ADVANCE REVIEW! The Incredible Hulks #612

The Incredible Hulks #612

Writers: Greg Pak & Scott Reed
Artists: Tom Raney, Scott Hanna, Brian Ching & Victor Olazaba
Colorists: John Rauch & Jorge Maese
Letterers: Simon Bowland
Production: Irene Lee
Assistant Editor: Jordan D. White
Editor: Mark Paniccia
Publisher: Marvel Comics

A thankfully (mostly) SPOILER-FREE review follows.

When thinking of families of super heroes, it's impossible to avoid thinking of Marvel's standard-bearer, the Fantastic Four. Well, get ready for a new comics family, but this isn't the Fantastic Four--and Bruce Banner and Betty Ross sure aren't Reed and Sue Richards!

In "Earth," the first story of the new, plural status quo of the book formerly known as The Incredible Hulk, writer Greg Pak wisely has the newly-crowned "Hulk family" take a step back from the pandemonium of the past several months' issues by letting them relax at a picnic by the beach. However, since this is a "Hulk" book, the situation doesn't remain serene for long, and it's largely due to the 800-lb. gorilla in the room that everyone's been wondering about (or is that the 650-lb. scarlet-skinned woman?): the status of the relationship between Bruce and Betty, who's just returned from death and been turned into the Red She-Hulk.

If anyone's unclear about it, this issue's character-driven elements should clear it up: Greg Pak gets Bruce Banner and his family of misfits. Bruce is the emotionally-stunted scientist who doesn't know how to approach Betty's return, while Betty is emotionally scarred from the very nature of her historical relationship with Bruce, as well as what happened while she was "dead." Their encounter here really resonates for longtime readers. It has real dramatic weight, and I'm anxious to see how their relationship unfolds from this point forward.

The rest of the main cast--Jennifer Walters, Lyra, Rick Jones as A-Bomb, Korg, and Skaar--all get some small character moments, but the stage this time is clearly devoted to Bruce/Hulk and Betty/Red She-Hulk. Skaar and the Hulk share a smile-inducing moment amid the action, and I can tell, it's going to be a treat seeing these two share "screen time" in issues to come. All in all, the saga of the Hulks is starting out to be a saga about a very human family, even if their forms are monstrous.

Thankfully, the artwork for this issue's lighthearted romp is every bit as strong as Greg Pak's script, with Tom Raney and Scott Hanna turning in their usual, reliable work. I've always enjoyed Raney's slightly quirky style, going back to his days on Warlock & The Infinity Watch and he performs just as capably here with every member of the Hulk family. Barry Kitson may be replacing him next month for the remainder of "Dark Son," but he definitely pulls his weight.

Off-Earth, in the second chapter of the "Dark Son" story, "K'ai," writer Pak and Scott Reed shed additional light on the origins of the Hulk's other son, Skaar's twin brother, Hiro-Kala. Immediately apparent when compared to previous chapters is the striking new art style, this time by former Star Wars and Top Cow artist Brian Ching. It's very powerful, and moves the story along beautifully. The story largely serves as a recap to everything Hiro-Kala has been through to this point. It's well done and sets up the remainder of the arc the way it should. It'll be interesting to see how and when the two sides meet, and what the Hulk thinks of K'ai being in this universe now.

The Incredible Hulks #612 is an apt beginning to the next bold era of Hulk comics, showing a clear introduction to the cast, and preparing everyone for the conflicts upcoming in this arc. It's a testament to the ability of writer Greg Pak that the title can shift so easily from being about the lead character as a loner in a world where no one understands him, to being about the importance of a family of such beings. I'll be eagerly awaiting the next episode in just two short weeks. Highly Recommended.


The Incredible Hulks #612 is on sale Wednesday, September 1, 2010 at comic shops everywhere. Call 1-800-COMIC-BOOK to find a retailer near you.


Don't Say I Didn't Warn You: The HULK #24 Review

Hulk #24: "The Strongest There Is"

A Loeb/McGuinness/Farmer/Hollowell/Comicraft/White/Cosby/Paniccia Dive

So...it's here. The grand finale of the Loeb/McGuinness HULK run, but not the end of the series. (Next month, ATLAS writer/artist duo Jeff Parker and Gabe Hardman take over, but that's a story for another blog.) I don't want to give an all-encompassing review like I did last week's INCREDIBLE HULK #611. One reason is, well, there simply isn't that much to cover, but also, I think the jury is still out on this one until September 1 arrives and with it, INCREDIBLE HULKS #612. We do see one status quo shift this month, with potentially the promise of a second--but we can't be sure of that without the aforementioned book that ships in two short weeks.

I'm not going to be discussing the finer points, but rather I'll discuss one key point of the issue, and the pluses and minuses that go along with it. The point is one you've likely seen if you read the preview pages that showed up last week, but still, even if you haven't seen those pages, those who don't want to know what happens: I'd strongly suggest going no further. Full SPOILER GOGGLES on from here on out, folks!

The major plot point I'm referring to is, of course, the incarnation of the Hulk as shown in this issue. He appears to possess the full mental faculties of Dr. Robert Bruce Banner, as Loeb wrote most recently in HULK #10-12, and as was glimpsed most notably during Bill Mantlo's tenure in INCREDIBLE HULK #272-297. A variation appeared when Doc Samson "merged" Banner and the gray and green Hulks (now "Fixit" and "Savage Hulk") in INCREDIBLE HULK #377 in 1991--still, debatably, more Banner in mind than Hulk, but possessing traits of all three incarnations of the period.

This version of the Hulk is the one who enters final battle (Where have we heard that one before?) with "Thunderbolt" Ross, the Red Hulk, in this issue, and it is he who defeats him handily. Apparently, the re-gammafication of Bruce Banner that occurred in INCREDIBLE HULK #610 endowed him with so much gamma energy that it not only made it nearly impossible for Red Hulk to siphon off enough energy to change him back to Banner, but it also granted him such power to effectively end the fight with one massive thunderclap of his hands. Logistically, this victory doesn't quite work, as it's arbitrary at best considering the past battles between these two, and the conclusion--an admittedly well-done nod to the conclusion of Loeb's own HULK #1--is equally ludicrous in context.

At no time during this issue is lip service paid to either outstanding major plot point I was interested in. Namely, just what did Banner say to Ross back in HULK #3 that's been the topic of much debate and been referred to as recently as HULK #19? And just why, if Amadeus Cho's Bannertech determined that the Col. Talbot at Ft. Bowland wasn't a Life Model Decoy in INCREDIBLE HULK #608, was Talbot revealed as an LMD after all when Red Hulk tore his head off in HULK #23? While the former is no big deal, the latter does leave a plot hole open whereby Colonel Talbot could really be alive and well--and hence, would provide an excellent foil for "Thunderbolt" Ross in HULK. Oops, did I say that out loud...?

You probably find it as hard as I do to believe that, after the thrilling denouement of INCREDIBLE HULK #611, the next time we should see the titular character, it's in a wholly different form than in that episode. Furthermore, there just isn't any explanation for the change. Oh, sure, Loeb includes passing references to Banner now being "in control of [the Hulk]" and there's an obtuse monologue about the Hulk having to learn from the mistakes of the past; however, it's disconcerting that nothing directly connects the dots between the last part of this saga and this one. (To say nothing about the weather and the timeframe between the two books; but leave us not digress.) There are pieces that suggest the "Green Scar" incarnation, particularly right after the big kaboom near the end, oddly, but they're fleeting at best. I find it extraordinarily hard to swallow that this new Hulk just came up as direct result of the reconciliation with his son Skaar, but it's either we accept that explanation, or entertain the notion that Mark Paniccia, Jordan White, and Nathan Cosby in Marvel Editorial all failed to reconcile the script for this issue with Greg Pak's vision over in INCREDIBLE HULK(S).

Let's examine, then, if this is the new status quo for our mighty Green Goliath. How long can it possibly last? I'm really hoping the answer is "not long" but at the same time, it seems we haven't had a stable status quo for the Hulk since the year of "Planet Hulk." I want one Hulk and one Banner, and I want them as they should be, at odds with each other and the world. I like the Hulk and Banner having separate personalities, as it separates them from the majority of Marvel's heroes (and villains--and for that matter, the vast majority of popular fiction's heroes). Whenever the Hulk has had elements of Banner's personality ascendant--with or without the transformation dynamic intact, cf. Mantlo's Banner Hulk & David's merged Hulk--the character has ultimately proven less interesting than with the dichotomy of personalities. The narrative ultimately suffers. I'm of the mind that, for purposes of the upcoming "Hulk family" stories in INCREDIBLE HULKS, we're best served by a distinct Banner and Hulk, each dealing with their "family members" in their own inimitable way while trying to get along with each other. If you no longer have a separate Hulk and Banner apart from the transformation itself, then the dramatic tension that propels the traditional Hulk narrative is gone. Hence, the book becomes, as it did during both Mantlo and David's runs during the periods indicated, a standard superheroic narrative where the hero switches back and forth between his "true identity" and his "super hero" selves as required.

