If you’ve ever read any of these Marvel Madness posts, it becomes quite clear that there are certain things that will almost guarantee I choose a story to highlight. I generally am working through the various runs of the big Marvel characters, and seeing certain elements will make me stop in my tracks, ready to find a story custom-made for these sorts of posts. The most obvious of which is Doctor Doom showing up in a comic that’s not Fantastic Four, but I worry I’ve been over-fishing that particular lake, and may be approaching a point where there just aren’t that many stories left that work that well. But, there are plenty of other fun little flags I can come across while scrolling through Marvel Unlimited, such as anything involving actual Marvel staff, insane cameos from real people, the Juggernaut, and perhaps one of my favorite relatively obscure C-List characters, the Infernal Man-Thing! I haven’t talked about the Man-Thing nearly enough on the site, but I really love that big old ball of gunk. I know he obviously gets compared most often to Swamp Thing, since on the surface they’re incredibly similar characters, and in that competition Man-Thing almost always loses, since he just doesn’t have as many classic stories or beloved runs as Swamp Thing does. But, there’s something incredibly endearing to me about his weird character, so whenever I see him involved in a comic I come across I’m going to get excited. And, when I get the promise of seeing him play with the Hulk, the Collector, and a whole bunch of time-displaced henchmen in a magical museum, I’m bound by law to share it with you all.
The story begins, as so many Hulk stories do, with the jade giant lumbering through a new location, pissed off that he’s here. And, this time he’s marching through a swamp in the Florida Everglades, absolutely hating that he’s here, and not quite remembering how he get there. But, as always, he’s looking for a little peace and quiet, hoping to get away from all the meddlesome humans who always cause him such aggravation. And, as he’s wading though some swamp water, complaining about his latest encounter with the Abomination, he suddenly gets attacked by a trio of alligators, who attempt to take down this massive feast. But, the Hulk isn’t going to be taken down by lowly lizards, so he just start rasslin’ him some gators, when we the reader notice that this brawl has gained the attention of the Man-Thing, who just kind of awkwardly watches as the Hulk beats the shit out of the gators. And, while he’s watching things get even more complicated when a large python attempts to strangle Hulk while he’s busy dealing with the gators. And, the snake is actually able to give Hulk some problems, choking the breath out of him, causing him to sink into the swamp, being devoured by alligators, while the Man-Thing just watches.
But, after just a moment, the Hulk comes bursting out of the water, holding a writing mass of reptile, after having tied the alligators up with the python. He then hucks this pile of terrified animals out of the swamp, before happily stomping away, pleased at a job well done, all while the Man-Thing just kind of wanders off, bored with the proceedings. And, as Hulk continues to wander through the swamp, he ends up encountering the ruins of a couple geodesic domes, which used to house an experimental city known as Omegaville, which frequently shows up in various Man-Thing comics. The place has been utterly destroyed by something, and Hulk just kind of snoops around, seeing a bunch of skeletons frozen in poses of terror. But, that doesn’t really interest him. What does interest him is a fairly well put together bed, which survived whatever happened to Omegavile. So, deciding he deserves a good night’s sleep, the Hulk takes a load off, and falls asleep on the bed, gradually turning back into Bruce Banner.
And, as Banner sleeps we see a mysterious person arrive at the shattered dome, and creepily watch as he slumbers. The guy apparently stands there the entire night, until Banner finally wakes up, only to find the guy lurking in the darkness. Banner realizes that he’s in Omegaville, which he’s vaguely familiar with, and ends up chasing the guy down, figuring he had something to do with the destruction of this experimental city. But, when Banner finally manages to tackle the guy, he finds that something seems to be very wrong with him. He can’t speak, and he generally acts like a frightened animal, wanting to just run away and hide. So, not quite sure what’s going on, Bruce decides to be nice to the guy, and begins walking through the swamp with him, trying to soothe him and get hi to calm down.
Which is when the pirates show up.
