Fall Of The Hulks: Gamma - Commentary

Well, kids, here we go: it's Christmas (or the day after), and I've got an extra-special, well-deserved treat for everyone, including any new fans who might've happened by my blog as result of my mighty missive on the identity of Red Hulk over at iFanboy. (For those of you who haven't read that new and updated version of my theories, run, don't walk, to the hotlink above.) I've been asked many times on many message boards for my thoughts, so now, without further ado...

I'm going to experiment with something here, and that's not just a full review of this week's FALL OF THE HULKS: GAMMA by Jeph Loeb and John Romita, Jr., but also a page-by-page commentary of the book. Needless to say, here there be SPOILERS, and heavy speculation at not just the identity of Red Hulk, but also the remainder of FALL OF THE HULKS and even WORLD WAR HULKS, the event that follows the FALL.

Now, let's begin:


Pages 1-5: The story begins with Samson once more displaying his "C.S.I."-like talents to reconstruct the events that led to the death of "Thunderbolt" Ross which took place just before where this issue picks up. Obviously, this situation echoes the death of the Abomination, the event which started the current storyline in HULK #1--right down to the double-page splash which is meant to surprise and shock us.

Note also that the Samson who appears in this story is not the same Leonard Samson as in HULK #1, but the new, "evil" Samson who was introduced in HULK #6, whom we saw "Leonard" transform into in INCREDIBLE HULK #600, and who completed his odyssey of evil in the spotlight issue, HULK #18 last week. He's firmly on the side of M.O.D.O.K., which makes anything he says to Captain America (actually "Bucky" Barnes, formerly the Winter Soldier) and Ms. Marvel extremely suspect.

What we do know is that the Red Hulk and T-bolt did meet near the Washington Monument, they fought, and the Red Hulk delivered the "killing blow." T-bolt did fight in the Redeemer armor, which Samson notes as having been created by S.H.I.E.L.D., but which we know was actually designed by the Leader for use by Saunders, who served as his first Redeemer (INCREDIBLE HULK #343-345). (Interestingly, Ross was the second Redeemer, or rather, his reanimated, soulless corpse was employed by the Leader during the "Ghost of the Past" storyline in INCREDIBLE HULK #397-400. Ross was reanimated again by the alien Troyjans which led to his latest return in INCREDIBLE HULK #455.)

Speaking of Ross' resurrection, it is well known that he committed treason (INCREDIBLE HULK #287-290) in conspiring with M.O.D.O.K. and the Abomination. How did he regain his rank upon his resurrection? The story has never been told, although I suspect the hand of the Intelligencia. There's a story there...

Note also that Samson states that the fight between Ross and the Red Hulk was "personal."

Pages 6-7: Ross' body is airlifted away (still in the Redeemer armor) by men who wear military garb. Meanwhile, Samson comments that Ross "always thought with his ego instead of his brain." He wants to be sure the public believes Ross died a hero, but says going alone against the Red Hulk was tantamount to suicide. He then threatens to kill the Red Hulk himself, but is this threat born of Ross' death because he and the General were good friends (a friendship seen many, many times over the years) or does it have more to do with Samson's own betrayal of the Red Hulk ("Code Red" in HULK #14-17), or something else altogether?

The new Captain America, "Bucky" Barnes, notices one of the men from the "Air Force" as perhaps a familiar face from the past, but dismisses the possibility. We'll get back to this point later.

Pages 8-9: Outside Banner and Red Hulk, this is the first time we see Rick Jones as the new A-Bomb interacting with others in the superhero community. He talks with the former Captain America, Steve Rogers. (Oddly, Steve and Ms. Marvel both refer to his friend as "Banner," not "Bruce." What cheesed them off so much?)

Page 10: The funeral begins with a speech from Samson that establishes a few key details. He remarks that Ross has "no family left to speak on his behalf," which indicates that he is either unaware of any resurrection of Betty Ross, or chooses to hide that information from the public. (Eagle-eyed readers may remember he had a liaison with Betty when she briefly returned from death during Bruce Jones' tenure on the book, circa INCREDIBLE HULK vol. 3 #63-76, which may or may not have been a series of fantasy situations created by Nightmare to torture Banner. This issue and ALPHA's revelations that the Intelligencia procured Betty's body would shed doubt on the truth of those events.)

Ross' family here is revealed to be all military men, which fits with assertions in HULK #16 that the father of Red Hulk was a stern man who taught his son that indulgence meant weakness. Also reiterated here is Ross' marriage to Karen Lee (from INCREDIBLE HULK #291), with the added detail that Lee was his C.O.'s daughter, which lends comparison to Major Glenn Talbot and his failed marriage to Betty, his C.O.'s daughter.

Pages 11-13: As Samson notes Betty Ross as her father's proudest accomplishment, we cut to the first appearance this issue of the Red She-Hulk, telling how "fun" it would be to attend the funeral. For some, the cut as Betty's name is told is a clear hint toward the popular theory that Red She-Hulk is, in fact, Betty Ross returned from death. This scene does little to discourage that theory, as M.O.D.O.K. notes how "impractical" such an appearance would be. When she counters that "Samson got to go," M.O.D.O.K. tells her "That's an entirely different set of circumstances and you know it." (Perhaps with those circumstances being that she is presumed dead by everyone in attendance at the funeral?) She rebuffs him, saying that she's "had enough" of "being told where [she] can go and where [she] can't," perhaps lamenting how difficult it has been, being a general's daughter.

Then we see Lyra, the daughter of the Hulk, putting in her first appearance. (Obviously, then, the person she met at the end of INCREDIBLE HULK #605 took her to M.O.D.O.K.) She and Red She-Hulk have a quick antagonism. Red She-Hulk clearly doesn't like her for some palpable reason. If she knows Lyra is the spawn of the Hulk and Thundra, but doesn't know the circumstances...well, do you see where I'm going with this?

Oh, and before we switch scenes: note how M.O.D.O.K. emphasizes Ross' "death" in bold. We'll get back to this later, again.

Page 14: Captain Simon Savage was head of the Leatherneck Raiders, a ragtag team that operated between WWII and the Korean War. There's not much else to say, but that Loeb shows his appreciation for older Marvel history by bringing in older folks who have served in the military to lend gravitas to the funeral proceedings.

Pages 15-18: Speaking of military service, it's a seldom-recognized fact that Ben Grimm and Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four served during WWII. What's that? They don't look old enough? Okay, at least he was a test pilot, and we'll phase out the rest of the 1960s topical references. Here he eulogizes Ross to demonstrate his Air Force credentials, and to spotlight his obsession with the Hulk. Ben correctly identifies Ross as the driving force that led to the first fateful meeting between the FF and the Hulk (FANTASTIC FOUR #12), and draws parallels between T-bolt and the Hulk, and another famous hunter and his prey: Captain Ahab and Moby Dick. Of course, Ahab never caught the whale, either...and it drove him to the depths of insanity.

