The Incredible Hulk 217

Hulk Finds Friends!
Ringmaster Hurt Hulk's Friends!
Hulk Smash!!!

the incredible hulk no. 217 cover

This issue was created in 1977 when all Marvel comics had small captions like this that gave a compact history of the character.

hulk introductory caption enlarge

Reading this caption brings me back to grade school when most of the comics I read had captions like these. Marvel even expanded on the introduction by beginning their books with an entire page showing character history and previous events but they never caught the spirit of the originals. In just three lines it manages to get the reader excited for the book. I wonder who did these for Marvel? Could it be Stan Lee himself? Wouldn't put it past him, he always tended to infect the reader with his enthusiasm.

Okay, I did say that this issue was free of external references right? Well, there is this one panel early on referring to the previous issue.

flashback panel to a previous issue

You may just ignore that, it won't affect the story.

Here's the first full body shot of the Hulk lying face down in a beach.

hulk facedown on a beach

Now, the art was done by two people: Sal Buscema and Ernie Chan. Sal is the younger brother of John Buscema. During this period Marvel had what it called a 'house style' - a way of drawing which they considered the Marvel way of drawing. They even released a book showing the house style called 'How To Draw Comics The Marvel Way'. The artist in that book was John Buscema, Sal's older brother. There is a difference to Sal's art - John's was more flowing and Sal's more hesitant, less smooth. But you can still see a lot of the older artist on the younger one's work. Of course the difference could also be Ernie Chan who did the inks. I have an immediate warm spot for Ernie since he is my kababayan or countryman, having come to the U.S. from the Philippines. He is also a student of John Buscema - so again, very strong Marvel house style roots. I remember Ernie's art most of all in full pin-up pages from 'The Savage Sword of Conan' magazines ( I will surely feature them in the future; those mags are awesome). Anyway, Ernie has a signature cross-hatching inking style that adds a bit of grizzliness or shadow effect around the edges of the figures.  The Hulk's back shown above shows this to full effect.

Check out Ernie Chan's official website here:

This one panel says it all in terms of the setting.

lonely wagon in the middle of a jungle

Notice the jungle all around a lonely and gaudy circus wagon? This story is like that - out of the way. It isn't a major event in the Hulk's history and that's a good thing. Sometimes the continuity can wear you down. This story is a one-shot that is done so effectively that it showcases what makes the Hulk such an enduring character.

This group of circus entertainers will only last the length of our tale, but Len Wein is such an effective writer that you actually begin to care for them all in the space of one issue.

circus fugitives

It's the classic group of circus freak stereotypes - the thin man, the fat lady, the dog-faced boy and the midget (I'm very sorry for the degrading names but this is how the old time circus hawkers described them) . Outsiders. Just like the Hulk. Wein is able to convey an immediate rapport here between these rejects and the Hulk, Marvel's own reject together with the X-Men.

Here is Meriam, she becomes the foil for the Hulk's affection in our tale - the Beauty to the Hulk's Beast so-to-speak. It's a formulaic but brilliant addition by Wein that adds another dimension for the tale. The character of Meriam seems to evoke a heightened sense of drama every time we see her in the story. Like the others, we see her only in this one issue.

a sickly meriam

What would the comicbook be without the Hulk's show of incredible strength? Take a look at the way Buscema renders him breaking out of the wagon. Note how the figure 'breaks out' of the panel  to emphasize physical strength.

hulk breaks out of the wagon to protect his friends

And here is a delightful difference from the norm The usual reaction of the people around the Hulk is fear and panic. But not this time . . .

his new friend's celebrate the hulk's strength

This divergence is one of the aspects to the story that makes it so delightful. Here the Hulk knows acceptance.

hulk with the circus fugitives around a campfire

And, as this panel below shows, friendship is a precious commodity to him.

hulk resolves to protect his new friends

Part of why I cherish this issue and all those made around this time is because the Hulk will change. John Byrne will come out with a heavy-browed Hulk with a blocky physique like the Thing. Peter David will make the Hulk intelligent changing his image drastically. I like the Hulk this way, a simpleton with a powerhouse body.

hulk pulls a giant tree out of the ground

This massive green Hulk with immense forearms is still my favorite rendition. I think the best example is the figure drawing on the upper left hand of the cover for the Hulk comicbooks of this era. Here is the definitive Hulk as far as I'm concerned . . .

hulk figure from the upper left part of the cover

I wonder who did this cover figure? it looks like Herb Trimpe, but I'm not sure.

A good story must have some tension in it and the Ringmaster provides that. He's a brilliant choice for a villain because he has the power of hypnotism - something that the Hulk's  physical strength cannot defend against.

the ringmaster

This provides the necessary 'Uh-oh, how is the Hulk going to beat hypnotism?' question from the reader which prevents this story from being a cakewalk for the Hulk. I mean, the Ringmaster brings his Circus of Crime but you know that the Hulk can mop the place with the entire lot.

Here's a shot of the Circus of Crime

the circus of crime goes into action

Now, if the Hulk were to take this gang on, it would be a too easy and a boring issue, but Wein is better then that. He let's Hulk's new friends take care of some of the Circus of Crime members and the whole thing is an extremely entertaining read.

Stilts vs. Princess Python's pet

stilts faces a giant python

Blossom vs. Cannonball

blossom and cannonball face off

Rex vs. Princess Python

rex threatens princess python

and Major Minor vs. the Clown

major minor takes on the clown

The ending includes this beautiful panel of the Hulk returning the stricken Meriam to here true home - the sea.

hulk returns meriam to the sea enlarge


There was a time when I got so excited about the Wolverine series and picked up an issue. I don't remember the issue number anymore, but it was one of those issues in between story arcs that the editor obviously didn't care for, since the story was crap and the only thing worst was the art (yes, I was dumb enough to buy a comic without browsing it first). Anyway, that turned me off Wolverine for years.

Hulk no. 217 is like that. It's a filler issue in between story arcs. It doesn't touch upon mainstream Hulk history, nothing really happens to the Hulk and he confronts no notable villains (the Rhino appears next issue). But that's were the comparison ends.

Unlike the Wolverine issue, the people who put this together really cared for it. Kudos to the editor, who also happens to be the writer Len Wein  and the art team of Sal Buscema and Ernie Chan supported by Glynis Wein, the colorist and John Constanza, the letterer.

The first indication of quality is that the story comes together to impart a certain mood. The background rendering evokes a faraway, tropical place; you just know that the air is warm and you can almost hear the sound of insects in the jungle night. I also notice the proliferation of close-in panel compositions lending the tale a sort of coziness. This evokes a campfire story attractiveness to this tale.

This mood lends itself to the main theme which is the loneliness of the Hulk matched with the loneliness of the circus performers he meets. You can feel the joy of their friendship and the dire threat of Ringmaster and his minions to break this friendship. And this is were the fun begins because the Hulk is on the side of the good guys and you just know that when threatened, the Hulk will smash!

This is a great example of the kind of comic that has made me into a life-long comicbook fan. Pick it up, you won't regret it.

Posted by  Pete Albano - November 7,  2010

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