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CSBG Archive

Into the back issue box #36

Today’s entry reminds me of something, but I can’t quite put my finger on it … Perhaps our loyal readers can help!  Plus: this issue is Mantlo-riffic!

If you’re hoping I’ll explain what’s going on in these posts, you can always look here.

The Incredible Hulk #301 (“You Are Standing At The Crossroads!”) by Bill Mantlo, Sal Buscema, and Gerry Talaoc.  Published by Marvel, November 1984.

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Ah, the Hulk.  Ol’ Rampager!  Angry Green Man!  You can always count on a Hulk comic to give you some big-time smashing, right?

Well, not if you’re Bill Mantlo!  Mantlo cares not about your desire for smashing!  All he cares about is character development.  Hulk brood!

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Yes, it’s issue #301 of The Incredible Hulk, and we begin with the Jolly Green Giant standing in a strange place.  In front of him is a tree with many hands pointing every which way, and all around are paths and mouths and, well, weirdness.  The dramatic narration reads: “From this place leads many pathways … but no path leads home.”  Well, that’s clear, then.

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On the next page, the narrator helpfully explains, “He is in exile here, a bludgeoning, brainless brute banished from Earth … before he could cause further harm to the world of his birth … and before it could further harm him.”  Dr. Stephen Strange, the “master of the mystic arts,” who opened a doorway between dimensions and deposited the Hulk there.  Hulkster, it seems, had become savage, with no trace of his human alter ego, Robert Bruce Banner.  But humanity owed Hulk too much to execute him, so Strange exiled him.  And Hulk was angry.  Apparently, you wouldn’t like him when he’s angry.

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So Hulk smacks the signpost of many hands.  Strange beings that look like the ball of seeds on top of a dandelion take him to task for smacking it, but they can’t communicate with Grumpy Puss.  He inhales them all and blows them out, causing them some consternation.  He looks into what appears to be a pool of water, standing vertically, and a tentacle pulls him in.  It’s tentacle porn in a 1980s Marvel comic!  The horror!  The creature tries to pull Hulk into its gaping maw (yeah, we know what that signifies), but Hulk begins to forcefeed it its own tentacles.  Oh, that wacky Hulk!  The creature doesn’t like this, so it spits Hulk back onto the path.  The dandelion things are back, and they peer into Hulk’s mind to try to communicate with him.  They form into a shape not unlike Bruce Banner, which makes Hulk really cranky.  As he swings ineffectually at the dandelions, a portal opens behind him, showing a city in flames.  Hulk sees the violence and destruction, which makes him all warm and fuzzy, and he goes through the portal and rests.

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Dr. Strange is keeping his eye on Hulk, and through his thoughts, we learn that he chose several realities that might offer Hulk contentment.  However, “contentment” for Hulk means smashing everything around him, so Strange had to choose carefully.  If Hulk is disenchanted with whatever world he finds, a “fail-safe spell” will trigger his return to the crossroads, where he can choose again.  That’s handy to know.  Thanks, Doc!

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Hulk jumps up, ready to smash, but notices something different about the ruined city.  The people aren’t real, but puppets.  Hulk doesn’t understand this, and things that Hulk doesn’t understand enrage him (add it to the list, I guess, behind puppies, Joe Morgan’s utter lack of knowledge about baseball, Ann Coulter, blitzing on 3rd-and-long instead of playing base defense, Tony Stark constantly talking about his “honeys,” nipple rings, and the fact that Angelina Jolie and Ben Affleck won Oscars before Jennifer Jason Leigh – those things make Hulk so mad!), so he starts with the smashing.  However, everything falls apart awfully easily, and Hulk doesn’t get it.  He takes no pleasure in destroying such puny things.  Jets swoop in and bomb him with missiles that don’t cause any damage, and when Hulk snags a plane in mid-air, he sees that it’s held up by strings!  Hulk perplexed!

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He pulls on the strings and is instead pulled up in the air.  A giant face looms above him, and as the camera pulls back, we see that Hulk is hanging from strings held by a young alien boy.  The boy is ecstatic that his version of “Demolition City” came with a “real live monster.”  Hulk’s in some kind of board game!  Oh, that Mantlo irony!  The boy runs off to tell his friend about the monster, and Hulk starts to realize that he’s in a toy.  That really bums him out, and thanks to Strange’s “fail-safe spell,” he vanishes from that reality and heads right back to the crossroads, “where he might choose again — until the end of time.”  Jeez, Mantlo, what a downer to end the comic!

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There’s nothing really wrong with this comic, but it’s still not that good.  Mantlo does a fine job getting us up to speed on the Hulk and what happened in the previous issue, and why he’s in this strange dimension.  We do actually get plenty of smashing, but it all feels hollow, because Hulk beats up dandelion thingys and then a lot of cardboard buildings and tanks.  And, of course, we end up right back where we started, so nothing really gets accomplished.  If you’re a first-time comic book reader, there’s nothing in here that will make you never pick up a comic again, but I’m not really sure you’d be inclined to come back, either.  Is this all there is?  Hulk gets angry, smashes stuff, and gets to do it all again next issue?  Set in the context of a longer story arc, I suppose it might work (and I have no idea how long Hulk spends in this crossroads dimension), but it’s kind of a boring issue standing on its own.

