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Monday, March 11, 2019

The Hulk 16: "Masks" - a Review

The Hulk #16 (August 1979)
Doug Moench-Mike Zeck/John Tartaglione

What's that? A color comic, reviewed on a blog that touts the merits of the black & white magazines of the Bronze Age? Yup, but with a catch. Today's review comes to you from the Essential Rampaging Hulk, volume 2. That... is going to present some issues, as we'll soon see. If you were around this space a few days ago, you read my lamentations of those various Essentials and Showcase Presents that used color copies in production rather than original art. The reproduction problems could be egregious, and we'll get a heaping helping of that today. It's such an issue for me, in fact, that I'll be flipping my review format on its head.

But let's start with the now-familiar 100-Word Review:
We open on a dark street in New Orleans, with Bruce Banner’s attention grabbed - by a sharp object with a note attached. It’s obvious his assailant knows of Banner’s alter ego and implores Banner to show at the airport. He does, and meets Valerie and Jannar. They spin a tale of money, enough to finance Banner’s finding of a cure for his... gamma condition. But first - a test. Banner Hulks out and takes out a gator, and later is introduced to his would-be benefactor: Drago. Drago wants to enlist the Hulk’s aid to secure a Spanish treasure - half of which could lead to the end of the Hulk!
I've wanted to read the Rampaging Hulk mags for years. As a kid, I only had one issue, and it was pretty late in the run. I purchased the second volume via an Amazon 3rd-party seller. The book's in decent-enough shape and will serve my purposes. But darned if I didn't even consider that the book would have contained black & white reprints of color material. Which brings us to...

The Ugly: Man, this book was hard to read! I'll be honest - it detracted from my enjoyment of the story. I was able to get my hands on an actual copy of the magazine, and provide a few color scans today side-by-side with the Essentials pages that I scanned to show the difference. And my burden. As I remarked in the post last week, it was really a mistake whenever Marvel or DC had to shoot from color guides or color comics rather than original art in the creation of the Essentials or Showcase Presents. Those books overall were a great idea at the time - a ton of continuity for around $15-16. But I just can't take the way they read, and in today's case those pages that literally could not be read.


The Bad: This Drago dude looks like Terry Long. So while he is the "villain" of today's story, he gets extra baddie-points for being Terry Long's doppelganger. Terry Long... is he my least-favorite character in all of comics? He may be. Right up on the Mt. Rushmore of idiots alongside Snapper Carr and Dr. Druid. Come to think of it, I should consider that fourth spot on the Mount.

I thought the plot was just a bit thin. Drago came off as a typical mad scientist-type, while Valerie and Jannar seemed cookie-cutter lackeys. Banner's behavior also struck me as formulaic, but then I've never been cursed by the terror that is the Hulk. I guess I'd be desperate for a way out and would probably fall in with some seedy characters along the way as well.

There was one other quibble with the story, and this specifically falls to Doug Moench's script. If you look below, you'll find the last page of the story. The Hulk goes on a moralistic rant to Valerie and I wonder if Moench didn't lose the Hulk's voice momentarily. I find that as a possibility, or I've also wondered if he didn't show us a glimpse of Bruce Banner's half being somewhat in control. Either way I think it can be explained away... I mention it here only because I noticed that there was a departure from the Hulk's speech patterns from earlier in the story, a style that was quite familiar in the Bronze Age.


The Good: Call me positive if you will (you won't), but today I've saved the best thoughts for last. I did enjoy the story overall, and I think part of that sense is nostalgic. If you were a Rampaging Hulk reader when these stories were published, you recall that as the magazine progressed it had more and more of the feel of the television show that was airing weekly on CBS. Surely that was intentional, as Marvel sought to cross-market itself where possible.

Doug Moench, and I've said it before on this blog, has been a rising star among my list of favorite comics writers and that's wholly due to his work on the Marvel magazines. As I've remarked previously, I was certainly aware of him across my color comics reading, but I did not have the appreciation for either the volume of work he produced in the B&W format or for simply how good it is. Whether kung fu, monsters, sci fi, or here with a tragic hero, Moench delivers an entertaining read. Yes, I called the plot formulaic above, but I don't want to send the message that I didn't have several minutes of fun. I did.

Mike Zeck and John Tartaglione turned in nice work, as well. I enjoyed Zeck's depiction of the Hulk. His other characters stayed consistent throughout the story. Valerie was particularly beautiful. And sometimes the artist really earns his or her stripes when having to branch outside people. Zeck and Tartaglione really sold the airplane, the swamp setting, and the alligator. All-in-all a nice issue; but I'd still like to have been able to see it without the influence of the color.

Thanks for stopping by today. If you have thoughts on any of the issues I've raised, please leave a note below in the comments section.


  1. Yikes! That Essentials does look terrible Doug.
    Worth mentioning that those stories from the colour iteration of the Hulk magazine appeared as perfectly adequate b&w reprints - ie from the line art - in Marvel UK's monthly title Rampage around the end of the '70s, so there was really no excuse.


    1. Thanks for stopping by, Sean. Just to show that the Essentials usually got it "right", next week I'll have a review of Marvel Two-In-One #7, from the Essential MTIO. It looks great!


  2. Good review, 'Rampaging Hulk/Hulk' magazine is something I've barely read but hope to read in the future. Since you mentioned him, you'll be glad to know that Terry Long and Wonder Girl got divorced and Terry was subsequently killed off.

    1. JA -

      I shouldn't be happy to hear anyone is dead. But, well...


    2. Wasn't Terry Long killed off in a car crash? I think his kids were victims too, so maybe the price was too high ;)

  3. Hm, yeah. On that splash page in particular you can really the see the drawback of taking the "let's just photocopy the original art" approach. It just goes to confirm my conviction that stories that originally appeared in color should generally be reprinted that way as well.
    That said, if I can ever find them cheap enough (a big 'if'), I wouldn't mind picking up the two Essential Rampaging Hulk volumes - I've always wanted to read those stories.

    1. Happy Monday, Edo -

      While I have yet to purchase the first volume of the Rampaging Hulk, I suspicion that it will look a lot like the Dark Horse Savage Sword reprints. At least, I'd hope so, because those are beautiful reproductions.


    2. Of the two, I'm definitely more interested in the first volume, which has all of the issues that were originally printed in b&w. As to the beauty of the Savage Sword phone books - well, no argument from me.


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