Having grown up reading black and white Marvel UK reprints, I love the Marvel Essential collection. It's great to read a series through in big chunks, filling in the gaps from stories I've read only partly before. Among my favourites in the series is Incredible Hulk. While other Essentials sit on the shelf for months if not years waiting for me to get round to reading them, I generally have to crack on with the next Hulk volume as soon as it arrives. As much as I enjoyed Peter David's psychologically challenging run on the character in later years... or the big dumb joyfest that is Jeph Loeb's current run... my favourite Hulk will always be the "Hulk smash!" one. I love everything about this character, despite the fact that his adventures follow a very predictable pattern. I'll let him explain...
"Hulk just wants to be left alone. If puny humans leave Hulk alone, Hulk will be happy."
"No, now puny humans are attacking Hulk - puny soldiers or stupid villains..." (who Hulk always gives a funny name to such as "Little Man", "Big Head", "Clock Man", "Stupid Magician", "Bug Man", "One Eye" etc. etc.) "...leave Hulk alone, puny humans or Hulk will smash!"
"Now Hulk is angry - puny humans think they are stronger than Hulk... but Hulk is strongest one there is - now Hulk will SMASH!"
In essence then, on completing Essential Hulk Volume 6, I have just read 26 variations on the plot above. And I love it. It's curiously cathartic. These are usually the last things I read at night after I'm too tired to keep reading a book or devote my attention to contemporary comics. I usually manage one issue before I'm nodding off and I find they not only relax me but also fill me with warm feelings of nostalgia. Remembering the first time I encountered these stories, back when I was a little kid spending all my pocket money and Marvel US and UK comics (nothing's changed there) often puts me in a calmer frame of mind and spurs on a good night's sleep. Who needs Horlicks?
Having said all that, I don't think I've read any of the strips in this particular volume before, except possibly the last few issues. Having made my way through the previous five volumes in years gone by, those contained a lot more stories I remembered from my youth, particularly the Stan Lee and Roy Thomas years, largely drawn by Herb Trimpe, many of which cropped up in Spider-Man & Hulk Weekly, Mighty World of Marvel, and Hulk Pocketbook when I was a kid. I'd been looking forward to this volume though because it collects issues #201 - 225, largely featuring art by one of my favourite classic Marvel artists Sal Buscema, along with solid storytelling from Len Wein and, towards the end, Roger Stern. Buscema works with three top inkers for the majority of the stories here: Joe Staton, who gives his art a nicely cartoony look; Joe Rubinstein, who gives it a slick, Byrne-esque quality; and best of all, Ernie Chan, whose embellishment is vivid, detailed and dramatic. Though it does make you think you're reading Conan at times.
I didn't start collecting the US Incredible Hulk until after #250, and the title wasn't well distributed in the UK before that so back issues were always hard to come by and expensive when I was growing up. I'm looking forward to the next volume and beyond which should take us well into the Bill Mantlo years and stories I'm more familiar with. As long as Hulk keeps smashing, I'll keep buying.
I pre-ordered Essential Hulk #6 from Ace Comics which got me a 25% discount, plus postage included with my regular comics parcel from those guys. Taking that into account, it cost me £10.87, which isn't bad for 26 comics. The cheapest I can find it online at the moment is from The Book Depository at £10.61, including postage.