And, finally, we're back to non-military, in Rick Jones, who takes the podium to introduce the man at the centerpiece of the upcoming drama: his best friend, the one who wouldn't have had such an exciting life if Rick had never driven out onto the G-Bomb test site...Bruce Banner.

Pages 19-22: Right away, Bruce wastes no time in establishing himself as the same smart cookie we know from Pak's INCREDIBLE HULK so far, having uploaded his own pictures among Samson's batch. He brings up Betty's picture and talks about how Ross loved her but could never say the words, a touching moment.

Bruce also brings up, for only the second time in the entire narrative since Loeb's HULK #1, the man Ross would have preferred to be his son-in-law--and who, for a time, was: Colonel Glenn Talbot. When Bruce tells of Talbot's capture in Russia some years ago (INCREDIBLE HULK #166-188), the new Cap takes audible notice. Of course, rather transparently, this scene connects to Page 7 and the mystery individual whom Bucky recognized. Likely, they are one and the same. But wait, didn't Talbot die in INCREDIBLE HULK #260...?

Breaking down in tears as he continues, Bruce talks about Betty's death and how it drove Ross further into melancholia. "His world turned upside down," he says. "Maybe something broke apart inside of him. That part of his heart that Betty held together. He would've done anything to get her back." Would he really? Perhaps the proper question isn't "Would he?" but rather, "Did he?"

In closing, Bruce mentions an uncanny irony--that now that he can no longer become the Hulk, Ross, the one who chased him the most, has passed on.

And then, the casket is led away...

Page 23: A 21-gun salute closes the book on the funeral. Bruce and Rick depart while Samson appears clearly livid that Bruce dared show his face.

Pages 24-25: Ah, it's the moment that's been hinted at, with the files from INCREDIBLE HULK #604, the flashbacks in ALPHA, and with Bucky and the attention to a certain army colonel in the funeral itself: both Betty Ross and her ex-husband Glenn Talbot are in fact alive, and they show up at General Ross' gravesite, alone, to pay their respects. It's a remarkable scene for a number of reasons, as Talbot has been dead since 1981, and Betty since 1998. It's intriguing also that they appear together, as they divorced long before the Colonel's death, and Betty of course married Bruce some years later.

Hence, we're left with some pretty interesting questions: How did Talbot survive his "final battle" with the Hulk? Did M.O.D.O.K. assist in returning Talbot to life if he in fact died? How has he retained his military rank and uniform? Why is Betty with Talbot instead of making her way back to Bruce? Is Betty brainwashed? Why do they let the world believe them both to still be dead?

Obviously we haven't seen the last of Betty or Talbot, and their returns will be a big part of FALL OF THE HULKS and WORLD WAR HULKS.

It does bear mentioning that Talbot has always been a favorite among Hulk fandom for the identity of Red Hulk. He does fit many of the clues that are out there, and truthfully, one of the only reasons I'd eliminated him from contention was the fact that he was quite dead when the curtain rose on HULK #1 two years ago. I still believe it would be a cheat to have him show up out of the blue only to stand revealed as the Red Hulk as it violates a key convention of mysteries.

At the same time, I wonder from his dialogue this issue if Talbot really could be Red Hulk. He promises Betty that he will help her find the truth about how her father died. Now, if he is the Red Hulk, then wouldn't that mean he's keeping that fact from Betty? I'm not so sure I see something like that being in Glenn's character, but I could be wrong.

Similarly, does Betty's angsting this issue preclude her from being Red She-Hulk? Again, I don't think so, because as we all know, how you express yourself may be totally different between your regular self and your gamma-irradiated self. Some aren't even aware of what their other identities do.

Pages 26-27: Alas, we're back to Samson and the Intelligencia. These pages have divided fandom as they would seem to cast the most doubt on Ross actually being the Red Hulk, which is of course my longstanding, all-but-proven theory. Judge for yourself, but I think nothing has changed.

Samson puts forth the idea that the Red Hulk didn't work alone when he killed Ross, if only because "killing Ross doesn't fit his profile." He points an accusatory finger at the Leader, who "had a hand in [the Redeemer armor's] creation" and "even got Ross to wear it back then." Of course, M.O.D.O.K. surmises that the Red Hulk's actions were designed to sow discord among them. He also states that Red Hulk knows "the most intimate details" of their plans and "how Ross, in particular, was crucial to them." "With the general's murder," he says, "he's fired the first shot...now we shoot back." We then see the assembled Intelligencia, ready, it seems, to go after the Red Hulk.

The supposition that fans have made is that just because the Intelligencia refers to Ross as above, the Ross that "died" cannot be anyone but the real Ross. While this idea certainly has merit, you have to ask: does the book work as well without the scene? Could Loeb have afforded to drop it? And could there be another, subtler way to hint that Ross is not what he seemed? Note that every time Ross' name is mentioned, it's in bold, as is "murder." There's a special emphasis...sort of like if one were to use quotes around the words. Let's face it, if Ross name were quoted every single time it appeared here, that would be a pretty good indicator all was not as it seemed. Ah, well, we'll have to wait and see.

If Ross is Red Hulk, we have to ask: why is having Ross able to be seen a vital detail of their plans? Or, why is it so vitally important to have the Red Hulk seen alongside Ross? And what is this plan, anyway?

Dollars to doughnuts, with Ross officially "dead" they are now cut off from his military contacts and resources. Red Hulk has eliminated further infiltration with a Ross LMD henceforth.

Pages 28-29: Here we are at the closing pages, where just as in HULK #1, Loeb throws the readers a loop, and does it using Bruce Banner. It was hinted at heavily at the end of HULK #17, but now we have confirmation: Red Hulk did the "unexpected" thing and chose to ally himself with Bruce Banner. The implication atop that is that Bruce Banner was complicit in, and perhaps even orchestrated, the death of General Ross.

Now, yes, it's true that Bruce Banner has been acting a bit loopy of late, perhaps even slightly villainous (c.f. his giving Tyrannus the Gammadome tech in INCREDIBLE HULK #605 among other bits), but really, this ending should be a red flag to anyone who didn't yet accept this point from everything earlier in the issue:

General Ross is not dead. Bruce Banner and Red Hulk faked his death.

It's a few things besides the fact that Banner is involved that make me think this way. Remember also that General Ross has already died twice before (INCREDIBLE HULK #330 and 400), and twice been resurrected. He fills an important role in Hulk lore. There's no point in killing him. And, oh yes, this is Pak's Banner, to a "T."

Also, note the dialogue between Banner and the Red Hulk, with the references to Ross' funeral. "Did you believe those things you said at the funeral?" Who would ask that? The answer is, someone who either cares about Ross, or Ross himself. (And how did he know what was said at the funeral, anyway?)

