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Wednesday, July 25, 2018

X-amining Incredible Hulk Annual #7

"The Evil That is Cast..."
1978

In a Nutshell

Writer/Co-Plotter: Roger Stern
Penciler/Co-Plotter: John Byrne
Inker: Bob Layton
Letterer: Jim Novak
Colorist: Janice Cohen
Editor: Bob Hall
Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

Plot
As the Hulk is treated by Doc Samson at nearby Gamma Base, Angel & his girlfriend Candy Southern are visited by Iceman and his girlfriend, Terri Sue Bottoms. As the couples are enjoying the pool, the two mutants are attacked by a mysterious figure who soon transforms into Master Mold. After Master Mold captures Iceman, Angel lures Master Mold to Gamma Base, where Angel is captured but Master Mold manages to anger the Hulk in the process, prompting the Hulk to grab onto Master Mold as the Sentinel flies into outer space. Angel & Iceman awaken aboard a space station, where they learn that Master Mold houses the mind of Stephen Lang. Hulk doesn't much care, and proceeds to tear apart Master Mold. Angel, Iceman & Hulk proceed to an escape pod, but when Master Mold reveals he's sealed the pods, Hulk kicks the pod containing the two mutants free and goes back to finish off Master Mold. Angel & Iceman land in the ocean just as the space station above them blows up, though Hulk soon emerges from the water, having leaped free of the station before it blew and grabbed onto the escape pod. Hulk heads back to Gamma Base, while Angel & Iceman hustle back to their waiting girlfriends.

Firsts and Other Notables
Master Mold, the gigantic Sentinel who creates other Sentinels (a version of which hasn't technically been seen since the original Sentinels story in X-Men #14-16), returns in this issue.


It is also revealed that this Master Mold houses the consciousness of Stephen Lang, the architect of Project: Armageddon who created the X-Sentinels and apparently died in X-Men #100, the idea being that Lang, dying, managed to inadvertently download his mind into Master Mold's computers.


This creates an interesting scenario in which there are technically two versions of Stephen Lang running around: Angel says that Lang’s human body was found by SHIELD and remains alive in a vegetative state in a hospital, which is more or less where we see him next in Uncanny X-Men #291 (when he’s taken to become part of the Phalanx).


Meanwhile, Master Mold, with its mind essentially a copy of Lang's, will survive the fall to Earth in this issue and next appear to menace Cyclops in X-Factor #13 & 14, and then in Marvel Comics Presents #17-24, after which it'll eventually get fused with Nimrod and end up entering the Siege Perilous (in Uncanny X-Men #246-247), only to emerge in the form of Bastion, the mastermind behind Operation: Zero Tolerance in the late 90s.

This marks the first appearance of Angel's "aerie", his cabin-style home in the Rocky Mountains, at which the X-Men will find sanctuary during "The Dark Phoenix Saga" and which will later serve as the base of operations for the New Defenders and appears, generally, whenever Angel does between his stints with the Champions and the original X-Factor.

This issue also features the return of Angel's Silver Age girlfriend Candy Southern, who last appeared in an Angel backup story inside a Ka-Zar book. Like his aerie, she'll continue to make intermittent appearances in the years ahead alongside Angel, before eventually becoming, essentially, the operational leader of the New Defenders. After that, she'll follow Angel over to X-Factor, contributing to that series' soap operatics before being unfortunately killed off.


Terri Sue Bottoms, a short-lived Iceman love interest, appears here for the first time. She'll pop up next in Marvel Two-in-One #76, her only other appearance to date.

Chronology Corner
Angel appears in this issue between the end of Champions (and an appearance to that end in Spectacular Spider-Man #17-18) and X-Men #132. Iceman last appeared in the same issues, but pops up next for Phoenix' funeral in X-Men #138.

For what it's worth, Hulk appears in this issue between issues #226 and #227 of his regular series.

A Work in Progress
As of this issue, Candy doesn’t officially know that Warren’s friend Bobby is Iceman, but she suspects as much (and really, given that she’s been around since the Silver Age and knows Warren is Angel, it’s pretty silly to think she wouldn’t just assume that Warren’s four other friends are the Angel’s four other teammates.


Iceman tries a new trick with his power where he absorbs all the heat in the air around him. I'm not exactly sure how this is different from what he usually does (or how it makes him like a super heat pump).


Hulk is able to survive an open-air re-entry to Earth clinging to the outside of the escape pod.


That 70s Comic
This issue was published while the Incredible Hulk TV series was on the air, something the cover is sure to point out.

Iceman wonders if Terri gets off on ice, which seems a bit risqué for the 70s.


Iceman compares using the escape pod to Star Wars.


Young Love
Iceman brings Terri Sue to Angel's aerie, where she proceeds to spend most of her time fawning over Angel.


Later, as Master Mold chases Angel, Terri wonders why anyone would want Bobby, making it pretty clear she just hooked up with him to get close to Angel.


The final panel of the issue features Angel reminding an exasperated Iceman they need to get back to the girls, and while his exasperation is clearly meant to be triggered by his would-be date’s infatuation w/Angel, one could read it differently in the context of the later revelation concerning Iceman’s sexuality.


Austin's Analysis
Like Avengers #53, this is a fun, retro-ish issue with some really sharp art, but it's also kind of amazing just how central the two X-Men (and a plot point from early in the All New, All Different era) are to the plot of what is ostensibly a Hulk annual (t's also kind of interesting that Roger Stern & John Byrne felt compelled to revisit Stephen Lang, considering neither were involved in the story that featured his previous demise, but then, both creators were something of continuity wonks back in the day). The Hulk is certainly a presence in this issue, but he's fairly ancillary: the former X-Men (specifically Angel) draw him into the narrative, the villain is related to the X-Men, not Hulk, and he more or less just goes along for the ride (almost literally, in some cases). There's very little in this story that makes it specifically a Hulk story.

