My Misspent Youth — Marvel Fanfare #29 by John Byrne

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.

Starting with Incredible Hulk #314, John Byrne was officially in charge of the adventures of Marvel’s jade giant. This was square in the middle of the nineteen-eighties, when Byrne was one of the most popular creators in the formidable bullpen employed by the House of Ideas. His appointment on the venerable title was announced with great excitement, and Byrne touted his grand plans for the title. A lengthy run was promised. Instead, he lasted only six issues before quitting in frustration over what he characterized as broken promises by editorial leadership. Even then, though, Byrne’s tenure had an aftershock.

Around six months after his exit from Incredible Hulk, a leftover story scripted and drawn by Byrne was published in Marvel Fanfare #29. Originally intended as a showcase for more ambitious fare featuring various do-gooders from the publisher’s mighty mythos, Marvel Fanfare was just as commonly a repository for surplus stories. This particular Hulk tale sort of fell into both categories. It was clearly a spare story from Byrne’s original run, but it also had a novel structure. It was presented entirely in splash pages.

Set in the southwestern desert territories that the Hulk was known to thumpily bound around, the issue starts with Hulk encountering a man who appears to be a Native America shaman. Just when Hulk is about to commence with some characteristic smashing, the wizened gentlemen wins over the towering titan with a simply stated offer of friendship. Also, the shaman gets the Hulk good and stoned.

Bleary peacefulness can only last so long for the Hulk, though. As must always happen, bad guys are brought on. Hammer and Anvil are back in town.

Hammer and Anvil had tangled with the Hulk before, They were the featured antagonists of Incredible Hulk #182, which is most notable for being one issue after the potent publication that served as the primary introduction of a certain scrappy Canadian to the comic book canon. The dastardly duo’s rematch with the grumpy green goliath proved to be quite short-lived. The Hulk’s smashing is once again preempted, this time by a well-aimed firearm serving its deadly purpose.

The blast was followed by a cry of “Justice is served,” the verbal calling card of a character known as Scourge. He was an assassin who occasionally cropped up in Marvel titles at the time to assassinate supervillains. He more device than charcer, cooked up by writer Mark Gruenwald to thin the ranks of a mediocre costumed criminals. Instead of his more common narrative appearance, popping in for handful of panels presented almost as an interlude in a larger story, this time Scourge engaged in high deception, leaving the Hulk perplexed about the abandoned lifelike mask used as a disguise.

All of this was, to my teenaged eyes, bold, daring storytelling, both in the structure and in the emotional gut punch Byrne delivered to our swole hero. I don’t know that I’d hold it up as one of the great achievements of the era now. At the time, I found it to be fully deserving of the veneer of added prestige appearing in the page of Marvel Fanfare conferred.

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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