Monday, 21 February 2011

Nostrils and monsters. Life's a beach on the island of terror.

Mighty World of Marvel #176. Reprints the Incredible Hulk #170. The Hulk and Betty Ross/Talbot on an island of giant monsters.
Never explain and never apologise. Neil Gaiman once told me that.

When I say he, "told me," he told me nothing of the sort. I've never met him and he's never met me. That's probably for the best, as I have a much daintier nose than him and I'm told these writers can easily plunge into a jealous rage.

But the advice I began this post with, I read it in an article he once wrote, and The Incredible Hulk #170 (AKA, The Mighty World of Marvel #176) is a perfect example of its correctness, as, having seen off the Bi-Beast, the Hulk and Betty Ross find themselves on a mystery island. With no immediate way to leave, the Hulk takes on the role of protector and provider, while Betty Ross takes on the role of annoying woman who keeps running off and having to be rescued.

The island, you see, is home to a bunch of giant monsters. Where they come from and how they got there, we don't know. Not only that but the monsters themselves don't know. It seems they're from outer space but the hows, whys, whats and wherefores are so long forgotten they've degenerated into little more than animals. All we - and they  - know is they speak in cryptic symbols, without the aid of speech balloons, and they're very keen on killing Betty Ross. This means that, when she flees the Hulk one time too many, they take her off to be sacrificed, at which point the Hulk flings them to their deaths in a volcano, before a rescue helicopter arrives.

You can't get round it. With its almost total lack of clarity as to what's going on and the unlikelihood that such gigantic creatures could've remained undiscovered on a small island for what seems to have been thousands of years, it's tempting to write the whole episode off as a hallucination caused by the infected wound we know Betty has.The problem is I'm pretty sure the Hulk makes a reference to the monsters in a later tale, so it looks like if it was a hallucination it's one they were both sharing.

I've mentioned before that in 1975 The Mighty World of Marvel disappeared from my local newsagents, again without explanation and apology, but this was the first Hulk story I read upon its return. It seemed a strange tale then and it seems a strange tale now. And that strangeness lies at the heart of its appeal. However frustrating its lack of answers, it's that very lack of answers that makes it live long in the memory.

So, it looks like Neil Gaiman was right. There is a strength in not explaining things. Maybe I should write a post without any explanations. Maybe I should make a plaster cast of my nose and send it to him, leaving him none the wiser as to why. The power of mystery. The power of mystery.

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