Of course, much as I complain, the personality displayed by the Hulk in this issue makes total sense in context of Loeb's narrative alone. The ongoing battle between Hulk and Red Hulk has really been about their true identities, Bruce Banner and "Thunderbolt" Ross, and as such, it doesn't make sense for the ascendant Hulk personality to be any other than Banner. His is the personality closest to all of the important elements raised in these last two issues, from the triangle involving Betty, to the animosity between them that has stretched back to a time before the Hulk existed. Banner not only has to become the Hulk again to surmount the narrative hurdle in INCREDIBLE HULK #600 whereby he was cured, but he must also gain equal psychological footing with the Red Hulk in order to gain the final victory. It begs the larger question, does Loeb as a writer comprehend the differences between the incarnations, and that the Green Scar incarnation clearly has a different vocabulary and manner than the savage Hulk, the gray Hulk, the Banner Hulk, and the merged Hulk? It's frustrating to me that what works internally for Loeb's run, appears to fail miserably in the greater context of Hulk lore.

Potentially, what Loeb has shown us in his finale is more problematic than anything he showed us regarding the Red Hulk in the last two-and-a-half years. Of course, as I stated previously, I could be huffing and puffing for absolutely nothing, because INCREDIBLE HULKS #612 could show up on September 1st and establish a distinct Banner and Hulk, refuting everything that this issue has put forth, making idiots of Marvel Editorial in the process. Part of me delights in the idea as it would show the star system is alive and well at Marvel, giving favoritism to writers like Loeb in detriment to the ongoing narrative that's been set up for years in broad strokes by Pak.

It's true, in that three-page epilogue that sets up Ross' new status quo, that we see the Hulk outfitted with a utility belt, the same he sports in upcoming INCREDIBLE HULKS artwork that, to me, demonstrated that the ingenuity Banner demonstrated during his Hulk-free year was alive and well, and would serve the Hulk as well. (It'd be somewhere for Banner to keep his gadgets during his transformations, and a place for the Hulk to stash his weaponry--remember Banner using his pack-o-wonders in INCREDIBLE HULK #603?) But is it a symbol that Banner is actually in control? Say it ain't so, Joe!

So, to recap: Greg Pak's INCREDIBLE HULK #611: the emotional thematic finale to everything that's built since the end of WORLD WAR HULK. Jeph Loeb's HULK #24: a really messy enema for the Hulk's corner of the Marvel Universe and Loeb's run in particular. Honestly...am I delusional?



Fables of the Deconstruction: An Incredible Hulk #611 Review/Commentary

It's here! It only took me the better part of four days, and I hope during that time everyone's made their way to their local comic shop for their heapin' helpin' of THE INCREDIBLE HULK #611 by Messrs. Greg Pak and Paul Pelletier. (If not, head out and buy the book, right now. I'll be right here when you return.) Therein was a real tour-de-force by the modern Hulk team par excellance. For parts of this critique, I have to give credit where credit is due: thanks to Don Weiss Jr. and Charlie Brooks for some feedback & food for thought! Shall we get right to get to the point, or must I continue to spew cliches in a foreign language? Oh, if I must...

SPOILER goggles on, yo.

The Incredible Hulk #611: "Sons of Wrath"
A Pak/Pelletier/Miki/D'Armata/Bowland/White/Paniccia Joint

Firstly, I should mention that this issue marks the 300th issue anniversary of Bill Mantlo, Mike Mignola & Gerry Talaoc's monumental Hulk story "Monster" which first appeared in THE INCREDIBLE HULK #312 in October, 1985. As I've discussed in this week's dissection of Mantlo's tenure on the title, the book forever changed the direction of the Hulk series, for better or worse, establishing the Hulk's origins in Bruce Banner's father having abused him as a child. The internalized, repressed anger from those childhood years finally manifested the day the G-Bomb went off and transformed him into the Hulk. Writer Peter David primarily built upon this idea for his "merger" storyline in THE INCREDIBLE HULK #377 where Bruce mentally "defeated" his father Brian's "ghost" in so doing integrating his three disparate personalities into one whole, Hulk-like creature. Needless to say, this story takes quite the opposite tact when dealing with the issue of Banner's tortured childhood.

The seeds should have been plain for longtime readers to see: On the savage world of Sakaar, the Hulk married Caiera the Oldstrong, whose Shadow People gave birth to strong offspring who could run within hours of birth. Marry that strength and advanced development with the Hulk's gamma-irradiated genes, and you could see that any offspring they could have would be quite strong and durable. Hence came Skaar, son of Hulk, who brought the most intriguing questions that virtually everyone at Marvel had been scared to death of asking until now: Would the sins of the father be visited upon the son? How would Banner, and for that matter, the Hulk, react to having a son who was himself, quite literally, a monster? Writer Greg Pak has been moving the pieces around the chessboard for over two years now, and here's where the payoff comes!

When we begin this story, it's thirty years ago (Thank you, Marvel sliding timeline!) and Bruce Banner, aged four, has sneaked downstairs for a peek at his Christmas presents, unwrapping an erector set he uses to build an enormous, ornate structure. Then, a dark shadow looms--Brian Banner, Bruce's father, who promptly destroys the structure, calling his son a monster and cursing his frightening intelligence. That's the story as it was told in THE INCREDIBLE HULK #312, right down to the Guardian doll alongside young Bruce. "Hate to break it to you, Pop," intones present-day Banner as be stands before a video camera, ready to record, "but you don't know the half of it."

Banner's message, recorded two weeks prior to the events of now, plays on several devices before the assembled heroes. He recaps how he manipulated and betrayed nearly every super hero and government on the planet to lead the good guys to victory over the Intelligencia (which he did, last month), but that the cost is that he has reverted to the Hulk--the same Hulk who agonized over the death of his beloved Caiera, the strongest Hulk ever, who defeated Earth's mightiest heroes without breathing hard. And now, only Skaar hates his father enough to do what must be done, what Banner trained him for over the last few weeks: kill him!

From the beginning, it indeed appears the so-called "World Breaker" Hulk has returned, his eyes glowing green, his body emanating gamma radiation in waves. He's so full of rage, or so overwhelmed by power, that he's inarticulate, growling as his every step shatters the ground. (Is it him, though? It doesn't matter, but yes, we only have Banner's word for it.) The end of last issue likened the effects to WORLD WAR HULK #5 with the elderly couple from that same issue crying, "Not again!" One must presume that it is only savage Skaar's use of the alien Old Power that absorbs the energy that would have shattered the Earth. He channels it instead to deliver a hit to the Hulk unlike any he has felt before--one that sends the Green Goliath over 250 miles, from Washington, DC to Gilmer County, West Virginia!

As Skaar leaps to continue the battle, the Hulk seems to glow less, his rage beginning to abate. Articulate at last, he dismisses his son, tossing him aside. "I'm not here to fight you," he says. Skaar brings up his mother's name, but the Hulk disparages the comment: "[S]he's dead. You never talked to her." He did, however--Caiera's connection to the planet Sakaar extended beyond death due to the Old Power--that is, until her savage son fed the planet to Galactus.

Just like that, it's on like Donkey Kong. Hulk is crushed by the news that his wife, his queen, survived in spirit only to be essentially killed by their son. He flashes back to the day Caiera told him she was pregnant, only to see her image shattered, revealing Skaar underneath before it is shattered again, revealing...Brian Banner??!? He remembers his (or is that Banner's?) father beating Rebecca Banner in front of him when he was just four. He casts his son as his father...and promptly hits Skaar into orbit, knocking him about 400 miles the other direction, into the Atlantic Ocean just off Ocean City, Maryland! Our boy Hulk doesn't kid around!

