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John Seavey’s Storytelling Engines: Rampaging Hulk

Here’s the latest Storytelling Engine from John Seavey. Click here to read John’s description of what a Storytelling Engine IS, anyways. Check out more of them at his blog, Fraggmented.

Storytelling Engines: Rampaging Hulk

(or “Rejecting The Continuity Implant”)

When Doug Moench took on the assignment of creating a new, stand-alone Hulk title (created due to the popularity of the Bill Bixby/Lou Ferrigno TV show), he made something of an unusual choice. Not so much his decision to give the Hulk a supporting cast that consisted of Rick Jones and an alien “techno-artist” named Bereet with a transdimensional bag containing dozens of nifty gadgets, or his decision to set up a group of marauding aliens called the Krylorians as the Hulk’s principal antagonists for the series…although those were somewhat unusual choices, as well. No, the really odd decision was to set the whole series in between the Hulk’s original comic book series (which ran six issues, back in the early 1960s) and Avengers #1.

Series like this crop up from time to time. These “continuity implant” series (like ‘Untold Tales of Spider-Man’, ‘X-Men: The Hidden Years’, ‘X-Men: First Class’, et cetera et cetera) attempt to use a particular era of a comic book’s history to tell all-new tales. Obviously, this is of particular relevance to this column because the writers of continuity implant series generally choose their era (whether consciously or not) based on its storytelling engine. The team dynamic of a particular period appeals to them, or they decide that the supporting cast was better before half of them got killed off in the 1990s, or they prefer not to deal with the consequences of a particular dramatic shake-up in the book’s status quo. So they go back, they pick the storytelling engine that works best, and they fire it up all over again.

And for some series, that works. Doctor Who has actually made something of a habit of this, publishing over 100 novels and 25 short story collections set in between other televised stories. But Doctor Who has much looser continuity than Marvel, and that’s where the problem sets in. Because Marvel has, arguably, made a selling point out of their adherence to continuity. Actions have consequences, events in one book reverberate into another, the status quo changes based on characters’ actions, and we’re told that missing one book will mean we might miss a life-changing event. (Whether that’s true or not is an entirely different story.)

This demanding continuity has its consequences, and one of them is to train the audience to see stories that don’t alter continuity as being “undesirable.” ‘Rampaging Hulk’ readers look at the series and say, “Nothing’s going to change there, nothing important can ever happen, because it’s frozen in the past! We know the Hulk’s not going to find a cure, we know Rick Jones isn’t going to die, we know the Krylorians are going to be overthrown, so why should we care?” Doug Moench might say you should care because they’re good stories, he might even point out that it’s not likely that the Hulk will find a cure in the present day series…but generations of comics readers raised to expect “impact” as one of the primary attractions of a given comic book issue don’t listen.

Further, continuity implant series run another risk, one exemplified best in the grand finale to the Krylorian storyline–the Hulk teams up with Iron Man, Thor, Ant-Man, and the Wasp to finish off the Krylorian forces. “But all this is set before Avengers #1!” the fan cries out. “Surely you can’t expect me to believe that the whole Avengers line-up met twice before they decided to form a team! And why is the Hulk talking so dumb? Back in this era, he was intelligent but brutish, and…” In a fictional universe with tight continuity as a selling point, errors in that tight continuity irritate fans, simply because they’ve been promised (implicitly or explicitly) that they won’t see them. A company that promises tight continuity has to deliver, and continuity implants have a hard time doing that, just because writers are as human as everyone else.

In the end, due to all those factors, ‘Rampaging Hulk’ turned into just another stand-alone series, and eventually the adventures of the Hulk, Rick Jones and Bereet were retconned away. Because the creators of the Marvel universe, the larger storytelling engine that all the other books are just a part of, set up certain conditions for these books to adhere to. And that made series like ‘Rampaging Hulk’ (and ‘Untold Tales of Spider-Man’, and ‘X-Men: The Hidden Years’, and other series that died too young) a bit of a hard sell for its target audience.

26 Comments

I never read The Rampaging Hulk, but All-Star Squadron succeeded (for the first four years or so, anyway) by being a continuity implant series set in the early 40s, when there was no continuity between books at all.

