Friday, December 31, 2010

HULK IS THE STRONGEST ONE THERE IS!!!!!! : The Abomination - What an Asshole

So, the Abomination's back. To stay? Well yeah, probably. If it even is Abomination. Greg Pak made some comments in a CBR interview hinting it's possible that someone else is posing as Blonsky, though that also might have been a red herring to divert attention from the "surprise" Hulk villain that everyone knew would pop up sooner or later in Chaos War (and if you've read Incredible Hulks #619, you know who I mean).

Regardless, I figured it was a good opportunity to find an answer to a question I've wondered for a while. Namely, who the hell is the Abomination?

I don't mean that in a literal sense. I know the Abomination is former Soviet spy Emil Blonsky. And I don't mean it in a literary sense either. I'm not trying to figure out what the Abomination says about society or government or anything that could give me college credit.

I just mean who the hell is the guy? In spite of the fact that Abomination never adopted the Banner/Hulk duality, the dude's had some drastic personality changes. I started reading Incredible Hulk during the latter half of Bill Mantlo's run on the book, and my first experience with Abomination was when he turned yellow at the mention of the Hulk's name. He wouldn't show up again until after John Byrne's brief first tenure, at which point Tyrannus controlled Abomination's body. Eventually, he went back to being a monosyllabic bruiser, soon changed to a sewer-dwelling brood machine, then to a babbling psychotic, then a Hulk-ified version of a pretentious coffeehouse douchebag, and finally to the Abomination we have today. Again, if he even is Abomination.

For those of us who care about continuity, I think we tend to think of it the same way some elderly people think about their youth. Everything was better and everyone got along and everyone did their share "in my day." Likewise, we tend to think that back in the '60s and '70s and '80s the writers and editors were fierce guard dogs of continuity and never let anything slip, while today all the writers are just going wild and completely ignoring everything. The truth is, at least judging by the evidence of the Abomination, continuity was something as malleable back then as it is today. Writers have been drastically altering Abomination's personality pretty much as soon as someone other than Stan Lee wrote the character.


Stan Lee wrote the Abomination's first four appearances. Emil Blonsky started his life as an opportunistic Russian spy in the Hulk half of Tales to Astonish #90. Influenced by the enigmatic Stranger, the Hulk goes on a rampage. When he transforms back into Banner at Gamma Base, Banner decides the only way to stop Hulk's destruction is to kill himself. For some reason, his chosen method of suicide is a gamma ray gun, but he's captured by Thunderbolt Ross's soldiers before he can go all the way Hemingway.

Blonsky - ignorant of the situation with The Stranger or Banner's desire to off himself - watches all this from the shadows. He figures it would be a good idea to figure out what Banner was trying to do.

Of course, if a guy as intelligent as Bruce Banner had chosen a more mundane method of suicide like a gun or a bottle of pills, he could've saved himself a lot of trouble. In fact, if Blonsky reacted the same, it could've led to a really funny scene, with Blonsky thinking, "Hmm, Banner is the greatest scientist of them all! I wonder why he had the barrel of this gun shoved in his nostril. Maybe if I try..."

But, as predicted...

It's kind of funny that Abomination considers himself "master of the universe" because he's "as strong as the Hulk!!" The fact that the Hulk isn't master of the universe would seem enough proof that he needs more than muscles to conquer all creation. Some robots. Maybe a satellite with a laser on it. But we can forgive him, I guess. He's in the throes of passion that anyone would feel in those first few moments of turning super.

Except that this characterizes the Abomination under the rest of Stan Lee's care: he's a super-powerful megalomaniac who wants to rule the world, but without anything resembling a plan. Doctor Doom if Doctor Doom were really dumb. In his two-part Tales to Astonish story, Blonsky manages to kick the Hulk's butt and capture Betty Ross before Banner sucks out half his power, turns back into the Hulk and beats his ass. Hulk's heroism convinces The Stranger to stop messing with Hulk, and instead he kidnaps the Abomination.

Blonskers shows up next 4 years later in Silver Surfer #12 (4 years real time, about 12 1/2 minutes Marvel time), and it's pretty much the same. Abomination has big dreams, but doesn't really bother using his imagination. He's brought back to Earth by a bunch of wanna-be Doctor Stranges who think they're summoning a bad-ass demon to beat up Silver Surfer. Instead, Abomination tells the wizards to go to hell and stomps off to conquer the world.

