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Friday, July 15, 2016

X-amining Incredible Hulk #390-391

"This Means War" / "X-Calation"
February - March 1992

In a Nutshell
X-Factor is called in to stop the Hulk's attack on the nation of Trans-Sabal.

Writer: Peter David
Penciler: Dale Keown
Inker: Mark Farmer
Letterer: Joe Rosen
Colorist: Glynis Oliver
Editor: Bobbie Chase
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco

Plot
Issue #390: In Trans-Sabal, Hulk and the Pantheon help a rebel group repel the forces of the country's dictator, Farnoq Dahn. This prompts Dahn to ask CIA operative Galvin for additional assistance from the US, in addition to the equipment they already provided. Galvin proceeds to bring in X-Factor to take on the Hulk. Issue #391: Hulk's friend Rick Jones shows him that the equipment being used by Dahn's forces is from SHIELD, causing him to wonder if they're on the right side of the conflict, but Hulk insists they are. Meanwhile, X-Factor is briefed on the situation and prepares to battle Hulk, despite their dislike of Dahn. Back at the rebel camp, Rick befriends one of the soldiers, convincing him he's on the right side. Later, Hulk launches an attack on Dahn's forces, during which X-Factor intervenes. Hulk is able to mostly hold his own, until Havok is able to absorb some of his gamma radiation, weakening him but also triggering a massive explosion.

Firsts and Other Notables
These two issues begin the "War and Pieces" crossover with X-Factor running here, then in X-Factor #76, and concluding in Hulk #392, as X-Factor battles the Hulk in the country of Trans-Sabal. Similar to the short X-Force/Spider-Man crossover, it's another brief crossover between an X-book and a non-X-book, this time triggered by Peter David's role writing both series.

The Hulk of this era is the merged Hulk, that is, a Hulk who has combined elements of the green, savage, mostly-mindless Hulk, along with the cunning of the Gray Hulk, all under the control of Bruce Banner's mind. At this time, he is working with a rescue-and-relief group called the Pantheon, which is comprised of super-powered individuals with names taken from the significant players in the Trojan War, all of whom are, apparently, descendants of their long-lived leader, Agamemnon (who may be intended to be the actual Agamemnon; I'm a little hazy on my Pantheon history). Somewhat ironically, the Pantheon, at least as depicted in this story (again, I'm fuzzy on the larger history of the group), is the kind of proactive, proto-Authority group that X-Force is constantly said to be, but really isn't.

This story takes place in the fictional country of Trans-Sabal, a Middle Eastern country ruled by a man named Farnoq Dahn (though it seems like Farnoq is some kind of title), which appears here for the first time and will pop up a few more times in various series after this.

Creator Central
Dale Keown, nearing the end of his run on Hulk, provides the pencils, and is inked by Mark Farmer. The art is, overall, quite gorgeous.

A Work in Progress
When told that the Pantheon travels where they want, righting what they see as wrongs, Havok compares them to the X-Men.


Polaris asks if Farnoq Dahn is a blork, Guido's insult-of-choice.


X-Factor's intel on the Hulk is dated; Quicksilver still thinks he's dumb, while Havok remembers his gray incarnation (he was on hand when Wolverine battled the Grey Hulk in Hulk #340).


Hulk, who encountered the original X-Factor during his surly gray days, asks if they know the current group has copped their name.


During the fight with X-Factor in issue #391, Wolfsbane gets kicked away from the fight by Hulk'; X-Factor #76 will pickup the story from her perspective after being kicked.


Havok is seemingly able to overpower Hulk by absorbing some of Hulk's gamma radiation to power his plasma blasts.


The Grim 'n' Gritty 90s
Presumably in an effort to lampoon some of the trends of the era, Hulk appears throughout these issues wielding comically large guns.


The Reference Section
Rick Jones references Indian Jones and the Last Crusade, and asks Hector if he's seen Terminator 2 yet.


Later, Hulk is compared to both the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and advertising mascot the Jolly Green Giant.


Austin's Analysis
A crossover between Peter David's two regular books, this story is much more a Hulk story than it is an X-Factor one, with most of the tale being told across three chapters of Incredible Hulk to X-Factor's one, but it nevertheless shrewdly uses X-Factor's new status as an official arm of the US government (really, the first story to do so, with the initial five-issue arc in its own book much more about setting up the team and defining the characters). I'm a little hazy when it comes to this specific era of Hulk comics, so I have no idea how much of this is specific to this story and how much is part of a larger, multi-story effort on David's part, but in the first two chapters at least, he is clearing taking shots at the United States' all-too-common (particularly in the Cold War, but even in the immediate post-Cold War world in which this story was first published, and into today) political strategy of shoring up some truly reprehensible regimes to the benefit of the US itself and the detriment of local citizens. At the same time, he's attempting if not an outright satire of, than at least a knowing eyebrow raise at the antihero, guns-a-blazin' tropes of the 90s, featuring as it does multiple instances of the Hulk wielding comically large guns with a take-no-prisoners kind of attitude.

The end result is a story, at least in its first two chapters and from the Hulk's perspective, where X-Factor is cast, if not entirely as the villains, then at least as the unwitting stooges of a morally dubious regime. If this were being written by someone other than their regular writer, it might be cause for concern, but it seems doubtful that David will keep them in that role for the duration of the story, and he's careful to establish that X-Factor is not buying what Farnoq Dahn is selling, even while they go about their stated mission of stopping the Hulk. So for the meantime, it simply adds to the satirical elements of the story, as the mutant team that just participated in a big, high profile, linewide relaunch gets to play the role of chumps for the title character.

