Hasslein Blog: Longbox Legerdemain: The Hulk and the X-Men: Strange Goings-On


Hasslein Blog

Friday, March 6, 2015

Longbox Legerdemain: The Hulk and the X-Men: Strange Goings-On

By Matthew Sunrich

Considering the immense popularity of the X-Men franchise, it's hard to believe that during the late Silver Age/early Bronze Age, it was one of Marvel's worst-selling titles. Of course, this was before the introduction of Wolverine and the other "all-new, all-different" X-Men. The original lineup consisted of Cyclops, Beast, Marvel Girl (Jean Grey), Iceman, and Angel (with occasional appearances by extras such as Havok and Polaris), and despite the efforts of various creative teams, it was a fairly lackluster title. Neal Adams was brought in at one point in an attempt to boost sales, but even he couldn't save the book.

The comic never completely left the racks, but it did go into bi-monthly reprints for several years before being "resurrected" with #94. The final issue of original material was #66, which shipped in early 1970. This issue is noteworthy for featuring the first meeting between Charles Xavier's team of mutants and the Hulk.

Last summer, Marvel introduced a new title called Savage Hulk (previously mentioned in my article on Thanosvs. Hulk). It was designed to feature new stories of the Jade Giant that could take place at any point in his continuity, providing virtually endless possibilities for creators. The inaugural four-issue arc was the brainchild of Alan Davis and is set during the aftermath of the events of X-Men #66.

Before we go any further, let's talk a bit about Alan Davis.

Sometimes referred to as the "other Alan" (after Alan Moore) of the "British Invasion" of comics of the 1980s, Davis spent several years working at Marvel's UK offices and for other publishers in England before making his break in America. (He was one of the original artists of Moore's groundbreaking British character Marvelman, who became Miracleman when he came to the States for reasons related to trademark infringement and to Moore's chagrin, ultimately turning him against Marvel forever. The character was the subject of numerous, complex legal disputes involving the likes of Todd McFarlane and Neil Gaiman but was finally bought whole cloth by Marvel a couple of years ago; the original run is now being republished with Moore's name removed, at his insistence, and with new covers, some of which are by Davis.) He started off working for DC on such titles as Batman and the Outsiders and Detective Comics before moving on to X-Men and, most notably, Excalibur for Marvel. Since the turn of the century, he has worked almost exclusively for Marvel, producing noteworthy runs on Wolverine, Captain America, Thor, Avengers, and Fantastic Four, and has established himself as one of the preeminent creative forces in comics.

Davis is lauded for his gorgeous illustration, but he has never thought of himself as an artist. He explains in Modern Masters (TwoMorrows Publishing, 2003) that his primary goal is storytelling and that the art is just an essential part of that. He writes a large proportion of the stories that he illustrates himself, including ClanDestine, a Marvel title featuring characters of his own creation, and the celebrated DC "Elseworlds" miniseries The Nail, in which the infant Superman is never discovered by the Kents (because one of their tires picked up a nail and went flat) and thus neither becomes a hero nor a member of the Justice League.

Needless to say, he is one of my favorite creators, and I will pick up almost anything he does.

The plot of X-Men #66, written by Roy Thomas and illustrated by Sal Buscema, concerns the mutants' mission to find the Hulk, who is somehow a key element in reviving Professor X, who lapsed into a coma after pushing his telepathic abilities to their limits to repel an alien invasion in the previous issue. (A probe into Charles' dormant mind reveals that they need to find the Hulk but not why.) They succeed in tracing the monster to Las Vegas and, through the combined efforts of Cyclops and Jean, manage to subdue him.

When he changes back to Bruce Banner, they ask him what connection he might have with the Professor, and once he recovers from the trauma of the transformation, he tells them that the two scientists once corresponded about how gamma rays could be used to treat mental exhaustion. He goes on to explain that he built a device for this purpose and that it is hidden in one his secret desert labs. Before they can coordinate their efforts, however, the army shows up (of course), and the stress changes Banner into the Hulk once more.

After smashing one of the force's tanks, the Hulk leaps away into the desert, and the X-Men follow. The Jade Giant is understandably vexed by this, as he wishes simply to be left alone, and a fierce battle ensues. Ultimately, the precipice on which he is standing collapses, revealing the very lab they were looking for. This seems ridiculously coincidental, and, in fact, the mutants later remark on it, concluding that from within the Hulk's mind Banner must have commanded enough influence to lead his alter ego there. Angel locates the device, and the team climbs into its ship and returns to the mansion, leaving the Hulk in peace.

Back at the Professor's bedside, Cyclops activates the tiny machine, and Charles Xavier returns to consciousness, thanking his students for saving him and proclaiming that there will always be wrongs in the world and that the X-Men will be there to right them.

It's a lame ending to a pretty thin story, but I'm sure that Thomas was aware of the series' cancellation, so it didn't matter that much, really. It probably didn't come as much of a shock to readers that this was the end, at least for the time being. It can be hard to define exactly what it is that separates an engaging series from a lackluster one, but it was clear that titles like Amazing Spider-Man and Avengers had it, while X-Men was missing the mark, so the best option was to put it out to pasture.

Despite the weakness of the issue, a lot of potential existed for expansion on its themes and plot, and Davis clearly recognized this fact.

Having returned to his senses, Professor X makes some determinations about the device that revived him. One is that it lacks an internal power source and requires gamma energy from Banner's cells in order to function (there was enough of a residual charge within it to bring Charles out of his coma). The second is that Banner intended to use it as a means of curing himself of becoming the Hulk. The Professor believes that the device failed in this because it requires a "telepathic component." Realizing all of this, Charles is determined to find Banner and repay him for saving his life by freeing him from his gamma-ray-spawned curse.

Returning to the site of their earlier battle with the Hulk, the X-Men find that another rockslide has concealed the entrance to the lab, but they manage to find a way in easily enough. It comes as little surprise that things haven't calmed down for Banner since the mutants left him in the desert earlier (the army didn't give up as easily as it seemed), but they manage to find him and bring him back to the lab, where the Professor has the device ready.

But, predictably, things don't go exactly as planned.

To make matters worse, it also turns out that the Hulk's perennial, super-intelligent foe The Leader has been watching things from behind the scenes and has plans of his own.

I'm not going to provide any more details about the story at this point because you really need to read it for yourself. All four issues of the arc, along with the seldom-reprinted X-Men #66, have been compiled in a trade paperback called Savage Hulk: The Man Within, which can be yours for a mere $18.

Go out and get it. Right now.

Matt Sunrich, a great fan of the Bronze Age of comic books, maintains two blogs: The Other Other Castle, about Bronze-Age sword and sorcery, and Forging the Dark Knight, concerning Bronze-Age Batman.

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