My Misspent Youth: Incredible Hulk by Steve Englehart and Herb Trimpe

I read a lot of comic books as a kid. This series of posts is about the comics I read, and, occasionally, the comics that I should have read.

It started with a hand-me-down. I and my partner-in-all-things were visiting some friends in the bustling metropolis of Milwaukee. One of them, a fellow youthful victim of the comic book siren song, presented a gift. It was a old comic book, clearly well-read as the glossy front had the approximate texture of crushed taffeta. The cover promised to introduce us to “THE MACABRE MENACE OF CAPTAIN OMEN AND HIS UNHUMAN HORDES!” The only reasonable response to such breathless promotion is: “Sold!”

Let’s get right down to the business of introducing Captain Omen. Here he is:

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Captain Omen presided over a gigantic underwater ship called the Infra-World, staffed by bulky behemoths he referred to as his sons. It was part of a scheme to lay claim to the expanse of oceans across the globe, thereby given him monarchy over the vast majority of Earth. So he was a good ol’ Marvel megalomaniac.

He comes upon the incredible Hulk when the green-skinned goliath is strolling across the ocean floor, all the better to steer clear of the planes, tanks, and soldiers that just won’t leave him be. Brought aboard, Hulk is initially perplexed by the change in environment.

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Naturally, Captain Omen explains absolutely everything about his villainous agenda to the new passenger. That’s all right. He’s picked the one card carrying member of the Avengers who isn’t all that interested in processing information. After some standard issue tangling within the ship, Captain Omen determines that a fella as big and strong as the Hulk might be of use to him. This leads to the devastating final panels of the issue:

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True believers, we couldn’t let the story stop on this cliffhanger. My pal might have only turned over one issue, but the now-hooked members of our household needed more, more, more! Luckily, we knew such rescue is exactly what back issues sections of comics shops are for.

A copy of Incredible Hulk #165 duly secured, we dove back into the story. It turns out that dropping Hulk outside of the ship may not have been the wisest choice for Captain Omen. Out there in the watery depths, Hulk was accessible to a few members of the crazed commodores’s crew with rebellion on their minds.

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Confined to the deep sea vessel for their entire lives, these blocky gentlemen shared they’d grown weary of seeing the world through misty portholes. They wanted to be where the people are, they wanted to see, wanted to see them dancing. Hulk knows the longing for freedom, making him especially sympathetic to their hopes for insurrection. Plus, he had his own reasons for not much liking the guy they were planning to rise up against.

With their help, Hulk finds his way back onto the ship, but before the rebellion can go much further, our title hero needs to trade blows with a great big beastie. This is a Hulk comic from the nineteen-seventies, after all. Since the storyline is taking place under the sea, writer Steve Englehart and artist Herb Trimbe cook up an appropriate brute to tangle with the Hulk:

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AQUON!! HALF-MAN…HALF-FISH…AND ALL HATE!” There was a reason they called Marvel Comics the House of Ideas, folks.

Obviously, every bit of this comic is glorious, but the best, as it should be, is saved for last. After Hulk bested Aquon, he assisted as the unhuman hordes took control of the ship and headed toward the surface, where they are wildly excited to finally step on dry land for the first time. A grim reality awaits, though. It turns out a fairly significant physiological issue arises when those who’ve been genetically engineered to survive the crushing depths of the ocean try to take in the sights at sea level.

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Is the incredible Hulk feeling nauseated as he watches a gaggle of underwater mutants explode in front of startled beachgoers the greatest moment in mighty Marvel history? Maybe not. I do know at least one person who might be inclined to view it as one of her favorite comic book sequences ever. That’s enough to give it an extra special place in my heart.

Previous entries in this series (and there are a LOT of them) can be found by clicking on the “My Misspent Youth” tag.

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