has completely lost all of his humanity, SHIELD decides that it's ok to attempt to kill, instead of subdue, the Hulk. They go so far as to use napalm. "The conventions of civilized warfare will be set aside to deal with this unconventional enemy of civilization."

But now we get into the really fun stuff. New York's super-heroes start to get in on the act. Daredevil and Spider-Man just provide background support, helping the crowds and falling SHIELD agents.

The Human Torch is the first super-hero to actually confront the Hulk. The rest of the FF is unavailable, and there's not much he could do on his own (he considers going nova but worries about the damage to the city.

Not sure if even going nova would have helped, but the Torch's indecision costs him, and the Hulk claps him away. Luckily Power Man and Iron Fist are there.

Unfortunately, they don't fare much better.

Then the A-listers show up.

Starfox is shown using his "pleasure power", which the other Avengers don't know about yet. It's possible to read the scene as if the other Avengers don't know what Starfox is doing, but it's the most overtly that i've seen him use the power at this point.

Still, it doesn't work.

Truth be told, the Avengers don't do much better than the previous lot of heroes (although at least they don't get knocked out and at least manage to hurt the Hulk).

Not even Captain Marvel's gamma energy significantly affects the Hulk.

It's really all about Thor. He patiently stands back "while the Vision did name the order of the battle", but when the Vision gets pounded into the concrete, he figures it's his turn.

And it's a pretty awesome battle.

The "pure adamantium" statue that Alicia Masters sculpted of the Hulk for his amnesty celebration has been looming in the background of scenes since at least Hulk #294, which was cool. In this issue, it's used as a weapon against the Hulk's hammer. The text refers to the status as "indestructible", but it's also shown to be damaged from when Thor slams the Hulk into it. Maybe it's just that the pedestal isn't adamantium. If indeed it is damaged, this will have to be the "secondary adamantium" that Kurt Busiek introduced in his Avengers run to explain these situations where indestructible adamantium proves... destructible.

While all the heroes are fighting the Hulk, Dr. Strange is scanning the known dimensions, looking for a place to banish the now mindless Hulk (and looking at this, i have to wonder why Sal Buscema never got to draw an extended run on Dr. Strange's book).

Finally, he decides to not send him to any one specific dimension, but to allow the Hulk to wander between dimensions and find his own way. So he appears at the battle site and banishes the Hulk to what will be called the Crossroads of Reality.

Kate Waynesboro has had a scene in each of these four issues wherein she cries for a few panels. Weepy Kate makes one final appearance in issue #300, and it's the last we'll see of her. Ever. In a way, she kind of represents all the worst parts of Mantlo, endlessly sobbing, endlessly spouting exposition, always getting kidnapped. So we're happy to say goodbye.

(Although i am surprised no other writer has ever thought to bring her back; 'the agent who once dated the Hulk' would make for an interesting supporting character sometime when a generic SHIELD character is needed. Update: It turns out that Waynesboro is brought back, years later in the World War Hulk era, and receives "old power" from Hiroim of the Warbound).

We've had about 30 issues of Bruce Banner in control. At the end of this arc, Bruce is gone. After this arc, we're going to be seeing pure Hulk for about a year. This was certainly a fun arc, and Sal Buscema definitely pulled out all the stops for issue #300.

Quality Rating: B

Historical Significance Rating: 3 - Banner loses control of the Hulk. Hulk banished to Crossroads of Reality.

Chronological Placement Considerations: It's sort of implied that the Hulk went directly from the confrontation with Max Hammer in Hulk #296 to to the rampage that we see the results of in the beginning of #297, but that's not necessarily the case. There is room for the Hulk's appearance in Fantastic Four #266-268 (at least as much as there is room for the Hulk to appear in FF any time after Secret Wars - see my note in the Hulk #264-265 entry for more details.

Throughout this arc, there are references to Nick Fury not being available due to the SHIELD miniseries (sometimes referred to as a Nick Fury miniseries). Based on the events of that mini-series, Fury is no longer running SHIELD. Only... there was no SHIELD miniseries in 1984. The events described sound vaguely like the Nick Fury vs. SHIELD series from 1988. Maybe the series was originally planned for earlier but it got pushed back? In any event, Nick Fury is popping up in the X-Men, Avengers, and Thor around this time, so i think it's safe to say whatever event was keeping Nick Fury away didn't last much longer than this story arc.

The Human Torch thinks to himself, "Reed and Sue are out of town! The Thing's off on some other planet!". But it's not said why She-Hulk, who would seem to be an obvious choice to bring in against the Hulk, isn't around.

The Avengers that arrive are lead by the Vision and composed of the Scarlet Witch, the Wasp, Thor, Starfox, and Captain Marvel. Captain America is also a member of the Avengers at this time but i guess he was off on a solo mission.

References:

  • When Gabriel Jones first appears in this arc, there's a reference to the mysteries SHIELD miniseries, and also a reference to his appearances in Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos, as well as "current issues of ROM, Space Knight". No issue numbers for any of these. The ROM issue refers the the fact that SHIELD has become aware of the Dire Wraith threat, so we can link to ROM #53 (even though Gabe doesn't actually appear in that issue).
  • There's a couple of references to the Hulk's pardon in Hulk #278.
  • The break-up of the original Defenders in Defenders #125 temporarily set back Nightmare's plans for attacking Dr. Strange through one of his allies.
  • The Torch's reference to the Thing being on "some other planet" has a footnote for "current issues of Secret Wars and The Thing".
  • There's a reference to the fact that the Hulk was a founding member of the Avengers. No footnote, but of course that was Avengers #1.

Cross-over: N/A

Continuity Implant? N

Reprinted In: N/A

Inbound References (18): show

Characters Appearing: Captain Marvel (Monica Rambeau), Daredevil, Dr. Strange, Gabriel Jones, Hulk, Human Torch, Iron Fist, Kate Waynesboro, Luke Cage, Nightmare, Scarlet Witch, Spider-Man, Starfox, Thor, Vision, Wasp, Wong

Previous:
Defenders #133
Up:
Main
1984/Box 20/EiC: Jim Shooter
Next:
Avengers annual #13

Comments

The title to #297 refers to an old British tune/ hymn, and #299 is a lyric from "Strange Days" from the same-titled 1967 Doors album.

Nick Fury Vs. SHIELD was indeed the footnoted series, and it was delayed due to various production/format issues.

gotta love Iron Fist going to confront the Hulk with nothing more than his bad ass Kung Fu.

Not bad for an abnormally large issue.

Bill Sienkiewicz was the originally announced cover artist for #300.


 
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