Abomination's strategy? He goes to the next town and starts breaking stuff. Silver Surfer takes some time out of his busy schedule of feeling sorry for himself and bemoaning humanity to smack the Abomination around, and later orders the magicians to send Abomination back to The Stranger.

Stan Lee writes Abomination one last time in Thor #178. When The Stranger briefly leaves his space base, Abomination uses Stranger's technology to capture Thor. He lies to the thunder god, telling him that The Stranger brought him there, Thor and the Stranger fight, and some other stuff happens though none of it ends up mattering because Thor uses his hammer to turn back time (I didn't even know he could do that).

Lee's vision of the Abomination doesn't seem to have been particularly grand. He wanted a bad-guy-Hulk - a green, strong guy whose evil was punctuated by the fact that, unlike Hulk, he never changed back to his human form. Stan Lee's Abomination was ambitious, but dumb, though he didn't sound dumb grammar-wise. That's something that becomes important later on in Bommy's history.


Next time up at bat, Abomination stopped cheating on Hulkster with thunder gods and surfers. It was the classic Hulk team of Roy Thomas and Herb Trimpe who brought the bad guy back in a two part story spanning Incredible Hulk #s 136-137. It's a story that always stokes some backward nostalgia for me. The nostalgia is "backward" because I first met the strange cast of characters featured in these issues much later when Bill Mantlo brought them back in Incredible Hulk #s 306-307. They all died at the end of Mantlo's story. Though, of course, they were all supposed to be dead at the end of the earlier story too, so whatever.

In the Thomas/Trimpe story, the Hulk attacks a Godzilla-sized monster named Klaatu that materializes in the middle of New York City. Though the Hulk can't harm the beast, the goliath catches the attention of Xeron the Star-Slayer - the head laser-harpoon guy of the spaceship The Andromeda. Witnessing Hulk's strength, Xeron chases Hulk around New York in a flying rowboat and captures him. When Hulk awakens on board the Andromeda, he learns the ship's First Mate is an old friend of his.

Of course, I am not being completely serious by calling him a "friend" because in fact they pretty much always punch each other.

Like right after that picture in fact. They punch each other a lot but Xeron stops them because there's no fighting allowed on the low-tech spaceship (don't argue - it has oars) on a suicide mission to kill a giant monster. The Hulk doesn't like the idea of being enslaved by Xeron and his boss, but he has no choice. There's nothing outside to greet Hulk but space, and since the fact that Hulk can survive in space (and, I'd argue, beat it in a fight) has yet to be established, the green guy's stuck until they dock at the nearest sensual massage base.

Abomination bides his time until he spots the Hulk alone on the deck, looking back at Earth, probably able to see at least 1500 sensual massage parlors from his vantage point. He clocks Hulkster upside the head while Hulk's back is to him, knocking him overboard. Xeron saves Hulk though, and at first it seems like Abomination is in big trouble. But then Captain Cybor summons the three of them to his quarters and tells them why they're hunting Klaatu, and more importantly why he doesn't care about their petty BS. He needs every hand available to get revenge on the giant monster that crippled him. It's at this point that if you've ever read Moby Dick, or seen any of the movies based on it, or even any of the 162 Star Trek stories that directly reference it, you pretty much "get it" or you're dumb.

By the time the final battle against Klaatu comes, the Hulk transforms back to Banner. In the confusion of the battle, Abomination tries to kill Banner but the stress of a giant green monster trying to kill him turns Banner into a giant green monster. While floating in space, Hulk and Abomination fight. Hulk wins, though one might call it an empty victory since they both end up rocketing out of Earth's orbit and into the Earth itself. Klaatu and Captain Cybor both float into the Sun, presumably dead (nope). The Andromeda is forever trapped (not really) in orbit around the Sun, its crew waiting to (not exactly) die.

The Abomination wakes up two years later in Incredible Hulk #159. Literally.