Well that’s unexpected! Bruce and the mute guy are suddenly jumped by a bunch of pirates, leaping out of the swamp to capture them. Bruce freaks out, and the blonde guy really begins panicking when the pirates appear, so Bruce does his best to protect the guy. Especially when the pirates announce that they’re here specifically to capture him, and bring him back to their employer. But, Bruce isn’t going to allow an innocent guy to get captured by a roving gang of pirates, so he does his best to defend him. The pirates find that rather ridiculous, and just attack Bruce, dog-piling him and beating the crap out of him. Which, was a miscalculation on their part, because all this accomplishes is triggering his transformation into the Hulk. At which point the Hulk begins beating the shit out of the pirates, who still attempt to steal the blonde guy.
The Hulk is pretty baffled by all of this, not sure why he’s being attacked by pirates, or why he feels the need to protect this blonde guy, but he just goes with it and continues beating on the pirates. And, after a while of fighting a giant indestructible green monster, the pirates start to question why exactly they’re doing this as well. But, as the Hulk continues to batter the pirates, they’re suddenly joined by the employer of this group of buccaneers. The Collector! Now, you are more than likely most familiar with the Collector from his appearances in the Marvel movies, and they do a fairly good job at getting across his whole deal. He’s a being who has been around for almost the entirety of the universe’s existence, and he’s obsessed with collecting things. He often shows up on Earth to try and kidnap the various odd people who live there, and it appears that he’s after this blonde guy. But, he’s also interested in picking himself up a brand new Hulk. And, luckily for the Collector, he’s just picked himself up some new muscle.
I’m not exactly sure how the Collector manages to wrangle the Man-Thing into this whole thing, but he’s not exactly the brightest bulb in the bunch, so I guess it tracks. And, the Hulk doesn’t really need much to convince him to attack a giant muck monster, so he just dives on in, swinging away at the Man-Thing. Which, doesn’t really work that well. Hulk’s fists rip right through Man-Thing, but it doesn’t really do anything, and Man-Thing is just able to pummel him. But, while Hulk is caught up in this fruitless war against a semi-sentient pile of gunk, the Collector is taking the opportunity to attack the blonde guy. He takes out a special device that blasts energy at the man, causing him to rapidly transform into a creature known as the Glob, a semi-sentient walking pile of clay that often tussles with Man-Thing.
The Collector has been hunting for the Glob, and has finally managed to track him down, and is going to get his hands on the Man-Thing and the Hulk in the process. And, he’s not going to let that opportunity slip away from him, so he orders the Glob to go take care of the Hulk too. The Glob marches over to the Hulk and starts joining up with the Man-Thing to pummel Hulk. And, unfortunately, the Glob is also incredibly hard to punch, so he and Man-Thing have an immense upper hand on him. They end up working together and manage to beat the Hulk into submission, finally casing him to fall unconscious. At which point the Collector orders his army of pirates to grab the Hulk, and carry him off to his waiting ship.
The Hulk is slowly dragged into the Collector’s ship, which also doubles as his mobile menagerie. The pirates drag him through the halls of the Collector’s ship, until they reach a special exhibit that was designed to look like the Florida Everglades, and place all three of his new finds inside. It had been the sole home of the Glob before he escaped, but now he gets two new cell-mates, and they aren’t going to be able to escape because the Collector has attached some special manacles to their legs that will keep them inside the little Everglades biome forever. And, with that taken care of, he rewards his crew of pirates by using a special invention to shrink them down and place them in a miniaturized version of their ship, which is in a bottle of course, and puts them back on display where they’ve apparently been for hundreds of years.
The Collector then wanders off, cackling at his villainy, I guess to do some sort of inventory, leaving behind the Glob, the Man-Thing, and the Hulk. But, it seems like the Collector maybe doesn’t know much about the Hulk, because left unattended to the sleeping form of the jade monster slowly starts to transform back into Bruce Banner. And, noticing this change, the Man-Thing wanders over and begins delicately stroking Banner’s face until he wakes up, panicking. Bruce doesn’t remember where he is, but it sure seems like the Everglades, so he begins walking away from Man-Thing and Glob, looking for the blonde guy he was trying to protect. But, when he reaches the edge of his little pen he ends up slamming into an invisible wall, realizing that he’s in some sort of museum. However, he also realizes that the manacle on his leg seems to have been programmed to cage the Hulk, and now that he’s just Bruce Banner he’s able to slip out of it, and walk right out of his invisible cage, into the Collector’s collection.