Betty Ross Banner, a.k.a. the Red She-Hulk, leaps down just in time to see the Hulk and Skaar emerge from the ocean. Skaar uses his Old Power to manipulate the Earth, sending it at his father at such speeds and volume it even rips through his dense body. Banner knew, didn't he? He knew that Skaar was strong and smart enough to kill the Hulk, but the training Banner gave him was to ensure he had the will to back up the skill. "I do," he thunders over a beaten Hulk. Then, Red She-Hulk breaks up the conflict, giving Hulk brief time to heal. Skaar dismisses her, hitting her with his Old Power, slamming her into a building which threatens to collapse as the Hulk struggles to rise. He hears the people's cries for help, and he flashes back to his mother, being beaten by her husband, crying out for help as the helpless young Bruce looks on. Skaar renews his monstrous assault, and the Hulk sees himself, hit by his father amid those torturous words: "You little monster!"

WHAKOOOM! The Hulk slams his hands together, causing a terrific shockwave of pure force, driving Skaar off him, sending waves of sand forward from the beaches, toward the toppling structure. Red She-Hulk thinks he's lost it. The people head for the hills...but then, the dust settles...and the Hulk has saved the people in the building and prevented its collapse!

"Those people...I didn't see them...but you..." The Hulk's savage son is incredulous. He had heard the stories that the Hulk united the people of Sakaar, but all he had heard from Banner were horror stories about the Hulk, the monster, the World Breaker. Now, not only had the Hulk displayed his heroism by saving the people in the toppling building, but he also revealed Skaar to be more like the very monster he accused the Hulk of being, putting others' lives in jeopardy.

The Hulk, however, doesn't stop, still flashing back to memories of Brian Banner, taking the soothed Skaar--who doesn't even lift a finger to defend himself--and beating him into the ground. The bloodied Skaar looks forlornly up at his father: "Fun show...but Banner sent me here to kill a monster. He doesn't...he doesn't really know you, does he?"

Cryptically, he tells the Hulk: "Hah. Just tell him...tell him I'm done. The rest of you...work it out," before transforming back to his "puny" self. It's apparent here that what Banner has done is deplorable. He has used the rage he internalized from having allied himself with his savage half during WORLD WAR HULK (that partially-misplaced aggression toward the Illuminati), and taken advantage of his son's plight to find the Hulk, twisting the two together in a suicide pact of sorts, relying on the fact that Skaar had only "known" his father through second-hand sources. He used his son the way he used the super heroes and the world's governments--as a super-strong "gun," but against the part of himself that he loathes instead of the Intel. Is Banner in his own way as much "damaged goods" as he believes the Hulk to be?

The Hulk stands above his son, and we see the inverse of the earlier flashbacks: Instead of Skaar as Brian Banner, the specter of Brian now hovers above the Hulk, with young Bruce above Skaar. Will the cycle of violence continue? Will Bruce Banner or the Hulk become his father? The moment hangs in the air, and then the Hulk transforms back to Bruce, who apologizes to his son. Skaar looks up at him, a worried look on his face.

We pan back to Betty Ross Banner, looking at father and son. Others have wondered why she even appears here; after all, she's not directly involved in the father-son conflict. The earlier appearance, breaking up the fight briefly, sets the stage for the scene that follows. She's there to represent the "family" aspect that writer Greg Pak is setting up. As Bruce's wife, she's effectively a "stepmother" to Skaar, hence at the core of the new dynamic. She has always helped Bruce to express his emotions instead of repress them. So, when she says...

..."This is where you hug him," it's the pivotal moment, what turns the narrative, and perhaps what makes Bruce do what he might not have otherwise done. She forces him to reconcile what has happened over the last year. If not for the Gamma bomb, there would be no Hulk. If there were no Hulk, then the Illuminati would not have exiled him off-world. Each event proceeds from the previous. The Hulk would not have met Caiera and married. Caiera would not have become pregnant with Skaar. Sakaar's Crown City would not have been decimated by the bomb that Red King loyalists set. The Hulk would not have left the son he didn't know survived and returned to Earth to punish those he blamed for the pain he endured. Skaar wouldn't have been raised by monsters in a savage world without the love of his father. He wouldn't have fed Sakaar to Galactus and rushed across the universe in search of the father who abandoned him. He wouldn't have been taken in by the embittered Banner and directed as a weapon at the father he never knew.

The bottom line is that Bruce Banner has a lot to answer for, and the Hulk has a lot to make up for. The way they can both start turning things around is by not neglecting their son but by embracing him, the way Brian Banner never embraced young Bruce. By stopping the cycle of violence. By opening up, and fulfilling the promise of Mantlo's #312.

Like so:



Something to Tide Everyone Over...

Until my review/analysis of INCREDIBLE HULK #611, which I want to delay a day or two to allow everyone to read so I'm not spoiling you (and allowing your terrific LCS's and through them the terrific Marvel craftsmen to get their well-earned money money money), this is all I'm saying. If you follow me on Twitter (and why wouldn't any self-respecting Hulk fan?) you've seen this already:

Skaar hits Hulk from Washington, DC to Gilmer County, WV: http://bit.ly/awsUfh

Hulk hits Skaar back, from Gilmer County, WV to Ocean City, MD: http://bit.ly/cpUETE

I think we have some record-breaking Hulk feats, here.


Bill Mantlo: Best Hulk Writer? Part 3

On the event of today's INCREDIBLE HULK #611, I'm folding all three final chapters of my 2004 opus on Bill Mantlo's tenure into one entry. It's a bit long, but it'll more than prepare you for my later thoughts on the big issue in question, which I just had the great pleasure of reading. (Who's the best Hulk writer now? Well, I don't really like to assess until a body's run is completed...*cough* *cough*)

Why I Thought Bill Mantlo Was
The Best Hulk Writer, Period.*

(* as of 2004!)

Part 3: The Incredible Hulk #300-313 & Annual #13

PREVIOUSLY: Things were looking up for one Robert Bruce Banner. The world had accepted him as the Hulk, and the U.S. Government had granted him a full pardon for actions he'd taken as a savage, unthinking brute. However, such acceptance was not without cost, as longtime love Betty Ross Talbot left him, afraid of his embracing of his alter-ego, and Rick Jones had likewise departed (although in his case he was battling an illness caused by gamma ray exposure, over in Mantlo's other book, ROM). Bruce declined Avengers membership and immersed himself in gamma research with the assistance of SHIELD scientist Katherine Waynesboro. The two quickly fell deeply, passionately in love, even though Kate kept her secret agent status a secret. However, Banner's happiness didn't last, as Dr. Strange's enemy, Nightmare, attacked him in his dreams, subconsciously stimulating the return of an even more savage Hulk. During a three-way battle between Banner/Hulk, Dr. Strange, and Nightmare, the scientist acquiesced to the beast within, committing psychic suicide and leaving the world to deal with a completely mindless, infinitely powerful, terribly bestial Hulk.

While an apparently more powerful than ever green goliath stalked New York, with neither SHIELD nor any superheroes able to stop him, Dr. Strange set a course to banish the Hulk from the world of his birth in #300. He saves New York during a battle between Hulk and the Avengers, opening a portal to a dimensional nexus known as the Crossroads. Strange's idea was to grant the behemoth access to unlimited other strange, alien worlds where he could do no harm. The spell he cast also gave the Hulk a peculiar power: if he became disinterested with what occurred on a particular world, a failsafe would transport him back to the Crossroads dimension so that he may choose again.

At the beginning of this last third of Mantlo's run, remember that the scales were swung in the extreme opposite direction as they'd been previously: instead of having Banner's intellect totally in control of the Hulk, his personality has been excised, and this is, we are told, the remainder. It would seem here that Banner's personality, his intellect, holds a moderating influence over the bestial savagery (is that redundant?) of the Hulk. But if that's true, what's more effective when you split the halves--a Hulk where Banner is totally in control, or where there is no Banner?

(Coincidentally, I will note a "first" in the run of the Hulk: in #302, for the very first time since May 1962, the Hulk is shown as having been gray-skinned in his first appearance, in a flashback. Interestingly, this illustration would come to be a portent of things to come in just two years' time.)

The Hulk's voyages in the Crossroads and from it are really quite basic, propelled by a need to be something more, to learn about himself, for he is now a blank slate. True, this is a slate prone to violent rages, but also, it seems, deprived of Earth's many troubles, he can be gentle. The Hulk's guide, established because he needs someone to instruct him and to remind us continually what the new status quo is, is the Puffball Collective, a collection of alien germ whose main limitation is that for some reason, he cannot enter any of the portals. Wherever the Hulk travels, whatever he does, he does it alone. He triumphs or fails, ultimately, alone.

