Sunday, April 14, 2013

Hellbolts of the Harpy!

Back when the Hulk was still being pursued by the relentless General "Thunderbolt" Ross, he had two people in his corner. One of them, Rick Jones, did his best to locate the Hulk in order to hide him or assist his human alter-ego, Bruce Banner, with attempts to cure himself. While the other--Betty Ross, daughter of the general--would do her best to plead on behalf of Banner, whom she was in love with. The general, of course, had a job to do and forged ahead, despite his daughter's tears; while Glenn Talbot, who steadfastly carried out the general's orders, found himself falling in love with Betty and was constantly frustrated by her loyalty to a man he viewed as a lost cause.

So Betty spent a lot of her time in the book engaged in scenes like this one, in one form or another:

In 1973, writer Steve Englehart came aboard Incredible Hulk and decided on a turn of direction for the character.  And before the year was out, he'd end up giving Betty Ross one hell of a makeover.

And the Harpy was hatched born. Say goodbye to those tears, kids.

Before her transformation into a creature of vengeance, Betty would have cause to turn on the waterworks a few more times prior to M.O.D.O.K., the monstrosity created by A.I.M., getting his mental hooks into her. Betty hadn't had an easy time of it, spending her days and nights in a holding pattern hoping that Bruce Banner could be returned to her and the nightmare of the Hulk could finally be put to rest. Yet, finally, when the Hulk (and, thus, Banner) was presumed dead, she grew closer to Talbot and agreed to marry him. So things seemed to be looking up for the Ross clan. Ol' Thunderbolt finally had the son-in-law he'd had in mind for his daughter... Talbot "got the girl"... and Betty had found the stability she'd longed for.

But when Thunderbolt was captured in Russia (while hunting the Hulk, who was revealed to be still alive), Talbot joined the team assigned to bring him back. Betty was elated at her father's return, but the joy didn't last long.

It was afterward that Betty started going off the deep end, her short-lived happiness in marriage suddenly snatched away from her. And when Bruce Banner discovers that she's been institutionalized, he thinks a visit from him might be helpful to her. Maybe you should stick to physics, Doc:

MODOK, however, hopes to have better luck, seeing this as a ripe opportunity to make a preemptive strike against the Hulk. And so he visits Betty and plays on her grief and anger to further destabilize her state of mind with his mental powers.

All that remains is spiriting her away to his lab and making use of a special device:

You've probably noticed that MODOK's reasoning is flawed, given that Betty spent most of her time apart from Banner, wondering about his whereabouts, rather than being in close proximity (or any proximity) to him during his gamma experiments (which were few and far-between, given that he was green at the time and leaping across the countryside). But I doubt a creature who takes so much pride in his mental abilities would take kindly to being corrected. Let's just jump ahead to when he throws the "off" switch:

Since we've already had the big unveiling, it's time for the Harpy to show her stuff:

The battle that follows is vicious and relentless on the part of the Harpy, with the her drive for revenge having years of pent-up frustration and sorrow to feed on--which now join her feelings of blame and rage, magnified by MODOK's conditioning. And while the Hulk is no pushover, the bolts of the Harpy give him pause and then some.

Yet, believe it or not, this is still Betty--just a very twisted version of her. And when the Hulk presses his attack, she cannily uses that knowledge of her identity in a "turnabout is fair play" move to throw him off guard:

Now, in her current state of mind, do you really expect Betty not to gloat?

Things look bad for the Hulk--heck, they look downright fatal--but the real question is, where does the Harpy go from here? Now that the root of all her sorrow has been eliminated, what becomes of all of that hatred and resentment? Does MODOK swoop in and make use of her in his operations? Does she regard her father as unfinished business? Does she replace the Hulk as a gamma-spawned threat that Thunderbolt will now be forced to hunt? Englehart has his pick of directions to go in--and he decides to go eight miles into the troposphere. We'll see what that's all about next time, while also discovering if two heads really are better than one.

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