Jun 18, 2011

Gap Fillers: An Incredible Hulk #290 review.

Al Milgrom art.
When you're collecting comic books, especially when you're collecting back issues, you always end up with gaps. There's always one or two issues that escape you. Because of the serial nature of adventure comics, especially super hero comics, this means you end up with unfinished stories.

This is worse when you're younger and don't have a lot of income, or a lot of control over how you get your comics. You end up with stories you never seem to be able to finish. And inevitably the story is the conclusion of a whole bunch of important plot threads and you're left dangling.

Incredible Hulk #290 is one of those issues for me. I had a long run leading up to it, then a bunch of issues after it, but never #290 itself. It took me about 15 years to finally get #290. You can't imagine the anticipation I had when this issue finally arrived in my hands. Here it was, a story I hadn't read that was a conclusion to a long storyline I'd loved and read about 5 million times when I was a kid.

You've all been there. You know what happens next. You read the issue, telling yourself not to expect it to be the greatest thing ever and sure enough... it's not. Usually it's not BAD, it's just that this comic you've been anticipating for years is, well, just another issue in the series. It's not a massive, super special issue. It's not a classic, world-beating story. It's just another comic.

Incredible Hulk #290 is not just another comic.

Hot girl in a lab coat? This one's for you, Walky!

This issue was written by Bill Mantlo and drawn by Sal Buscema, one of my favourite Marvel creative teams of all time. The plot brings together a bunch of Mantlo's character threads over the last 20 or so issues, and begins the Hulk on a new direction. It's a pivot point of an issue, very important to the development of the characters involved.

Oh yeah, plus there's a female MODOK in it.

Let's be honest, that's what we need to talk about. The reasons *I* love the issue are all very well and good, but why should you seek it out and read it? I can't deny it, if you read this, you're probably going to read it for MS. MODOK.

The issue is the culmination of a story where MODOK is trying to use the Abomination as a tool to reconquer AIM.* In the process he made a deal with General Ross (who was holding the Abomination prisoner) to use the Abomination to kill the Hulk. The Hulk, at this stage is intelligent, controlled by Bruce Banner's mind. But that's all just background. The most important part is that at the end of the last issue the Abomination kidnapped Bruce's then girlfriend Doctor Katherine Waynesboro.

When the Abomination arrived at AIM headquarters in this issue he found MODOK gone, and the AIM beekeeper scientists in charge of the installation. In exchange for mercy the Abomination gave up Waynesboro to the AIM scientists, who decided that she'd be a great subject for their attempts to create a new MODOK.

Uhhhh... yeah... conducting the gene-altering currents. Sure.

This is really where the sexual undercurrents of the comic come to the fore. AIM is ostensibly creating a new MODOK as a weapon to destroy the old MODOK. But that's clearly just surface storytelling. The entire issue is set up like a classic virgin sacrifice tale. Why couldn't AIM just use one of their own to become the new MODOK? Someone who might actually be loyal to them?

Because they're all a bunch of dudes in beekeeper outfits, man. They needed a hot young SHIELD agent like Katherine to come along. Take a look at the debut of Katherine, a glorious, enormous double-page spread by Sal Buscema and Carlos Garzon:

She's not some glorious new weapon. She's not Hitler. Why the hell are they worshipping her like this? Well, because she's their beautifully dressed, gorgeous sacrifice ready to be hung out there for King Kong, so that they can gas him and take him back to New York. Y'know, so to speak.

Yes, that's right. I'm comparing MS. MODOK to Fay Wray. Whatcha gunna do about it?

Bill Mantlo's plots are always fairly straightforward, and are often lifted right from other sources. One of the things that he does wonderfully is that he crafts stories that can be read on multiple levels. This issue is exactly one of those. In any other writer's hands this would end up being a horribly misogynistic story, where the old MODOK kills the hell out of MS. MODOK because he is the original and he is badass.

That's just not how Mantlo rolls. So instead MS. MODOK rebels against AIM, goes and finds the other MODOK and then this happens.

Oh god... I... is that what... are they...?

I... wait... is that? That... That's a sex scene, isn't it? That's... a consensual sex scene between MODOKS. In her first appearance, her only appearance, MS. MODOK has sex with MODOK.

I... I... you know what? My reaction to this scene is kind of the same as the Hulk's own reaction, so I'll let him speak for me.
Word, brother. Word.
The sexual undertones throughout this issue are interesting because Mantlo doesn't leave much ambiguity about this. This is a consensual sex scene. Not only that, but shortly after they... have crazy mind-sex, the subject of conversation turns to something a little more romantic. MS. MODOK is looking to hook this fish.

That's right, you read that right. Incredible Hulk #290 contains an EXPLICITLY PRE-MARITAL sex scene between two MODOKS.

The issue is filled with a bunch of other awesome stuff. The fight sequences are, as always with Sal Buscema, energetic and alive. They leap out at you from the page, and explode from panel to panel. The story is told fast and furious, and it brings to a head a bunch of dangling plot lines from the previous issues.

The best thing about it though is the resolution, which is thoroughly satisfying emotionally, not just for the Hulk, or for Katherine, but for MODOK too. In the end, MS. MODOK does reject her male counterpart, because he's too cruel... but he can't help himself. He loves her, and that love is what drives the final resolution. What exactly happens? Well, why don't you bloody read it for yourself, you lazy bastards?

In this case, his mind is his penis.
In a way I'm glad I didn't read this issue until I was an adult. Though I might have enjoyed the story when I was a kid, there's no way I would have appreciated all the layers involved in the storytelling. The sexual undercurrent, especially, would have completely passed me by.

I had to wait over a decade to finally get this issue, and it was totally worth it. Even if... y'know... it was kind creepy. It was a great issue, two MODOKs, creepy sex, AIM beekeepers. What's not to love?

Oh yeah, plus it was an issue drawn by Sal Buscema. You know what that means, right?

Holy crap, Bruce... the top of that dude's head!

A bonus Sal Buscema punch!

--Andrew S.
(*Advanced Idea Mechanics.)

1 comment:

  1. "Beams of purest thought"? Man, omniscient narrator, who are you trying to kid?