BRONZE-AGE FLASHBACK: Incredible Hulk 141 (July 1971)
September 13, 2002
Friday the 13th…
I guess a lot of people are still suspicious of this date. I used to be suspicious of it, but September 11, 2001, made me realize that superstitions are groundless. The number 11 will forever hold more frightening connotations in my mind than the number 13, or 666 for that matter. Superstitions do not matter; actions speak much louder than walking under a ladder, breaking a mirror, or fearing an "unlucky" number.
Another number was on my mind this week: 38. I celebrated my 38th birthday on the eve of September 11 quietly and with those closest to me. Given the sorrow felt across the country this week by millions, myself no exception, I am thankful to be alive, to know sorrow and to also know joy. I am thankful to merely be because, as we were reminded on Wednesday, so many souls who perished on September 11, 2001, no longer are.
Today marked the completion of the first page in Altercations volume 2. I began the page on the evening of the 12th and finished it this afternoon. I used to have “lucky” pencils and pens, objects I felt I needed by my side in order to do my best possible work. Such notions are silly and are best reserved for children. It feels good to be drawing again, to be working toward the completion of this project which has occupied so much of my life. I know it will be done and done well regardless lucky pencils or otherwise.
It’s Friday evening and the 13th has just about come and gone. The next original fiction work for Wide Awake, entitled “The Man Who Could Not Die,” is still being written. I’ve completed approximately 13,000 words of the story and will probably finish the first draft by September 21. It’s an unusual tale about, well, a man who cannot die; that’s really all I can say about it at this time. Watch for it here soon.
This week one of my birthday presents purchased for myself was an old issue of Incredible Hulk—issue 141 to be precise. This issue features the first appearance of the green-haired muscle-man-with-a-brain, Doc Sampson, and has become a comic book not easily found in stores. On e-bay it seems to have become, like Daredevil 131, a hot item. After tracking and losing several e-bay auctions for this item, I did, at long last, succeed in my auction bids to own this item. It is a comic that I’ve wanted to read for many years, having first read issue 227 of Incredible Hulk wayyyyy back in 1978 (which was my first introduction to Doc Samson, and a good one at that), so I’m quite excited to, at last, be in possession of it. Typically I write comic book reviews after reading the comic that is the subject of the review. I assume most reviewers work in this fashion as well—writing the review after they’re read and ingested the story. For a change of pace I’m going to review this story while I read it:
Hulk 141 (July 1971): His Name is…Sampson! (Roy Thomas, editor; Herb Trimpe, pencils; John Severin, inks)
Our story opens innocuously enough with the green-skinned behemoth men call the Hulk leaning over a small puddle of water whilst a small gray squirrel sits calmly feasting on a nut, berry, or perhaps a discarded Oreo cookie (it really isn’t clear). The Hulk is searching for his beloved Jarella, whose world he visited one month earlier in issue 140. He then spies with his green eyes a quad-engine jet plane soaring high above him, but he realizes the pilots of the plane are not searching for him. It’s “Just another Plane—high in the sky” he notes.
However, aboard the plane is General Ross, his daughter Betsy Ross (who has recently been transformed into a “creature of immobile crystal”) Glenn Talbot (Ross’ kiss-ass toady who has long been in love with Betty, not to mention the London Boys Philharmonic), and psychiatrist Leonard Samson. Samson has proposed to Ross a plan that might not only return Betty to her former flesh and blood state of being, but has a “37% probability” of curing the Hulk (and I assume Leonard is referring to curing Banner from transforming into the Hulk and not simply curing the Hulk as a butcher might cure a ham). However, that could make for an interesting Thanksgiving dinner:
“The, uh, roast is looking a little green, mom”
“It’s supposed to be that way, dear.”
Of course saving Betty requires a “special energy force” (one that can only be supplied by the Hulk, natch!). Thus it appears a Hulk hunt will soon be underway. Betty’s crystal body is transferred from the jet and loaded onto the back of a flat bed truck. Visually this is a hysterical series of images! Betty is encased in a dome, the top half of which is clear and the bottom half of which is orange. Picture the coin operated gumball machines that dispense cheap prizes. Now picture a crystal Betty centered within, with her right hand raised in the air as if she were signing to the deaf. It’s not a pretty picture happy Herb has illustrated and, transferred as she is atop the flatbed, Betty quite resembles like a 4th of July parade float.
Meanwhile, the Hulk has gone from a rural to an urban setting as he enters an unnamed town and begins to smash automobiles at random in search of Jarella—I can only assume the two once necked in a VW Bug (though logistically that seems impossible) and seeing those vehicles reminded him of that romantic time. After totaling several vehicles and some property, the Hulk realizes this isn’t going to help him locate the missing Jarella whose world is, in actuality, “contained in a mere mote of dust transfixed to…[his] pants leg.”
