Incredible Hulk #331 (May, 1987)
Writer – Peter David
Pencils – Todd McFarlane
Inks – Kim DeMulder
Letters – Rick Parker
Colors – Petra Scotese
Edits – Bob Harras
Chief – Jim Shooter
Cover Price: $0.75
In the face of nearly universal indifference… #MarvelMay rolls on!
A month or so back, I posted something about “comic book comfort foods” when I discussed an issue of Grant Morrison-era Doom Patrol. Unfortunately, next to nobody actually read the thing. I guess a lot of the folks high-fivin’ over the Doom Patrol live-action thing didn’t get the memo that it was based on a comic book. Anyhoo… in that piece, I mentioned a few of my go-to “comfort foods”… and among them was the Peter David run on Incredible Hulk.
I never imagined I’d get the opportunity to discuss that run here, considering “rules” I’d self-enforced on this site… but, here we are nonetheless! I guess all it took was DC Comics devolving into whatever it is at the moment for me to actually start looking in those long-ignored “other” longboxes in my library!
Now, this is the “official” start to the Peter David run… he would occupy the writer’s chair a few issues prior for a fill-in… but, this is where his (mostly) uninterrupted run kicks off. Gotta be careful how I present this one on social media… if I say it’s the “start” of his run, I’m sure someone (who won’t bother to visit the site) will *correct me* that he accccccctually wrote an issue before this.
The other day, we talked about another launch of an epic run in the John Byrne Fantastic Four… and, we might do some comparing and contrasting before we’re done.
Let’s do it!
We open with Rick Jones… as the Hulk… on the loose! Meanwhile, at Gamma Base, the Hulkbusters are trying to figure out their best course of action moving forward. Ya can’t have a Hulk runnin’ about, right? Anyhoo, Bruce Banner… who has been freed of the Hulk persona for a little while, offers himself up to be exposed to Gamma Radiation once again in hopes of tracking down his pal. Betty, who is Bruce’s relatively newly-minted wife at this point is most certainly not cool with that idea.
Bruce, understanding that ol’ “happy life… happy wife” axiom comes around quick to the fact that this is a pretty bad idea. Worth noting that this issue comes on the heels of the death of Betty’s father, General Thunderbolt Ross… in fact, they still haven’t wheeled his body out at this point! He had just sacrificed himself to halt the Nevermind.
The Hulkbusters continue to brainstorm, and decide it best to, ya know… bust that Hulk. Clay Quartermain appears to be especially “randy” about this… he’s really down with the idea of, not only catching this new Hulk… but destroying it!
We shift scenes over to the nearest morgue, where a call is coming in to pick up Ross’s corpse. Upon learning that this pick-up is at Gamma Base, the Morgueman ain’t too keen on heading out. The fella running the place says to bring their newest employee to help out… a certain weirdo broom-pusher named “Sterns”. Sterns smiles…
Back to Base, where the Hulkbusters are in the air and on patrol. Banner looks on via the monitors… despite the fact that his new wife would really prefer he step away so they can… I dunno… consummate? He, however, still cannot let go of the idea of transforming back into the Hulk to help his pal… and refers to the times he’d done it in the past. This really rattles Betty… who, always viewed Bruce as more a hapless victim of the Hulk-outs, and not so much a willing participant.
Before this argument can completely boil over, the Banners are interrupted by a distress all from the ‘busters. The Hulk has leapt onto Hulkbuster Hideko’s ship… and it looks like our cover-image might be just about to play out! Worth noting, this might be the first panel in this issue where Todd’s art actually looks like Todd’s art.
Bruce gets on mic, and starts pleading with the Hulk to let go… accidentally letting it slip that this Hulk is actually: Rick Jones! This is apparently all-new information to the Hulkbusters…
Hideko manages to turn the craft upside-down, and with Hulk-Rick hanging from the roof of the rig… plows the green guy right into the side of a cliff! This will buy them a few precious moments of time…
Back at Base, Sterns and Co. have arrived to haul off the body of General Ross. Betty is still, as one might imagine, torn up over the death of her father. Bruce tries to offer her some comfort… but, she ain’t havin’ it. Bruce stomps out of the room, accidentally bumping into Sterns on his way. Sterns, is actually quite captivated by what he’s seeing play out on the monitors… a Hulk… with all the powers he’ll need to… well, do something.