Trimpe's still on art duties but Steve Englehart is writing this time around. The issue opens with Banner in a spaceship-thingee with the Rhino and it has something to do with the Leader (I skipped the beginning, it had nothing to do with Abomination and I had a lot of back issues to re-read so bite me). Thunderbolt Ross, never really liking the Hulk that much, tries to shoot the ship out of the sky with rockets. No one knows at this point that Abomination has been unconscious for two years ever since Hulk punched him out of orbit. A rocket explodes directly above where Blonsky is buried and the monster awakens. He doesn't realize how long he's been asleep. His misconception that he was only out for a few moments is confirmed when he spots the Hulk (who Banner transformed into after one of Ross's rockets knocked his ship out of the sky), falling out of the sky, just as he would've been doing had the two of them just been fought in orbit. On the lookout for a trashed Hulk, Ross's troops spot the giant green Abomination, mistake him for the Hulk (racists think all green people look alike), capture him, and bring him back to base.

But Thunderbolt Ross isn't a racist. He doesn't want to kill all green people, just a select few. So he makes a deal with the Abomination. He offers to cure Abomination and release him if he can capture the Hulk.

Now if the fact that in his previous appearance the Abomination went from wanting be be "master of the universe" to "first mate of a spaceship with oars" wasn't enough proof that the character had drastically changed, the fact that Abomination sees Ross's promise of a cure desirable definitely is. Scroll back up to that first panel when Blonsky transforms. "Too late to stop!! Hah!! Don't want to stop!! I'm different...more powerful!!"

You also start noticing in the Ross/Abomination scene that Abomination's dialogue style is changing. He speaks more informally and low-brow than usual, saying things like, "I say: T'bolt, old pal -- you've got yourself a deal!"

Regardless, Thunderbolt's deal with Abomination is almost nixed when Abomination spots a calendar.

SPOILER ALERT: Shortly afterward, Hulk and Abomination fight.

At the end of what I'd say is one of their more brutal pre-eye-popping battles, Abomination realizes how long he was unconscious. Blonsky gets a little Coo-coo-for-Coa-coa-Puffs at the realization and, in what I've always thought is just a cruelly hilarious scene, Hulk clocks Abomination upside the head while he isn't looking.

Abomination returns with the Rhino as a partner in Incredible Hulk #171. Trimpe is the artist once again, Gerry Conway's writing, and for some reason the Abomination is gray.

Not much to this story. Basically, Rhino and Abomination want revenge on the Hulk so they go to try and beat him up. They hit him a lot, but he hits them better. The fight ends when Rhino and Abomination charge Hulk from opposite directions and the Hulk moves just in time so they both run into each other instead of him. This is a device that was never used before, has never been used again, and probably never will be used again. I have a bridge for sale in the Brooklyn area, but you have to act quickly.

I called the Abomination of these three stories "The Abomination who hated the Hulk" (even though, obviously, you can apply that to just about any incarnation of the character) because that's kind of the one defining characteristic he has left. He hates the Hulk and wants revenge on him. His ambitions to rule all the world, the universe, Cleveland, are all gone.


It's 3 years before Blonsky returns on the last page of Incredible Hulk #194 (which also happens to be the first issue drawn by the guy whose Hulk is the default Hulk in my head - Sal Buscema).

Len Wein is the writer and his choice of dialogue style is interesting. For anyone who read Bruce Jones's Incredible Hulk run; do you remember how Jones arbitrarily changed Crusher Creel from a monosyllabic dullard to a very polysyllabic genius? Wein does the opposite with Abomination. He spouts lines like "Don't give me much choice, do ya? Okay I'll do whatever ya tell me to--But I owe you creeps one--" One of the Abomination's funnier lines involves mention of his "short scales."

The "short scales" (ew) to which Blonsky is referring is a ticking bomb in his head. Ross, Doc Samson, and co. are once again trying the really bad idea of sending Abomination to capture Hulk, and this time they've put a bomb in his skull as an insurance policy. Abomination fights Hulk in an amusement park, and tries a tactic on Hulk we've never seen from him. Feeling victimized by the government for putting a bomb in his head, he suddenly considers Hulk some kind of brother-in-arms. After some fisticuffs, Abomination convinces Hulk that all people suck. Hulk and Abomination team up, kick some military butt, but their partnership quickly devolves after Blonsky makes the mistake of punching a monitor displaying Betty's face.