The first world into which the Hulk is thrust with any real duration (#301) is one where he is a tiny creature, surrounded by toys in a giant boy's playset. Perhaps it's a meta representation of the comic world in which he is only a fictional character (dolls and the house symbolizing the fictional world, with the boy as the creator). The Hulk is dissatisfied with the world, as it is not something that is a comfortable fit with him. He recognizes illusion and artifice for what it is. Moreover, he is overpowered, at least on a textual level, by the giant boy. He quickly leaves the world once he realizes his failure in the choice.

A brief interlude occurs in HULK ANNUAL #13, wherein the Hulk visits a planet of symbionts including S'ym, who attaches to the Hulk's neck and leads him on a voyage to see the stars above an endless cover of clouds. S'ym, his first true friend on this journey, dies, and the Hulk returns to the Crossroads.

The next world (#302-303) is a medieval one, ruled by a class of red-skinned beings who subjugate their green-skinned counterparts. In a takeoff on Rapunzel, Hulk sees a thin, green-skinned beauty held in a tower by the reds, and finds it his duty to rescue her. Her tears carry the power to make plant matter grow, and as such, the tower constructed of the bones of greens is awash in flowers. The reds are, similar to the giant of the last story, shown to be physically superior to the Hulk himself: their implements are stronger, and upon the first encounter with one of the reds, Hulk finds a spear embedded within his shoulder. The Hulk is handily defeated by the red knight Maktu, and cast an even more vicious blow by the knight's smaller page. The Hulk awakens held by otherworldly chains, having been released from the reds into the custody of the young green-skinned maiden, who has in return agreed to marry Maktu. Her touch soothes the behemoth, and she helps him to heal. Although it is heavily suggested that the Hulk remembers nothing of his previous life, the resemblance of the maiden to Jarella is too glaring to ignore. It is the first sign that perhaps some element of the previous creature's dim intellect remains.

The Hulk works as a slave to help build the red people's City of Death, but in the end it is not his will that frees the girl and dooms the reds, but rather the girl herself, who cries tears of anger that cause the green to grow into distorted, savage versions that kill the reds. It is clear to the Hulk that this is not a woman who needs his protection, nor is it one he much admires, so he moves onward, bereft of anything resembling victory or friendship.

Once again in the next issue (#304), the Hulk finds companionship in the form of an orange-skinned creature who has been branded a traitor to his homeworld's militaristic society. The tribunal shows up and kills Zgorian, subduing the Hulk so that he cannot interfere. Yet another loss, and the Hulk can do nothing. He returns to the Crossroads to find the U-Foes, a somewhat welcome familiarity, forced from Earth by Vector's unstable powers.

Now, the U-Foes have appeared once during every third of Mantlo's run, and hence there's a rhythm to their appearances. Under the savage Hulk, the U-Foes defeated themselves, unfamiliar with their own newfound abilities. Once they returned, they faced the Banner Hulk, who could not defeat them and was only saved with help from Bereet and her creatures. Their fight here (#305) echoes across the dimensions the Hulk has previously visited; time regresses backward and then forward again as Bruce Banner and Mike Steel quarrel schoolyard-style and then once more become the Hulk and Ironclad; and reality itself is unraveled by Vector. This battle's purpose is twofold: first, it reprises us of this Hulk's power in correlation to what we know, hence telling us that it is at the same level, or perhaps greater than, it was at any point during the run of the "savage" Hulk (take a look at Vector repelling the Hulk--that force has subsequently splayed the flesh from the merged Hulk's bones, but here, the creature just takes it); and second, it establishes trust between the Puffball Collective and the new Hulk, with the Puffball instructing the Hulk on which U-Foe should be thrown into which Crossroads portal, doing so quite ruthlessly, I'll add. This Hulk would not, it would seem, have defeated the U-Foes this time without the help of the Puffball, his new "friend."

Next, of course, comes the most terrible saga of the Crossroads, if these boards are any indication. A sequel to an earlier effort (INCREDIBLE HULK #136-137), this adventure (#306-307) ingeniously finds the energy-monster Klaatu (read: Moby Dick) weaving his way across worlds using the Crossroads. First, the Hulk (Ishmael?) clearly remembers the identity of Bruce Banner when interrogated with physical representations by the Collective. Then, the Hulk sees Klaatu, his brain thinking his actions an invasion of his territory, and the monster attacks. Klaatu shrugs off the Hulk's attack and his essence dissipates into the various portals leading to other realms. Then, the starship Andromeda arrives, its Captain Cybor (definitely Ahab) and Xeron the Star-Slayer (if I had to guess, Starbuck--is this getting boring already?) tracking Klaatu across dimensions. Xeron picks a battle with the Hulk, and captures him, forcing him to be an oarsman in the quest for Klaatu. The Puffball Collective is recruited as well, but is left behind due to the limitation that prevents him from moving beyond the Crossroads dimension. In the Hulk's absence, the Collective tells of his "incarceration" at the Crossroads, suggesting more than meets the eye (and a future story point). The Hulk rages aboard the Andromeda since losing his friend, causing Xeron to miss hooking Klaatu and forcing a return to the Crossroads, where the Hulk finally speaks upon seeing the Puffball: "Friend?". The Puffball is able to escape the Crossroads aboard the ship then, and Cybor and Xeron are able to hook Klaatu, only for the creature to smash the ship. Cybor and crew breathe their last on the desert world, and the Hulk releases Klaatu of the ship's laser harpoon grip before he and the Collective return to the Crossroads.

When last we left the Hulk, he'd just freed the alien Klaatu from servitude by Captain Cybor and Xeron. and along the way he found his voice again, proving that the creature is learning how, like a baby....or could his mind be on the way to full recovery of its status before Bruce Banner forced himself into psychic retreat? We still haven't heard those familiar utterances yet, just a couple of "Friend"s. Still, could it be...?

Still, the Hulk has shown his first vague victory after some very crippling defeats, and the fact he has again found his voice lends credence to my argument--that the Hulk personality, at least the savage one, is of a homeostatic balance between Banner's rationalism/intellectualism and the raw, unbridled savagery and instinct of the animalistic variant we've seen in the last 9 issues. Separated into these two extremes, the Hulk cannot function to his fullest--that is, like the army reserve, he can't be all that he can be. When such extremes occur, some part of the Hulk acts to restore the balance, which is why we ultimately saw the savage Hulk return to dominance in IH #296 for a few issues directly preceding the pendulum's swinging the OTHER way, and placing the animal, for the first time, in full charge. Now, with #307, it would appear that the pendulum is again swinging back toward homeostasis.

In #308, the Hulk continues to learn lessons that he cannot always trust his instincts, that they can often lead him to disaster. From the start of his adventures in the Crossroads, the Puffball Collective has been his only friend, and would seem at first to be a kindred spirit, stranded in the dimension with one important distinction from the Hulk: he is not permitted to enter any of the portals, never allowed escape from this realm! At first, we didn't pay the idea much lip service, because the Hulk needed someone to interact with, who could teach him things, and potentially put him on the road to recovery. But we must herein ask ourselves: who exiled the Puffball, and why? He/it doesn't seem harmful, does he/it? The Hulk has accepted the Puffball's friendship, but now we learn that it was all an act, a sham so that it could use the Hulk to escape its prison!

The Puffball's story he tells the green goliath is wrong--that much we know, for how can the Hulk freely traverse the realms of the Crossroads when the Puffball cannot? But, such logical questions evade the Hulk's mind, and all the Puffball can offer is the idea that the evil creatures from its home dimension barred all gateways, not just the one to its home. It asks for help, and the Hulk eagerly grants it, shattering the mystical chains that shut off the Puffball from its home realm, and doing so in a manner that is entirely rational, conjuring comparisons to the Inhumans' Karnak, who attacks foes at their weakest point. The Hulk follows the Puffball into the portal, where they encounter a terrible, blackened wasteland. The beast falls asleep and cannot hear the Collective utter resentment toward him.

Out of the aether, while the Hulk sleeps, three new beings appear: Goblin, a small, blue-skinned demon creature; Guardian, a young, golden-skinned prepubescent girl with bow, arrows, and quiver; and Glow, a shining pink star hovering in the air. The three observe that they have been "watching" for some time, and that now that the mystic portal somehow awakened them, they must help the Hulk to act. Guardian shoots a golden arrow toward the Hulk, which awakens him in time for him to witness a purple-skinned alien approaching--a representative of the demonic N'Garai race (as anyone who read X-MEN #143 among others would recognize).

