The Rampaging Hulk (Marvel Magazine, #7 – 9) – Doug Moench, Steve Gerber

4 out of 5

Maybe my education in the comic world is lacking, but I can’t think of a DC version of what Marvel was doing with magazine sized books in the 70s.  Some of them were flops or cash-ins, for sure, but there were those that just clicked for a short period of time, and speak to quite a different comic book era, this sort of dead zone where they were being written by beatniks in their late 20s and 30s and gleefully aimed at an openly nerdy similar age range.  Yes, we’re in a world that accepts comics now, but it’s very self-aware.  Something like “Rampaging Hulk” – something exactly like it – couldn’t happen now because the type of comic book dork to which it appeals isn’t actually the bread n’ butter anymore.

So goes my brief analysis.

I’m not a Hulk fan.  And the stories in “Rampaging” (which changed to a different title, technically, after issue 9) aren’t – heh – that appealing to me.  They’re pretty silly, and they feature the “me hulk go boom” version of ol’ greenie.  But I love the vibe.  From cover to cover – from the awesome painted covers, the pinups on the inside, the brief editorial intro and then our main chunk of Hulk story plus backup, out of the various mags I’ve sampled – Rampaging is just consistently giddy with love for its character.  It’s also a fun concept – they could get away with the dumbo Hulk version because the stories were all retcons, meaning to take place after the character’s short-lived original series and then reappearance in Tales to Astonish.  So even in an era of already wacky guys-in-tights soap operas, the mag managed to add an extra layer of cheeky by mostly removing itself from continuity concerns (which resulted in some greatly obsessive submissions to the letters pages).  Out of the issues sampled here, Doug Moench was working on a sort of ongoing storyline involving Krylorians – would-be, idiotic Earth invaders – and a renegade from their race, Bereet, who’s palling around with Hulk and Rick and getting in to (mostly) isolated, per-issue adventures.  Issue #7 is wonderful late 70s crazy, with Bereet’s 4th-dimensional fanny-pack producing a formalized monster from her negative feelings, which, of course, squares off against Hulk.  Issue #8 tries to wrap up the whole thing by bringing the Krylorians plans to a head, and features plenty of amusing Bereet / Rick / Hulk bickering, but leads to an especially dumb (like even by these standards) throwdown with the pre-Avengers Avengers, everyone going out of their way with misunderstandings and pointless Ant-man superpowers to make the battle way more complicated than it has any right to be.  Still, that dumbness is charming, though the previous issues embraced their kitsch in a more straight-forward and enjoyable fashion.

The backups similarly weren’t something you could just toss out, weaving (through several issues) the fun and messy saga of Ulysses Bloodstone, but they only really become required reading when Steve Gerber steps in on these last few issues, which is why I tracked them down.  His Man-Thing tale in issue #7 tip-toes up to the line of genius established in some of his previous writings on the character, although it’s definitely mismatched with Jim Starlin’s art – Jim was just way too comic formal for the more poetic approach of Manny.  There’s a text page in the strip that’s definitely too indulgent – Gerber relied on these too often, even though he generally did them well – but the surrounding comic, in which a girl manifests her different personality traits as separate beings (odd synergy with Bereet, there…) is incredibly emotionally grounded and forward-looking.  Man, Gerbs wrote Man-Thing so well.

Issue #8 had Steve actually finishing off the Bloodstone tale previously written by John Warner, and he did so in a way that sort of – from my perspective – pokes fun at how waywardly Warner had scripted the thing.  It’s still respectful of it, I’d say, giving full-on closure to the storyline while also rewinding and summarizing things much more effectively than they’d originally been presented.  This is a fun bit of sci-fi, even if you hadn’t read the preceding story, but it’s enhanced by doing so – not because Ulysses’ comics were particularly great, but because it showed how good Steve could be as a fill-in dude.

And in #9, Shanna the She-Devil.  This is, I’ll say, completely average – and is rather unfortunately eye-rolly visually thanks to Tony DeZuniga going full cheesecake with his visuals – but it’s the epilogue to Steve’s other work on Shanna, and a nice conclusion in that regard.

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