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Incredible Hulk 378
"Rhino Plastered"

Peter David
Bill Jaaska
Jeff Albrecht
Joe Rosen
Glynis Oliver
Bobbie Chase
Tom DeFalco
Santa Claus
Santa's Helper
Kurt Busiek

During the time of The Gray Hulk, the readers requested the return of a certain super-villain, which the creative team never delivered. Now in the holiday season, the writer and his compatriots take this opportunity to fix that in this 1990 story. In a hospital ward, one child baits the other into charging him...

While Doc Samson is analyzing Bruce Banner and his multiple personalty disorders, Rick Jones is passing by the pediatric ward, where he overhears the melee, and sees the nurse pulling the children apart. He steps in and points out that the bigger boy could have injured himself or someone else. The other boy would have found his face re-arranged, if that came to pass. The bigger boy recognizes Rick as The Hulk's sidekick, and the musician uses the opportunity to tell a story about how teasing can bring about disaster. When the boy says that he'd love to hear about the green goliath, Rick points out that this story takes place when The Hulk was gray...

A year ago, he, The Hulk, and Clay Quartermain were travelling the country in a van. It was the holiday season, and if the kids find spending Christmas in a hospital depressing, then they should see what it means to a super-villain! The Rhino emerges from his hiding place behind some dumpsters, and asks the homeless if he could share their fire. They recognize him, then flee for their lives, leaving Rhino to agonize over his predicament of being stuck in a silly costume, with no money, no friends, and no future!

The homeless run from the alley, grateful to be away from the gray monster... only to run into another one! The gray goliath is not pleased by their "greeting" and figures that their talk of a gray monster is directed towards him! Wishing to improve his mood, The Rhino begins to walk from the alley, and rob a bank. He hears and sees The Hulk entering the van, then figures he has to lay low, or else he'll be beaten again!

The following day finds The Rhino attempting to panhandle, but his prospective clients flee at the sight of him. Seeing a Salvation Army Santa, he knocks the man unconscious, and dons the seasonal garb. With his horned costume hidden, The Rhino goes to work, and begins accepting donations. Bruce Banner, Rick Jones, and Clay Quartermain walk by, with The SHIELD agent attempting to regale the others with a story of his heroism, and all ignoring the Salvation Army Santa-Rhino! He persuades the three men to contribute, and as they flee, another running man emerges from the department store...

Since their department store Santa has gotten himself inebriated, the store manager wants The Salvation Army Santa to substitute. The children cheer as "Santa" approaches them, and The Rhino weeps, for this is the first time he has felt welcome. Wondering why he hadn't thought of this sooner, "Santa" takes his seat, only for it to collapse beneath his massive weight. The children and their parents roar with laughter at the big tub o'lard, while the store manager promises to bring a reinforced chair.

As the day begins, a child asks Santa for all the super-hero action figures, their vehicles, and their secret headquarters, while "Santa" wonders if the toddler wouldn't want a super-villain toy. The child sneers and tells "Santa" that villains just get beat up all the time and are dumb, as well as ugly. "Santa" is less than pleased with the little boy, and grabs him by the cuff of his shirt. The boy's mother figures Santa is giving her son a ride, and Georgey discovers that "Santa" has a horn under his hat! "Santa" warns him not to betray him or else, and as the mother takes her son in tow for more holiday shopping, Georgey tries to let her in on "Santa's" secret! She figures that her son wants another live animal, but at the food court, Rick, Bruce, and Clay have heard, and know that The Rhino's involved!

Another child on Santa's lap wants a Nintendo... a bike... and "Santa" has had enough! Instead of being in the mood of giving, "Santa" wants the youngsters to do as he does, and take what they want! He wants them not to be chumps, and advises them to take what they can get. The store manager comes a'runnin' and while Rick and Clay compare notes, Bruce has gone...

To the restroom, where he dashes for an open stall, and shoving another guy out of the way! Closing the stall, Bruce begins to change, and the dazed shopper thinks that he's having difficulties. The next moment finds the stall door blown away, and The Hulk offering the stunned shopper a roll of toilet paper!

In the line, Ginny asks her mother if that's the real Santa, and is told this is so. The child in Santa's lap is unimpressed by the crummy "St. Nick," who needs a drink real bad, and gets poked in the eye for his troubles! The child pulls the beard off, and then heckles "Santa," who is big and dumb, and who must be a super-villain... especially since no one else could be as big, dumb, and ugly as he is!

The Rhino has had enough, and as the young kid injured his foot while kicking "Santa's" leg, he is caught, then sent flying across the store...

A large gray hand catches the hapless child in mid-air, and when the shocked boy asks who his savior is, the gray goliath refers to himself as "The Spirit of Fractures yet-to-come!"

