Is It Better to Be Hated or Ignored?

Bloggified by Jake on Tuesday, April 2, 2013

When learning a new language, the hard part isn't memorizing a bunch of new words to substitute for the ones you already know. To truly master a language, you must understand idioms. Figures of speech don't translate directly even across the same language--Bob is not my uncle, you limey! Stop saying he is!--so you can imagine how difficult it must be for a native Russian or Spanish or Greek speaker to figure out what Americans mean when we say we're beating a dead horse because we have a chip on our shoulder

If, however, you ever find yourself in a scenario where you are teaching English to someone and he takes pause at the phrase "phoning it in," the solution is a simple one. Hand him a copy of Incredible Hulk Annual #17 because there is no more clear example in history and that includes all the times people have literally used a phone to complete a task.

I consider myself a bit of a connoisseur of bad comics. My first paid writing gig and my first published book both owe a debt of gratitude to my obsessive dissection of stories about Lois Lane bathing in mercury and radiator fluid and Jimmy Olsen trading brains with an ape and Mr. T fighting inner city ninjas. As such, I wish Incredible Hulk Annual #17 was half as terrible as a Superman, Wonder Woman, and Supergirl shilling for Radio Shack. Unfortunately, it can't quite muster the effort to be bad enough to be accidentally entertaining.

The book gets off on a dull foot with a story about the soldier who gave Hulk his name nearly slapping his kid, drawing a parallel to Bruce Banner's own abusive father. Peter David wrote that and the second story, in which Betty Banner makes friends with Tyrannus by teaching him about makeup.

Both stories are boring, but competent. Neither felt like it was begging to be told. But compared to the rest of the filler in this issue they seem to rank right around the Warren Commission Report in terms of importance.

The third "story" is a two-page parody of the old Mean Joe Greene commercial for Coke. In this case, five people who won a drawing to appear in a Hulk comic learned just how terrible that prize could be. Instead of getting to be in a Hulk comic drawn by Dale Keown, they wound up in a "Popsi" joke drawn by some anonymous Bullpenner.
I have to say the part that annoyed me most was that the kids later call Hulk "Mean Joe" and he throws them his torn shirt, which winds up the size of two king-sized comforters sewn together by the time it reaches the kids. Of course, had I won what I believed to be a legitimate contest and bought a double-priced comic book to find my "likeness" was used in a throwaway joke that neither the writer or the artist wants to be credited for, my "part that annoyed me most" might have been different.

The next story focuses on Rick Jones, who is on a book tour promoting his autobiography, "Sidekick". After a signing, someone tries to run Rick down with a truck, but a kid who considers himself Rick's biggest fan shoves Rick out of the way. Rick goes with the kid and the kids' girlfriend to a diner and gets up to leave after fifteen minutes because he's tired of listening to the kids go on and on about how great Rick is.
The art for this story was done by John Statema, who is probably best known for not actually dying back in 2001 when it was reported that he did. What's a shame is that in Jerry Ordway's obituary, he neglected to mention the mind-blowing fact that Statema went his entire life without ever seeing an actual human being eat an ice cream cone.
"Woman in foreground is eating an ice cream cone? Where am I supposed to find reference for that? I supposed I'll have to lightbox the cover image to this VHS copy of Fat Black Cock Worshippers Vol. 5... again!"

The kid follows Rick out to the parking lot and the same truck tries to hit Rick again. Rick subdues the driver and we learn it's a former member of Rick's Teen Brigade who is jealous because Rick has had a good life while his own has been mediocre. Rick then takes the opportunity to shit all over his biggest fan.
That's the guy who's on a national tour promoting his book about how he's been buddies with Hulk, Captain America, Rom: Spaceknight, and Captain Marvel and became a card carrying member of the Avengers simply by hanging around celebrities--often in spite of Bruce Banner warning him to get away for his own safety--belittling an emotionally stunted teenager who gets bullied at school regularly and has toilet bowl caliber self-esteem for being excited about saving his idol's life and knowing a lot about Rick Jones at a signing of Rick Jones's autobiography.

Of course, the kid sees Rick is completely correct and apologizes for being a weirdo and wishes Rick well, leaving the reader to wonder what the point of any of it was. There is no compelling reason to tell this story. Rick comes off as an asshole. The pathetic bullied caricature remains a pathetic caricature now bullied by his idol. The obsessed former fan club member angle comes out of nowhere and is given all of one panel to be explained. The only moral to the story appears to be that a complete lack of understanding of perspective and anatomy or ability to transfer same to paper does not preclude one from being paid to be an artist for the world's largest comic book publisher.
The only redeeming think about Rick's story is that it's followed by an even more pointless story starring even less interesting characters, Achilles and Ulysses of the Pantheon. And the only redeeming thing about Statema's art is that it's followed by inker John Stanisci's attempt at being a penciler.
If my eight-year-old son drew that, I would spill a glass of iced tea on it before he could ask me to hang it on the fridge. When Hulk editor Bobbie Chase saw it, she said, "I'm going to put this in a book that dedicated fans will have to pay twice as much to read as they do for the monthly comic drawn by a man who is already coming to be known as one of the quintessential artists in the decades long history of this beloved character."

The story is about a kid with superspeed who gets recruited by Justin Hammer to help Whiplash, Ringer, and Barrier (I've heard of 33% of those guys before) steal some plans to an experimental aircraft. Ulysses and Achilles show up, the kid realizes Justin Hammer is a criminal, and everyone fights for a page and a half, which allowed John Stanisci to cash a fat paycheck for drawing this.
Ultimately, the bad guys are beaten up, though it's not always clear how it happened because Stanisci makes an effort not to draw action whenever he can instead show the aftermath of action. (In Stanisci's defense, writer Eric Fein likely shares some blame here for trying to fit so much action into four panels tightly backed on the bottom half of a page.)
While the kid expresses concern that his family is in financial straits due to his mother's medical bills, and feels guilty for taking a job without considering it might be illegal to break into a high security technology firm, but laments being out of work regardless of the morality of said work when one's family is in need, Achilles and Ulysses congratulate themselves on a mission accomplished.

What? This was a decade before George W. Bush declared "Mission accomplished" prematurely, so this isn't an ironic, timely reference. Rather, it appears the comic book ran out of pages and Fein had no choice but to end his story by having the heroes be completely blind, self-obsessed shitheads.

Again, the story seems utterly pointless. The kid isn't joining the Pantheon. Achilles and Ulysses are not developed as characters (which is the subject for another post at another time). The villains are D-list characters who, likewise, do not develop and could be any number of interchangeable mediocre, barely known villains.

Overall, Incredible Hulk Annual #17 is a dumping ground for what was probably audition material for artists like Statema and Stanisci that Marvel then threw into a giant-sized package and sold in bulk. None of the stories in it makes even the vaguest attempt at capturing anyone's imagination, much less out attention.

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