First Published: September 2006
Contents: Incredible Hulk #143 (September 1971) to #170 (December 1973)
Key Creator Credits: Roy Thomas, Archie Goodwin, Steve Englehart, Herb Trimpe, Gary Friedrich, Dick Ayers, Gerry Conway, and others
Key First Appearances: Dr. Peter Corbeau, Hulkbusters, Shaper of Worlds, Wendigo, Gremlin, Zzzax, Bi-Beast
Story Continues From: Essential Hulk Vol. 3
Story Continues In: Essential Hulk Vol. 5
Overview: OK, this is the fourth volume in the Essential Hulk line. Do you still need a proper introduction? We all know by heart how Dr. Bruce Banner was exposed to gamma radiation, and as a result becomes a green monster known as the Hulk when he gets angry. I think we can skip the introduction and just get into the story.
The Hulk is still on the run from the Army. General Ross reveals a new plan to battle our hero with the introduction of the Hulkbusters. Initially designed as aircraft that could attach the Hulk from a distance, the Hulkbusters would morph over time into a full military assault unit with a weapons cabinet that would make the Punisher giddy with excitement.
At one point, the Hulk is finally captured, and is brought to trial for his numerous crimes against humanity. Of course, the Hulk keeps attorney Matt Murdock on retainer, so he is represented in court by the man without fear. The case does not go the Hulk’s way, and Mr. Fantastic finds a way to help the Hulk get out of the courts, even if he remains on the run.
During this era (1972-73), the X-Men title was in reprint mode, so those characters were able to make appearances in other books. At one point, the Hulk encounters Havok and Polaris, as the Hulk is confused by the green hair of Lorna Dane and mistakes her for Jarella. Later on, the Hulk crosses paths with the Beast and Mimic. Sadly, one of those three does not walk away from the fight. Given that we still have three more Essential Hulk volumes to cover, and this is well before the Beast has joined the Avengers, the Defenders, and X-Factor, I think you can figure out the ending of that story.
As if his life is not complicated enough, Bruce and the Hulk have conflicting issues with their girlfriends. Hulk wants to return to Jarella’s side in the sub-atomic world, while Bruce struggles to find a way to stay with Betty Ross. Unfortunately, during one of his periods where Bruce and the Hulk were off-Earth, Betty accepted a proposal and married Glenn Talbot. Later on after the Hulk’s return, the arch-fiend MODOK transforms Betty into the Harpy, the half-bird/half-woman character from Greek mythology. The last thing the Hulk needs is his best girl harping on him for all of his faults, whether it’s his anger control issues or his two-timing with Jarella.
What makes this Essential?: I’m not for sure what to think of this volume. The stories are interesting, but I am not a fan of Herb Trimpe’s art during this era. His Hulk looks more brutish, but does not appear to be much larger than a normal man. Personally, I prefer my Hulk to be overwhelming in size and anger, and I do not get that Hulk in this volume. The new characters introduced in this volume stick around or make a bigger impact with other characters, such as Wendigo with Wolverine and Alpha Flight. This is a volume for a die-hard Hulk fan. As a casual Marvel fan, I don’t think this is essential to own.
Footnotes: The back-up story from Incredible Hulk #147 is also reprinted in Essential Hulk Vol. 2.
Incredible Hulk #161 is also reprinted in Essential Classic X-Men Vol. 3.
If you like this volume, try: the Hulk Visionaries: John Byrne collection, which reprints Byrne’s brief run on Incredible Hulk in the mid-1980s. Flashback to 1985, as John Byrne was wrapping up his run on Alpha Flight. At that same time, Bill Mantlo and Mike Mignola were finishing up a year-long story in Incredible Hulk that had our hero jumping around in other dimensions. Marvel essentially traded the creative teams between the two books. Beginning in Incredible Hulk #314, Byrne takes control of the title, and the Hulk is back on Earth, hounded by General Ross and his Hulkbusters. Doc Samson has figured out a way to separate Bruce Banner from the Hulk, but it leaves the jade giant a mindless monster. Free of the Hulk, Bruce Banner and Betty Ross are finally able to be married. And suddenly, Byrne was off of the book, due to creative differences with then Marvel Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter. This volume also collects two other Byrne Hulk stories from this era, an Incredible Hulk Annual #14 and a Hulk feature from Marvel Fanfare #29. This Hulk Visionaries was released in trade paperback in 2008, and should still be easily found.