Bernard the Poet

July 22, 2008 at 11:39 am

I think the idea behind Rampaging Hulk was to hook fans of the television series, who wouldn’t normally read a Marvel comic. The format was larger, magazine sized, and the covers were painted and hyper-realistic. I can’t remember now, but I think this is when Bruce Banner became David Bruce Banner.

Anyway, it worked for me. The Rampaging Hulk was the first Marvel comic I read regularly, it introduced me to the X-Men, the Avengers and Rick Jones, and gave me the confidence to try their ‘in continuity’ titles.

Bernard the Poet

July 22, 2008 at 11:48 am

“I never read The Rampaging Hulk, but All-Star Squadron succeeded (for the first four years or so, anyway) by being a continuity implant series set in the early 40s, when there was no continuity between books at all.”

Yeah, but Roy Thomas concentrated the series on less well known characters – who it had never been revealed whether they died or not fighting the Nazis. In fact, he killed off the Red Bee and incapacitated the original Fire Brand, so any one of the core characters were at risk.

Bizarre, that in trying to appeal to the public of the (more realistic) TV show they came with a proposal that was even more outlandish than the regular comic book.

Hulk was only ever David Banner on the TV show. In the comic he’s Robert Bruce Banner, to cover up an early mistake that Stan Lee made when he accidentally started calling him Bob Banner instead of Bruce.

I’ve never read the Rampaging Hulk book, but I’m curious — when was it explicitly retconned away?

Bizarre, that in trying to appeal to the public of the (more realistic) TV show they came with a proposal that was even more outlandish than the regular comic book.

Yeah, I was thinking the same thing.

Chris Schillig

July 22, 2008 at 12:26 pm

In a later issue of THE INCREDIBLE HULK, it was explained that the events in the b&w title were actually movies filmed by the Krylorian woman (Breet?) who was a traveling companion of Hulk and Rick. That story is reprinted in the Essential trade paperback that came out earlier this year.

God, I remember reading that issue of The Incredible Hulk when I was a kid. It was one of those attempts to resolve messy continuity that wound up being sillier than if they’d just left it alone.

Interesting. Marvel has been known to change things around at times (like whether or not the Vision was once the Human Torch), but it’s rare that they actually throw out a story out of continuity. The only other examples I can think of are John Bryne’s revamps of Spider-Man’s and the Hulk’s origins.

Actually The Rampaging Hulk came out before the TV movies or the TV series.

Later on the magazine would be color instead of B&W & have the ‘as seen on TV” blurb

I’m just curious, how does that story erase the continuity? It seems to be saying those stories still happened, they just happened to be recorded. Were Hulk and Rick Jones acting out a script?

Chris Schillig

July 22, 2008 at 1:27 pm

I don’t have the book in front of me, but the impression I have is that the female alien was making mental movies of some kind (pre-CGI, too! ) to impress her people, and that the events in the stories didn’t actually happen to the real Hulk and Rick.

Yes, she goes into quite a bit of detail about the differences between the “movie” Krylorians and the actual race (she’s a renegade peace-loving Krylorian in the “movie”, and the “real” Bereet describes the imperial “movie” Krylorians as being a parody of her own stodgy, dull race) and she laments never having met the actual Hulk and Rick Jones, as she’s seen them in action and wishes she could have adventures like that. It’s very unambiguous from the text that the ‘Rampaging Hulk’ stories are faked.

Tom Fitzpatrick

July 22, 2008 at 5:11 pm

Hulk smash puny humans.

The biggest Marvel retcon I can think of (OK, BESIDES the “Spider-marriage never happened” thing) was precisely in the pages of Hulk as well: apparently, the whole “Mr. Blue” era (where Betty Ross turned up alive) was just a dream that Banner had, courtesy of his old foe Nightmare! An ENTIRE writer’s run done away because Peter David didn’t like the changes he made? Now, I’m not saying the erased stuff was good, but like Brian said, it’s annoying when the comics do things like that to us fans. I’d much rather have bad stories fixed (and then forgotten) than explicitly retconned.

