So apparently, a lot of Hulk fans were a little unhappy after the release of Incredible Hulks #622. I couldn't imagine why.
I'm not going to go on too long about this, but I do want to say a couple of things.
First, I'm a Hulk fan. I have been ever since I started reading comics. I can relate to the urge to get angry when our favorite green guy is laid low. But to be honest I have a difficult time getting angry about this. It would be different if we were talking about a less powerful hero or villain, but this is Zeus. Not just a god, but a ruler of gods. The kind of guy that people like Eternity and the Living Tribunal ring up when they need a hand. I'm not going to get too angry about Hulk losing to him. No, we shouldn't petition for Joe Casey's return to the title because you never know when a local zoo will have a prison break, but I don't think this is exactly the same thing.
Second, I can't tell anyone else how to read comics or why or what to like. I can say from experience that if you allow the question of whether or not your favorite hero wins a fight govern whether or not you are going to enjoy comics, occasionally you are going to be very disappointed.
Third and finally, the funny thing is I've really been hating Incredible Hulks and yet this Zeus/Hulk thing has nothing to do with it other than the fact that the whole point of "God Smash" escapes me. I liked the allusions to Incredible Hulk: The End vis-a-vis Hulk-as-Prometheus, but that was about all I liked.
And while I could go on for a while about what I haven't liked about Incredible Hulks, I'll settle for asking...Greg, do we really need all this goddamn Hulk puke?
Get some Hulk Dramamine or something dude. It's freaking gross.
Regardless, since so many of us are upset about Hulk getting too many lightning bolts to the face, I thought I'd try to apply a band-aid with a little nostalgic look back to Hulk brawls I find memorable. At the end of January I posted a list of memorable super brawls and I tried very hard to not stack the thing with Hulk fights. Now's my chance to give the green guy his due. Specifically, I've chosen fights when the Hulk has battled other superheroes because, well, why not?
These are not all necessarily memorable because they were big, explosive fistfights. Some are memorable because of the story, or simply because of what was going through my head at the time. And they aren't ranked in any kind of order of preference.
--Hulk and the Warbound vs. the Avengers and Fantastic Four in World War Hulk #2 by Greg Pak and John Romita, Jr.
World War Hulk #2 was my favorite issue of the mini. If you're looking for an innovative story, World War Hulk isn't going to be what quenches your thirst, but the battle in this issue was expertly choreographed by Greg Pak and John Romita, Jr. What I loved the most were the perfect little character moments in the middle of the battle, like this interesting little grunting communication between the Hulk and the Thing. Something close to camaraderie passes between Hulk and Ben Grimm here. I think out of all the heroes Hulk tears through in the series, Ben Grimm is the only one who still commands at least some of his respect. After all, he isn't one of the four Illuminati members he's returned to Earth to take vengeance upon, and unlike the Avengers Grimm dares to take Hulk on one-on-one. And of course, Grimm has a long history of playing underdog against the Hulk. It gives me the impression that this is the only moment in all of World War Hulk in which the Hulk genuinely enjoys himself a little bit. He's so revenge-minded throughout most of it that you don't get the sense he's really reveling in any of it; he's just gone wild.
--Hulk vs. Thor in Thor #385 by Jim Shooter, Stan Lee and Erik Larsen
Just like my first example, I mentioned Thor #385 in that January 27th 10 Memorable Super Brawls post, but both HAD to be listed here too (which is why I'm getting them out of the way up front).
Other than to note that I was surprised to be reminded that it was actually Erik Larsen who drew this comic, I'll just paste in what I wrote for my January 27th post:
I haven't browsed enough comic solicits lately to know whether or not they still do it, but the phrase "cover-to-cover battle" used to be bandied about quite a bit, but you knew it wasn't completely true. No matter how heavy the fighting was, you'd always have at least a page or two of exposition.
In that respect, Thor #385 is no different, but it's just about as close to a true cover-to-cover battle as a Marvel comic ever got. The Hulk/Thor rivalry is as old as Marvel's superhero kingdom, but it's safe to say this is the most brutal battle between them. The Hulk is depicted as particularly vicious, at one point threatening to kill a woman if Thor won't relinquish his hammer. If I recall correctly, Stan Lee meant for this to be the so-called "mindless" Hulk, but either didn't know or didn't care that the mindless Hulk was basically just a dumb animal who didn't even have the low-bar "Hulk Smash" speech capacity. Instead he just wrote the classic "Hulk Smash" Hulk, just as more of a bastard.
It was written as a fill-in, but to anyone who's ever cared either way about the Hulk/Thor rivalry, it's required reading.
--Hulk vs. Superman in Incredible Hulk Vs. Superman by Roger Stern and Steve Rude
Incredible Hulk Vs. Superman is easily my favorite of the Marvel/DC crossovers. Rather than simply building a story to facilitate a clash from different companies' heroes, the creative team of Incredible Hulk Vs. Superman had a lot of fun with it, writing a retrospective story set in the Silver Age, letting characters like Betty Ross, Lois Lane, Rick Jones and Lex Luthor mingle with each other back when Lex still had a little hair left and the Hulk's identity was still a secret one.