The mid '70s leave and the early '80s arrive before Buscema and Bill Mantlo bring Abomination back in Incredible Hulk #270. In more than one way, the reptilian villain resembles Stan Lee's original version of the character more than any other.

Not only is his dialogue style more like Lee's version - not particularly high brow but not as extremely low brow as Wein's version - but his original power is returned. When the Abomination was originally gamma-rayed, he was much stronger than the Hulk. But Bruce Banner managed to decrease his power by sucking out some of his gamma radiation (ew). In Incredible Hulk #270, Abomination's new boss, The Galaxy Master, has restored Blonsky to his original power levels. The Hulk's increasing anger gives him the strength to defeat both Abomination and Galaxy Master however, and the next time we see Blonsky, he's nothing like Lee's version, this version, or any version before or after.


When Modok gets the Abomination out of the army's deep-freeze a year later in Incredible Hulk #288, the gamma-spawned villain he finds isn't the one he wants to find. Defeated again and again by the Hulk, the Abomination is absolutely terrified at the thought of fighting him. Modok terrorizes and tortures Abomination until, with no other choice left to him, Abomination heads to Bruce Banner's observatory. Frankly, Abomination's so pathetic that you almost want him to get over his crap and beat up the Hulk just so he'll stop whining.

Obviously, this is another drastic shift in Abomination's personality. It's also the first time such a shift is explained by the story, as well as the first time a change like this occurs between two Abomination stories written by the same writer.

The Abomination tries and fails to defeat the Hulk, and his punishment is fatal (not really). Modok vaporizes him, which kills him long enough to keep him out of Secret Wars, but not long enough to sit out the Reagan years entirely.


The next change in personality is the most literal kind, and takes place in 1986, in Incredible Hulk Annual #15. Somewhere out in space the floating remains of the dead (not really) Abomination collide with the floating remains of the dead (not really) Tyrannus, and back to Earth comes the body of Abomination with Tyrannus in control. The result is a big green guy who talks more like the mad genius class of villain and has some kind of freaky hypnosis power. The vain Tyrannus likes the Abomination's power, but doesn't appreciate the big green ugly that comes with it. He tries to force Bruce Banner to help and gets his ass handed to him by the freshly grayed Hulk. The Tyrannus/Abomination (Abominanus, or maybe Tyranination) lasts for a few years and doesn't do much. He tussles with Wonder Man in West Coast Avengers #25 and Tyrannus and Abomination are separated in Amazing Spider-Man Annual #25 as part of 1989's Atlantis Attacks! crossover event. Blonsky is re-united with his greener, scalier half in the process, though Abomination is mindless when he dukes it out with Spider-Man and She-Hulk.


Later that year, Peter David brought the Abomination into his epic run for the first time for his "Countdown" story arc in Incredible Hulk #364. Unaware of the larger role he's playing in the plot against the Hulk, the Abomination is hired to attack the science facility where Bruce Banner is working as a janitor. It's the Blonsky Abomination facing a much craftier and more sadistic gray Hulk, and the gray Hulk ends the fight by dousing Blonsky with toxic waste. The result isn't pretty.

The toxic waste doesn't kill him though (and even if it did, it wouldn't kill him kill him). Two issues later Hulk catches up with the scarred Abomination to get information out of him, but we don't see him again until '91, with the emergence of the merged or so-called "Professor" Hulk.

When Blonsky returns again in Incredible Hulk #s 382-384, he's a changed animal. His power-drunk ambition is gone and while his hatred for the Hulk is still very much alive, it doesn't seem to be much of a priority. The Abomination has become a scarred, overcoated stalker living in the sewers. The Hulk chases him down when he learns Blonsky is after his former wife Nadia (and as far as I know, this is the first mention of her). Abomination refuses to accept the fact that Nadia, who is now a world-famous stage actress, is gone from his life. He stalks her, kidnaps her, and the Hulk's efforts to save her are initially interrupted by the events of Infinity Gauntlet.

Doctor Strange teleports Hulk to the gathering of heroes just as he's in the middle of beating up Abomination, though strangely in the Infinity Gauntlet limited series as well as a Silver Surfer tie-in, the Hulk is depicted arguing with the other heroes before he allows Strange to recruit him.

