Tuesday 22 June 2010

Incredible Hulk #164. Bad Omens.

Incredible Hulk #164, Captain OmenThe Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau had nothing on the Undersea World of Captain Omen. Whilst Cousteau used to keep a seal captive on his boat and make it perform for the cameras, Omen's decided to keep the Hulk captive on his boat and use him as a labourer. Needless to say, with a protagonist as even-tempered as the Hulk, it's never going to end happily.

Maybe I have no genuine critical faculties or maybe it really is that great but the truth is The Incredible Hulk in the Herb Trimpe era can do no wrong for me. I can't think of a single one of those tales that I didn't like. He could draw monsters, he could draw machines, he could draw robots, he could draw aliens and, most of all, he could combine it with a simple but compelling form of visual story-telling. Granted, he couldn't draw traditional super-heroes too well but that never really mattered in a strip like this.

But how exactly did our hero get into this scenario? Simple. He did it the same way any of us would. Trying to get back to America, the Hulk finds himself going for a swim but is soon captured by the mysterious Captain Omen who bears no resemblance to Captain Nemo and is unchallenged ruler of a giant submarine that doubles as an underwater kingdom. By the end of the tale, everyone's fallen out and the Hulk's forced by Omen to walk the sea floor, eternally following the ship.

Incredible Hulk #164, Captain Omen,toad whales
All of this means Trimpe's in his element, getting the chance to draw submarines, wide people, funny-looking old people, fight scenes, and monsters a-go-go. He even gives us robot sparrows.

Writer Steve Englehart isn't quite so in his element when it comes to evolution. The crew of Omen's ship have only been aboard for two generations but already, we're told, they've evolved extra wide bodies to best survive the crushing depths. I'm no Richard Dawkins but I suspect it'd take longer than that - especially as Omen's undersea base clearly maintains surface levels of air pressure.

But so what? This is The Incredible Hulk, where exposure to Gamma rays gives you super-powers rather than killing you, where characters can speak in the vacuum of space, and women can be turned to glass then restored to normality with a quick blast of radiation. What matters is I love this tale as much as I love the entire Trimpe era, and the ending, with the Hulk trapped on the sea bed and forced to follow the ship of Captain Omen forever, is a great climax, eschewing the usual action-packed cliff-hanger melodramatics to give us a bind that there genuinely seems to be no way for the Hulk to escape.

I'll tell you what though. I bet he does escape.

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