I will even go forward to cement the idea that Ross' death has been faked, that Ross is Red Hulk, and the "plan" is still very much moving forward. After all, let's say that we at least agree that Red Hulk and Banner conspired to fake Ross' death. The body was taken by the "Air Force"--which I would actually presume to be a front for the Intelligencia (which may mean that Talbot is allied with them!); or at the least, the Intelligencia would have agents able to verify the body's authenticity in ways the regular military might not. So, granted the Intelligencia would spot a fake: if the Intelligencia were working with the "real" Ross, and they detected a fake substituted by Banner, game over! Hence, either the Intelligencia's "Ross" was an LMD and it died, or Banner was complicit in murdering the real Ross. Which do you prefer? And why else would the Intelligencia know Ross was fake unless...the real Ross was the Red Hulk?

Still, what we have is Bruce Banner and Red Hulk, joining forces clandestinely, with Banner's old secret lab armed to theteeth with Sakaarian weapons (as well as the gun that killed the Abomination--take a look on the wall!). It may look bad, but if we've learned one thing about Bruce Banner under Pak--he's got a plan for everything and everyone. (Who actually believes he's preparing Skaar to really kill the Green Scar?)

Whew. This post took a few days longer than I thought it would. I'm beat. What do you think, sirs?


PS: What makes me think it's all going to come back to this page from HULK #3?

PPS: "Eeeeeeeenteresting" dept.: If you check the Handbook entries in back, She-Hulk and Red She-Hulk have the exact same stats. Spooky.


I Love Marvel Masterworks!

Y'know, I have lately come to really enjoy collected editions of Marvel (and DC, and Image) titles. I was always keen on the periodical format--still am, as my growing collection of all things Hulk will attest--but since Marvel seriously stepped up their trade paperback and hardcover program some years ago, I find myself increasingly awash in new and interesting trade collections. (Or is that "old and interesting," considering my affection for pre-1990s material?)

I remember the first times I saw hardcover Marvel collections, and I still have one of the two original volumes: Spider-Man: Kraven's Last Hunt and Marvel Masterworks, Vol. 1: The Amazing Spider-Man. I couldn't believe a company would actually make these available in such a superlative format. They were a rarity, to be sure, and I had to beg and plead Mom and Dad to buy them for me (I was 8 or 9, I think, and these books were $20-$30 when the average comic cost only 75 cents). These things were keepsakes!

Only periodically would I buy any softcover or hardcover edition over the intervening years. A Marvel Masterworks, Vol. 8: The Incredible Hulk here, a Wolverine by Chris Claremont & Frank Miller trade there. It's hard to believe that now, hardcovers are overwhelming the apartment, burgeoned by the Marvel Masterworks program that has just released its 128th volume (!) and oversize hardcovers I've bought and had autographed and sketched by the likes of John Romita Jr., Kaare Andrews, Khoi Pham, Dan Brereton, Brian Michael Bendis, Matt Wagner, Joe Quesada, and even Stan Lee.

And you know, 2009 has been a banner year for these hardcovers!

Keep in mind, I've often thought certain collections should be published, but to see the Masterworks program pick up to the point where these books would become available, it's just a dream come true. (An expensive dream, but one onetheless.) Of course, back in the day I first wanted these, I wanted softcovers in color, then later Essentials in B&W, but now that I've been bitten by the hardcover bug...well, things just don't get better than the below:


I remember reading The Infinity Gauntlet back in the 1990s, and around the time of its first sequel, The Infinity War, Marvel rereleased the Warlock special editions from the early 1980s that collected Jim Starlin's first cosmic opus. I had to wonder why these books weren't in a trade collection much like the Life of Captain Marvel trade that I'd picked up to catch up on the character of Thanos some months previous--after all, those books were first collected in a similar 5-issue series in the 80s.

Back in 2007, I bought the first collection of Warlock, the original incarnation revamped by Roy Thomas and Gil Kane. I have had a soft spot over the years for "Counter-Earth," the world created by the High Evolutionary on the opposite side of the sun from the regular Marvel-Earth, and that first collection had the tale of its creation and development. It's also a Marvel riff on "Jesus Christ Superstar." I still heartily recommend that first Marvel Masterworks volume starring Warlock, but volume 2, Starlin's, is where the series and character hit their stride. I highly recommend it.

Then, of course, there's the next little gem, even more remarkable for its release last month.

Deathlok--a book far ahead of its time. Before Gibson's Neuromancer, before Blade Runner, before Robocop or Terminator came this guy, the original soldier trapped inside the body of a cybernetic killing machine, against the backdrop of a dystopic, not-too-distant future. Remarkably, this book includes every appearance of Deathlok from his debut in 1974 through the conclusion of his adventures, alongside the Star-Spangled Avenger himself in Captain America #288. (The alternate timeline was, apparently, finally closed off in the next issue of Cap, #289, which is not included herein, chiefly because it doesn't feature Deathlok.)

These books are a lot of fun, and it shows the strength of the Marvel line that some of the new Masterworks featuring material from the 1970s are some of the series' strongest offerings. I look forward to seeing the inevitable release of future volumes like Iron Fist Vol. 1 and Black Panther Vol. 1 (the latter because I have always wanted to read the old Jungle Action stories by Don McGregor and Billy Graham). (By the same token, I'm not holding my breath for Man-Wolf Vol. 1.)

I heart my Masterworks!



Didn't I tell you guys?

And don't these few panels speak volumes?

I've been saying for a while now that General Ross is the #1 contender for Red Hulk, and he has been since the release of #600 pretty much sealed the deal for me. But remember if you will my parting words about the coming of Red She-Hulk, and her identity.

It looks like I might be right.

Who else would have the dramatic impact that Greg Pak and Jeph Loeb both say she (and presumably her alter ego) will carry in to the book? Who else would shake up the status quo so much? Who else would have genetic traits that would allow her the same type of mutation as her father?

And who else would be a likely candidate who satisfies the requirement of being someone who has at the very least been referenced once during Loeb's run thus far? Domino, whose tattered leathers she seems to be wearing, doesn't fit the bill--she's not from the Hulk's side of the MU and hardly fits the paradigm Loeb has set up. She's a decoy and will reappear in #17, mark my words. Victoria Hand may have the hair, but hasn't been referenced in Loeb's run to any substantial degree and is not a Hulk character at the core (not nearly). Marlo Jones hasn't been seen or referenced lately. Jarella was shown as dead in #10, and that would be a game-changer, for sure, but the memories don't match up as she's not from Earth. Who else is a female from the Hulk's previous life? Kate Waynesboro is accounted for in Pak's book, while April Sommers, Angela Lipscombe, Susan Jacobson, and others are pretty much one-off characters, all unreferenced by Loeb.

No, the only outlier, who is from a later generation than Red Hulk (suggested by their conversation in #16), who's been experimented upon previously by MODOK, friendly with Doc Samson, and would really shock Banner, Hulk, and Hulk fans?

The only answer, friends...is Betty Ross Talbot Banner.

I said it before Red She-Hulk was introduced, and I'm saying it again now.





What d'you think, sirs?

