Old-School Comic Review – Incredible Hulk #271

Hulk271

Written by Bill Mantlo
Art by Sal Buscema
Cover by Al Milgrom
Published by Marvel Comics

Marvel Studios’ upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy film is one of the most eagerly anticipated movies of the Summer, and based on the advance buzz, it appears that the anthropomorphic space-bound adventurer known as Rocket Raccoon is set to be the newest breakout character. Rocket has definitely come a long way since his 1982 debut in the pages of The Incredible Hulk #271, evolving from a jokey Beatles homage to one of the most popular characters in Marvel’s current roster. A recent revisiting of Rocket’s first appearance shows how humble his beginnings truly were in the Marvel Universe.

Written by the legendary Bill Mantlo and drawn by the equally legendary Sal Buscema, The Incredible Hulk #271 is labeled as the official 20th anniversary issue of the original title featuring the Jade Giant. To a modern comic reader, this is definitely an odd story to run for an anniversary issue, as it is of normal page length, features no marquee cameos, and tells a story that seems somewhat inconsequential to the book’s overall continuity. In fact, nothing about this issue is meant to be taken at all seriously and seems primarily a way for Mantlo to not-so-subtly proclaim his love and admiration for the Beatles. The issue’s title, “Now Somewhere In The Black Holes Of Sirius Major There Lived A Young Boy Name Of Rocket Raccoon!” is an obvious paraphrase of the opening line of the Beatles’ obscure “Ballad of Rocky Raccoon” from The White Album, and the story begins with Old Greenskin waking up on a strange planet where he meets Rocket and his sidekick, the aptly named Wal-Russ (Get it?). Despite not knowing where he is or how he got there, Hulk joins up with Rocket and Wal-Russ in their mission to take back a sacred and powerful object known as the Gideon’s Bible (another blatant Beatle reference) from the clutches of their nemesis, an evil mole named Judson Jakes.

Goo Goo G'Joob.

Goo Goo G’Joob.

Even though the Bronze Age of the Seventies and Eighties was best known for injecting more gritty realism and all-around seriousness to mainstream superhero comics, this issue shows that this era could get just as silly and nonsensical as the Golden and Silver Ages when it wanted to. In addition to featuring talking, gun-toting animals, Incredible Hulk #251 also features, among others, a squadron of bumbling Keystone Kop-style humanoids and an army of murderous clowns. It’s as if then-Marvel EIC Jim Shooter gave Mantlo carte blanche to fill twenty-two pages with any random stuff he could come up with, and it’s obvious while reading the issue that Mantlo and Buscema had a blast bringing this script to the page. That sense of fun and adventure easily transfers to the reader as well, whether or not they are familiar with the source material that Mantlo loosely draws from.

Remember, this was nearly 30 years before AXE COP.

Remember, this was nearly 30 years before AXE COP.

After his brief but memorable adventure with the Hulk, Rocket would make a few more sporadic appearances in a number of Marvel titles and was even awarded his own limited series in 1985 by Mantlo and Mike Mignola. After that brief moment of notoriety, Rocket languished in relative obscurity for over two decades until Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning made him a core member of the revamped Guardians of the Galaxy in 2008 and turned him into one of Marvel’s premier badasses. With what we now know about how Rocket has been used in comics in the past six years, and based on the advance footage we’ve seen from the Guardians movie, I got a particular kick out of reading his first appearance in a comic book. It says a lot about this industry and the talent of the people who work in it when a character originally meant to be a humorous diversion can one day be made into a popular core character within a comic book universe, even if he is a talking raccoon. For offering a pleasant dose of nostalgia and providing a fun, breezy story, The Incredible Hulk #271 receives 4 out of 5 Magic Meat Machines.

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Ben Gilbert is an avid comic and movie fan, father of two amazing kids, and husband to one awesome chick. He resides in the hills of East Tennessee and still doesn't quite know what he wants to be when he grows up.

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