Hulk annual #18
Issue(s): Hulk annual #18
In my interpretation, the villains are creations of Mentallo.
Note that it's the Hulk and the Thing's single-minded concentration that protects them from the attacks. But the MCP actually lists most of the attacking villains (Absorbing Man, Blastaar, Rhino, and Tyrannus, but not Quasimodo) as appearing in this issue. I'll also note that they don't list the Fixer, even though the guy sitting next to Mentallo seems to be him. In the MCP's defense on that point, note that Mentallo calls him "young man", which is a bit odd. I have listed Mentallo, but not the other villains. In any event, this is a little comedy story that shouldn't be taken too seriously. It ends with Mentallo dropping a bomb on the bar that the Hulk and the Thing are at, and the characters only notice that because it causes the furniture to fall apart and ruins their match.
Ok, on to the main story. As with the first story, it's written by Peter David. Kevin Maguire, normally a DC guy, is on pencils, and it's inked by Brad Vancata, except for the first and tenth page, which are by Josef Rubinstein.
The story has a man named Lucian Aster releasing a magic for dummies book called Spelling Made Easy, and while that's being announced, Rick Jones is attacked by a demon at the mall.
Rick gets the demon into a fountain and then throws in an electric guitar, the resulting shock disabling the creature. Then Hulk comes out of a changing room, ready to lead a troupe of boy scouts up a mountain.
The jolt transformed the demon into a woman, and it also has transferred the Sub-Mariner's mind into Rick Jones. Good thing, too, because someone had to say something about the Hulk's clothes.
Meanwhile, Ulysses and Delphi go to get Lucian Aster to autograph a copy of his book. When Delphi touches Aster, they both have a flash, and Aster flees. Any doubts the audience had about whether or not Aster is an ordinary guy are put to rest when we see his driver.
The Hulk takes the formerly demonic woman and Rick/Namor to Dr. Strange. Strange confirms that the woman had a copy of Aster's book. He also uses his powers to determine that Namor had been wandering around in Los Angeles with amnesia when he was captured by demons.
The problem is that Marlo also bought a copy of the book, so she turns into a demon.
Delphi also turns into a demon, and the two demons meet up and kiss.
Hulk uses a makeshift lightning rod to attract electricity that transforms both demons back into human form, although the resulting boom causes the Hulk to go temporarily deaf. Then Dr. Strange says that it's time for a Defenders re-union.
Of course it's an odd reunion, since Namor is currently in Rick Jones' body. Silver Surfer will be along eventually. Out in deep space, he's tormented by visions that turn out to be the work of the guy that Lucian Aster is working for, a being that is currently in Namor's body.
He will turn out to be Shanzar, from Hulk #370-371 (the story that made this Defenders reunion possible, or at least revealed that it was possible). We'll learn that Shanzar isn't the main boss of the story either.
A back-up story shows Agamemnon convincing Delphi to look into the future to see a potential threat named Dracchiss. But looking at him causes him to come into the present, and all the Pantheon (sans the Hulk) have to fight him. And it turns out that was Agamemnon's plan all along; Dracchiss was destined to cause trouble eventually, so might as well deal with it now. Dracchiss never appears again and it's not much of a story, so i'm not including any scans.
Another back-up shows a colleague of Doc Samson's snooping around in Samson's office and listening to a recording of what he thinks is Bruce Banner talking about how guilty he feels for the rampage that the Hulk went on in Hulk #316, the only incident where it's confirmed that the Hulk killed people.
However, the twist is that the recording was really created by Samson himself, using a voice modulator so that he could express his guilt without anyone finding out about it.
This is a noteworthy story because, as discussed in the entry and comments for Hulk #316, the events of that issue seemingly contradict a later statement by Amadeus Cho that the Hulk has never killed anyone. But Samson's guilt here seems to reinforce the theory that the incident being referenced here can be ignored, because Banner wasn't in control of the Hulk at the time - he was literally separated from him - which is why Samson is taking the blame.
There's also a review of the Hulk's villains in the form of a song by Rick Jones' band that i'm ignoring for placement purposes.
The main story is pretty fun, although it will go down in quality from here, in part due to the fact that Peter David isn't writing the rest of it and in part due to the nature of the big boss. The Pantheon back-up is uninteresting filler, but the Doc Samson story is a nice examination of a controversial story from the past, and the Thing/Hulk arm-wrestling match is fun. So overall it's a decent package. I do think Kevin Maguire's art is pretty weird, leaning too much on the comedy side, but that's a minor thing.
