Sunday, May 31, 2009

1986 - Incredible Hulk

Hulk #315-327
January 1985 - December 1986
Writers: John Byrne/Al Milgrom
Artists: John Byrne/Keith Williams/Al Milgrom/Steve Geiger

John Byrne took over the reins of the Incredible Hulk in late 1984 in the first ever creative team cross-over in comic book history. In Hulk #313 and Alpha Flight #28, Byrne passed Alpha Flight on to current Hulk writer Bill Mantlo and a young Mike Mignola of Hellboy fame.

In an interview by Jim Salicrup, when asked what he was planning to do with the Hulk, Byrne replied:

“Well, I want to get back to the basics. I want to get back to the two elements of the Hulk that are the most primal Hulk, to me. One is the creature of the night – as he was in those early issues of the Incredible Hulk.


“…by about my eighth issue, we will be back in a situation where he will be the creature of the night and he will be locking himself in the little room under the lake and pounding on the wall. And the biggest dramatic change that I’m making in the whole context of the thing is that since Rick Jones has more-or-less been taken care of, we’re bringing in a new Rick Jones position, which will be filled by Betty Ross.”
- Comics Interview #25, 1985

In issue #315, Dr. Samson succeeds in splitting off the mind and body of Bruce Banner from the Hulk. S.H.I.E.L.D. steps in and decides to take over the project, but Samson objects and frees the Hulk. Unfortunately without Banner’s influence, the Hulk is just an angry, rampaging monster. The Avengers fail to take down the Hulk and Samson calls them off vowing to bring down the Hulk himself.

I liked the way the supporting cast, Doc Samson and the Hulk Busters, shared the spotlight. It wasn't all about the Hulk, but about those whose lives the Hulk affected. This arc revealed a lot more of Samson's character. Byrne took the title in a new direction shifting from the idea of the internal Banner-Hulk conflict to a more physical one. It would have been interesting to see what the genius of Bruce Banner would have devised to take on the Hulk.

Issue #316 features one of my favorite Hulk battles. Namor, Hercules, Iron Man, and Wonder Man each take turns trying to take down the Hulk. Meanwhile, Banner who has recovered from the traumatic separation leads a group of highly skilled individuals dubbing them the Hulkbusters. They’re first real training mission is interrupted by Dr. Samson and their ensuing battle ends up costing the lives of one of the Hulkbusters.

Rick Jones returns to the book in issue #319 and would permanently be part of the supporting cast until the end of this series. Byrne gets a little experimental in this issue and splits each page in half and tells two story lines at once. I found it distracting and ended up reading one story end-to-end and then reading the other. This issue also really brings Betty to the forefront. Byrne has been slowly introducing her into the story line and she finally shines this issue, portraying the strong, willful character that Peter David will make use of.

However, the fun stops there. Issue #320 features a change in the creative team. When asked by Michael David Thomas why his run was cut short on the Incredible Hulk, Byrne answered:

“’Betrayal’ would be an excessively strong word for what happened. I took on the Hulk after a discussion with Shooter, in which I mentioned some of the things I would like to do with that character, given the chance. He told me to do whatever was necessary to get on the book, he liked my ideas so much. I did, and once installed he immediately changed his mind – ‘You can't do this!’. Six issues was as much as I could take.”
- Comic Book Resources, August 22/2000

For more on what Byrne thought, check out his FAQ on his website.

What might have been?

"Banner will be tossing all sorts of new weapons against the Hulk because it will now be
Banner's job to try and destroy the Hulk. (…) "The first old villain that I plan to bring back is the Metal Master. The last dangling plot thread of Bill Mantlo's that I want to follow up on is that adamantium statue of the Hulk sitting in a warehouse somewwere in New York. I'm going to have the Metal Master activate it. So the Hulk will have to fight an adamantium version of himself.”
- Marvel Age #31

Interestingly, there's no mention of issue #320 in the letters pages; issue #323 prints letters from #319 and #324 prints letters from #321.

And now, batting cleanup …

Al Milgrom, stepped up to write and pencil the Incredible Hulk after Byrne’s “departure”. His art didn’t have Byrne’s energy or intensity. You can clearly tell that Milgrom was told to get the Hulk and Banner back together. The rampaging Hulk is finally taken down by the Avengers (East and West Coast) in issue #322. And, unfortunately, Banner and the Hulk are reunited in issue #323.

Issue #324 caught my attention once again as the plot twisted with the return of the Grey Hulk. Steve Geiger delivered some great artwork in issues #325 and #326, which saw Rick Jones turn into a version of the Green Hulk and face off in a slugfest against the Grey Hulk.

For a year that started out rather promising, it unraveled rather quickly. I would have loved to have seen where Byrne would have taken the Banner versus Hulk conflict. However, more creative changes were on their way which would see Al Milgrom replaced by Peter David who would make his name in comicdom writing this title.


  1. I was really excited to see Byrne take on the Hulk at the time, too, and I was really psyched for the split Banner/Hulk status quo. I did keep reading, tho, as I had been since the Mantlo issues, and continued to do through the entire Peter David run. Guess you could say I liked this series for a while, there!

  2. I had a great time working on the Hulk.



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