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Essential Incredible Hulk Volume 4

01/03/2011. Contributed by Eamonn Murphy

Buy Essential Incredible Hulk Volume 4 in the USA - or Buy Essential Incredible Hulk Volume 4 in the UK

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pub: Marvel Comics, 2006. 608 page black and white graphic novel softcover. Price: about GBP 12.00 (UK) if you know where to look ISBN: 978-078512-193-0.

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‘Essential Hulk Volume 4’ collects ‘The Incredible Hulk #143 to #170’, classic tales from 1971 to 1973. Like all ‘Marvel Essentials’ and ‘DC Showcase’ volumes this is printed in black and white on cheap paper. I mention this because there is a moron who buys them from Amazon and sends them back with a one star review because he doesn’t do black and white. Why buy them? Why review them? I guess it takes all sorts.

Herb Trimpe is a good sort who worked as a staffer at the Marvel Bullpen for about thirty years and spent an awful lot of that time drawing the Incredible Hulk. He did a few other Marvel characters now and then but it is the Hulk for which he is best known. As it happens, most of the other Marvel characters turn up in the pages of the Hulk sooner or later so he got to draw them anyway. Herb is not on anyone’s list of great comic book artists but actually he was pretty darn good. Stan Lee told all new artists to draw like Jack Kirby and Herb took this advice to heart. The art looks like a poor man’s Kirby in most places. But it’s not a very poor man’s Kirby because Herb does the machinery pretty well, has a strong storytelling sense and frequently does clever time sequences in little panels that could be by a poor man’s Steranko or even Will Eisner. He is enhanced by good inkers. Over the course of this volume, the pencil work is made beautiful by John Severin, decently served by Sal Trapani and very ably embellished by Jack Abel.

Declining comic sales and corporate hard-heartedness meant that Herb was laid off after 29 years. Towards the end, nobody wanted his drawings much, all entranced by the new stars in the field. I would like to take this opportunity to salute the career of a professional artist who consistently turned in decent pages and left behind him a fine body of work. I believe things turned out okay because he got a job teaching art for a while and is now retired.

Most of the stories Herb Trimpe drew here were written by Archie Goodwin and Steve Englehart. Both men have a good record in comics and have won awards. Archie is of a slightly earlier generation and made a name for himself at Warren before coming to Marvel and doing good work with ‘Ol’ Greenskin’ and great work, to be fair, on Iron Man. Steve Englehart is one of that new generation that regenerated Marvel in the early seventies when Stan was getting tired, noted for his runs on ‘Captain America’ and ‘The Avengers’. The Hulk is a tricky character to write because all he wants is to be left alone and his dialogue is limited, as are his problem-solving skills. Usually fictional characters are the type who go looking for trouble - detectives, reporters and super-heroes. The Hulk is not so pro-active so to make a story trouble must come to him. It does, in spades.

One consistent source of trouble is General ‘Thunderbolt’ Ross who is forever sending his ‘Hulkbusters’ in planes to shoot at our hero. Ross sometimes captures the Hulk, usually by using gas, and puts him in Hulk-proof cages but he always gets loose, usually because of outside interference. Sometimes Bruce Banner is captured instead and works with the army to try and stay tranquilized and calm. He fails. The Leader, the Rhino and the Abomination, the Chameleon, Modok and Doctor Doom are standard Marvel villains who get involved with Ol’ Greenskin and there are several monsters, too. There are too many monsters really: Godspawn (an Egyptian stone thing), the Inheritor (an evolved cockroach), the Crawling Unknown (an evolved cancer), the Wendigo (a Canadian cannibal), Aquon (an evolved fish) and It (the thing from the dynamo). There’s also the Harpy, Betty Ross turned into a monster by Modok. To be fair to the writers, the Hulk is so strong that it’s hard to come up with opponents who can set him a real challenge. Furthermore, the madder Hulk gets the stronger Hulk gets and he gets pretty mad when fighting. Action is necessary for good visuals though and the stories are leavened with Marvel-style human drama, too. The love triangle of Colonel Talbot, Betty Ross and Bruce Banner, the friendship of Jim Wilson and the moral dilemma of decent super-heroes who want to tame the Hulk but don’t want to hurt Bruce Banner.

All in all ‘Essential Incredible Hulk Volume 4’ is an enjoyable light reading exercise. Uncle Geoff believes the principle market for these collections is old-timers like me and him who can wallow in nostalgia for our long departed youth. Perhaps so, but I think modern kids could do worse than read these innocent tales from a bygone age.

Eamonn Murphy

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This book has 56 votes in the sci-fi charts

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