Yep, it's mine! The day was fantastic (or is that incredible?) from beginning to end. I lined up about an hour after arriving at Pittsburgh Comicon. Both my autograph tickets were in the 400's. Before coming to the booth I had the folks at the CGC booth carefully remove the case from my INCREDIBLE HULK #1 that already had a 4.5 Universal grade. They put it in a Mylar and I had to be very careful carrying it around the convention floor (in a bag of course!). The other book I had was my first edition copy of the Marvel Masterworks Vol. 8 hardcover from 1989 which was already signed by Dick Ayers a few years ago at Mid-Ohio. When I finally came up to Stan, I was hoping I wouldn't be nervous.

Stan was every bit as gracious as you'd think, and if he didn't like being there for fans, it sure didn't show. He greeted me with an enthusiastic "Hi!" and I told him how great it was to meet him and what a terrific character he had created in the Hulk. He thanked me and began signing my books. I had him personalize the Marvel Masterworks (see pic). As for the INCREDIBLE other book, he signed it in silver ink which looks great against the background. I only saw him for about a minute face-to-face, but it was an experience I wouldn't soon forget. The occasion was particularly memorable since I'd had to tell him my name to have him personalize the Marvel Masterworks, and as I left and we shook hands, he told me thanks and called me by name. Say what you want about Stan, but The Man is a class act.

So today I finally got my CGC Signature Series verified INCREDIBLE HULK #1, still graded 4.5, and just had to share it with you all. This one's the holy grail! Without further ado...



Fun With ComicArtFans.com!

Hey guys,

I am totally beat. After returning from the 2009 Pittsburgh Comicon with new sketches and about 4 new books (hello, Superman Vs. Spider-Man Treasury!), I'm back. Before I return to work I thought I would upload all the new sketches to my ComicArtFans.com page. This year's sketches include Bug (from the Micronauts), Adam Warlock, Deathlok the Demolisher, She-Hulk, Firehawk, and a few of Satana, the Devil's Daughter. I also updated earlier years where necessary and added my 2008 commissions by the likes of Herb Trimpe and Chris Burnham. Check 'em out!

Oh, and yes, I did meet Stan Lee on Saturday morning. I have two items he signed. One's a first edition Marvel Masterworks Vol. 8: The Incredible Hulk #1-6 from 1989. The other....well, you'll see it as soon as it returns from CGC.



Somewhere That's Green: Greg Pak talks Incredible Hulk #601 at ComicMonsters.com

An excerpt:

"At a certain point during the 'Planet Hulk' saga, Banner and the Hulk bonded. The Hulk may have been the dominant personality, but Banner was with him all the way. And as we learned when Banner helped the Hulk crush Strange's hands in issue #3 of World War Hulk, Banner shared the Hulk's fury and desire for vengeance against the Illuminati. But it remains to be seen just what Banner thought of the Hulk's untrammeled fury by the end of World War Hulk."

You can find the rest of the interview by yours truly at http://www.comicmonsters.com/features-1039-Greg_Pak_talks_The_Incredible_Hulk.html. Greg Pak's website is http://www.pakbuzz.com. The Incredible Hulk #601 hits store shelves on August 26th.



My First & Last Word on Glenn Talbot & Other Rulk Guesses

I do want to get one thing off my chest. This is in response to some postings made out there that state the identity of Red Hulk must unequivocally be either Glenn Talbot (Betty's ex-husband and late subordinate to General Ross), or Igor Drenkov/Starsky/Sklar/whatever his last name is this week (a.k.a. the spy who refused to halt the countdown back in Incredible Hulk vol. 1 #1). Regardless of what I say, I know there are people who are going to believe those rationales better than my own. So, a word, if I may.

I just don't think it's "playing fair" if Red Hulk turns out to be someone Loeb has never directly referenced since (his and McGuinness') Hulk #1. It's not the way traditional mysteries work, and it's not the way Loeb's mysteries work in particular. Look at Batman: The Long Halloween--when you get to the end, the clues and characters were there all along to suggest who the "Holiday" killers were; with Batman: Dark Victory, the sequel, the clues and character of "The Hangman" were also there from the beginning. The same holds true with the Batman "Hush" mystery (in fact, he introduced the character who would be Hush in the first issue of the storyline). Even the most famous of Marvel villain mysteries, Roger Stern's oft-maligned Hobgoblin mystery in the Spider-Man titles, ultimately came back to characters introduced in the early part of his run (not to mention that Kingsley's brother was cleverly inserted as a double for Kingsley to avert suspicion!). Looking at the current series the same way, it would stand to reason the identity of the Red Hulk is someone who has already appeared in the series since Loeb began telling his tale.

In other words, it's not Talbot, and it's certainly not Igor. (Oh, I have other reasons for stating it's not them, and you can read some, between the lines, in my previous post.)

That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.



"Who Is The Red Hulk" - The Long Version


About a week ago, on The Incredible Hulk Message Board, I wrote a pretty lengthy, stream-of-consciousness missive on my thoughts--and recent epiphany--regarding recent events in the Hulk monthly book, esp. the identity of the much-maligned "Red Hulk" character. Right after my post, Mike Banks, owner of Samurai Comics in Phoenix, AZ, asked me if he could host a version of those selfsame thoughts on his site. I agreed, and tweaked the article over the next couple of days. The version I gave him was a condensed version of the following, the full enchilada, the one that was TOO LONG to publish anywhere else. You lucky readers'll see the full, unedited version below--about 1,500 words LONGER than the one on the Samurai site (that everyone's linking to). Enjoy, and, as always, your comments, rips and tears, are appreciated.


"Who Is The Red Hulk?"
(Or: No, Really, Who Is The Red Hulk?)

A Review of THE INCREDIBLE HULK #600 (Marvel Comics, $4.99)
By Gary M. Miller

Well, my friends, THE INCREDIBLE HULK #600, the much-maligned but eagerly-anticipated return to the original numbering, arrived on Wednesday. And while the opinions of the issue throughout comic shops and on the Internet has been mediocre at best, there's one thing virtually everyone can agree on: 14 issues into Jeph Loeb's tenure on the book (12 of HULK, one of KING SIZE HULK, and this issue), we still don't have an answer to the question posed above.
Or do we? First, a disclaimer: you're about to read an article penned by a Hulk fan of twenty-odd years, owning virtually every appearance of the Green Goliath ever published. (Supplemented, of course, by the INCREDIBLE HULK COMPLETE COLLECTION DVD, now, sadly, out of print!) I read the issue in question, and suddenly started connecting all the dots. While I won't say writer Jeph Loeb has suddenly turned "Plan Nine From Outer Space" into "Citizen Kane," he's gone a long way toward dispelling my doubts about a clear direction for the "Red Hulk" story.

Without further ado, now's the time to put your patented Spoiler Goggles on--to tell the whole story, I have to disclose all the details of INCREDIBLE HULK #600, as well as bring out the hidden points from the remainder of Loeb's run, and even before...all the way back to INCREDIBLE HULK #1 from 1962!

