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Hulk Best Comics (1971-1981)

Updated: May 5

The Hulk is one of the most well-known and popular comic book characters in history. But the fact is throughout the 60s and for most of the 70s, there aren't many stories of his that stand out because it's become obvious that the writers don't really know what to do with him. He's a man trapped inside a monster whose power increases when he's angry and goes around fighting whoever he comes across. Essentially, 90% of his stories revolve around Bruce Banner searching for a cure while the Hulk continually fights new or old villains and heroes across the entire Marvel Universe while the government hounds him. None of the writers in this time period knew what else they could do with him. Thus, the Hulk remains in a sort of statis mode throughout these ten years of publication. That's not to say all the stories are bad. There are a few that stood out amongst the others with interesting or even epic stories. But sadly these stories are few and far between.

Like many other comics at this time, there was a struggle with finding an ongoing writer. Archie Goodwin, Gerry Conway, Steve Englehart, Roy Thomas, and even Chris Claremont sort of rotated in and out with Goodwin and Englehart having the most consistent runs for the first few years. Then Len Wein took over for the next three years and was probably the one who did the most for the Hulk in this time though not by much. After him came Roger Stern and eventually Bill Mantlo who carried the Hulk into the 80s. During this time, the Hulk even got a black-and-white spin-off with bigger stories though these were more disappointment. The black-and-white comics were given more freedom with 'mature' content, something the Hulk would be perfect for given his monstrous nature and its too bad this was never really acted on until much later (decades later).

Still, despite the continous stream of mediocre stories, the comic still sold well, saving it from cancellation. And none of this is a slam on the writers, it's just apparent none of them really knew what to do with the Hulk than repeat what was already done. It's clear he can't actually be cured or else they'd lose the character and kill the comic. So, what else could they do but just same-old, same-old. Disappointing but understandable. Thankfully, as the Hulk entered the 80s, newer writers came in with new ideas on how to give the Hulk the stories he deserved. But that's a story for another time. Until then, here are (in my opinion) the best Hulk comics from 1971-1981.

8. Incredible Hulk Vol 1 197-198: The Shangri-La Syndrome

Hulk vs. Man-Thing. Whenever a powerful being appears in the Marvel Universe, you have to wonder when they’ll face-off against the Hulk. And Len Wein decided to do it here in this story. But this story is much more than just a battle between the two goliaths (technically three since old Hulk foe the Glob gets thrown in as well) as the mastermind behind it all is the Collector, here to add the Hulk to his menagerie, sending in his army of pirates to capture him. It’s in the second part of the story that it picks up steam with Banner witnessing all the creatures the Collector has captured from across the universe and put on display, no better than slaves. This leads to a final confrontation with the Hulk, Man-Thing, and Glob teaming up and the Hulk freeing everyone. Sadly, the story lives up to its name as when the slaves leave the Collector’s ship, what had been keeping them alive for so long gave out and they returned to their natural age, all dying around the Hulk and yet still grateful, rather dying free than living imprisoned. What might have just been another big sci-fi action tale became much more and makes it stand out among all the other Hulk stories.

7. Incredible Hulk Vol 1 172: The Juggernaut

As previously stated, whenever a powerful being appears in the Marvel comics, it’s only a matter of time before they fight the Hulk. And it’s honestly a surprise that it took this long for X-Men villain the Juggernaut to fight the Hulk. When the Hulk gets captured, again, the Juggernaut comes to the rescue. While his sudden appearance is a little hard to understand, it gets the ball rolling with the two teaming up to break out. However, when the Hulk sees the Juggernaut threatening innocent people, he turns on the mystic powerhouse and the two begin bashing each other to see who is best. The battle lives up to the hype and the Juggernaut proves himself to be one of the few characters who can really take on the Hulk and possibly win, only losing in the end from losing his helmet and thus his powers. While this story does leave a little to be desired, writers Roy Thomas and Tony Isabella still manage to deliver an epic fight scene between two of the strongest Marvel characters, which is really all it was meant to do.

6. Incredible Hulk Vol 1 235-237: The Monster and the Machine

One of the highlights of Roger Stern’s run as he brings an end to the Corporation story that had been running through Incredible Hulk, Captain America, and Machine Man. Here, the villain from the Machine Man comics kidnaps a friend of Hulk’s and tricks him into thinking it was Machine Man who did it, leading him on a rampage. From there, Hulk brawls with Machine Man with the other hero desperately trying to hold off the monster and understand what is happening. With a character like Hulk who gets into fights in every issue, the writer is always trying to find new ways to make those fights interesting. Here, Stern has the Hulk fight a robot who can think and feel and react, making their battle that much more surprising, all leading to the grand finale of Hulk taking down the Corporation the best way he knows how by destroying their skyscraper in a bombastic panel by Sal Buscema.