Next Issue
Next week: the X-Men's extradimensional adventure ends in Uncanny X-Men #286, Cable gets some backstory in X-Force #8, and we see X-Factor's side of their conflict with the Hulk in X-Factor #76.

14 comments:

  1. I have this weird relationship with the Hulk. I'm not a fan of the character headlining his own series when he's in his dumb green incarnation -- but the dumb green Hulk is the version I consider definitive, and the version I prefer to read about -- as a guest star in other characters' books.

    This Hulk, on the other hand, while not my favorite iteration, is the version I prefer to read as a solo character. Also, I have a soft spot for merged Hulk due to Jim Starlin's "Infinity" trilogy, where this was the version who appeared in all three installments, from GAUNTLET through CRUSADE (and I loved his rivalry with big dumb Drax in those stories).

    Never liked the Pantheon, though. I don't really get their whole deal. They're kind of lame.

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    1. I got pretty much the whole Pantheon saga as I became the subscriber of our anthology book right at the time when they started to put out the PAD big green & smart Hulk. I don't think I never actually quite got what their deal was; they got immense resources and use it to do... stuff, but as the early 90's supporting character superpowered groups go, I think my opinion is that Pantheon tops them all (I'm open for suggestion for other candidates though). There's a bit of mystery, the characters are actual characters with conflicting agendas and personal relationships to each other. Compare to the other stuff they threw at us at the time to see if anything sticks, there was no more fully realized such concept than Pantheon around.

      The GAUNTLET tie-in was great, obviously.

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    2. I never really "got" Pantheon either, though I've read very little of them and Jason does make the concept sound interesting.

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  2. I finally read this crossover when I picked up some of the X-Factor Visionaries: Peter David trades. I don't really have anything to add, except that it was my first real look at Dale Keown's work (I was familiar in name only from Wizard's hype as one of the second-gen Image artists) and he really is stellar. A nice mix of McFarland style cartooning with a bit of Alan Davis thrown in - although I'm sure being inked by Mark Farmer contributed to the latter.

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    1. I definitely get an Alan Davis vibe to his work here, which I also attributed to the presence of Farmer.

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  3. I've read and re-read these issues hundreds of times (although not recently). I was such a big Hulk fan at the time.

    As for how these issues fit with the Pantheon narrative, the Pantheon originally tempted the Hulk into joining the Pantheon by specifically telling them about the situation in which they intervene in here. Although it's not until this story that we get a lot of the details, it was nearly a year earlier, in TIH #381-382, that they told the Hulk about this country where the US was supplying arms and soldiers to a tyrannical dictator who was using those resources to quash a rebellion.

    This ends up being an important story in the character's development, as it becomes the first and most extreme example during this era of the Hulk and the Pantheon just jumping into situations and start shooting (or punching), without making a full appraisal of the situation. (And without trying to reason with their enemies first.)

    The thread is developed for the next couple of years ... it's in issue 413 that a lot of it comes to a head, with the Hulk confronted head-on with the problematical aspects of his and the Pantheon's tactics. Then inbetween issues 416 and 417, Hulk appears in a miniseries where he meets a future version of himself who is a tyrannical dictator not unlike Farnoq Dahn. It's what finally makes the Hulk realize the dangers of the path he's on, and so in issue 417 he goes to psychiatrist Doc Samson to ask for help. ("Future Imperfect" was published contemporaneously with Hulk 401-402, as I recall, but the series didn't catch up until issues 416-417.)

    Actually, the whole thing of the Hulk aiding a team of rebels in overcoming a dictator was a recurring motif of Peter David's. Not only is it in the "War and Pieces" and then later "Future Imperfect," but it also turns up in an earlier PAD Hulk story ... issues 351 and 352, I believe. (I feel like there may be some other examples too ...)

    As for the Pantheon, they are a team of characters with super powers and codenames who live in a secret headquarters, and go on missions to try and aid the human race where and when they can. When not adventuring, they are back at their home base having various internecine romances, squabbles and other various dramas. For more information on these types of characters, google the phrase "comic-book superhero."

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    1. Appreciate the rundown on Pantheon's history - I've read "Future Imperfect", but I had no idea it tied back in to the Pantheon stuff in the main book!

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    2. Jason, "Little Hitler" in #386-387, where Achilles goes renegade after the would-be future dictator and reveals his own very Magneto-like backstory in a way sets the theme already before Farnoq Dahn.

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  4. And I thought my Hulk-fu was good.... Damn, Jason! You win.

    The Pantheon was a super-heroic organization, but a shady one. They wanted to fix the world clandestinely but couldn't get out of their own way. Their internal issues came to a head in Hulk 425, leading to a huge loss of resources and followers. They resurfaced in issue 449 iirc (is that right, Jason?) but the Pantheon was never a significant mover and shaker again.

    I liked the Pantheon. The main members had distinct personalities and believable conflicts. I like that they not only fought against corrupt governments but provided aid and a new life to refugees. It's too bad no one else used them after Peter David stopped writing the Hulk.

    - Mike Loughlin

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    1. Even though I don't have a strong connection to the Pantheon, I do wish they'd been used by someone outside of David. I'm always in favor of other creators picking up another's pet creations. It just seems to help make the Marvel Universe feel more like a universe.

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    2. It would have been kind of cool to see them become a recurring adversary for X-Factor, after their clash in this storyline.

      Thanks for the compliment, Mike! Yeah, the Pantheon's last call was ... it was either Hulk #448 or 449. One of those was Pantheon, and the other one was the Thunderbolts, as I recall.

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  5. I’ve read very little Hulk of this era. Did Peter David make Betty a blonde just so he could give her a raven-haired coworker named Veronica?

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    1. My understanding is that the answer to every question "Did Peter David _________ just so he could ________?" is yes, yes he did.

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