Old-School Comic Review – INCREDIBLE HULK Annual # 12 (1983)

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“Amazing Grace!”
Written by Bill Mantlo
Art by Herb Trimpe
Published by Marvel Comics

Mainstream comic book storytelling has never been the best place for subtle, nuanced takes on deeper philosophical issues, as the standard plot of these books usually depend on the reader rooting for one side over the other. During the so-called “Bronze Age” of the Seventies and Early to Mid-Eighties, most standard superhero comics were still pretty straightforward in their portrayal of the battle of good versus evil, with a few notable exceptions. One of the least-known and more surprising examples of these few outliers came in the form of an Annual edition of the popular Incredible Hulk title published in 1983, in which Bruce Banner’s monstrous alter ego learned a harsh lesson in human nature (or, in this case, alien nature) and how it responds to power.

Written by longtime Hulk scribe Bill Mantlo and drawn by the late, great Herb Trimpe, the issue begins with Doctor Banner working at a Gamma Ray Research Center trying as usual to come up with a cure that will finally do away with the Hulk for good. At this point in the character’s evolution, Banner has managed to maintain his own consciousness while in the form of the Hulk and control when and where he transforms but is still wishing to rid himself of the monster that lives within him so that he can finally lead a normal life. His work is interrupted when he witnesses a green beam of light in the sky that transports a green-skinned female to Earth, followed by a UFO that contains a group of red-skinned soldiers that pursue her. Banner then transforms into the Hulk and attempts to rescue the emerald woman but only manages to get himself captured in the process. On their way to the aliens’ home planet, the green woman introduces herself as K’Rel, a leading figure of a rebellion meant to free her green-skinned brethren who have been enslaved and subjugated by the dominant red-skinned race. The Hulk quickly adopts K’rel’s cause and rallies the green-skinned people to rise up and fight for their freedom, which they see as the fulfillment of a great prophecy. After the insurrection succeeds and the Greens have triumphed over the Reds, the Hulk begins his journey home only to find out that the Greens have ignored his plea to treat their former oppressors with mercy and grace, and the issue ends with the Green Goliath visibly lamenting this tragic turn of events.

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In many ways, the story of Incredible Hulk Annual #12 could be seen as a precursor to the popular “Planet Hulk” storyline that ran in the main Hulk book around ten years ago, only this earlier story was wrapped up in a mere 40 pages and ends with the Hulk returning home rather than ruling the newly conquered planet. This earlier story also is a lot more allegorical than the later arc, as Mantlo no doubt wanted to evoke mankind’s long history of racism and religious persecution of others within the story. This theme is reinforced time and again as Banner/Hulk frequently chides the Reds for their cruel treatment of the Greens and espouses the virtues of freedom and equality. The fact that these ideals are not adopted by the victorious Greens makes this story a rather tragic and cynical one, as if Mantlo doubts whether humanity truly has the capacity to show mercy when in a position of power and questions whether humans are a preternaturally cruel race. When I first read this issue as a young boy, I was particularly taken back by its unexpectedly dark ending after being conditioned to believe that good always triumphed over evil in superhero comics.

When read today, this story is not quite as much of a shock, though it is worth noting how it stands out from the usual fare that came out during this era of comics. Mantlo’s script is overly simplistic, and the central metaphor is extremely heavy-handed, which again is to be expected within this era in which subtlety was pretty rare. This issue ranks fairly low in my list of favorite Hulk stories, mostly because I prefer the more savage and angry Hulk to the one in which Banner’s consciousness is dominant. The only “Smart Hulk” I enjoyed was the sarcastic and amoral Grey Hulk from early on in Peter David’s run in the late Eighties. Those problems aside, though, this is still an interesting read due to how uncharacteristically cynical the script is and for the as-always eye-pleasing Herb Trimpe art that includes some extremely well-done action sequences and splash pages. While not the most successful or iconic Hulk tale of this era, it’s definitely worth picking up in the back issue bin of your local comic shop for a decent change of pace from the usual kind of story written for this character. 3.5 out of 5 “Faceless Ones.”

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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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