I loved this series when it came out in ’76. (Nearly a year before the TV version of the Great Green Grunter.) I loved the sense of humor Moench gave the writing which was perfectly complemented by the art by Walt Simonson and Alfredo Alcala in the earlier issues. It was fun and a little silly. Finally the series just kind of petered out with issue 12. In 1978 it was renamed “Hulk” and featured stories patterned after the “Incredible Hulk” TV show.
The backup feature in the book was a strip called “Bloodstone”, about a ten thousand year old man who was granted immortality by a mystic gem lodged in his chest. Sometimes I looked forward to those stories more than the main story. Just when the storyline was getting really good Marvel abruptly ( and, in my opinion, arbitrarily) killed the character off.
If you can find issues of this gem I think you’ll enjoy them.

Sijo, you’re talking about Tempest Fugit? I don’t remember Nightmare saying it was all a dream. I seem to recall that Nightmare said Banner couldn’t be sure it was real (but as I seem to put my brain cells under great strain, my memory could be faulty)

Yeah, Tempest Fugit officially retconned Jones’ run.

I don’t believe it was David’s idea, though. I think it was an editorial decision.

You know, I actually like the idea that the Avengers met before Avengers #1. It makes their decision to form The Avengers feel less forced if they had worked together twice instead of once.

Finally the series just kind of petered out with issue 12.

FWIW the change happened with issue 10. #s 1-9 were “Rampaging” in B&W and with 10 it became just “The Hulk!” and it was more-or-less based on the TV series (but Banner was still Robert Bruce, not David Bruce).

Dalaraso, the problem it raises for Avengers #1 is with the entire plot of the 1963 comic — if they’d worked with the Hulk before, it’s unlikely Loki’s trick would have instantly turned the other heroes against him.

Chris Schillig

July 26, 2008 at 6:53 am

Are you serious? Marvel characters who’ve known each other for decades will fight when they catch each other jaywalking, for heaven’s sake. Loki’s scheme still would work today, let alone back in Avengers #1!

I know this is late, but I just now found this via a link in the new CBUL entry. Lothar is completely right about each error in the text he points out. Furthermore, the first issue of R-HULK is dated January 1977, while the PILOTS for the Hulk TV series didn’t air until the following fall, rendering this mag being influenced by the other a chronological impossibility. Finally, the later end of the gap in which this was supposedly inserted was NOT the first issue of AVENGERS, but the TALES TO ASTONISH edition where Hulk’s second solo series started. In their RAMPAGING appearance, those heroes are called the Avengers. I don’t think I’ll bother checking any more of Seavey’s work in this series.

Obviously, RH wasn’t influenced by the television show with the very first issue, but by the time the mag switched to the present day and started to focus on more down-to-earth stories, the television show’s presence was making itself felt.

I appreciate Hal’s support (misspelling my name notwithstanding), but I think he doth protest a tad on the much side. First, I was responding to a comment, not the article itself. Second: pre-retcon, R-Hulk was set between Incredible Hulk 6 & TTA 59, when the Hulk didn’t have a solo series. During this gap Avengers 1 happened. In Avengers 1 the individual Avengers met each other for the first time (other than Ant-Man & Wasp obviously).

I just skimmed issues 8 & 9 of R-Hulk, in which the proto-Avengers appear. (Yes, I am a geek and keep them easily available. My co-habitants are quite annoyed.) In issue 8 Pym & Van Dyne don’t recognize Rick Jones as anyone they’ve met before – he’s just “that teenager.” On the last page of the story in #9 Ant-Man says “…there really is a Hulk and not just a creation of those aliens…Lord knows where he is now or whether we’ll ever meet him again – as friend or foe.” While it’s possible to interpret what goes on in the issues such that Thor, Iron Man, and Ant-Man & Wasp all know each other I think it’s more likely that they all have heard of each other. At most they’ve barely heard of the Hulk and definitely haven’t worked with him before. It’s true that the cover blurb on issue 8 says “The Might Avengers” and issue 9’s story is called “To Avenge the Earth” but they’re never called the Avengers in-story.

It’s also true that John states incorrectly that Rampaging Hulk was created based on the TV series’s existence. That’s in itself is no reason to out-and-out reject all of his work.

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