The Air Force, meanwhile, has quickly located the Hulk. Glenn Talbot confronts the Hulk pleading to him that surely he must be aware of Betty’s Waterford-like affliction. The Hulk assumes Talbot is trying to trick him and so decides to smash. Samson, meanwhile, has the Hulk in the sights of a special gun. He reminds Ross, who urges Samson to fire the gun, that “…a premature burst will help no one,” a lesson all young men should commit to memory.
Samson’s capable fingers at last release the wanting trigger of the gun, his taut, nimble digits drawing tighter upon the trigger until from the tip of the gun ejaculates a 3-D projection of crystal-light Betty. Seeing the image triggers memories buried deep within the Hulk’s memory recesses of his stuffed-crust pizzaesque mind. He reverts to Banner and collapses.
During the following week, Banner is “subjected to the latest tools and methods of analysis…even an electroencephalograph.” He then brings Banner into a room in which Betty awaits (like she has any choice in the matter). Aimed at Betty is a large invention of Samson’s creation, the “Cathexis-ray” chamber.
Samson reminds Banner, “…when the moment of change comes, don’t fight it.” Again, valuable information for young readers on the verge of puberty.
Samson explains that when Banner begins to change into the Hulk the machine will “drain off his libidinal energy” and that “he will never become the Hulk again!” Having read close to 200 issues after this issue was published, I’m quite certain the machine fails to deliver all that Samson promises, but let’s turn the page and find out.
The device appears to work. Banner begins to revert to the Hulk but quickly changes back to Banner. Samson blasts the bubble-encapsulated Betty with the stored energy and she reverts from crystal to flesh. All’s well that ends well it seems.
Later that evening, Samson reviews the day’s work and realizes there is still plenty of the Hulk’s psychic energy stored within his patent-pending cathexis-ray. He thinks to himself, “Gamma-bomb explosion turned banner into the bestial Hulk. But controlled gamma-radiation…ah, that’s something else again.” You see where this is going. Samson treats himself to a dose of “controlled” gamma rays. He emerges from his self-induced experiment with green, flowing hair and huge pectoral muscles. I am left to wonder the extent of the power of gamma radiation. In one instant it reverts crystal-Betty to living-Betty. It is also used to transform scrawny Samson into muscle-man Samson. Given the liberties Roy is taking, I almost expect to see a few new characters introduced in the pages ahead, such as a mediocre chef who is exposed to the gamma rays and becomes the greatest chef in New York, or an aging nun who is bathed in the radiation and emerges as Sister Super-ior. But I digress.
Betty arrives at Doc Samson’s door and the two subsequently drive around town in his convertible; it’s no wonder Samson was known during his college days as Leonard “the tongue.”
Page 15: I am confused by Roy’s narration. The page contains a montage of oval panels showing Samson’s metamorphosis to Doc Samson and his resulting lifestyle. Narration atop the page reads: “Thus has it begun…and so it goes…Because there is really nothing new ‘neath sun or moon…” Huh??? Maybe I’m missing something but the entire passage seems pointless, and he seems to have left out, “As it was, is, and shall be, now and forever.”
Banner, meanwhile, is becoming extremely upset. He believes Samson is “using power that once was mine—to steal the girl I love!” Idiot that Banner is, I just know he’s going to subject himself to the cathexis-ray and become the Hulk once more. Nevermind 140 issues of “Oh, woe is me…if I could only find a way to cure myself from the curse of this monster…if only the Hulk didn’t hang over me like some great hanging thing…blah, blah, blah…” No, this “intellectual’s” memory is so short he forgets about all the untold destruction he’s caused over the years and, like a selfish high-school boy, chooses a stupid path in order to win the affections of one of comicdom’s most lame female supporting characters, Betty Ross. It’s little wonder Banner was caught in the explosion of a bomb of his own making. Stupid, stupid man.
As the Hulk ponders where he’s been and why he’s come back, Samson confronts him and the conflict begins. Amazingly, the battle ends in three pages, with the Hulk bullying Samson, insisting that Samson say “uncle.”
“You have lost,” he tells the man in the red, yellow, and blue “fighting togs.” “Say it then. Hulk has won! Say it!” (I'm almost suprised Thomas didn't include a scene with the Hulk kissing his own biceps. Sheesh.)
Betty rushes to Leonard’s side and tells him that “We’ll make it…” as the two walk away together. Betty proves once again that she is as loose as a muu muu on Calista Flockhart. And at this point, I feel as if Thomas’ sexual innuendos have become as subtle as a Nina Hartley “how to” sex video.
The tale ends with the Hulk realizing he’s lost something—possibly Jarella, possibly Betty?—but he is unsure what it is he’s lost. I can’t help but feel bad for the big green lug. Trimpe draws one of his finest Hulk close ups on the last page, capturing a look that is part curious, part confusion, and part sadness. It is, perhaps, the highlight of the entire story in my opinion.
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