The creature at first thrashes the Hulk, but Goblin appears and commands the Hulk to evade his foe, accentuating his survival skills; then, Guardian lets an arrow fly into the Hulk, awakening his senses and letting him know that he has been hurt, making him fly into action. Angst over the possible loss of the Puffball enrages the Hulk, letting us know what we've suspected since last issue--the Hulk is back, as per the following words: "Friend said he would watch over Hulk! Friend is not here! Then friend must already be--dead!" The Hulk smashes his alien foe, but soon thereafter is ambushed by more N'Garai.

Suddenly, the Puffball arrives and tells the Hulk the whole, fateful story--that the Collective is actually a collection of rogue cells that worked to sabotage their brethren, calling forth the N'Garai. The "good" Collective exiled their evil selves to the Crossroads while sealing their own dimension so that the demons could not escape to menace another world. The Hulk sundered the spells, freeing the N'Garai to potentially cause chaos across many dimensions. The triad of Goblin, Guardian and Glow again appear at this time, knowing the Hulk to be outnumbered and concluding his only course of action is flight--but "(h)e ain't never been smart enough t'run from a fight before!" Nonetheless, the Hulk bounds away towards the dimensional portal whence he gained entrance to this world.

With N'Garai in tow and closing fast, the Hulk leaps for his life, and miraculously remembers the only chance for his salvation--the failsafe spell which Dr. Strange placed upon him that would guide him back to the Crossroads with but a thought! And so, he returns to the Crossroads in time to mystically seal the portal to the Puffball's dimension by merely uniting its magical chains, sparing perhaps untold realities, but in so doing still feeling as though he has lost a friend. However, the role of the Collective is filled from here onward quite nicely by the mysterious Triad.

Now that the Triad is in place, representing the Hulk, or rather Banner's, Freudian id (Goblin), ego (Guardian), and superego (Glow), the Hulk is on the road to an even faster recovery. In #309, the narrative works to further distinguish the Hulk as a man and not an animal, doing so successfully in the form of a sojourn to a desert world which, ironically, the Hulk picks to try and satiate his appetites as urged by the Triad. The Hulk, urged by one of Guardian's arrows, remembers his past and longs to go "Home," which the Triad knows to this point is impossible. They also acknowledge that the Crossroads, with its isolation, is not the cure for the creature's psychic retreat--he must venture forth into portals, interacting, hoping that the alien races he encounters usher forth his lost humanity. On this desert world, the Hulk forages for food, even when his other aspects condemn his actions and wish for a hasty return to the Crossroads. Guardian condemns the others' reactions, having never know the Hulk to act "suicidally" before, but even her beliefs are taxed as the Hulk sweats amid the blazing sun, on the verge of dropping over--when he spies what he thinks is water. Goblin dives in, but is rewarded only with a mouthful of sand. However, says Guardian, the mirage proves that the Hulk was thinking rationally, that he knew what he was doing. Still, the Hulk continues to weaken, and the Triad tries unsuccessfully to get him to trigger the fail-safe spell, lest he be too exhausted to select another world. Finally, the Hulk protects the Triad from an awesome sandstorm, and when the storm passes, Goblin looks over the next hill and sees an oasis. The Hulk saw the earlier clues--a skeleton of a fish, and the scent of water in the air--then deduced that what he required was indeed on this world, and by sheer force of will, found it! Pleased, the Hulk smiled--"an expression known only to--man."

#310: All I can say is, IT'S ABOUT TIME! Another world, another set of dramatic circumstances with a specific purpose in mind. The Triad discuss amid a thick swamp whether the Hulk's returning rationality is result of his own true personality finally becoming ascendant via exposure to the Crossroads realms, or whether some aspect of the "previous two" personae exists and is causing the change. Perhaps, Glow posits, the very existence of the Triad is not to help the Hulk toward a healed mind, but a form of rebellion triggered by one of the former personae against this "new," "true" Hulk. Outside the swamp, the four arrive at a city made of skulls, where a yellow-skinned alien woman who arouses strange feelings in the Hulk, seems ready to be the victim of a sacrifice. The Hulk's own mind motivates him into action against those who would do the woman harm. Accosted in turn by skeleton-warriors on the backs of what look like horses with horns, the Hulk rises to action thusly: "Bone-riders will not touch woman--or HULK WILL SMASH!" hence dispelling any ideas to the contrary just which persona is now dominant. "Music t'my pointy li'l ears!" as Goblin says. Guardian hopes to let reason shine through in the Hulk as he wages war against the warriors whose touch causes instant death, and the arrow she shoots causes the Hulk to talk articulately, but allows one of the warriors to thrust his spear into the creature's side--the very danger to which Guardian wanted to warn the Hulk. The "instant death" the Hulk felt from the spear causes him to falter, collapse...and change back into Bruce Banner, completing the final steps in the cycle begun by his psychic suicide several months earlier! The Triad disappear back into the psychic aether from which they came, confirming as they do so that they assumed Banner's place in the Hulk's mind, helping to balance the equation, so to speak. The unconscious Banner is then carried off to the lair of the death-creatures' mysterious master, where the creatures tie him to a table and the yellow-skinned woman prepares to sacrifice him...

We resume in #311 with Bruce Banner about to be sacrificed by a yellow-skinned woman whom the Hulk rescued from similar sacrifice. Her yellow skin perhaps has function beyond merely showing that she's an alien creature: after all, the reason the Hulk saved her is obviously due to her similarity to another alien woman, Jarella...but note that the difference between yellow and green is the mix of blue into the mix, ergo she is only 'half' the woman Jarella is. Banner is saved--"in best beginning-of-the-next-episode-of-the-serial form"--by a very human-looking, bespectacled scientist, who wears a green shirt (obviously evoking the Hulk, acting as a "dark mirror" to Banner).

His name is Dr. Daniel DeCyst, and he fancies himself an alchemist from the eighteenth century who somehow found his way to this world. His presence here again resumes the thread that somehow, there exists a path between this world and Earth after all, and that the Hulk may yet find a way "home." DeCyst shows his hubris in his backstory, wanting a method to ensure his "immortality" and thereby transporting himself via magicks to this alien world. He reveals that he has obtained a few centuries of immortality by bleeding the yellow-skinned natives of this world, Notice their blood is green (leading to the reason why he wants the Hulk, not realizing that he is from the world of his origin). Banner escapes, and the yellow-skinned woman from earlier kills DeCyst. Banner runs, questioning his decision to do so when he could just as easily stop and let the aliens kill him, end his suffering (alluding to this "insane" survival instinct), when his pulse races and once again the Hulk takes control.

Aided again by Goblin, Guardian and Glow, his mind submerged, the Banner and Hulk sides still seeking balance, the Hulk battles the demons and aliens of this world, while a telling narrative intones: "Fight the brainless Hulk does...with a savagery unmitigated by the reasoning mind of Bruce Banner buried unreachably deep within the monster! The equation of their shared existence might best be stated thusly: To live, Bruce Banner has to die...that the Hulk might live to save them both!" Additionally, Glow highlights the specific reason why it and the two others must exist: "If the two sides of the Hulk/Banner personae were linked--as they were in the beginning--our presence would not be necessary!...Until man and monster are reunited in one form, we must guide and guard the Hulk!" When Guardian lets fly her arrow of reason, again the Hulk can speak. Since he cannot see the girl to save her, he decides to return to the Crossroads, where Guardian states, "...(I)t is at this interdimensional intersection to which Dr. Strange banished the Hulk that the man and the monster must be reconciled if both are ever to return...home!" which paves the way for the purpose of the next issue.

So then, what is the purpose of #312, "Monster"? The narrative seems to be the attempt by the Triad to heal the Hulk's fractured halves--that is, to establish a firm link between Banner and Hulk so that Goblin, Guardian and Glow do not need to continually watch over the Hulk. The method in which they choose to accomplish this daunting task is by revisiting the Hulk's origin, yet in a way that no one, to date, had examined. We are introduced to Brian Banner, whose wife, Rebecca, is about to give birth to a "monster" whom Brian thinks was conceived with the "help" of his atomic research. The child, Bruce, is born, with the spectre of the Hulk hanging over him from that moment! After several months and many tests, Brian and Rebecca are able to bring Bruce home. Here, we see both the Hulk, ghostlike, hovering, superimposed on Bruce at every panel, but also, we are introduced to Glow (in the form of a star hanging above Bruce's crib) as symbol of reason and analogue to Rebecca Banner, whom we also see here clearly for the first time. Brian ushers Rebecca away to a symposium, deliberately trying to get some "alone time" with her away from the child he believes is still a monster. They leave Bruce in the care of Nurse Meachum, who leaves young Bruce with Guardian, the doll that his mother gave him (and presumably enabled Bruce to "survive" these trying times), before she herself becomes the spitting image of Goblin, the personification of Banner's rage, at first projecting the sources that encouraged that rage to grow. Here, we at last know the origin of the appearances of all three characters who strive to foster the Hulk's awareness of self.