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As for Strange’s scheme … it sounds pretty good.  I wonder if Marvel has tried it recently?

14 Comments

Stephane Savoie

October 21, 2007 at 5:13 pm

Y’know, as a bonafide hater of Mantlo comics, I still look back fondly at the Crossroads Hulk stories. They were interesting (well, maybe), self-contained, and had a slow overarching plot.
Not very Hulk-y tho. (Then again, Cronin’s already talked about the problem with the Hulk’s engine.)

I believe the Crossroads story went on for about a year before the Hulk returned to Earth in the pages of, of all things, Alpha Flight.

On the bright side, this storyline did *not* end with the Hulk returning home, bellowing that he was pissed off that his former allies had exiled him on another world, and that he was going to conquer the Earth in revenge.

The Hulk and Alpha Flight changed creative teams with Mantlo taking over the Flight and John Byrne taking over the Hulk (for a whole 6 issues), and that’s what ended the Crossroads storyline.

The only crossroad story that I remember clearly was the world where the Hulk was the weakest one there is. There wasn’t much more to it than that but seeing the slapped around by kids a tenth his size was pretty cool when I was in the ninth grade.

This story really illustrates why the whole “mindless Hulk” could never work for the long term.

There just ain’t much you can do with “mindless hulk”. The stories become less about the hulk and more about his surroundings – he becomes a supporting character in his own book.

For the most part I found all these crossroads stories to be painful and dull.

Oh yeah, the big creative team switch.

Before the switch we had a good Alpha Flight comics, written and drawn by John Byrne and a good Hulk comic written by Mantlo and drawn by Sal Buscema.

Then they traded.

We ended up with an ok Hulk comic that Byrne prompltly left which turned into a crappy AL Milgrom Hulk comic that had issue after issue of Hulk vs Avengers.

And we had an abyssmal Mantlo/Buscema Alpha Flight that had noen of the saving graces of EITHER the Byrne AF or the Mantlo/Buscema Hulk runs.

Bad trade all around.

But then we got Peter David’s Hulk…which wouldn’t have happened if Hulk hadn’t been in a slump at the time, since David didn’t have a long track record at that point. (And I suspect Byrne was getting tired of Alpha Flight by that point, or he wouldn’t have been willing to switch books; he might have left before very long anyway.)

In reply to #7 above:
Actually towards the end of the Crossroads stories, art chores were taken over by a young Mike Mignola. It was a peculiar fit, but he did some good covers, if I recall right. But I agree, Mignola’s Alpha Flight art was terrible, and not helped by the awful scripts.

So Greg, I understand that this might be a fun little exercise, but I think you’ve done enough to draw a conclusion: the back issue boxes in the store where you shop are pretty crappy. No offense, but will more evidence really prove otherwise? It doesn’t seem like it.

Best case scenario for these is that you find a nice one-and-done story for a good price, or that you discover a new comic, artist or writer that you’d never given a chance before. But that never seems to happen. At best, you’re finding comics (like this one) that aren’t terrible. But for the most part, the ones you’re finding are pretty awful. So I’m not really sure what the point of these is anymore.

But if you like it, carry on sir!

That’s a good point, sgt pepper, and I don’t plan on doing these forever. Mostly, by now, it’s just a fun way to look at older comics. I am still trying to examine whether they do a good job bringing in new readers, however. It’s also quite fun to discover ideas, like Doctor Strange’s in this issue, that get recycled 20 years later.

I’m going to stop eventually (probably after the latest bunch of random comics I bought runs out), but it’s still enjoyable to do these, so I’m going to keep at it. Crappy comics and all!

Maybe this exercise makes another point entirely. Perhaps comics individual aren’t good as a whole.

If you take one issue out of the blue of any random series, there’s a good chance that it’ll be in the middle of a storyline. That’s most likely be the situation if it’s been printed in the last 35 years. With that in mind, it isn’t very likely that the story will be understandable as a whole.

Now, I understand what you’re trying to randomly determine: does this one issue give enough back story to make the story and characters understandable, and does it entice the new reader to come back next month. I believe you’ve discovered your answer.

As a whole… no.

I believe what you’ve discovered is that the writers & editors don’t give enough expository text to accomplish the first taks, which, in turn, fails on the second as well. I suggest this is because they generally write for the steady readers, not the new ones.

Any thoughts?

I kind of enjoy this feature. I don’t comment much but new content is appreciated and it makes for some quick reading to kill a little bit of time.

I think you’re right, avengers63. It’s kind of frustrating, though, because whenever I come across a comic that does both, it doesn’t look that difficult. Maybe the writer is just better, but mainstream superhero comics don’t have to be so arcane. I understand that some comics are specifically created to be a long-form kind of thing, but wouldn’t DC and Marvel want every issue of their big guns to at least hook people into coming back? This issue does a fine job getting people involved, but at the end of the issue, there’s not a lot of reason to come back, unless you’re a long-time reader. It’s unfortunate.

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