Saturday, May 21, 2011

'The Incredible Hulk' #291

'Old Soldiers Never Die!'

Today we look at a Hulk issue from Assistant Editors’ Month. This was published during the era when Bruce Banner could control his transformations and Hulk kept Banner’s intellect.    n                           The Assistant Editor for this issue was Ann Nocenti

Nocenti is probably best remembered as co-creator of Longshot and for her run as writer on Daredevil in the late 80s, with John Romita Jr. and Al Williamson providing the art.     I loved that run, it was the best post-Miller run I can think of.  Typhoid was created by Nocenti in those DD issues and continues to be one of Daredevil’s greatest foes.       TPBs of these stories can be easily obtained. Nocenti’s stories often dealt with socio-political topics, which ultimately lead her to a career in Journalism and documentary filmmaking.  She currently teaches film in Haiti. You can find Nocenti's personal web site here.
The cover of this issue features a caricature of Nocenti as Hulk in the cover corner:

This story is one of the more serious to be published during AEM.  It opens with Bruce Banner paying a visit to the Marvel offices looking for his “official biographers”, the classic Hulk creative team of writer Bill Mantlo and artist Sal Buscema.  His greatest enemy, General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross has recently betrayed his country by working with MODOK and the Abomination.  Banner wonders if revealing this to the world would damage the United States:

This leads us to the issue’s main feature, by the aforementioned Mantlo and Buscema with inks by Gerry Talaoc.  It’s a Thunderbolt Ross solo story, in which the General looks back on his life and endless feud with the Hulk.
We learn that Ross is a third generation officer, who married his Captain’s daughter .
It was during World War II (then)Captain Ross earned his nickname:
Victory in WWII and Korea only made Ross restless, since he was happiest when he was in combat.
Ross loved his daughter Betty.  But women couldn’t be soldiers in those days, so he would always be disappointed that she wasn’t a son.  The death of his wife created even more emotional distance between Ross and his daughter.

Ross’s flashback eventually leads to his involvement with the Gamma Bomb project, created by Dr. Bruce Banner.  Ross hated civilians, especially scientists, and was sickened to learn his daughter was in love with Banner.  The Gamma Bomb, of course, explodes and turns Banner into the Hulk, setting off the war between Ross and the Hulk.  Like past wars, this new conflict gave new meaning to Ross’ life.
Their war seemed to end when Banner gained power of his transformations, allowing the Hulk to become a full-fledged superhero.  Pres. Reagan pardoned the Hulk for his past crimes, overriding Ross’ objections. This leads Ross to conclude he must go outside the law to defeat the Hulk, seeking out super-villains, and thus, betraying his sworn oath to the United States. His daughter calls him a “traitor”.
His collaboration with criminals has destroyed his career and legacy, Ross removes his decorations and contemplates suicide.  He ultimately decides that the next war will be learning to live with his actions:

We cut back to the Marvel offices. Nocenti watches the Hulk walk away in a rain storm:
This is a powerful story, and nice example of how a comic book can be good even without action or fight scenes.  When this was published, Ross had been a comic character for 21 years.  In some ways, this story fleshes out his character more than all stories that came before it.  Ross is the sort of warrior who can never be at peace with the world or himself.  Kudos to Mantlo, Buscema and Talaoc, ‘Old Soldiers Never Die’ belongs on any list of “essential” Hulk stories!

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