Of course, I'll begin where INCREDIBLE HULK #600 begins--the ending of WORLD WAR HULK. The majority of the cast as pictured on the first few pages' flashback to those final moments of the crossover are right where artist Ed McGuinness has them. As the Hulk rages, Doc Samson, the (fatally?) wounded Rick Jones, and General "Thunderbolt" Ross are front-and-center. Tony Stark prepares his satellites, noting that he "hasn't measured the effects of the combined rays" and targets the Hulk, enveloping him in a crimson band of radiation, with the others--plus She-Hulk, per Loeb--right in front of him. The result: Banner is human and comatose, and Ross helps S.H.I.E.L.D. agents load him onto a helicopter, bound for the Mojave Desert, where a new Gamma Base stands. Three miles below, Bruce Banner awakens in a chamber, bathed in red light once more.

Since then, we've seen the murder of Emil Blonsky, longtime Hulk villain the Abomination, at the hands of a Hulk-like individual in Russia. The new villain beat Blonsky to a bloody pulp before pulling a S.H.I.E.L.D.-issue giant gun and killing him. A group headed up by S.H.I.E.L.D. director Tony Stark, consisting of Maria Hill, "Thunderbolt" Ross, Leonard "Doc" Samson, and She-Hulk, examined the scene while fighting off Russia's own super-team, the Winter Guard. Ross broke up the fight, having discovered a young survivor, muttering the same word over and over: "Red." Meanwhile, Rick Jones awoke in another area of Russia, shirtless, pants in tatters, wondering "[W]hat've you gotten yourself into this time?"

Over the next few issues, the questions come fast and furious. Ross takes Samson to see Bruce Banner, awake, alert, and more than willing to investigate this new "Red Hulk." With Ross, Samson, and She-Hulk aboard, the Red Hulk attacks the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier, and a computer virus set loose on the 'carrier steals all relevant information on the Hulk. The Helicarrier crashes, Iron Man is mortified, and the three missing people after the crash are Ross, Samson, and S.H.I.E.L.D. agent and old Hulk supporting cast member, Clay Quartermain. Later, Quartermain's corpse is found in the wreckage, as is a gamma radiation-soaked, shredded coat belonging to Samson. Meanwhile, Rick finds his way to Gamma Base and sees Rulk's human self transform...before Rick himself becomes the new, blue-skinned, armored Abomination! Rick falls in battle, but the tremors from their clash free Banner, who changes into the more classic "savage" Hulk and is trounced by Rulk in a battle that spans all the way to the Golden Gate Bridge. Thor interrupts Rulk from killing Hulk, and is himself defeated and left in space, as the new Abomination rescues Hulk, who realizes Rulk's weakness ("The madder Red Hulk gets...the hotter Red Hulk gets!") and beats him. As the Hulk leaves, Abomination--or "A-Bomb" as he seems to prefer--transforms back to Rick, and tries to warn Hulk of Rulk's identity, but is silenced by Doc Samson, now long-haired once more, with the thunderbolt insignia from his costume now scarring his bare chest. He tells the unconscious Rick it's "not [his] destiny" to be telling such things, and carts him off while Ross taunts the unconscious Rulk for his failures.

Of course, there's more, but little is relevant to the question at hand. Rulk fought a Wendigo during his travels to Russia to kill the Abomination, drawing the vengeful ire of a pack of mutant Wendigoes that traveled to Las Vegas, where the Hulk (in gray and green varieties) defeated them with help from Ms. Marvel, Moon Knight, and Brother Voodoo; and She-Hulk, humiliated by Rulk aboard the Helicarrier, organized a new version of the Lady Liberators in a vain attempt to capture Rulk and learn his identity. Then, Rulk revealed he could absorb energy while he met a time-tossed version of the Defenders alongside his own group called "The Offenders." He killed them all, but the Elders of the Universe who initiated the contest restored the status quo. Rulk, at the end, stated: "I realize now that I've left you even worse off than dead. With a broken heart. Just as you left me, Banner..."

That brings us to INCREDIBLE HULK #600, where we can begin assembling the pieces. Therein, She-Hulk ropes Ben Urich into the mystery of "Who is Rulk?" and Ben in turn involves Peter Parker, the spectacular Spider-Man. They travel with Doc Samson to Gamma Base, which stands revealed as not a S.H.I.E.L.D. installation at all but a front for Advanced Idea Mechanics (A.I.M., longtime foes of S.H.I.E.L.D.) and its insidious leader, with whom the Hulk has had a few dealings: the Mental Organism Designed Only for Killing, alias M.O.D.O.K.! Banner and the new A-Bomb are both captured there (though we're not sure how Banner came to be captured--he was fine when last we saw him, whether it be in HULK #12 or SKAAR #12). Samson "hulks out," Rulk appears from nowhere and must battle Spider-Man, and finally, Banner becomes the Hulk, only to have Rulk absorb all his gamma energy, leaving him cured before the base erupts in a ball of gamma-green flame. Rulk keeps Samson and the She-Hulk at the center of the explosion while A-Bomb leaps free with Banner, and Spider-Man frees Urich. Later, Rulk finds and threatens Urich if ever he should start to reveal that which he learned at Gamma Base. The mystery, Urich says, is about much more than who Rulk is.

Now, as much as I had reasoned before, INCREDIBLE HULK #600 exploded my theories about Red Hulk, but also, more importantly, it consolidated those theories. It provided the missing pieces of the puzzle, perhaps not as apparent to everybody.

What were our earliest clues to the identity of Red Hulk? Clearly, it was his first major act of violence, that being the brutal murder of the Abomination, Emil Blonsky. Per Doc Samson, it was "premeditated," it was "punishment." Of method, motive, and opportunity, we have to look at the one not covered by the "sudden" gaining of incredible amounts of power. Who had the motive to kill the Abomination? Obviously, the answer is, someone who lost someone or something as direct result of the Abomination's actions, and/or someone who felt partially responsible for his actions or origins in the first place. This fact alone should narrow the playing field. The Abomination was a spy at Desert Base (TALES TO ASTONISH #90, 1967; retold in KING SIZE HULK #1, 2008) when he exposed himself to gamma rays. Chiefly, he has become known in recent Marvel history as the murderer of Bruce Banner's wife, Elizabeth "Betty" Ross Talbot Banner (INCREDIBLE HULK #466, as revealed in INCREDIBLE HULK #468, both 1999). Who loved Betty enough to exact this manner of vengeance upon her killer?

From there, the clues among the first several issues are plainer. In HULK #2, during the siege of the Helicarrier, Samson separated himself from Ross, who was with Clay Quartermain when Iron Man found them. Now, in the same event, someone introduced a virus into the computer systems. I don't think it was Rulk at all. Based upon INCREDIBLE HULK #600, Doc Samson now transforms--I have to guess thanks to M.O.D.O.K.'s fooling with the satellites that took down Hulk during WWH--into a larger, longer-haired version of himself, albeit with a more evil personality, who is in collusion with M.O.D.O.K. and can hide things from his alter ego. It was this Samson, on board the Helicarrier, who left the tattered shirt, and who used the virus at the direction of M.O.D.O.K. (As shown during Bruce Jones' run on the Hulk, Samson is no slouch when it comes to espionage and surveillance.) This same Samson shows up at the end of #6 and makes off with Rick Jones, bringing him back to Gamma Base, where we see him in #600. Meanwhile, his short-haired other self remains ignorant of his other self's activities but is markedly shorter-tempered than usual (see #1).