The two foes recognize each other, with The Rhino is enraged that The Hulk has swiped his colors. B-CHOOM... the gray goliath is sent upward by The Rhino's charge into the bowling alley, and lands a kick at his oncoming foe...

At Page After Page Comics, two readers are admiring the cover of Star Trek #15, where the words "Lost In Space" are written on the rocks, along with the Jupiter II's outline, when The Rhino comes crashing into the store! As he emerges from Page After Page, both combatants turn, and see that someone wants to stop the fight!

Donna Schragis of "Donna Schragis Exquisite Cookies" wants them to sample her wares, and she learns to her dismay that The Rhino hates Macadamia nuts! The Hulk manages to pull her out of harm's way, and Donna calls out for a "Steven" to get her out of there! The Rhino is upset that The Hulk is kicking him, and the gray goliath is confident that all's fair in love and war!

The Rhino wants to stop the fight since this is not the way he wishes to spend the holidays. Back in the bowling alley, he sees that The Hulk is a shadow of his former self, and isn't worried. The gray goliath tells him he's wrong and that all he needs to beat him is a lot of balls...

The Hulk waves as The Rhino is sent tripping over bowling balls, and outside, Rick and Clay are in search of them. The Rhino lands between them, with Clay pulling out his pistol, and identifying himself as an Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. The Rhino knocks the gun from his hand, and is pleased... since he's never killed one of those before!

While he is being choked by The Rhino, Clay is reading the super-villain his rights, and Rick is trying to distract him! Something gets The Rhino's attention, as a gray hand taps his shoulder, and a bearded Santa-Hulk punches him aside... B-CHOOM

The Hulk leaps out of the way of The Rhino's charge, and the villain finds that he perferred his foe when the then-green goliath had a ten-word vocabulary! When asked what his problem is, The Rhino tells the gray goliath that he can't take off his costume, and The Hulk knows that he's hadn't had a woman in -- (Holy Comics Code, Batman! This is why villains are so upset all the time!) As The Rhino goes flying into a wall, Ginny's mother is looking for her...

Another charge, and The Rhino's horn has penetrated The Hulk! (Holy Wertham, Batman! Is this why Marvel dropped the Comics Code?) "Santa" once again dons his disguise and is about to land a few blows on his foe...

Ginny sees "Santa" about to hurt the gray man, and asks why this is so. Believing that Santa was good and was supposed to help people, she begins to weep. Her mother told her that "Santa" was very nice... but perhaps he's not. Perhaps there isn't a Santa at all... and her mother lied! "Santa" stutters and stammers, then tells Ginny that her mother was telling the truth. He assures her that the gray man was being naughty, and now he'll be nice! They both grin widely at the little girl.

Ginny's mother comes up and urges her daughter to come away from them. Virginia tells her it's okay and introduces her to "Santa" and his helper! Ginny is happy, Rick starts to tell her that "Yes, Virginia. There is a --" and is told by "Santa' and his new helper to SHUT UP! The Rhino and The Hulk spend Christmas Eve listening to what the kids want, and handing out candy canes, with Rick and Clay laughing at the sight of the holiday duo. The last laugh is on them because The Hulk's physique has gotten the attentions of an ardent elf admirer! (Holy Pini, Batman!)

Rick has finished his story and asks the kids what they've learned from it. The big kid kicks Rick on his shin, and calls him a big, dumb lying doody-head! The kids slap their hands together, pleased that they were able to see through the phony story, while Rick wonders why he bothered, and hopes to go up against super-villains where it's safer!

The cover blurbs mention the return of the most demanded villain of all! (Holy Legume, Batman! The Leader must be hanging his huge head in shame!)

Rick is wearing a dark shirt with a logo resembling Green Lantern's.

I've enjoyed Bill Jaaska's art here and in Shade The Changing Man, but his version of The Hulk looks like Mike Tyson.

Peter David came up with a clever disguise for The Rhino.

Like the little kid, I, too, wanted to have The Mego Super-Hero action figures, their vehicles, and their accessories.

In this story, Bruce turns to The Hulk at sunset.

Peter David has written stories for Star Trek and Lost In Space (with Bill Mumy).

In "But I Digress," Peter David wondered why readers wanted to see him have The Rhino fight The Hulk again, especially since they've seen it before. For me, it's a delight to see how different writers and artists present such an event, and how the characters have changed over time. The Rhino is a favorite of mine.

Donna Schragis and her dialogue resembles Cyndi Lauper around the time of "The Goonies."

Rick Jones looks like Tobey Macguire.

The "Ho Ho Ho" joke is a homage to the other Green Giant.

Joe Rosen's lettering really stands out in the dialogue between The Hulk and The Rhino, as well as Ginny's discovery that maybe "Santa" isn't Santa.

Steve Chung
"Review Plastered"