We follow the MorgueMen outside and into their van. It’s here that Sterns beats his partner to death with a wrench!
Elsewhere… we visit a nearby Police Station, where a man has arrived in search of a woman. This woman is Betty Ross… who he claims is his wife. This fella is (Rrrrrrrazor) Rrrrrrramon. Hey yo.
Back in the battle… the Hulkbusters continue taking the fight to the beast, and ultimately snag Rick inside an electrified net…
… or so they thought. Rick-Hulk is able to free himself, before launching the net into the Hulkbuster craft… electrifying the whole tub… and, more or less blinding the pilot, Saunders!
The ship soars directly into a butte… Saunders only barely managing to bail out in time. The Hulkbusters decide it might be best to call it a night… and head back to base to lick their wounds, and come up with a “Plan B”.
We now head off to Bruce Banner’s secret cave lab… he’s come to the conclusion that he’s going to have to become the Hulk again. He does the ol’ Gamma-Ray dealie once more… and becomes the Hulk. Not just any Hulk, however… the gray one!
This Hulk, being of decent intelligence, decides it’s in his best interests to destroy the Gamma Projector… this way, he can never be “sent back”, ya know? Turns out, Sterns sees this all go down, and he’s rather beside himself… ya see, he needed that Gamma thingie!
We wrap up with Sterns revealing to the Hulk that he is actually… the Leader (duh), and he makes the Hulk an offer he might not be able to refuse… if the Hulk helps Sterns get his powers back, he will in turn help save Rick Jones… annnnnd, more important than that… he can help the Hulk be rid of Bruce Banner forever!
It’s funny reading this issue so close to the first Byrne issue of Fantastic Four. As we discussed the other day, the Byrne FF issue was a really good “jumping-on point”… I think I might’ve even referred to it as a “perfect” jumping-on point. Byrne was able to introduce the team, in both personality and power-set… and, delivered one heckuva strong “chapter one” for his run.
Here… what we’re getting is a bit different. Though, in fairness… and with all due respect, I think Byrne hopping from Uncanny X-Men to Fantastic Four might’ve been a bigger deal than Peter David taking over a book nobody else wanted in the Incredible Hulk. While Byrne was handed (more or less) a blank slate to do with as he wanted… David had a very weird mess on his plate, much of it, oddly enough… attributable to Byrne!
Byrne’s “back to basics” approach for the Hulk had Banner… separated from the Hulk, and married off! Yeah, “back to basics” indeed. Peter David inherited some very weird loose ends that needed to be tied off… and, being the super-talent (and team-player) that he is… pulled it off, and then took this title to creative heights, the likes of which it’d rarely ever see!
This issue, in all honesty, is a toughie if you’re coming in fresh. Again, in fairness, this was a time where, with a few exceptions, a new writer taking over a book wasn’t quite as big a deal as it is today. This didn’t get a brand-new number-one, or a new adjective over the word “Hulk” in the title… it wasn’t touted as a “bold new” direction for the character. This was kind of an afterthought… that would become the success it does almost in spite of itself.
Let’s talk about Todd. His art here… while not bad, is… I dunno… “immature”? Is that a good word for it? I mean, we can see that it’s Todd… and we see flashes of what Todd would become within the next half-decade… but, there is a looseness, and an… “immaturity” to it. It’s still nice… and definitely, in hindsight, a treat to experience… but, he’s still got a little ways to go before he becomes the Todd we know today. That’s not a slam… but, an indictment on how he will hone and tighten his craft as he gets more pages under his belt. Not every artist bothers to do that!
Overall… as stated, this one’s a bit of a toughie for a new-reader. Probably not the “jumping-on point” that FF #232 was… but, it’s good! Solid storytelling, playing the ball where it lay… and really neat early-McFarlane art. This bugger’s been collected a number of times… and, even though I don’t know diddly about Marvel Unlimited… I gotta assume this one’s up there, right? I’d recommend giving it a look!
If you’re a Podcast Listener…
A new Episode of Morituri Mondays released today!
Also, the twelve-hour From Claremont to Claremont, Episode 2 dropped this past Saturday!