Hulk returns to the sewers in Incredible Hulk #384, still shrunken to the size of a smurf from the battle with Thanos in Infinity Gauntlet #4. Taking a cue from Real Genius, David has the shrunken Hulk stand on Abomination's shoulder, speak into his ear, and convince him that he's actually the voice of God. Rather than fight Blonsky in his Pym-ified state, Hulk talks Abomination into letting Nadia go. It's a great story and I've always wondered whether it was the Infinity Gauntlet team's idea to shrink Hulk and David wrote the story around it, or if David had the idea for the story first and asked if Hulk could get shrunk in Infinity Gauntlet to facilitate the concept.

Abomination shows up again in 1994's Incredible Hulk Annual #20, and he doesn't fight the Hulk or any other heroes. He's continued living underground and is both friend and protector to a community of homeless people living in the sewers. He tells a story to the children meant to mirror his history with the Hulk, and his own take on his life as the Abomination is interesting, though a little pathetic. Forgetting his lust for power, Blonsky sees himself as a victim whose only purpose in life has been to make a monster - the Hulk - seem less monstrous by comparison. He fights the Hulk and a group of police in Incredible Hulk #s 431-432, and I remember that when I first read it, I couldn't help but wonder if Marvel was considering marketing Abomination as a dark hero. He certainly wasn't an Avengers candidate, but he wasn't all villain either.

Hulk and Bommer's last meeting during David's run is close to its end - in Incredible Hulk #459, when a sick Hulk beats up Abomination thinking he's actually beating up earlier versions of himself.

The Abomination was never as sympathetic a character as he was during David's tenure on Incredible Hulk. Writing this column has made me change my mind about this version of him. At first, I didn't like him. I thought the character was more interesting, but at the same time I thought he was more interesting in a way that was kind of tired - i.e., a villain reformed. But after reading so many Abomination stories, it's clear that David's Abomination was as good as it got. He was more complex, and unlike most Incredible Hulk writers both before and after his own tenure, David actually acknowledged the versions of Abomination that came before his own and attempted to explain the changes.


Apparently driven mad by loneliness, his toxic waste scars healed, a ranting Abomination rampaged through the town of Constellation in Incredible Hulk #s 472-474, ending the brief run of Joe Casey. We learn it was the Abomination, not the Hulk, who killed Betty Banner by poisoning her blood, and in spite of this, the Hulk fails to fight Abomination or take any kind of revenge on him, instead blaming himself. The second volume of Incredible Hulk ends here, with a whimper and a sigh.


Apparently taking his lead from David's Incredible Hulk Annual #20, Paul Jenkins saw his version of the Abomination as a storyteller. Draped in hood, cloak, gloves and mask, Emil Blonsky showed up in 2001's Incredible Hulk #24 as a teacher for a public library's writing workshop.

Abomination obviously thinks very highly of his writing skills, responding to his workshop's members like Doctor Doom silencing a stammering subordinate. It becomes clear in his conversation with his students that Blonsky has come define himself through his writing and intellect. The character never sounds as high-brow or intellectual as he does under Jenkins's care, save perhaps when the Abomination's body was under control of the villain Tyrannus. In the absolutely brutal fight between Hulk and Abomination in the following issue, Abomination's dialogue makes it clear he takes pride in his intellectual superiority, calling Hulk things like "ignoramus" and "child."

Jenkins's version of Abomination is such a pretentious coffeehouse douchebag, that I remember when these issues were first released, I theorized that Jenkins researched the Abomination by reading the Tyrannus/Abomination issues and either forgot that it was Tyrannus, not Blonsky, controlling Abomination's actions and dialogue, or just didn't read enough of the issues to find out. I don't think that's the case anymore. I think Jenkins was exercising some artistic license, no more or less than the writers before him, but I think my misconception speaks to how startlingly high Jenkins pushed Blonsky's scaly brow.

This is more or less the version Bruce Jones gives us in Incredible Hulk #s 50-54. The Hulk/Abomination battle in Incredible Hulk #54 is one of the biggest, bloodiest fistfights during Jones's tenure. It is, really, one of the only fistfights during his tenure. It's clear Jones read the Jenkins issues, though it's also clear he didn't read much else.