The whole thing is really blowing Bruce’s mind, as he wanders around and finds objects from antiquity, myth, and alien civilizations. But, things really get unexpected when he comes across another little diorama that’s made up to look like an ancient Arabian home, complete with a woman inside. And, a real life woman. In fact, it seems to be Scheherzade, the protagonist of the One Thousand and One Nights story, who is apparently a real person, and who has been captured by the Collector, forced to tell him stories every night. Bruce is pretty shocked by this, and she’s pretty shocked to see a person outside of their cage. She manages to calm Bruce down, and begs him for help, summoning a group of other sentient beings who are trapped to also plead their cases, including a Union soldier, a satyr, a Roman Centurian, and some goofy looking alien guy.
They beg Bruce to help them escape, telling him that they’ve been captives of the Collector for untold time, and he decides that he has to do whatever’s in his power to free them. Bruce then begins marching off, eager to find some way to save these poor souls, and walks right into the Collector, who isn’t pleased to see Bruce out of his terrarium. But, instead of just attacking Bruce, he ends up striking a conversation with him, because it turns out the Collector is incredibly lonely, and just wants a friend. He also summons a guy called Akbar who was once the bodyguard of Kubla Kahn, just in case Bruce gets any funny ideas. But, by and large the Collector seems to enjoy Bruce’s company, and ends up striking him an offer. He has an elixer which he claims will permanently remove the Hulk from him. And, he’ll give it to Bruce if he agrees to stay in the Collection and be his friend. And, Bruce’s answer is kind of surprising.
So, leaning into his emo streak, Bruce decides that there’s no reason he should return to Earth, because everyone there sucks, and ends up agreeing to the Collector’s terms. However, all of this emotional turmoil has caught the attention of one of the newest additions of the collection. Because, in case you weren’t aware, a big part of the Man-Thing is that he’s an empath, feeding off of powerful emotions. So, feeling everything that Bruce is going through is like catnip to him, causing the big monster to shamble out of his confines, his gooey leg just melting right through his manacle, letting him free himself from his pen. And, seeing a good course of action, the Glob ends up doing the same thing with his manacle, following Man-Thing out into the collection.
The two begin lumbering through the collection, drawn to Bruce’s emotions, which manages to catch the attention of some of the Collector’s guards. They raise an alarm, telling Collector that it seems like Bruce has freed his two cell-mates along with his escape, causing the Collector to renege on his promise. The two start fighting, and Bruce makes a move towards the Collector, causing Akbar to attack him, punching him across the room. Which, was a miscalculation, because this causes Bruce to transform into the Hulk, who is quite a match for Akbar. Hulk and Akbar fight for a bit, but it’s really a forgone conclusion that the Hulk is going to win. He’s the strongest one there is after all.
The Hulk makes quick work of Akbar, and turns his attention to the Collector, who he immediately recognizes as someone who has given him grief. So, the Hulk prepares to pummel the Collector into the ground, causing the Elder of the Universe to try and make a deal. He shows Hulk the elixer that he tried to bribe Bruce with, promising a way to remove Banner from his life forever. But, surprisingly, the Hulk is not into this idea. Not because he values Bruce Banner, but because he wants to be the one to defeat Banner on his own, not using some magic potion. So, the Hulk crushes the elixer, and prepares to continue pummeling the Collector. However, the Collector thinks fast, and manages to summon a force field of energy which he claims will keep the Hulk imprisoned so that he can deal with Man-Thing and the Glob.
The Collector leaves the Hulk to do his best to smash out of the force field, while he goes and gets a group of gladiators to track down and capture his missing exhibits. Which, doesn’t prove that difficult, what with them being slow-moving mounds of goo. The gladiators begin attacking Man-Thing and the Glob, but as you might guess, it doesn’t work well. Their weapons and nets slip right through their bodies, and it all just starts to seem fruitless. And, that anxiety and fear at realizing that their tactics are having no effect against two literal monster starts to cause them to become afraid. Which, is a problem, because as we all know, whatever knows fear burns at the Man-Thing’s touch.
