For this Saturday’s light-hearted and escapist superhero post, here’s a look at the gamma-powered Doc Samson, a potentially great character that Marvel Comics never quite managed correctly.
Almost as strong as the Hulk, possessed of an MD and a PhD, this guy should have been placed in the Defenders the minute they stopped having the Hulk as a regular team member. Say, around Defenders #103 (January 1982).
INCREDIBLE HULK Vol 1 #141 (July 1971)
Title: His Name is … Samson
Comment: General Thunderbolt Ross is desperate to cure his daughter Betty from her current state of being trapped in an immobile glass form. (Betty wound up like that after a blood transfusion from the supervillain the Sandman 3 issues earlier.)
General Ross has called in the brilliant Doctor Leonard Samson (formerly Leonard Skivorski, Jr), as yet non-superpowered. Dr. Samson devises technology which can convert a certain type of gamma radiation into a cure for Betty, but the Hulk must be captured to obtain that radiation.
Samson is a psychiatrist on top of being a physicist, and he uses a psychiatric approach to revert the cornered Hulk back into Bruce Banner temporarily. Leonard explains his plans to cure Betty of her glass state AND cure Bruce of being the Hulk, and Banner agrees to cooperate.
In a laboratory, Dr. Samson triggers the restrained Bruce Banner’s transformation into the Hulk, and uses his Cathexis Ray Generator to drain all of that gamma energy from him, curing Bruce of being the Hulk permanently. Next, Samson uses a tiny fraction of the stored gamma energy to turn Betty Ross back into her normal human state.
After a few days of caring for both Bruce and Betty as his patients, Leonard uses the leftover gamma radiation in the Cathexis Ray Generator to turn himself into the super-powered Doc Samson. By controlling the radiation, Leonard kept his human form and intelligence, unlike Bruce when he became the Hulk. As a side-effect his hair grows long and green.
As the days go by, Doc Samson trains himself in acrobatics and dons a costume to fight crime. The cured Bruce Banner grows envious and resentful as Betty begins dating the “new” Leonard Samson. Bruce, feeling he can’t compete with his and Betty’s savior, pulls the ultimate dick move by intentionally exposing himself to gamma radiation again, turning him back into the Hulk. Moron.
At any rate, the Hulk goes on a rampage, so Doc Samson interrupts his latest date with Betty to change into his costume and battle the creature. Though Samson is nearly as strong as a calm Hulk, the brute’s strength increases the angrier he gets, so Hulk defeats Doc Samson.
Betty Ross is still infatuated with the muscular green-haired genius and goes off with him, leaving the Hulk disgusted.
INCREDIBLE HULK Vol 1 #143 (September 1971)
Comment: When Doctor Doom offers Bruce Banner and his alter ego the Hulk sanctuary in Doom’s nation of Latveria, Doc Samson volunteers to go into battle against both Dr. Doom AND the Hulk, whom Victor Von Doom is manipulating into serving as his one-monster army of conquest across Europe.
The government denies Samson’s request, relegating him to a brief guest appearance in this issue.
INCREDIBLE HULK Vol 1 #147 (January 1972)
Title: The End of Doc Samson
Comment: In this conclusion of a multi-part story, Doc Samson and Hulk stand together to defeat the latest plan of Hulk’s archenemy the Leader (at far left), who is replacing world leaders with android duplicates obedient to him.
Doc Samson and Hulk wind up in battle with the Leader’s vast army of destructive robots. When it becomes apparent that the combined might of the two gamma-powered beings will be enough to defeat the army given enough time, the Leader decides to change tactics before that can happen.
The villain has his dozens of remaining robots link up into one large robot body to take on Hulk and Doc Samson. The Leader has the giant robot-form fire gamma rays at the Hulk, intent on killing the creature with gamma poisoning.
The rays are having a deadly effect on the Hulk. Doc Samson’s genius lets him figure out what the Leader is doing and he shields the Hulk with his own body to save his life while improvising a way to cause gamma ray feedback which makes the Leader’s control device explode, thus rendering the villain unconscious.
Without the Leader controlling it remotely, the giant robot form is defeated by the Hulk, who shatters it into the many robots who combined to make it.
Doc Samson, from bravely shielding the Hulk from the Leader’s gamma bombardment, has been turned back into his non-powered human form, much to his regret.
INCREDIBLE HULK Vol 1 #193 (November 1975)
Title: The Doctor’s Name is … Samson
Comment: Jump ahead 46 issues and once again General Thunderbolt Ross and Betty Ross-Talbot need Dr. Leonard Samson’s help. Betty’s husband Glenn Talbot has been left in a comatose state by a weapon of the Hulk’s recurring villain the Gremlin, a Soviet mutant and the son of the Hulk’s very first foe the Gargoyle in Hulk #1 (May 1962).
The still-human Leonard sets up shop at General Ross’ command post, Hulkbuster Base, where Glenn is being cared for. An accident involving gamma radiation transforms Leonard back into Doc Samson, so he embraces his former superhero identity.