Quality Rating: B
Chronological Placement Considerations: This storyline takes place while the Sub-Mariner has amnesia, between Namor #25-26. This is part one of the Return of the Defenders. Part two is in Namor annual #2.
Crossover: Return of the Defenders
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (3): showAchilles, Agamemnon, Ajax, Atalanta, Betty Ross, Delphi, Doc Samson, Dr. Strange, Hector, Hulk, Lucian Aster, Marlo Chandler, Mentallo, Paris, Rick Jones, Shanzar, Silver Surfer, Sub-Mariner, Thing, Ulysses, Wong
Concentrating on arm wrestling and not defending themselves should make anyone more susceptible to attacks, not less.
Of course, it's all in service of a joke, and shouldn't be taken seriously.
Posted by: Mortificator | February 24, 2016 1:21 PM
Aside from the "young man" line, Mentallo's accomplice also calls him "sir," which I don't think the Fixer would do, given how long a partnership they've had. The Fixer's son, maybe? Fixer II: Electric Boogaloo? Miscommunication between the writer and artist?
Posted by: Thanos6 | February 24, 2016 4:39 PM
"Of course, it's all in service of a joke, and shouldn't be taken seriously."
That's the problem with Peter David in a nutshell. His jokes tend to come off as being more important than being consistent with the characters he's writing. This isn't an issue of "What The ?!". If the characters are "off", then it's just bad writing, regardless of whether or not the joke being told with them is actually funny.
I DO think that he's capable of good work....and that usually happened whenever he can actually curb his "aren't I so clever?" attempts at humor.
Posted by: Vincent Valenti | February 24, 2016 9:18 PM
Kewl, Joe Phillips mentored me for a few months in San Diego. Joe went on to pencil Superboy, and was busy with Mister Miracle a little before this back-up, his first work for Marvel. He and his brother Lex still create costumes for competitions, Joe Boy calendars, and make appearances at the Steampunk and Comic Con each year in SD. (I also met Batton Lash and Eric Shanower at his Christmas party, where I won a signed set of Age of Bronze tpb--a shout-out here to the Indy world.) I didn't think of the relevance of this little back-up in one of the critical questions about the Hulk! (If Joe thought about it, the job hadn't crossed his mind, he said, for 20 years, til I brought it up when I found this again a few months back.)
Posted by: Cecil Disharoon | February 25, 2016 1:46 AM
The Amadeus Cho theory is that the Hulk never killed because the suppressed mind of Banner somehow did "super-math" to make sure it didn't happen. But the Hulk in issue #316 is separated from Banner, so I suppose Cho's theory wouldn't apply.
Posted by: Omar Karindu | February 25, 2016 5:51 AM
@Vincent - to be fair, the armwrestling story is just a fun backup story in an annual. The main story is the point of the annual, the armwrestling bit is just a few pages of bonus stuff at the end. (It's vaguely reminiscent of a jokey armwrestling contest between Thor and Hercules, which was a a fun backup story in Thor #400.)
Peter David arguably did as much character work on The Hulk as anyone had up to that point (though building on the foundations set down by Mantlo/Windsor-Smith). There was a tradition in 90s annuals of dumb fun backup stories (and also increasingly pointless backup stories), I don't think this armwrestling is necessarily meant to have really happened, any more than Wasp & She-Hulk really sat round giving all of the Avengers guys marks out of 10 for attractiveness, or other similar dumb fun backups in Avengers annuals.
...I mean, if we're going to take this seriously, the whole point of every (Green) Hulk vs Thing fight is that the Hulk is much stronger than Ben, but Ben refuses to be defeated (and is a smarter/better fighter). But this is just a match of strength, so I can't see it being evenly matched, or even lasting long.
Posted by: Jonathan | February 25, 2016 3:17 PM
The arm-wrestling "back-up" is actually the first story in the annual, but i otherwise agree, Jonathan. It's definitely a light-hearted non-story. That said, i like the idea that the Hulk and the Thing were concentrating so hard on their arm-wrestling match that they're immune to Mentallo tampering with their mind. I think that actually makes a certain kind of sense.
Posted by: fnord12 | February 25, 2016 3:32 PM
I like Maguire for the humor stuff on Justice League (although he did solid work on Legion), but, yeah, when the art in your humorous opening story is better than than art in the main story (and I think it is, by a long way), that's a bad sign.
Posted by: Eric Beck | March 21, 2016 3:16 PM
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