And, while the Collector and his men are distracted with Man-Thing and Glob, we see that the Hulk has been insanely bashing the force-field repeatedly, growing more and more furious. And, since the Hulk gets stronger the madder he gets, he eventually becomes strong enough that he manages to smash through the force field. He’s pretty pleased by this action, but doesn’t really realize the full ramifications of destroying this piece of technology. Because apparently the power used to run the force field had been draining all of the other systems, and him crashing it caused a cascading effect throughout the collection, causing all of the exhibits to lose power, freeing the inmates.
They end up charging throughout the collection, getting ready to fight against the Collector and his men. And, as a small war breaks out the Hulk comes shambling into the room, pissed off at everyone. And, realizing that things have fallen apart, the Collector decides that it’s time to cut his loses and flee. He begins abandoning his men and his collection, which catches the attention of the Hulk. He goes rushing off after the Collector, wanting vengeance, when he’s stopped by Scheherazade. She recognizes his pants, and assumes that this is still Banner, welshing on their agreement. She reminds the Hulk of their agreement, and calls him a hero, which manages to make the giant agree to help them.
And, now that the Hulk has decided that he’s going to help these people, he leads his newfound friends to freedom. Because as soon as the Collector ran for his life his gladiators gave up, letting everyone leave the museum. But, as everyone starts looking for an exit, one exhibit trails off. The Glob has no interest in escaping. He only wants vengeance. So, he begins shuffling through the ship, tracking down where the Collector has gotten off to. And, he ends up locating the Elder inside his control room, desperately trying to repair his technology so that he can recapture his possessions and go back to normal. And, he’s distracted enough that he doesn’t notice the Glob come shuffling into the room, sneaking up behind him and getting ready to have bloody revenge on his captor.
Meanwhile, the Hulk has been leading his little crew of captives through the collection, and they’ve finally found a way out. The Hulk is able to break his way out of the ship, lowering the captives down onto the ground for freedom. At which point they all begin to cheer for the Hulk, after having saved them all. Hulk seems most pleased that he’s gained the affection of Scheherazade, and actually seems quite content with the world. Which, of course can’t last. Because it turns out that something in the Collector’s ship was keeping them all alive, and now that they’re out of the ship they’ve all started rapidly aging. The Hulk watches in horror as all of the captives begins aging into dust around him, even Scheherazade. And, as everyone around him dies, the Hulk just stands there, mortified, while Man-Thing feeds off of his emotions until they get too dull, and he goes marching off into the swamp, leaving the Hulk with his pain.
The world is a bad place right now, and sometimes you just need to distract yourself with some comfort food. And, insane Marvel stories are a great source of comfort for me, falling into the familiar and bizarre trappings that the House of Ideas used to pump out at a staggering rate. Which makes this story just so much more delightful. Because it’s wonderfully bat-shit crazy. Like so many of the Marvel stories I highlight here on the site, it’s just a prefect distillation of what I love about the Marvel Universe. The way that it has so many characters, most of which seems like they shouldn’t interact, only to blend them all together in a way that works. The Hulk and Man-Thing are characters that sort of feel like they could go together, but tossing the Collector into the mix is that extra little spice that makes this story a work of insane art. I love the Collector in comics and seeing him capture Hulk and Man-Thing with an army of pirates only to get involved in an insane prison break is just an absolute delight. It’s just a bunch of characters that I enjoy, hanging out with each other and playing around with the nonsense of the Marvel universe, exactly what I’m here for. Plus, we get some interesting insight into the Hulk and Bruce, especially in the form of that whole elixer of life thing. It’s very sad that Bruce would be willing to leave Earth forever as essentially a slave for conversation, because there’s just nothing left for him on Earth. And, the idea that the Hulk doesn’t want to get rid of Banner in an easy way because he wants to be the one to destroy him is intense. And, that final punch to the gut, having the Hulk finally come across someone who sees him as a hero, and wants to befriend him, only for that person to literally die in his arms, it just depressing. But, it works so well, and it’s that bit of melancholy that helps make the silly goofiness pop.
The Incredible Hulk #197-198 were written by Len Wein, penciled by Sal Buscema, inked by Joe Staton, colored by Glynis Wein, lettered by John Costanza, and edited by Len Wein and Marv Wolfman, 1976.
Categories: Marvel Madness