On Christmas Eve, we see Bruce opening his presents in the presence of both his doll Guardian, and Glow, which now adorns the top of the Christmas tree in the living room. Bruce displays his apparent superlative intelligence and ingenuity by building an immense construction from an erector set. Guardian falls, indicating that Bruce's safety is at risk, and Brian appears, transforming in Bruce's mind into another version of Goblin and wrecking the erector set, ranting how Bruce should not be this intelligent and that he is still an inhuman monster. When Rebecca defends her son, Brian beats her, and when Bruce rises to her defense, Brian backhands him, as well. After that night, Bruce never saw his mother smile again, and soon afterward, his father murdered her, avoiding culpability for the act by reason of insanity.

In high school, Bruce avoids his classmates, immersed in his work, having bottled himself up following the death of his mother. He's a control freak and the headmaster dreads the day when he finally externalizes his trauma.

Later, by Rebecca Banner's grave, Bruce encounters his father for the last time. We know as per INCREDIBLE HULK #-1 that Bruce's real memories were repressed--that here, Bruce killed Brian Banner, but that's not Mantlo's work, so I'll ignore that version here. Brian, fresh from the mental hospital, still suffers the "delusion" that Bruce is a "monster" and must be destroyed for the good of mankind. While they fought, Brian told Bruce that what he did now would "be done for the sake of mankind!" After beating Bruce, Brian took his leave. Bruce all the while denied that his intellect was spawned by the radiation, for "any latent 'powers' would have shown themselves in early adolescence." He'd hoped to make his mother proud of him while making her forget him, and leaves Glow by her graveside in memoriam.

Finally, at Desert Base in New Mexico, we come full circle. The first one to help welcome Bruce to the base is Betty Ross. He immediately warms to her, surprisingly not suppressing his feelings ("Call me Bruce," he says upon their meet, and he says the military "censored the best things from my briefing!"). Betty is exposed early to a photograph of Bruce's mother and the doll of Guardian that Bruce "meant to throw...out." Betty establishes herself as sentimental, while Bruce obviously frowns on his memories, his whole life to that point per Mantlo possessing nothing but strife. (Interestingly, Betty is shown to wear a green dress, while Bruce wears a purple suit, suggesting via the Hulk's colors an inextricable bond between them.) Then, Bruce meets "Thunderbolt" Ross, who chides him for being a "simpering civilian" and who tells him he knew Brian Banner at Los Alamos, calling him a "real man." Bruce takes offense, knowing of his father as a murderer, but Ross says the attitude is just another sign of Banner's instability and inability to reconcile the problems in his past. Symbolically again, Ross picks up the Guardian doll, tearing off its arm, and transforms into the image of Goblin while Banner equates Betty with Glow as a symbol of his mother's reason.

Interestingly, at all pivotal moments of Bruce's life--upon being brought home, being accosted by his father on Christmas, and here at Desert Base--all three are very much in the foreground, and Goblin is seen as another, distinct identity from Bruce, not coveted but rather feared. This concurrence occurs again when the G-bomb explodes, where Igor (renamed Sklar as a surname here) transforms into Goblin (out of sight of Bruce, yet!), and at Banner's base residence, as the bomb triggers, the picture of Rebecca and the armless Guardian doll both kick up in the air. Symbolically, to close out the origin flashback, we see Bruce Banner in the light of the G-bomb as he grows into the image that ever hovered over him since he was born--that of the Incredible Hulk!

Interestingly, just as the MPD/DID angle can be drawn from this story, with the abuse by Banner's father, there's another picture that can be painted of the life of Bruce Banner herein. And by implication it could mean that PAD's MPD/DID is an incorrect interpretation--but with some tinkering, that interpretation still fits, somehow. Remember that the first appearance of the Hulk's image over the child Bruce is on page 3--the first time we see him! Furthermore, the image is also there when Bruce, as from the captions, was first brought home, before, it is assumed, either Nurse Meachum or Brian ever had the opportunity to abuse him. What does this mean? Quite possibly, it means that Brian Banner was correct: that he passed on some genetic flaw to Bruce that was undetectable in the hospital tests. There was a "monster" in Bruce Banner all the while, which would be shaped in subseqent years by the abuse he suffered and splinter into various forms. Those forms festered, until they were finally let loose when the G-bomb took hold of this other piece of Bruce, augmenting it. I'm moderately sure that Mantlo's intent was to show that this piece, by itself, separate from Banner's intellect, was the Hulk from #299-307 and pieces of the following issues, but the longer it existed with Banner, the more closely Banner empathized with those feelings of rage and angst, that other piece took on some of Bruce's traits as a sort of stable anchor, and hence, the savage Hulk was born. I've tried my best to integrate the Hulk's other personalities into this idea--Banner's abuse shaping the form, splintering it causing the gray persona and more besides--but don't have a definite workable theory. I do find it very interesting that, although this idea seems in Mantlo's run very savage Hulk-centered, the gray variant did make appearances in flashback during the run (starting in #302). Also, there is no doubt in my mind that the flashbacks that started so early were a buildup to this very issue, where by examining the Hulk's and Banner's lives in-depth, the Hulk and Banner might finally be reunited in spirit as well as body so that the Triad could safely disappear.

Now that the whole truth is finally known, indeed, the Triad conclude their usefulness at an end. What I find most interesting is Goblin's soliloquy before he disappears: "I'm Banner's rage, locked up all those lonely years an' just waitin' t'be set free! Funny thing is, when I finally got the chance, Banner took a powder...t'be replaced by the Hulk!" Hmm...

Any way you look at it, the Hulk is Banner's bizarre reflection of himself, his shell, the monster Brian Banner always "knew" he'd become. Or, hmm....could it be Banner's strange method of passing the guilt (of killing his father, as per PAD) onto another...?

The Hulk becomes Banner again, still stranded at the Crossroads, when in true 80s crossover fashion, we discover that the Beyonder--nigh-omnipotent being trying to understand the nuances of humanity--is watching him. He notices that Banner embraces his despair "like a lover" and then sees a strange beam shooting through the dimension (coming from Earth, as Alpha Flight's attempt to "hook" a body to house the soul of Walter Langkowski, aka Sasquatch). He points the beam toward Banner, under the pretense of "helping" him, and departs.

That brings us to #313, and the final issue of the traditional HULK run by Bill Mantlo. Banner, standing at the Crossroads, ruminates: "It appears that life and death aren't quite the concrete concepts, the immutable states of being I'd always supposed the to be." Parts of his persona "emerged to guard and guide the Hulk" (which is interesting in and of itself, anyone care to comment?) until now, when Banner and Hulk have achieved balance. He was exiled to the Crossroads so he could cause no harm, but nobody counted on Banner coming back. To try and kill himself, Bruce throws himself off the Crossroads path, falling endlessly, until finally he transforms into the Hulk, who miraculously returns to the path at the Crossroads, knowing full well his "friend" Dr. Strange exiled him and that he must go home! As if to answer that request, the red line sent by Alpha Flight "hooks" him, just like the Andromeda hooked Klaatu. He jumps between dimensions to try to escape the line, but cannot. He cannot even sever the line by his own strength! Say it loud, say it proud: "No matter where Hulk goes--no matter how many strange doors Hulk passes through--Hulk cannot get free from line!"

Suddenly a form drifts down through the line and merges itself with the Hulk, casting out Bruce Banner's ethereal form. The form was that of Walter Langkowski, now in control of the Hulk's body. He died, yet his soul remained on Earth in the robotic body of Box, devised by his friends, Roger Bochs and Madison Jeffries, yet he longed for a human body, and thought here at the Crossroads he found it. Banner begs Langkowski to keep the body, to do good as the Hulk, to let him die, but Langkowski won't do it, once again sacrificing his happiness for Banner's. Says Bruce: "The Hulk's personality is actually my rage personified! Should you become the Hulk you'd have full control over his monstrous power! Use it--use it for good and...." Langkowski's spirit leaves the body and Banner is forced back into the Hulk, who is then returned via the red line to Earth, where he encounters Alpha Flight.

Aside: in AF #29, the Hulk primarily just wants to get "home" but cannot see it from Canada. The "home" to which he refers is the desert, of course. Finally, he just goes away, leaving Canada. Not much to see here, but it's an interesting coda to Mantlo's Hulk run nonetheless.