Hulk and Superman do trade blows, a couple of times actually, but you're not going to get any kind of knock-down, bloody fist brawl to prove which one is better. It's just a fun comic celebrating the heyday of superheroes.
--Hulk vs. Captain America and Doc Samson in Incredible Hulk #406 by Peter David and Gary Frank
This wasn't a particularly huge brawl, but I include it because it's an example of when the story behind the fight had me rooting for the Hulk harder than ever.
This was a fight over Marlo, Rick Jones's girlfriend (later his wife, I don't remember whether or not they were engaged at this point). Marlo had been killed 9 or 10 issues previous by a crazy woman posing as Rick's long lost mother. The Leader attempted to resurrect Marlo with his servant Soul Man, but the Hulk interrupted the process. The result was a living but catatonic Marlo.
But Rick refused to give up on her, even when Marlo's brothers showed up demanding to take her back to her family. Knowing about Rick's connections with the Hulk, the cops call Captain America for help. Cap tries to talk Rick down, but when the Hulk shows up things get punchy pretty quick. Doc Samson shows up later and both he and Cap try futilely to put a dent in Hulk while Rick fights off the cops and Marlo's brothers.
As a Hulk fan it was gratifying first because Rick chooses Hulk over Cap, as opposed to the choice he made long ago that sparked another battle on this list. And in the end, when Marlo finally wakes up, the Hulk actually turns out to be on the right side of the battle. Finally, of course, there's the simple fact that Marlo does wake up. Peter David had gotten me used to her and I wasn't happy when she died. Having her return was a nice victory.
--Hulk vs. Everyone and Your Mom in Incredible Hulk #300 by Bill Mantlo, Sal Buscema and Gerry Talaoc
Okay, well quite not Your Mom, but a lot of people. The NYPD, S.H.I.E.L.D., Human Torch, Power Man, Iron Fist and the Avengers all try and fail to stop the Hulk's rampage. The Hulk's deadly progress through New York City isn't brought to a halt until Doctor Strange shows up and banishes the Hulk to a funky interdimensional crossroads for a year.
Doctor Strange can be a real asshole.
Forgive the tangent, but in all seriousness I was a little ticked off with the Hulk forgiving Doctor Strange at the end of the Chaos War arc. Why forgive him? First of all, why is the Hulk forgiving Doctor Strange even a narrative priority? Are they rooming together? Second, exactly what the hell did Doctor Strange do to earn forgiveness? He turned into a demon and attacked the Hulk at a pretty inopportune moment. I don't think my first thought would be to reconcile. No, it may not have been Strange's fault that he was used that way, but still I don't see how Strange's possession by a demon plucked at the Hulk's heartstrings.
--Hulk vs. Doc Samson in Incredible Hulk #319 by John Byrne
I'm specifying Incredible Hulk #319, but really I kind of see the conflict between Samson and Hulk as something that stretches across Byrne's entire first arc. Samson never hounded Hulk as much as he did in Byrne's first run, and his pursuit resulted in some beautiful fight scenes. I just wish they didn't include a version of the Hulk that was basically just a big, dumb monkey.
--Hulk vs. the Maestro in Incredible Hulk: Future Imperfect #2 by Peter David and George Perez
The build up to the first meeting between the Hulk and his tyrannical future self was done so wonderfully that for me this may have been the single most anticipated Hulk battle of all time.
And, you know, keeping the whole Hulk vs. Zeus disappointment in mind, any Hulk/Maestro battle is good for Hulk pride. No matter who loses, the Hulk wins. It's perfect.
--The "Ultimate" versions of Hulk and Wolverine fighting in Ultimate Wolverine Vs. Hulk by Damen Lindelof and Lenil Franics Yu
Just look at it. Let's not even say much. Just look at it. Picture it in your mind. Breathe in. Breathe out. Feel the joy spread to your toes.
--Hulk vs. the Avengers and Fantastic Four in Fantastic Four #s 25-26 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
A wonderful couple of comics for so many reasons. A huge, Kirby-rendered battle. The first honest-to-Hulk tussle between the Hulk and the Thing. And, I think it may be safe to say this is the first story to punctuate just how dominant the Hulk was among the other heroes as far as pure power was concerned. He does very well against both teams, though part of this is due in no small part to some great, goofy scenes highlighting how badly the FF and Avengers are at working together; like Mister Fantastic accidentally lassoing Iron Man and, my personal favorite, Thor missing the Hulk and instead clocking Ben Grimm with mjolnir.
If I'm ever rich I'm going to hire someone to build a massive diorama reproducing the cover of Fantastic Four #26.
--Hulk vs. Daredevil in Daredevil #163 by Roger McKenzie and Frank Miller
I'm surprised Daredevil #163 isn't more well-remembered, at least in Hulk comics. I can't remember a single example of a story referencing this great issue which, I have been told by other fans, was written as a tribute to the classic Daredevil/Namor battle of Daredevil #7.
