I have to admit to being an old-school Marvel Zombie, and that often extends to my opinions of which artists drew the definitive versions of certain characters. When it comes to the Hulk, the two names that immediately come to mind are Herb Trimpe and Sal Buscema. If I had to pick a third artist, I’d go with Dale Keown, who penciled some astonishing issues of Incredible Hulk in the early 1990s. But “Happy Herby” and “Our Pal Sal,” as they were referred to back in the day, are tied for first place, at least in my mind. I’ve written about Buscema’s work on Incredible Hulk before. So here are a few thoughts on Trimpe, who I have always felt is a very talented, underrated artist.
Herb Trimpe had a seven year run penciling Incredible Hulk, from #106 in 1968 to #193 in 1975. During that period, he missed a mere two issues. Strange as it is to say, though, I haven’t actually read a large number of the issues that Trimpe worked on. But there have been certain covers and pin-ups of the character drawn by him that have been repeatedly reprinted over the years. And, of course, Incredible Hulk #s 180-181, the first Wolverine story, periodically gets the reprint treatment. So it really seems like I’ve seen a whole lot more of Herb’s Hulk than I actually have.
I set out to rectify that. I think most of his issues have been collected in black & white Essential volumes. But I found a copy of Marvel Masterworks: Incredible Hulk Volume 5, which reprints #s 111-121, for sale at half price. I’d much rather read some of his stories in color. After all, the Hulk just isn’t the same if he is not colored green.
The majority of the writing on this volume is by Stan Lee, with Roy Thomas coming in to script #120 before taking over fully with #121. My favorite story had to be the two-part tale that opens this volume, which sees the Hulk snatched off into outer space, pitted against the menace of the cosmic-powered Galaxy Master and his army of alien pawns. And once those servants see the Hulk resisting their tyrannical master, they decide to throw of the shackles of slavery, resulting in a huge battle between the Galaxy Master and a fleet of space rockets. Trimpe must have been really inspired by Lee’s plots, because the artist does phenomenal work. Trimpe’s layouts & storytelling are absolutely dynamic in these two issues. This really shows that, even this early in his career, he knew how to draw a riveting story.
Once the Hulk returns to Earth, I think the stories become rather more mundane, with the Hulk settling into a pattern of fighting the military over some misunderstanding, or being tricked into a partnership with various supervillains. Perhaps Trimpe was somewhat less inspired by the plots on these issues, because his work, while solid and professional, doesn’t really display the dynamic energy of the Galaxy Master story.
In the midst of this is a three-part story featuring the Hulk’s arch-foe, the Leader, who pretends to want to turn over a new leaf and seemingly proves himself by helping General Thunderbolt Ross imprison the Hulk. Of course the Leader is really just doing this to get his adversary out of the way while simultaneously gaining the trust of the military, enabling him to enact a plan for global domination right out of a James Bond movie. He’s going to seize control of General Ross’ base and launch a nuclear missile at the Soviet Union, starting World War III, with the intent of ruling over all the survivors. Of course the Hulk, with an assist from Betty Ross, breaks free and smashes the Leader’s plans.
I think that before these issues, the Leader had been drawn as having a large but round skull to correspond to his gamma radiation-enlarged brain. Trimpe seems to be the artist who tweaked the design, giving us the Leader with the now-famous head that shoots straight up, a version that would endure for the next two decades. While I do wonder how this guy walks around without bumping his head in doorways or on the ceiling, it is an instantly recognizable look.
After splashing down into an aquatic scuffle with Namor the Sub-Mariner, the Hulk encounters Maximus the Mad and his renegade faction of Inhumans. Maximus manages to manipulate the Hulk into fighting the U.S. armed forces, and we get some more excellent action sequences from Trimpe. Certainly the stand-out piece is the cover to issue #120, a truly iconic image of the Hulk fighting the military.
With the shift to Roy Thomas as writer in #121, we get an interesting, unusual tale, “Within the Swamp, There Stirs… a Glob!” Amidst the Florida wilderness, the Hulk encounters an eerie muck monster, a dead man resurrected as a shambling monstrosity by radioactive material and, it is implied, some mystical element of the swamp itself. The Glob, prodded on by the memory of a long-lost love, kidnaps Betty Ross. Of course the Hulk pursues the creature, intent on rescuing the one human being who has expressed sympathy & understanding for him.
Years later, in the pages of his magazine Alter Ego, Thomas freely admitted that he conceived the Glob in homage to the Golden Age character the Heap. A self-proclaimed fan of the Heap, Thomas also later was involved in creating the similar Man-Thing. Thomas even worked in a one-panel cameo by the Heap into an issue of Avengers during the famous “Kree-Skrull War” storyline. And a few months ago a hardcover volume reprinting some of that character’s earliest appearances, Roy Thomas Presents The Heap, was released. I wish I’d had a chance to pick that up when it came out.
In any case, Trimpe’s art on #121 is very good. He does some rather moody, atmospheric work. The Glob is quite effectively rendered by the artist. I enjoyed this one so much that I wish it could have been a two part story.
If you pick up Marvel Masterworks: Incredible Hulk Volume 5, you’ll certainly find some nice art by Herb Trimpe. In his introduction to this volume, Trimpe is somewhat dismissive of his work on these issues. They do say artists are their own harshest critics. Admittedly this was early in his career. Throughout the 1970s and 80s he would certainly grow & develop as an artist, seeing much improvement. But there is definite potential in this early work. Undoubtedly the strongest aspect of his work here is his superb storytelling. Trimpe really knows how to lay out a page and tell a story.
So, yeah, I’d recommend checking out Trimpe’s amazing run on Incredible Hulk. If you don’t want to pick up the expensive Marvel Masterworks volumes, the Essential collections are perfect for the reader on a budget.