Hopefully, I've shown everyone the highs and lows of Bill Mantlo's INCREDIBLE HULK run and why I think he's the best writer the book's had. He may have stolen a good bit of the plot of IH #312 from Barry Windsor-Smith, but IMO, it took a good writer to be able to do as much with the story based on that treatise as he was able, to integrate it so well into the Hulk's ongoing series and to really pack in the intricacies into a great read.

The Hulk under Mantlo was a showcase for the savage Hulk, even though he wasn't in every single issue. It's shown that the best Hulk was a balance between Banner's intellect and the animalistic savagery that is at the core of the character. Fantastic work by all involved. I only wish that Mantlo had been able to go forward from the Crossroads with the recombined Banner/Hulk.

What do you think, sirs?


Bill Mantlo: Best Hulk Writer? Part 2

Continuing my analysis of Hulk writer extraordinaire, Bill Mantlo, we have the following--reposted from the Incredible Hulk Message Board, circa July 11, 2004!

Why I Thought Bill Mantlo Was
The Best Hulk Writer, Period.*

(* as of 2004!)

Part 2: The Incredible Hulk #272-299 & Annual #12

When last we left writer Bill Mantlo and his intrepid cast of characters, the Hulk was off-world after having defeated the Galaxy Master and helped Rocket Raccoon and Uncle Pyko by retrieving Gideon's Bible; Rick Jones was near-death after having exposed himself to gamma radiation in hopes of becoming another Hulk; Betty Ross cautiously stood vigil, all the while wondering if Bruce would ever get his wish of being free of the Hulk; and the alien woman Bereet gave us a new way of looking at the entire tableau, coming in as an unfamiliar observer through whose eyes we could see the old become new again.

It was clear at this point that Bill Mantlo could write the savage Hulk, and could in fact write him quite well; however, a writer does need challenges, and herein Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter gave him free rein to do what had only been attempted in short arcs before. The brain of Bruce Banner would control the body of the behemoth! Thanks to infusions of ever-increasing amounts of gamma radiation--from his own self-treatments, to that generated by the Galaxy Master, to the very beam Uncle Pyko used to transport the beast home, fundamental changes were made to Banner's physiology, which miraculously led to the scientist's ability to suppress his alter-ego's brutish mind and impose his own will as of THE INCREDIBLE HULK #272.

And just in time, too--for the impending battle against the Wendigo would have been old hat without this new wrinkle. Without anger or fear as Banner's trigger to become the monster, we were allowed to see how the change had affected Banner's thought processes over the years. It's true that Banner had, at times, relied heavily on the Hulk to bail him out of impossible situations. Mantlo made us feel, right alongside Banner, just how the scientist felt when he came to the conclusion that he had been exposed to such extremities of emotion (seeing the skeletons in the cabin, encountering the Wendigo, being saved from certain death by Sasquatch) and had yet not changed. Bruce Banner, in this context, is no hero, and takes advantage of the use of the Hulk's form to assist a friend and former colleague. He still does not possess total familiarity with the Hulk's form, however, and often needs help from Sasquatch in subduing the cannibalistic creature. Once, during the encounter, upon being badly hurt, Banner regresses and the Hulk's savage self reasserts himself, however briefly. Nonetheless, Banner's intellect regains control, and the Wendigo is defeated.

With help.

The rest of this run begins soundly, as Banner learns what it means to be a hero, making more than one mistake in misjudging the intentions of those who appear evil (the aliens in #273 want to give Earth unlimited food, essentially eliminating hunger, but their plans are foiled by a smart Hulk, ironically behaving just as the savage version would); and misjudging his own abilities (in #274, feats of strength result in accidental destruction, and Banner-as-Hulk tries his best to redeem himself). At first, he has trouble asserting his full will over the formerly dominant Hulk persona, but soon enough, that vanishes, but Banner's troubles only truly begin.

Witness: Banner, finally sure that his Hulk persona is dormant, if not totally gone, returns to his friends, now at Gamma Base. It is here he triumphs over Jackdaw and her Megalith robot, and makes the observation that, were he the savage Hulk, the battle would have taken much less time than it did here; the Hulk's unbridled savagery and instinct would have won the day. Still, Megalith lies defeated, and Bruce must answer for his current condition in the eyes of his friends, as well as make an astounding introduction in the eyes of Bereet. He cures Rick from the gamma-induced sickness he procured in #270, and Rick is overjoyed that a rational Hulk exists, one who can rise to the world's challenges and react intellectually. However, Betty rejects the change, and ultimately, Bruce, aghast that he would accept such a status quo rather than be totally free of the monster and live a normal life. This is Banner's first personal loss as the Hulk. It can also be construed as his first step to becoming a real hero--sacrificing love so that he may better serve those he intends to help. I chalk it up as a major loss to coincide better with the theme of the run.

The first personal loss in Banner's new existence coincides with his most devastating loss, as the U-Foes return, now in full control of their abilities and on a vendetta against the Hulk. Because of a number of factors--Banner's preoccupation with Betty and her plight, and his inability to channel the pure rage and hence, power that the savage Hulk is capable of, among others--Utrecht and his group are able to subdue the Hulk. It is only because of the intervention of Bereet and her unique alien creatures that the Hulk is able to be freed, and the U-Foes, soundly defeated.

The U-Foes encounter quickly becomes the benchmark for the remainder of this second part of Mantlo's run. Because of the television broadcast the villains made, showing their capture of the Hulk, everyone now is aware that Banner's brain controls the beast, and he is granted amnesty and pardoned for the misdeeds which occurred in years past. Indeed, the entire cosmos seems to welcome the new, more benevolent, less destructive Hulk; everyone, in fact, save Betty Ross, who fades to the background for the nonce, scarcely again to appear during the remainder of Mantlo's tenure. After all, the new Hulk has the adoration of the public; what use has he for the one he loved? As if to prove that the heroic population is now with Banner, they all band together to repel an apparent attack by Krylorian spaceships, an attack started by the Leader. After being soundly defeated by the Leader in space, his non-bestial nature once more a factor, the Hulk seeks assistance from his cousin, She-Hulk (the first such lengthy meeting with Jen Walters in her gamma-empowered form), and the Avengers in finishing what the super-villain started. The Avengers pursue the Leader and his supercomputer Omnivac through time, and it is largely through teamwork with others that Banner triumphs.

After the battle, the Avengers offer a new membership in their team to Banner, but after some time he declines the offer in favor of returning to scientific research, building the Northwind Observatory as he encounters a few lower-tier villains (Zzzax) and a soldier from the future, and embarking on an all-too-brief romantic interlude with Bereet, who departs for Hollywood stardom soon thereafter. Another pyhrric victory occurred in the HULK ANNUAL for 1983, in which Banner's efforts to swing power from red-skinned aliens toward their apparently more peaceful green-skinned counterparts ended in abject failure, with the greens becoming just as bloodthirsty as their red brethren. Finally, MODOK influences "Thunderbolt" Ross to commit treason against his country, freeing the Abomination from a military installation. However, the Abomination suffers from an overwhelming fear of the Hulk from the beating he took in their last encounter. He still manages to kidnap Kate Waynesboro, a SHIELD scientist assigned to keep tabs on Banner at the observatory, and one for whom Banner has begun to develop romantic inclinations. AIM scientists transform Kate into Ms. MODOK, with hopes of controlling her, but MODOK reappears, atomizes the Abomination, and in the ensuing battle, MODOK forces Kate into the machine that birthed Ms. MODOK and she returns to her normal form. Banner-as-Hulk has very little actual presence in this battle.

From here onward, the Hulk is dealt a number of crushing defeats as the villainous Nightmare, villain of Dr. Strange, begins to subconsciously influence the savage Hulk's mind to regain dominance. Banner begins to treat animal and human tissue with gamma rays to foster healing, and meets with dismal failures on both counts (the dog Sirius, and Max Stryker/Hammer). The Hulk's off-world journey leads to an injury that does not immediately heal, noting the near-complete departure of the raging power that made the Hulk so vital in years previous. It is only once Bruce Banner is pushed past the point of rationality in the battle with Max Hammer that two things occur: the savage Hulk personality violently reasserts itself, and the wound suffered during the Secret Wars instantaneously heals itself. This event is no coincidence: it would seem that, just as the savage incarnation's strength increases with anger, so too does his ability to heal from any injury. Banner's will reasserted itself, but this time only with the help of the Spaceknight Rom and his energy analyzer.