Daredevil, as you can probably guess, doesn't have a snowball's chance in this fight but he still gives it everything he's got. What's even more impressive is that even as he's on the verge of collapse, Daredevil seems more concerned with Hulk's tragic life than his own. It's a great story and I remember when I first read it I desperately wanted for Banner and Murdock to become friends.
--Hulk vs. Thor in Defenders #10 by Steve Englehart and Sal Buscema
Hulk and Thor end the Avengers/Defenders War by hitting each other a lot and destroying a significant amount of property. Whenever you look at a list of Defenders comics in a price guide, you always hit a spike at #10. This is why. 'Nuff said.
--Hulk vs. Namor in Defenders #52 by David Kraft and Keith Giffen
Hulk and Namor cause millions in property damage, pretty much because Namor was a little rude to Hulk. Easily my favorite tussle between Hulk and Subby, in part because of its goofy beginnings.
--Hulk vs. Thing in Fantastic Four #320 by Steve Englehart and Keith Pollard and Incredible Hulk #350 by Peter David and Jeff Purves
Ugh. Talk about bad memories. See, this is why I can hardly get angry for Zeus beating up Hulk. I remember when they let silly-ass Ben Grimm knock him out.
I don't think I have ever been more upset with a single comic as I was with Fantastic Four #320. When the story continued in Incredible Hulk #350 there was some degree of vindication, but I didn't forget the humiliation I felt at Hulk's defeat in the earlier issue. If I remember correctly I was in eighth or ninth grade when this came out, and I was so angry I wrote my first piece of fan fiction with, you guessed it, a brawl between the Hulk and the Thing with the Hulk winning this time.
After reading the story, I went on and on with anyone who would listen about how dumb the story was, and how many flaws there were. Of course, in the end I had to admit I was just angry that Hulk lost the fight, but the truth is that the story was pretty dumb. It begins with Doom wanting to forge an alliance with Hulk, a plot point that goes absolutely nowhere. The arrangement is briefly referenced in an "Acts of Vengeance" issue of Incredible Hulk and that's it. What was particularly silly is how the Hulk approached the fight. This was the gray Hulk, who was known for his craftiness. And it was during a very specific period in which the gray Hulk was able to stop himself from turning back to Banner, but he was much weaker during the day. So this craftier Hulk attacks the Thing, who he knows has been amped up recently, in broad daylight. Why? Makes no sense. It makes no sense how he did it, and it makes no sense that he did it.
Yes, yes, I am a sore loser. Screw you.
--Hulk vs. Alpha Flight in Alpha Flight #29 by Bill Mantlo, Mike Mignola, and Gerry Talaoc
One of these days, I'm going to have to write a piece on the Crossroads Saga.
But for now, suffice to say the Crossroads Saga was a year long storyline that was a result of Doctor Strange's banishing the Hulk to an interdimensional crossroads. I was a young boy when I read these issues, and while now they aren't particularly affecting, at the time they were some of the darkest, bleakest stuff I'd ever read.
When Strange sent Hulk away, he was responsible enough to not want to put him on a world that couldn't handle him. So the worlds connected to the Crossroads were all worlds with creatures with physical and/or technological power comparable to that of the Hulk. So a mute, often pathetic, Hulk spent over a year wandering around alien worlds, getting his ass kicked, suffering betrayal at the hands of the villain with the less-than-intimidating name The Puffball Collective, and almost always losing what friends he was able to make to some kind of horrific death.
His escape came when Alpha Flight went looking for a mindless host for Walter Langkowski's spirit. With a little help from the Beyonder, they unknowingly reeled the Hulk back to Earth, and when they did he tore them a new one like you've never seen.
I felt bad for the Canadians. After all, they did Hulk a favor whether or not they meant to, but at the same time I cheered hard for the Hulk. After over a year getting beaten up by red-skinned school children and demons and sentient spinal chords, the Hulk got to beat up a bunch of people in funny underwear and it felt good.
--Hulk vs. the Hulkbusters, Doc Samson, West Coast Avengers, East Coast Avengers, and She-Hulk in Incredible Hulk #s 320-322 by Al Milgrom
Easily the longest Hulk battle, this fight was during the era of the so-called Mindless Hulk who was physically separated from Bruce Banner. He was more powerful than the Hulk had ever been, but at the same time so brainless he couldn't even come up with stuff like "Hulk Smash" anymore.
In part, this story came about because of an earlier John Byrne slugfest. Iron Man, Hercules, Namor and Wonder Man all try to take down the Hulk. When Doc Samson convinces them that it would be safer to let him tackle the Hulk alone, Iron Man tells Samson that if he doesn't manage things quickly he'll be bringing the full complement of Avengers back to do the job. In Incredible Hulk #321, after the Hulk has beaten the Hulkbusters one more time and is tearing through Jericho, New Mexico thrashing Doc Samson's near-dead body into anything he can see, Iron Man proves true to his word. The Avengers finally prevail in the following issue, though it's made clear this is only because the Hulk is growing weaker due to his separation with Banner.
It's not the best story in the world, but it's a massive battle, and it's fun to flip through every now and then.
I hope this trip down memory lane has helped raise the spirits of my fellow Hulk fans. If not, then what can I tell you? I look forward to the hate mail.