Remember the retinal scanner that identified both Doc Samson and General Ross at the entrance to Gamma Base in HULK #1? It appears again in HULK #3 during the fight between Rulk and A-Bomb, positively identifying Rulk but unable to complete its statement before Rulk pulverizes it. At the very least, this means Rulk's human self is a member of the Base staff; at most, it means that Rulk is one of these two men!

Also, during the battle, the Base's defenses are activated, resulting in the emergence of several "Harpy" robots which Rulk destroys. This is one clever hint at this to come, as it serves as a reminder of the past, since the original Harpy was Betty Ross Talbot, off a nervous breakdown (INCREDIBLE HULK #168, 1973). What isn't so easy to recall is who initiated Betty's transformation into the Harpy: none other than M.O.D.O.K., then on a crusade to defeat the Hulk (spanning #167-169).


He reasoned that the Hulk's power could put a stop to his plans in the future, so it was best to deal with him sooner than later. How? "All I would have to do is bombard human subjects with larger doses of gamma rays than Bruce Banner received, until I create a creature stronger than the Hulk! However, to survive that much radiation, the successful subject must have a conditioned tolerance to gamma rays--he must be someone who has spent years living or working around gamma experiments--and--the second condition--it must be someone whose mind I could easily control, so that I would not risk being turned upon like Dr. Frankenstein!" The Harpy's appearance, then, was the first sideways hint of M.O.D.O.K.'s involvement.


During Rulk's first battle with the Hulk, then, comes the strongest hint as to his identity, as we see Rulk's worldview as shaped by Banner and his monstrous other self: "I'm going to choke the life out of you. Ending years of ruining other people's lives! [...] You wanted to be left alone when you went to war with the entire planet? Trashed half of New York City? [...] But you've never had a friend like me." And, most importantly: "Don't pass out on me yet. I'm not interested in that milksop Banner." Plus: "They might just give me a medal for doing this." And: "For years, all I've wanted was to destroy you."

The dialogue clues that flesh out Rulk continue in his battle with Thor in #5: "I've actually studied you, Thor. I don't mind telling you that your battle skills are legendary. But, like Attila, and Genghis, and even the green Hulk--there is always a battle where one man falls and the other doesn't." Another clue in #6, in battle with Hulk: "You will never understand what it takes to be in battle." Of course, you can add the made-up braggadocio between Rulk and the Wendigo in KING-SIZE HULK #1 which brings things into, perhaps, even clearer focus: "Where I come from, we don't tolerate mistakes. Unfortunately for you--that means I'm going to have to make an example out of you. Otherwise, it'll be seen as a sign of weakness. And that's something THIS Hulk will never show anybody." After these quotes, I was confident that the Red Hulk was a military man, committed to showing strength at any cost, scoffing at weakness. And, hey, where have I heard the word "milksop" in conjunction with the Hulk before--?


Oh, yes! "Thunderbolt" Ross used the word to describe Bruce Banner in his very first appearance, way back in INCREDIBLE HULK #1! But all those clues don't make sense when you consider that General Ross was seen on-panel alongside Rulk in HULK #6. What's more, Ross was in the next room in the Helicarrier when one attacked Tony Stark in #2...

And so, a lot of old time Hulk fans out there have taken to casting Red Hulk as Colonel Glenn Talbot--Betty's late ex-husband and General Ross' right-hand man...who was killed nearly 30 years ago (INCREDIBLE HULK #260, 1981) and whose name or likeness haven't even been shown in the whole of Loeb's run. So where's the fun in the mystery when most casual fans reading the book wouldn't know who Talbot is? To say nothing of Red Hulk's human identity talking to Rick Jones at the end of #2. (Human Rulk: "I thought you were dead." Rick: "You thought wrong. What a shock.") Would Rick underplay the scene as much as he obviously did here if he saw Talbot, who as far as he knew, had been dead for years?

So, even still, Ross would seem to be among the least likely suspects. That is, until you take into consideration INCREDIBLE HULK #600. I remembered a line from when Bruce Banner was in captivity by what we then thought were S.H.I.E.L.D. agents (KING-SIZE HULK): "I wonder how many S.H.I.E.L.D. Life Model Decoys would descend on me if I got a paper cut." Then, in #600, Doc Samson: "Those aren't S.H.I.E.L.D. agents. Gamma Base is not U.S. military....They're upgraded Life Model Decoys. L.M.D. Human skin. Organs. All on an adamantium frame."

Bingo! Those weren't S.H.I.E.L.D. agents at Gamma Base. And it wasn't really General Ross in either of the above instances where he was shown beside or near Rulk. It was a Life Model Decoy programmed by M.O.D.O.K. so that the real "Thunderbolt" Ross could be in other places...as Rulk. (Interestingly, look at pages 5 and 24: Banner at the end of WWH is inverted on the later page when he is cured. Who's in the same spot as Rulk on page 5? Ross!)


The above revelation, then, brings everything else forward, along with presenting hints at the future of Loeb's HULK series. Ross has years of previous low-level gamma exposure, making him a key candidate in a repeat performance of what he attempted with Betty years before. The game was set for the creation of A.I.M.'s gamma super soldiers: M.O.D.O.K., as noted in #600, used Stark's satellites, "[refracting] cosmic energy to interface with Banner's gamma-irradiated cells," and they struck Hulk (who was temporarily rendered comatose and, I should think, incapable of metamorphosing), Rick (whom they cured of his mortal injuries and transformed into the blue-skinned A-Bomb); Doc Samson (who turned into the split-personality "Samson" as shown in this issue); General Ross (who became Rulk); and She-Hulk, who is the only one who has, to date, remained unaffected. (Note that Loeb draws attention to all five's exposure to the red rays in the opening pages of #600.)


Each one of those affected so far seems to possess some qualities inherent to Banner, i.e. a split personality at least, and some similarity to particular of Banner's personalities (A-Bomb as the savage Hulk, and Rulk as Fixit). It's likely the energy as filtered through Banner responsible. And when Ross met Rick at the end of #2, I'm sure the dialogue quoted a few paragraphs above rings true. (When carted away at the end of WWH #5, he probably looked dead.) I'm confident, however, something will happen to She-Hulk in the aftermath of Rulk's having exposed both Samson and She-Hulk to the gamma explosion at the end of #600.


But, back to Rulk: the fact that Ross is Rulk and hence is in collusion with M.O.D.O.K. brings up echoes of more previous storylines. It was M.O.D.O.K. who helped Ross to commit treason the first time around, releasing (ironically in context of Loeb's story) the Abomination from Project Earthfall to help kill the Hulk and give control of A.I.M. back to M.O.D.O.K., aims which failed in both respects (INCREDIBLE HULK #287-291, 1983-84). He definitely colluded with M.O.D.O.K. prior to his becoming Rulk, as he directed Banner to be taken aboard the S.H.I.E.L.D. helicopter that brought him to Gamma Base. In that copter he sat beside a mustachioed gentleman (thought by some to be Glenn Talbot) who later appears at Gamma Base beside his L.M.D. in #600.