Ashamed of his loss of control, Banner again withdrew from his loved ones (Kate, in this case), experiencing an epic series of nightmares wherein his deep-seated fear of losing control of the Hulk gave way to the actual loss of control and a more terrifying, enraged variant of the savage Hulk emerged, one, it seemed, influenced by Nightmare's desire to see the Hulk kill Dr. Strange in an act of revenge. As the Hulk grew more out of control, Banner was pushed to the background, barely able to stay in control when he emerged. He seemed ultimately defeated, perhaps the months of being in control of the Hulk having taxed him more heavily than he let on.

Fearing that he would never again know peace, knowing that none of what he had done to that point had mattered, manipulated to depths of despair by Nightmare, Bruce Banner surrendered to the Hulk totally, committing psychic suicide in Nightmare's realm and leaving Dr. Strange, Nightmare, and the entire world at the nonexistent mercy of the extreme flipside of what we'd endured since #272. Instead of a monster's body tempered by the intellect of a man, now we had the monster devoid of any stabilizing intellect.

To be HULKINUED in my analysis of HULK #300-313 and the next capsule review of the run as a whole.




Bill Mantlo: Best Hulk Writer? Part 1

Hi, guys,

Well, we're in the final hours of waiting until INCREDIBLE HULK #611 comes out tomorrow, so I wanted to do something special to commemorate. I'll break this up over a few days--and it will likely be interrupted by the chaos that is IH #611 tomorrow--but for now, let's step in the Way Back Machine: here's a posting first made on the Incredible Hulk Message Board on July 8, 2004! Without further ado, presented just as it was then...

Why I Thought Bill Mantlo Was
The Best Hulk Writer, Period.*

(* as of 2004!)

Part 1: The Incredible Hulk #245-271

Yeah, I know, I've said it before, haven't I? Bruce Jones is, in my estimation, the writer who has had the worst "take" on my favorite character in the entire 42-year history of said character. (Note: This statement is quite different from "Bruce Jones is the worst writer to ever be on HULK," which implies largely that Bruce Jones is a bad writer; past stories have proven this to be far from the case.)

But who's the best INCREDIBLE HULK writer there is, to date? Who captured, as the French call it, the "Je nai sais quoi," that which words fail to adequately describe? At the risk of sounding pretentious (TOO LATE!), I'm placing my vote for Bill Mantlo, who I only wish could read and adequately respond to the praise I'm about to heap upon the man in big, stinking buckets.

Bill Mantlo had a gift for building on the portrayal of ol' Greenskin that Roger Stern had established directly before him. At a time when the Hulk television show was king, the title did become formulaic and, to an extent, there existed surface similarities to the current run in that regard. Bruce Banner began the run a nomad, a fugitive because of the beast within him. Hounded by the United States Army, with "Project: Greenskin" increasingly scaled down in scope, one man, Glenn Talbot, its increasingly-obsessed center; distanced seemingly forever from those he loved, Betty Ross and Rick Jones; forced to seek sanctuary among monsters similar to the one within him; with heroes in the eyes of the world-at-large cum villains in the eyes of the Hulk, Bruce Banner struggled onward.

Mantlo's first triumphs came in the form of a nagging plotline left over from Len Wein's days on board the emerald behemoth's title--what to do with Jarella? As Hulk fans may remember, the alien woman of the Hulk's dreams met her demise whilst rescuing a small child from falling debris during a battle between the Hulk and the robotic Crypto-Man, sent at the whim of a mystery enemy whose identity remains unknown to this very day. (Hmm...) The Hulk then embarked on a brutal rampage, refusing to believe Jarella dead. After finally gaining acceptance of his loss, well...what became of Jarella's body? We the readers discovered alongside the Hulk that Gamma Base still possessed her dead corpus. Whether they wanted to dissect it for military applications or merely contain it for fear of other-dimensional contagion, the Hulk didn't care and neither did we. She had to be freed, whatever the cost, and given a proper burial on her homeworld of K'ai! The storyline in those first four issues pitted the Hulk against a howling-mad Talbot in Mandroid armor and Captain Mar-Vell, himself an alien. The Hulk returned to K'ai, finding it a wasteland beyond description thanks to his own interventions. Finally, he found the Gardener, divesting him of his Soul Gem and in so doing gave the planet back its life. Finally, in a bittersweet moment, the Hulk said his final goodbyes to Jarella and left, returning to Earth, contented for only the moment.

Yes, the Hulk is a rampaging engine of destruction, but he is also, first and foremost as Mantlo establishes, a man, with a full range of emotions, just a lot less control of such emotions. He's not dumb, but rather, his brain can be "clouded" at times. He can tap into the intellectual half of himself, into Banner, but clearly doesn't like doing so, preferring to rely largely on instinct, on strength, and yes, savagery.

And so it went, with the Hulk not only surviving but thriving in battles sometimes much larger than himself, against opponents such as the Silver Surfer, the 3-D Man, Thor, the Presence, the Absorbing Man, Dire Wraiths, Avalanche, Landslide, the Corrupter, the High Evolutionary, Glorian, and the Galaxy Master. Along the way, he also discovered new allies and menaces, such as Woodgod's group of Changelings, the U-Foes, Sabra, the Arabian Knight, the Soviet Super-Soldiers, and the Texas Rangers. Colonel Glenn Talbot went insane and embarked on his final vengeance streak against the Hulk, perishing in Japan as his War Wagon downed in flames. All the while, the Hulk was a vital character, immersed in the narratives, especially in the battle with Sabra, during which he provided unique childlike insight into the Israeli/Palestinian conflict (Read INCREDIBLE HULK #256! Now!). The Hulk had a sense of worldliness, of this and other worlds.

This first third of Mantlo's run climaxed beautifully, with an emotional, heartfelt reunion between Bruce and his true love, Betty, and his best friend, Rick Jones. Rick even began to gather a new Teen Brigade, echoing his roots in the 1960s Hulk tales. Betty and Bruce remained at arm's-length, however, with her fondly wishing for a life without the Hulk, with a cure for Bruce. Rick, by contrast, seemed to be eager to move into the role, if role there could truly be. But it seemed, especially through these last few issues, that Bruce and Hulk would never be free, that the Hulk would always be there.

Then came Bereet. A leftover from the days of the RAMPAGING HULK magazine series, itself full of historical inaccuracies yet allegedly taking place between HULK #6 and TALES TO ASTONISH #59, Bereet came to observe the "real" Hulk, and in doing so established that the RAMPAGING stories were a fallacy, a fiction, created as entertainment for her Krylorian brethren. This time, she wished to do more research, to immerse herself in the Hulk's world and film a documentary feature she could show to her race in hopes of further renown and treasure. She couldn't have known what she was getting into, as no sooner did she arrive than so too did three extraterrestrial invaders: Night-Crawler, of the Dark Dimension (himself introduced in INCREDIBLE HULK #126); Torgo of Mekka (he of the Lee-Kirby FANTASTIC FOUR circa #91); and Amphibion of Xantares (introduced in TALES TO ASTONISH #72), two of the three of whom the Hulk battled before. Collectively known as the "Hulk Hunters," their duty, as given by Empress Daydra of the Sagittarian Empire, was to recruit the Hulk to help defeat one he had thought he'd killed--the Galaxy Master. The spacefiend had also recruited a herald, one to prepare worlds for his coming: the Hulk's old foe, the Abomination, whom the Master had also made stronger than ever.

While the Hulk was exiled offworld, Bereet decided to insert herself into the lives of those the Hulk and Banner loved, seeing firsthand Betty's disdain for the lunacy Bruce's life had become and for those that life attracted. She also saw the plight of Rick Jones, who believed that the Hulk potentially would not return and sought to make himself a new, replacement Hulk (ages before such a thought would become commonplace to superhero comics). The attempt failed, however, and Rick lapsed into a coma, his body surrounded in an eerie, gamma-green glow. Only Bereet's machines kept him clinging to any sort of life...and the Hulk was nowhere to be found.

Having defeated the Galaxy Master and the Abomination, the Hulk was lost in the cosmos. He surfaced on the world inhabited by intelligent animal-like creatures, the most recognizable of which was Rocket Raccoon. Borrowing heavily from the Beatles' hit "Rocky Raccoon," the Hulk was set on a quest to find Gideon's Bible for the weaselly Uncle Pyko. Once he did so, Pyko arranged a journey home for Greenskin...

And that's where the first third of Bill Mantlo's run, the part that actually, astonishingly, features the savage incarnation most extensively--ends. The dramatic ramifications of the final pieces of this act will be examined next time, in my analysis of issues #272-299.

(Yup, it's TO BE HULKINUED, suckers!:-P)