5. Incredible Hulk Annual Vol 1 8: Sasquatch

John Byrne joins Stern as co-writer for this tale as they bring in the latest powerful Marvel character to fight the Hulk, this one being Sasquatch of the recently introduced Alpha Flight. When Hulk lands in the Canadian wilderness, he befriends young ranger Mores. But, before he can enjoy the peace long, Sasquatch arrives to capture him as well as test to see how strong he is. He then forces the Hulk out and what follows is an all-out brawl as Sasquatch quickly realizes what a mistake he made as the Hulk overpowers him. In the end, Hulk realizes he is scared Mores, leaves while Sasquatch bemoans the fact that he was the real villain of the fight. Buscema’s artwork is as great as ever and both writers manage to bring something new to this battle while bringing more layers to the characters.

4. Incredible Hulk Vol 1 245-248: Jarella's World

Bill Mantlo starts his run on the Green Goliath here with a sad tale as Hulk decides to return the body of his beloved Jarella who recently died to her homeworld. Starting out with him storming Gamma Base to retrieve her body and going up against the enraged and increasingly erratic Glenn Talbot along with all the other troops and a visiting Captain Marvel (Mar-Vell), Buscema’s artwork is as great as ever portraying the Hulk’s power as he decimates all opposition. Most Hulk fights are centered him around misunderstandings or some villain trying to beat him. Here, the battle is that much more meaningful as the Hulk is fighting for the one woman who loved all of him, Hulk and Banner, in order to return her home. Of course, when he eventually gets to her microscopic homeworld, his troubles persist as her people are on the verge of extinction, the planet having been devastated with only one place left able to sustain life. So, naturally Hulk goes there and faces off against the Gardener, an Elder of the Universe, in a fight of true willpower, each side having their own moral arguments. Mantlo started off his run in a wholesome and action-packed way, showing the kind of storytelling he’d bring to the Jade Giant’s comic.

3. Incredible Hulk Vol 1 152-153: The World, My Jury

The Trial of the Incredible Hulk. Writer Gary Friedrich decides when the Hulk gets captured again, the government should put him on trial for his crimes. Bringing in Daredevil as the Hulk’s lawyer, the Fantastic Four and Avengers as witnesses, and Spider-Man as photographer, this story was one of the more unique and interesting tales of the character released so far since something like this had never been done before. After a battle with the previously stated characters, the trial begins with Reed Richards attempting to find a cure and Matt Murdock attempting to defend Bruce Banner in order to get a fair trial for him and to prevent his execution. However, it all keeps going downhill until Richards finally returns and promises to free Banner from the Hulk. His experiment goes awry and the Hulk gets stronger breaking free. But in the final panel, Richards admits to Murdock that that had been the plan all along as he was unable to find a cure in time to save Banner so freeing him was the next best thing. While the trial doesn’t dig into its premise as much as it could, it is still a fascinating concept brought to life and done exceptionally well, providing fans with a much more interesting tale of the character in recent years.

2. Incredible Hulk Vol 1 205-207: Death of Jarella

Loss is a key part of a superhero’s life and it was only a matter of time before the Hulk suffered it the same way. Unlike Betty Ross, Jarella fully accepted both Bruce Banner and the Hulk, loving both personalities equally. However, she is killed while saving a child from falling debris when the Hulk fights his latest foe. Desperate to save her, the Hulk takes her to Doc Samson but he is unable to help so the Hulk decides the only one who can is Doctor Strange, going on a rampage across the county and New York City to find him, leading to his team the Defenders forced to face off against him in order to stop the damage. After a dramatic and epic battle, the Defenders manage to calm him down long enough to help. However, Strange confirms that Jarella is in fact gone and he is unable to help, leaving the Hulk in a state of depression, knowing his true love is gone forever. Writer Len Wein has confirmed that the death was never meant to be permanent but due to behind the scenes changes, his plans for her never came to fruition and so she remains dead. It’s almost a rule at this point that the Hulk can never be happy.

1. Incredible Hulk Vol 1 180-181: And Now…The Wolverine

The best of the best so far as Len Wein decides to make an action-packed story involving the Hulk, the mysterious beast Wendigo, and newcomer the Wolverine who would go on to become one of the most popular characters in Marvel comics, thanks in a large part to Hugh Jackman. When the Hulk appears in Canada, he runs afoul of his old foe the Wendigo, a man cursed in a monster’s body (not unlike himself) and the two begin to hash it out. But the Canadian government, worried about the damage the Hulk will do, send in their own special operative the Wolverine leading to a truly epic three-way fight with the Wolverine holding his ground against the massive goliaths and proving his ferocity as a fighter, showcasing how he is the true star of this tale and leading to Wein bringing him back for his X-Men relaunch. While Hulk battles sort of blend together after a while, due to there being a new one each month, this one stands out with the Wolverine never underestimating the Hulk’s strength like previous foes and proving his own worth as a fighter, nearly bringing big green down himself which is what makes this story the best. The Wendigo also provides a neat addition to the combat with the Hulk and Wolverine briefly teaming up to take him down.

And that's it for the Hulk. Not to many stories here but things start to pick up in the 80s from what I'm reading so far. Til next time and thanks for reading.

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