Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Review- INCREDIBLE HULK: CROSSROADS


INCREDIBLE HULK: CROSSROADS (Marvel, 2013; Softcover)

Collects The Incredible Hulk Annual #13, The Incredible Hulk #301-313, and Alpha Flight # 29 (cover dates November, 1984- December, 1985)

Writer: Bill Mantlo
Artists: Pencilers- Sal Buscema, Alan Kupperburg, Bret Blevins, and Mike Mignola; Inkers- Gerry Talaoc and Al Williamson

Bill Mantlo's run on this title has to be one of the most underrated runs of the 1980s. I'm not kidding. Aside from #312 and 313 (which I bought when they originally came out- more on that later) these comics were all new to me, and they are all great. Mantlo's writing may seem overly wordy to modern reader sensibilities but bear with it, kids. He crams an arc's worth of characterization into every single issue and there is one helluva payoff at the end of the day, nearly 1200 pages across these three books later.

The Hulk has been banished to the Crossroads by Doctor Strange in an attempt to save both the Earth and the Hulk. Due to Nightmare's interference, Bruce Banner's intellect was squashed and the Hulk became a truly mindless beast. When Strange intervened Banner essentially committed suicide of the id, allowing a mindless Hulk to wander through the Crossroads, which is a nexus to different worlds and dimensions. Strange implanted a fail safe spell in the Hulk's mind so that if the mindless Hulk became discontented he would be transported back to the Crossroads, free to pick a new world until he found one that made him happy.

The Hulk encounters foes of all types in this dimension. Worlds where all of his strength is useless, as he is the weakest being (#302-303). Worlds where a symbiotic creature attaches itself to the Hulk and learns to dream (Annual #13). He befriends an entity called the Puffball Collective which is trapped in the Crossroads and unable to enter any of the worlds. There is a ton of development with that entity, and it ends up helping the Hulk before revealing it/their hand. The N'Garai appear in the finale, and that battle is pretty darn cool.

Yes, the N'Gari were clearly "inspired" by the movie Alien.

As if all of this isn't enough, the remnants of Bruce Banner's psyche begin to reemerge as three personalities called The Triad (#308). Glow, a star-like creature that is Banner's intellect; Guardian, Banner's survival instinct; and Goblin, his anger, basically the devil on his soldier. These three personalities helped the Hulk when he was mindless but were of course invisible to everyone else. That's right, kids, years before the show Herman's Head set the world on fire for the fledgling Fox Network Bill Mantlo paved the road for it with this title. This is some pretty heady stuff and predates many so-called sophisticated comics. Their origin wasn't revealed until #312, which I bought as 12 year old sucker because it was a Secret Wars II tie-in. It was dry for my tastes back then, even though I enjoyed the artwork of the then-unknown Mike Mignola, who would go on to great success with Hellboy.

Herman's Head. I was one of the 20 people who watched when it originally aired, largely because my family was too poor to have cable and the Internet didn't exist.

I was suckered into buying #313 because it tied into Alpha Flight #29. AF was one of my favorite titles in 1985, and series writer/artist John Byrne was going over to The Incredible Hulk while Mantlo/Mignola/Talaoc were going over to Alpha Flight. The Beyonder set a chain of events in #312 which led to the end of AF #28 (which took place at the same time as #313) and beginning of #29. The whole thing ends with a bang, literally. It was a pretty clever way to tie up Mantlo's run as well as welcome Byrne to his ill-fated but highly advised run.

I was harsh about Gerry Talaoc's inking in my review for the previous volume, Regression. I stand by that critique, as his work in that book was substandard. He really shines here, though, having figured out how to compliment Sal Buscema's pencils perfectly. He also works well with a young Mike Mignola.

Bill Mantlo is a great writer who did what many comic book writers fail to do. Take a character, put that character through their paces, break things, and then carefully put everything back together the way that you found it. He put his stamp on the character without disowning what came before or making it impossible to follow without adhering to his take. Genius. It makes me sad that he still suffers from injuries sustained in a hit and run accident many years ago and is in assisted living. Hopefully royalties from reprints like this help him out. He is a writer whose work has always hit the mark and deserved a better fate than what he got. The driver who crippled him was never caught.
Junk Food For Thought rating: 5 out of 5.

The OCD zone- I love love love these thick chunky books! 400-500 pages is the sweet spot for me. I am sucker for complete chunks of a title. DC would do well to emulate this with their '60s-80s material. I would probably buy them all. Kill me now.
Linework and Color restoration: The film is in great shape and the color palette is faithful to the original publications. If there are variances they are minor enough that they don't bother me, so they likely wouldn't bother you since I tend to skew pretty anal about this sort of thing.
Paper stock: The same awesome matte coated stock found in softcover Masterworks, Epic books, and Classic line trade paperbacks. My favorite!
Binding: Perfect bound trade paperback.
Cardstock cover notes: Thick waxlike lamination.
 

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