Because this is the Hulk’s own comic book, the cure that Doc Samson has come up with for Glenn Talbot will involve using the Hulk, necessitating his capture. When the Hulk is sighted running amok in New York City, Hulkbuster Base’s S.H.I.E.L.D. liaison, Agent Clay Quartermain, uses a S.H.I.E.L.D. helicopter to get Doc Samson to the Big Apple.
Hulk and Doc Samson engage in a destructive battle all over New York City, ending with the Hulk walloping Samson so hard that he is knocked several blocks away. Assuming the fight is over, the Hulk leaps out of the city. The battered Doc Samson is still conscious, however, and vows to capture the green monster the next time they meet.
INCREDIBLE HULK Vol 1 #199 (May 1976)
Title: … And S.H.I.E.L.D. Shall Follow
Comment: The Hulk has been involved in various other adventures that prevented Doc Samson from catching up with him. Finally, however, he has been sighted in Citrusville, FL. Samson agrees to accept help in trying to capture the brute this time.
Clay Quartermain, S.H.I.E.L.D.’s liaison to Hulkbuster Base, confers with Nick Fury and lays out a request for hundreds of S.H.I.E.L.D. paramilitary operatives and a fleet of high-tech vehicles & Top Secret weaponry to use to capture the Hulk.
Even combining Doc Samson’s power with S.H.I.E.L.D.’s war machines and troops, it still looks like the Hulk will win the destructive battle. Doc Samson lays his life on the line by having Quartermain unleash S.H.I.E.L.D.’s most potent anti-Hulk weapon on both him AND the Hulk while they continue fighting.
The weapon works, Hulk is captured and Doc Samson survives.
NOTE: The next month, in the Hulk’s 200th issue anniversary special, Doc Samson successfully used the Hulk to cure Glenn Talbot and restore him to consciousness. A side-effect wound up stranding the Hulk in the Microverse/ Quantum Realm for a few issues.
INCREDIBLE HULK Vol 1 # 218 (December 1977)
Title: The Rhino Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore
NOTE: The title of this story is a play on The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore, from a Tennessee Williams work.
Comment: This issue starts out with Doc Samson reading a newspaper headline claiming the Hulk fell to his death recently. Samson refuses to believe it, given how many times the Hulk has been given up for dead in the past. He always seems to turn up alive, no matter how long it takes.
The costumed Leonard sees a train about to plummet into a canyon due to a collapsing bridge and uses his super-strength to save it and keep it on the tracks. The conductor and the cheering passengers welcome him aboard to ride his way to their next destination.
From a distance, the Rhino looks on with disgust. He was responsible for the bridge collapsing. He’s being paid to recover an enigmatic package from the train and planned to just pick the package out of the wrecked remains and dead bodies after causing the train’s destruction.
NOTE: The Rhino started out as a recurring foe of Spider-Man in the 1960s, but years later the Hulk’s archenemy the Leader increased the Rhino’s strength to Hulk levels and used him against Greenskin.
The Rhino uses his super-speed to catch up with the train and swiftly derails it. The villain grabs the package he came for and makes his escape while Doc Samson, bound by his Hippocratic Oath, must stay behind to care for the injured passengers.
Hours later, when that is all taken care of, Leonard tracks the Rhino to a deserted old west Ghost Town where he has been hiding out. The Rhino is anticipating getting a lot of money from his mysterious employer when he turns over the package.
Doc Samson arrives and takes on the villain once again. Combining his strength with his psychiatric skill, Samson outdoes the Rhino and defeats him. The supervillain is presumed dead, but of course he isn’t and shows up a few years later.
NOTE: Neither the Rhino’s employer nor the package he stole were ever referenced again. What can ya do?
INCREDIBLE HULK Vol 1 #225 (July 1978)
Title: Is There Hulk After Death?
Comment: Though Doc Samson wasn’t on the cover of this issue, he uses his medical and scientific skills to resuscitate Bruce Banner, who was seemingly killed by the Leader in the previous issue’s cliffhanger.
After that, Hulk and Doc Samson once again team up to battle the Leader. This time they also must go up against his army of pink biological constructs called the Humanoids. (The villain had been using various armies of them since the 1960s.)
When all is said and done our two heroes save the world from being conquered by the Leader via his Omnivac Satellite, which was taking over every computer system on Earth.
INCREDIBLE HULK Vol 1 #229 (November 1978)
Title: The Moonstone is a Harsh Mistress
NOTE: Obviously the title of this story is a salute to Robert Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.
Comment: Shortly after the Hulk’s 200th issue, Hulkbuster Base was rechristened Gamma Base and given a new mission. Instead of being focused on catching or killing the Hulk, the base was going to be focused on catching and curing the various monsters created by gamma radiation.
To that end, following the most recent time the Hulk was captured and taken to Gamma Base, Doc Samson has been working with the Hulk psychiatrically and medically. He’s trying to make the Hulk controlled enough to be used strictly as a hero and no longer an uncontrollable monster.
Fellow psychiatrist Dr. Karla Sofen has come to observe Doc Samson’s techniques with the Hulk. Dr. Sofen is secretly the former aide of Captain America’s old foe Doctor Faustus and has become the new Moonstone. She became that supervillain by stealing the powers from the original Moonstone, who fell to Captain America long ago.