(Come to think of it, the collusion between Ross and A.I.M. is symptomatic of something possibly far, far bigger. Is A.I.M. in cahoots with some aspect of S.H.I.E.L.D. for the latter--all the way up to Tony Stark and Maria Hill--to not notice that Gamma Base isn't one of their own facilities but one belonging to their enemy?)


Some other points arise with the revelation of Ross as Rulk. As above, Ross has always had trouble separating his emotions regarding the Hulk from his duty to his country, for better sometimes (immediately following his resurrection by the Troyjans during Peter David's tenure, c.f. INCREDIBLE HULK #456 and 462, 1997-1998), but mostly for worse. Ross hates Banner for marrying Betty and letting her die, more even than he hates the Abomination. Blonsky may have sealed her doom, but if Betty hadn't been around Banner for so long, she would never have contracted the gamma poisoning that led to her hospitalization in the first place.

Betty's death led to Ross' gradual reversion to type. How deep did his pathological hatred of the Hulk run? In the past it led to his treasonous activities I referenced earlier, and it led to his employing the assistance of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Clay Quartermain in possessing Zzzax so he could use its power to destroy the Hulk (of which there were also two at the time; see INCREDIBLE HULK #326-327, 1986-1987).


At the time, it was remarked: "One thing's certain--his hatred of the Hulk...his fanatical desire for vengeance against the creature...makes him ready to brave any danger. That can only work in his favor!" So, obviously, Ross has some experience in obtaining superhuman power...and not using it well, either. If Ross made the connection that Quartermain would recognize the similar events, then it's no question that he would have killed him. It's a fair point, too, that the General Ross who was with Quartermain in #2 was an L.M.D., which brings up the natural question: just when has the Ross we've seen since WWH been the L.M.D., and when has it been the real Ross? (Fun, too: the Ross L.M.D. drops a hint in #2, making reference to Hulks that are "Red. Green. Or blue," curious since there is a "blue Hulk" of sorts--Rick's A-Bomb.)

So, after this issue, are M.O.D.O.K. and the gamma super soldier plan gone for good? I doubt that. For one, we know M.O.D.O.K. (or, potentially, those above M.O.D.O.K.) had a purpose to keeping Banner dosed with gamma rays, otherwise he wouldn't have freaked when Rulk sucked his power away ("No! You have no idea what you are doing!"). I'm sure we'll see him again en route to Loeb and McGuinness' epic finale beginning in HULK #19 next year.

Now we know who Rulk is, as the clues are just too pervasive to not treat as truth. It's a cheat that Loeb employed use of an L.M.D. to cover his tracks, I'll give that. Now I'm finally anxious to see where the storyline goes from here, with what becomes of Rulk, She-Hulk, Samson, and M.O.D.O.K. in the wake of the events of #600. I'm stymied, though, as to what an individual as so obviously powerful as Rulk (only stopped by an enraged Hulk, and Galactus!) needs from M.O.D.O.K. It's the one conceit I have that still doesn't make the whole thing "work." But oh, the big positive: it could just be that Ross has, in curing Banner of his curse, freed the most lethal weapon he could. After all, the only thing holding back Dr. Bruce Banner's smarts has historically been the threat of the Hulk himself. Now, all of Banner's intelligence can be concentrated on designing newer technologies to take down the Red Hulk. The roles of Ross and Banner as hunter and hunted are effectively reversed. As the man said it himself, "Banner is the strongest one there is!"

Of course, there's no doubt that by the end of Loeb's own story, Banner will again change into the Hulk, but which Hulk is going to be the debate to rage through 2010.

And Betty will return. Mark my words.

As Red She-Hulk.

On to HULK #13, and INCREDIBLE HULK #601, and beyond.


For Further Reading: THE INCREDIBLE HULK vol. 1 #1; TALES TO ASTONISH vol. 1 #90; THE INCREDIBLE HULK vol. 2 #167-169, 260, 287-291, 326-327, 456, 462, 466, 468, 600; WORLD WAR HULK #5; HULK vol. 2 #1-12; KING SIZE HULK #1.


If Wishes Were Fishes...


I'd really like to get some more writing done tonight, but the truth is, there are a few obstacles in my way.

Like House.

And 24.

And Chuck.

And Heroes.

And that fancy schmancy new show starring Nathan Fillion, Castle. (Which also stars the IMNSHO absolutely saucy Stana Katic.)

Sometimes, it absolutely sucks to be me...

Thank God for the dual-tuner DVR.



Why We Write (Continued?)

Friends, Romans, Countrymen--

(...lend me your ears, for they taste really good salted, but I'm sorry, for you won't get them back!)

Last night, I began the precipitous climb forward to delivering a short fiction piece I intend to shop to writing magazines in the vain (let's hope not) hope of obtaining an agent and actual employment in the literary field. (I know, I need to join AA--Authors Anonymous.) The climb started waaaaaay at the bottom of the mountain...or if you prefer, at the foot of the McDowell Mountains, where I currently reside. This is my second part of said climb, We'll see if I can't crank out some Pure Imagination (TM) two nights in a row.

So, why do I write? Short, funny answer: Because I suck as an artist.

I'm sure some of you are laughing at the above, and some of you just don't get it. The longer version is that I grew up reading comic books. I still read comic books. I read actual books, too, but yes, I hold a fondness for the comic, of which I shall never let go. Ever since I was little, I had a fertile imagination. I would take sheets of blank paper, fold them together, staple them down the middle, and doodle a cover featuring Spider-Man, or the Hulk, or one of my own superheroes, the all-powerful Goober Man. (He was star of my very own imaginary Marvel Comic, with the oh-so-cool name of Marvel Print. How lame can you get?) And, aside from a story I distinctly recall about Spider-Man and the Hulk fighting in some underground parking garage, I don't think very many of those interior sheets of typing paper ever got filled. It must have driven my parents nuts, to think they were buying all this typing paper and only about 1 in every 10 of those pages ever had anything on it. So sue me, I was young.

And it took me a few years to realize the salient truth: I couldn't draw!

Well, I could lay things out. But my execution...makes me look back and want to execute myself. Sure, I took art classes, and even scored straight A's in two drawing classes in high school. Somewhere during that time I even created a cosmic-styled character named Infinitus (later, I discovered the name was that of a one-off Spider-Man villain!), and his cadre of cosmic folks. I even created this creature of ultimate evil made flesh, called the Behemoth. I drew up the first issue of Infinitus and had some copies published in the school's back rooms. Still, I never felt comfortable with pen pointed to drawing pad. So somewhere in high school, I determined to only casually draw, and instead focus on my writing talent. Having a personal computer helped.