Instead, it's more an opportunity for Stern & Byrne to play with a pair of original X-Men (an avowed fan of the original X-Men, Byrne also drew them in the closing issues of Champions) and further what becomes a really intriguing storyline for a villain as they chronicle the next chapter in the saga of Stephen Lang. Following his introduction and apparent death by Claremont (in which he was presented mostly as the bigot-du-jour behind the latest breed of Sentinel), here Stern & Byrne essentially split the character in two, leaving Lang himself an offscreen vegetable while downloading his essence into Master Mold. Years later, Louise Simonson will pick up the Master Mold thread in X-Factor (using it to introduce the Twelve storyline, which takes on a life of its own as well), after which Claremont will pick up the character again, merging it with Nimrod, while years after that, Scott Lobdell will pick up both the Master Mold & Human Lang threads to serve as primary antagonists in two separate X-Men crossovers. That's a really crazy, fun, only-in-comics publication history for a character, and this issue represents one of the more important links in that narrative.

Next Issue
Next week, the debut of Karma in Marvel Team-Up #100.

4 comments:

  1. I love Stern, I love Byrne, and I love Stern and Byrne together. So I've wanted to read this issue forever, but never owned it as a back issue -- and Marvel never reprinted it anywhere for the longest time. I think it finally hit Marvel Unlimited recently, though. As far as I'm concerned, this -- along with other ancillary stuff like the MARVEL TEAM-UP two-parter featuring Havok and Living Monolith -- should be included in any and all reprints of the Claremont/Byrne X-MEN run -- it's drawn by Byrne, furthers a plot from Claremont, and stars two ex-X-Men against an X-villain! Hard to be a more integral part of the canon than that.

    John Byrne has never liked Layton's inks on his work, and I'll admit that Layton does perhaps "redraw" a bit more than I like to see, especially over someone like Byrne, but for the most part I think this looks fine. But perhaps the most fascinating complaint about Layton's inking here comes from Byrne's father. According to Byrne, when his dad saw this issue, he told Byrne that Layton made all his male characters look "queer"...

    Fascinating observation about Lang! I love the idea that he, or aspects of him, was behind two different 90s X-events!

    "As of this issue, Candy doesn’t officially know that Warren’s friend Bobby is Iceman..."

    I haven't read it in some time, but John Byrne has Candy hang out with the X-Men in HIDDEN YEARS. Was he ret-conning himself? Or did Candy not cross paths with Iceman in those stories (he does spend a large chunk of time separated from the team during the book's run)? I need to go back and find out!

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  2. I never quite realized the Stephen Lang personality dimension of the Master Mold. I always thought (and still want to insist) that the "ultimate Sentinel" Nimrod had evolved, mutated, into the "Nicholas Hunter" persona by UNCANNY #247 and helped to take out the Master Mold Nimrod hybrid, but technically it's not impossible that it actually may have been this iteration (and the sum of his experiences) of Stephen Lang correcting his former errors and opting to fight back the Master Mold. Being a human being trapped in a cold robot could encourage some introspection.

    And then they'll seek the unadulterated original human version and use him for Phalanx.

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  3. Only recently I learned of the existence of this issue. For my entire life, I never thought that the Master Mold from the original X-Men was the same character that later appeared on X-Factor and was destroyed by the Outback X-Men. They simply had no physical similarities!

    Shame Angel was never given his due on X-Men under Claremont. Him taking part in Dark Phoenix saga and joining the team after Cyclops’ departure was clearly John Byrne’s desire. Once the latter left, Claremont quickly removed the Angel. I always felt silly that the Angel simply left without saying goodbye out of anger.

    At least Claremont brought him soon after for a special guest in Marvel Age, I think. It showed that he kept a good relationship with his former teammates. Then, not long after, he was captured by the Morlocks, and is unconscious the whole time!

    Claremont had this tendency, which no onone seems to notice, of having members of the team departing and no one else caring or ever thinking about them again. Rachel left. The X-Men quickly forgot her. Nightcrawler and Kitty Pryde were recovering, the X-Men faked their own deaths and forgot them. Not a single panel of Storm, Colossus and Wolverine wondering whether Kurt had waken from his coma or whether Kitty had recovered. Maddelyne died. People quickly forgot her.

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  4. // This creates an interesting scenario in which there are technically two versions of Stephen Lang running around //

    I got a kick out of Master Mold’s surprise at hearing that Lang was still alive. The situation isn’t entirely dissimilar to that of Vision and Wonder Man — also, more pertinently if a little less exactly given the lack of technology, that of Rogue and Carol Danvers.

    // Terri … proceeds to spend most of her time fawning over Angel. //

    Which is Stern & Byrne’s excuse for getting him in costume before Master Mold attacked. I’m not sure whether that was supposed to read as simply hero worship or a fetish or what, although I suppose if introduced to an actual superhero I’d want to see them in costume myself.

    // There's very little in this story that makes it specifically a Hulk story. //

    I know it wasn’t unusual for plot threads of canceled features to get resolved in other series back in the day — but this isn’t really that, and it’s true that the Hulk is largely an unnecessary or at least replaceable component to the story. One could argue that it’s a function of making sure readers of the monthly series aren’t too out of the loop if they haven’t read the annual, which is a funny thought to anyone raised on comics from shortly after this period onward where annuals were often either the climax of a storyline in the home series or part of a crossover/event running through various annuals themselves.

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