Karla eventually donned her armor and helmet and provoked the Hulk into a rampage to distract everyone while she tried to steal gamma technology for her employers in the Corporation.
NOTE: The Corporation was Marvel Comics’ pale 1970s imitation of their own villainous organizations like Hydra, the Secret Empire and A.I.M.
By reverting to her Karla Sofen identity after being outfought and seized by the Hulk, the villainess succeeds in making everyone think that the Hulk has gone bad again, attacking Dr. Sofen for no reason. Doc Samson and the Hulk battle it out once again, with the Hulk eventually leaving Karla Sofen in Samson’s care and leaping off into the desert to escape.
NOTE: After the Corporation clashed with figures like Iron Fist, Jack of Hearts, White Tiger, Torpedo, Hulk and Captain America they were brought down.
INCREDIBLE HULK Vol 1 #253 (November 1980)
Title: The Changelings Part Two
Comment: This is the concluding part of a 2-part story. The 1st part did not feature Doc Samson on the cover, so that’s why it’s not pictured here.
Hulk and Doc Samson fight side-by-side in this adventure. They are in Tranquility Valley, a hidden location in the Colorado Rockies. The valley is the location of a settlement of human-like animals created by their leader Woodgod.
NOTE: Woodgod was a failed Marvel character who never caught on. He was a Pan-like/ Satyr-like creation of genetic engineering at Tranquility Base in New Mexico.
The creature was a misunderstood monster like the Hulk, but with a genius for genetic engineering techniques like the kind that created him. After one solo adventure and a few guest appearances with Spider-Man and others, Woodgod retreated to the remote place he named Tranquility Valley. In that valley he genetically engineered a colony of human-like animals called Changelings, introduced in the previous issue when they fought Doc Samson. Woodgod had created them for companionship and became their leader.
Back to the story, Doc Samson and Hulk got caught up in a civil war pitting Woodgod and his “good” Changelings against his rebellious creation Leoninus and his “evil” Changelings. Ultimately the good guys won and the Changelings were left to try to live in peace in their secluded valley.
NOTE: The Changelings were basically just a rehash of the Inhumans and the High Evolutionary’s animal-men. Neither they nor their leader Woodgod ever developed much of a following.
MARVEL TEAM-UP Vol 1 #102 (February 1981)
Title: Samson and Delilah
Comment: At Empire State University, Spider-Man turns back into Peter Parker and attends a talk by guest lecturer Dr. Leonard Samson on gamma radiation. Peter, at this point a Teaching Assistant at the university, prevails upon Doc Samson to address the students he instructs.
Delia Childress, a woman from Samson’s past and whom he nicknamed “Delilah” shows up. It turns out she is an agent for the villainous outfit A.I.M. and works with A.I.M.’s hireling the Rhino to capture Doc Samson.
Peter becomes Spider-Man and helps Doc fight the Rhino. Ultimately, Delia, Rhino and the A.I.M. agents succeed in making off with Doc Samson. Spider-Man traces them to one of A.I.M.’s secret laboratories.
In the resulting fight, Spider-Man defeats all the armed A.I.M. agents while Doc Samson defeats the Rhino.
INCREDIBLE HULK ANNUAL Vol 1 #11 (October 1982)
Title: Unus Unchained
NOTE: Doc Samson was the featured superhero in this backup story. He did not appear in the main story in this Hulk Annual. Unus Unchained was illustrated by THE Frank Miller.
Comment: Doc Samson is attending a scientific seminar on “The Alienated Mutant in our Society.” Leonard is puzzled by the absence of Professor Charles Xavier until he notices that the seminar has an anti-mutant slant. Indeed, the mutant supervillain called Unus the Untouchable is brought in bound in high-tech chains designed to contain his force field/ repulsor powers.
Unus manages to free himself and, having served in Magneto’s Mutant Brotherhood for years, attacks the “mere humans” at the seminar. He mercilessly eliminates the security personnel, then savagely attacks the attendees at the seminar.
Doc Samson starts fighting Unus before he can inflict serious injuries or deaths. After a drawn-out and destructive battle that carries over to the city streets, Doc defeats the evil mutant and prepares to turn him back over to the authorities.
AVENGERS Vol 1 #252 (February 1985)
Title: Deciding Factor
Comment: Though this is just a guest appearance by Doc Samson it is a milestone moment. While the other Avengers battle Iron Man’s old foes the Blood Brothers in the American Southwest, the Vision offers Doc membership in the Avengers.
Samson declines the offer, however.
And so, Doc Samson languished in mostly supporting roles. Many years later, Marvel finally tried him out in his own series but by that time Marvel’s writing was so lame and the artwork so poor & ugly that the Doc Samson title was canceled multiple times.
Who knows? Maybe they’ll use him in the upcoming She-Hulk streaming series.
FOR MY EXAMINATION OF THE BEST WHAT IF? COMIC BOOK STORIES (1977-1984) CLICK HERE.