Oh, throughout the next few years, I wrote and wrote. Then after college and all the wonderful stories I wrote in Professor Schneeman's fiction writing classes (R.I.P.), I wrote less and less. Then I got my first "real" job, and wrote some more. I started writing this blog as--you guessed it--a method of rebuilding my atrophied skills in hopes to start writing bigger things. I failed then, but you have no idea how badly I want to succeed this time around. I have two novels in my head (thinking too big!) and one short story with several more to follow if only I just start that first damned short story. (No, it won't be damned short, but it will be a short story. Just damned.) Think of what I'm doing now as flexing the mental muscles. I know the skills are up here (pointing to my head), it's just a matter of getting them down here (wiggling my fingers). We'll see what I've learned in the intervening years and go from there.

They say you write what you know, and you pick up tricks from what you read. I've enjoyed some genuinely great books lately, thanks to my own interests but mainly those of friends. This is my chance to say thanks to Ben for introducing me to Joe Hill's opus Heart-Shaped Box, a crackling good yarn (isn't that term a cliche?) if ever there was, and thanks also to Stephanie for getting me to order Malcolm Gladwell's Tipping Point, which is an absolutely fascinating exercise in social psychology and an immense boon to me as a writer reaching for that next novel. Hill earns style points in a way his dad never could with me, and Gladwell's just fascinating for laying out social psych theory in a way that just makes my brain tickle with anticipation of putting these ideas into play in a future story.

Y'know, a couple of years ago, when I was putting together ideas for a big novel, I jotted everything down in a Five-Star Notebook. I had lots of good ideas but had no clue how to brand the narrative to fit what I wanted to accomplish. Now, a few years later, I find some of the concepts in that notebook weren't so bad, but now have a whole other method of using the ideas contained therein. I think I'm finally going to put a few years' worth of research to good use and write what amounts to the story that I should have been planning all along since 2005. And on top of that...I still have another novel in my head, one which will see the return of characters that made their first appearance over ten years ago, in that all-but-forgotten Friday the 13th/The X-Files crossover story. Of course, they're being tweaked a little, as they were created as little more than Mulder and Scully clones, but then again, nobody else is ever going to see that fanfic story from yesteryear, are they?

Did I answer why I write? No?

Simple answer: because it's fun.

Maybe you won't hear me tomorrow. Maybe I'll be too busy spinning my agonizing story of karaoke gone horribly wrong.

I speak from experience on this one. And no, it won't be comedy.

Because that would be hard, wouldn't it?



"Guys, it's okay! He just wanted his machete back!"

Or, more appropriately, I want my machete back. And by machete, I mean my writing mojo.

To recap where the hell I've been since my last communique: I sold stuff. I moved. I got a new job. I'm still seeking another one because...well, that would be telling, but it should be utterly obvious.

So, where am I now? Sunny Scottsdale, Arizona. (No, they didn't make a whole new town and call it "Sunny Scottsdale," because that would be redundant.) And just why is Scottsdale so famous or infamous in My Life So Far (TM)?

Let's take a trip back to...I want to say 1997. I was eighteen. That should be right. If it's not, I'll just lie and call it right anyway. Way back in the burgeoning days of the Internet, I followed some fandoms. (Still do, but nowhere near as rabidly.) One of those fandoms was Friday the 13th: The Series. (No, nothing at all to do with the slasher films. Where do people get these questions?) Another was Forever Knight. And right around then, I became involved in still another one: The X-Files. Hoo boy.

Of course, saying I was a fan wasn't enough back then, oh no; in the days of the AOhelL message boards, I felt compelled to follow the lead of others and write my own stories set in those TV universes. Up to when my parents bought me my first computer (1995--stop laughing!), I mostly wrote stories with a good ol' pen and paper, and maybe I'd do something like use an electric typewriter. The personal computer was my first excuse to go totally apeshit and write as much as I wanted without having to actually commit to paper. Saving word processor files was my salvation! And quickly I drafted two short fiction stories set in the Friday the 13th universe. (Don't bother looking for them online. Although you stand an excellent chance of finding them, they aren't representative at all of the writer I've become, and are best forgotten.)

Then I took things a step further. More comfortable in my developing talents, I wrote a Forever Knight short fiction piece. Then I wrote a novella-length Friday the 13th story. (Again, I'd rather you didn't look them up.)

Unsatisfied and possessing even loftier ambitions, I then wondered what it would be like for my favorite characters from two television shows to meet up. Such was the basis for my longest work to that date, a crossover between Friday the 13th and Forever Knight. Thirty chapters. Not bad, right?

Of course, the cliche goes that one thing leads to another, and with the pressures put on me by some of the fanfic establishment, I determined that my next story would be yet another crossover. But not just any crossover, oh no.

I remember looking on the AOL boards and seeing that someone labeled Friday the 13th a blatant rip-off of The X-Files. Nevermind that the former show had aired 71 episodes between 1987 and 1990, a full three years before the latter even hit the air! Well, I would show them. I'd come up with the biggest and best crossover event yet: Friday the 13th meets The X-Files!

In early 1997 I began to write the story. A few chapters fluttered about. The characters met in chapter one, and then quickly parted ways. I introduced a new team of private detectives who were much closer in relation to the "bad guys" of my story. Maybe they were rip-offs of Mulder and Scully, and maybe the woman didn't have to be a redhead too, but c'est la vie. And then the chapters started to pile up. Maybe twenty chapters. And a certain panic set in, because I didn't know where the goddamn thing was heading! (Years later, I had a knowing laugh when watching the film, Wonder Boys, where Michael Douglas' character Grady Tripp finds himself writing the follow-up to his smash first novel, and the page count is in the thousands because he doesn't know where the goddamn thing is heading!)

Then, the story goes, I went on vacation.

To Scottsdale.

And while I was here, well, the final pieces of the story just sort of clicked into place.

True, it took another 36 chapters beyond the twenty I'd written to that point, but I included another character from The X-Files that served as an excellent catalyst, a real reason to spin the narrative in another direction. Alex Krycek was that character. He fit in so perfectly to the story I was telling, about snakes and regeneration (with Alex having just had his arm amputated during season four), it would have been criminal to not include him in the proceedings! And so, I busily wrote several chapters of the story on my uncle's computer and e-mailed them back to myself at home. The story picked up, and it all neatly dovetailed up to the point where I wrote those magical words: THE END. (I later added a question mark, but you get the idea.)

So, you can see why I've wanted to come back here, to Scottsdale, to the sun, to the land where my creativity seems to heighten. (Or maybe it's all in my head?) The only other place where my creativity surged, in direction if not in page count, was State College, PA, where I took some fiction writing classes. But the weather there is horrid at best...

Here I am. I'm in Scottsdale, and I'm prepping for some writing. I've come back to the blogosphere to re-acquaint myself with my craft. I may even chew some bubble gum. Failing that, I guess I could always kick some ass.

But, he says, what I really want to do is write...

...and for God's sake, let's get something of consequence done in the next, oh, 34 days.(*)


* You who really know me, know the significance of 34 days from today.