In case you didn't know, the Abomination was nowhere near Betty Banner when she died. This dialogue really makes no sense, and it was something that pissed off a lot of Hulk fans. Myself included.

The death of Betty Banner was one of the more emotionally powerful moments in the Hulk's history. The fact that the Incredible Hulk creative team allowed for a misrepresented re-telling of her death to act as the emotional climax of a 5-issue story does not feel like a mistake. It doesn't feel like an oversight, and it doesn't feel like they knew it was wrong, but let it go anyway because it just worked for the story. It felt like a middle finger, a knee to the crotch, an ear-popping FUCK YOU from Marvel to longtime Hulk fans. It felt like they did it on purpose, and considering the usual response to fan criticism that came from people like Bill Jemas and Joe Quesada during this particular Marvel era, I don't think it's out of the question. I don't know. I can't say. I don't read minds, but that's what it felt like.

THE ABOMINATION #10: ???????

We learned in Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness's Hulk #1 that the Red Hulk killed Emil Blonsky. However, as mentioned in the beginning of the column, the Abomination has apparently been recruited by the Chaos King for Chaos War. The new Abomination is physically more powerful. He's stronger, he has fire powers, and his claws are sharp enough to pierce the Hulk's skin. Of course, as I mentioned earlier, he may not actually be the "real" Abomination. We'll see.


So who is the Abomination? Too many answers and too few. I know that seems like a lame answer, and one you could say about any number of comic book characters that have been around for decades, but it's true.

And it seems particularly true of this character. There are usually at least a couple of years between his appearances, and more often than not his personality has been wildly altered.

As a Hulk fan, there's something depressing about that. The Abomination is considered one of the Hulk's most popular villains, yet apparently he doesn't leave enough of an impression for writers to be consistent with his character. I'm not criticizing the Incredible Hulk writers, mind you. I'm saying if Abomination were popular enough or memorable enough, the writers would never be able to use the kind of license they do. I think the fact is that all that's really important about his character is that he's green, he's strong, and he's a bad guy. Everything else is negotiable.



Whoever the resurrected version of the Abomination turns out to be, I'd say there's at least a moderate chance, at the end of Chaos War, he's going to end up in space. Why?

Well, it wasn't until I read all these Abomination stories back-to-back that I realized just how often Abomination is blasted into, or out of, space. Here's a bit of a brief montage of Abomination, Major-Tom Style.

Abomination getting yoinked into space by The Stranger - Tales to Astonish #91.

Hulk and Abomination falling out of orbit and some dumb kid waxing poetic about it - Incredible Hulk #137.

The Abomination's escape rocket blows up in orbit - Incredible Hulk #196.

The Abomination sucked into space by the Galaxy Master - Incredible Hulk #270.

Abomination/Tyrannus speed back toward Earth - Incredible Hulk Annual #15.


And finally, though it has nothing to do with Abomination, I thought Hulk fans might enjoy this. This is a video of my nephews from Christmas Eve as they disagree over who would win in a battle between the Incredible Hulk and Captain Underpants.

Don't worry, Aidan got all his own presents.

This time...


Rick Hansen said...

I was always pretty leery of the inconsistencies shown in the Abomination's character depending on who was writing him. It's not that I was expecting him to incorporate Russian expressions into his speech, รก la Colossus, but the Bill Mantlo scripting, while masterfully crafted, had him sounding more like a gangster than a Soviet spy. There was so much talent in Bill Mantlo's writing, but only Stan was the master of continuity, seldomly seen since his departure from writing.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I'm Marc. I'm an Abomination fan, was good to see him back again, kicking arse and getting the upper hand for once. Though Modok and the Leader are main enemies of the Hulk, the Abomination should have been his main powerhouse enemy, someone who is like him and he should have been his strong, powerful nemesis, but Marvel weakened him and over the years, they weakened him so much, it got to the point that fans didn't care about him because he was getting beat every time and so fans turned off him, that was wrong, he should have been more than just Hulk's punching bag, should have been one of his greatest enemies, instead of being a chump and a laughing stock, which Marvel turned him into, bet when he was killed by Rulk, no one cared. He should be brought back with strength restored, then see if Hulk can dominate like he did and also, Abomination should get revenge on Rulk, that's a rematch I'd like to see!

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