Given the flak that the Punisher took in the company of Captain America, his first meeting with the incredible Hulk almost seemed like a budding bromance by comparison. At the time of this story's publication in mid-1992, the Hulk's transformation had stabilized to where he was now an amalgam of both Bruce Banner and his brutish alter-ego--going a step further than simply having the Hulk controlled by Banner's mind, the Hulk became the perfect vehicle for writer Peter David's less tragic approach to the character, with Banner perfectly comfortable and confident as the Hulk and even throwing his weight around to an extent in terms of being cocky when confronting an opponent. As a result, the Hulk that the Punisher would cross paths with exhibited none of the shock or judgment of the Punisher's modus operandi in dealing with criminals that Bruce Banner might have shown--and since the story involves the gangster presence in Las Vegas where the Hulk's gray incarnation, "Joe Fixit," acted as an enforcer, the Punisher fit right in with the Hulk's business in the city.
As to the details of that business, the Hulk returns to investigate the murder of his friend and former employer, Michael Berengetti, who ran one of the casinos and had accepted the Hulk into the fold. Berengetti's wife, Suze, believes that a rival businessman, Sam Striker, had Berengetti murdered; and when Striker attempts to strong-arm her into cooperating with his attempts to absorb Berengetti's assets, the Hulk appears and makes it clear that Striker is to back off. Yet the encounter is a stalemate, since Striker is protected by Frost, an imposing freelance hitman who appears to be in the Hulk's class of strength; all the same, Striker departs without pressing the issue, though neither the Hulk nor Striker are aware that the Punisher is in town and gunning for Frost, and will take down both Striker and "Mr. Fixit" if they get in his way.
Within his "ice cream truck" that camouflages a well-equipped surveillance setup, the Punisher continues to keep tabs on the situation while the Hulk's investigation proceeds. Accompanying the Hulk are Ulysses, Paris, and Hector--his associates from the Pantheon, an altruistic organization based in Nevada that's devoted to helping to end war, famine, and pestilence. It's Paris who alerts the group to the presence of the Punisher, though not by name; all they know at present is that the person is a potential hostile, and a dangerous one--an assessment that's more than validated when they take the initiative in flushing him out.
As is evident, the Hulk doesn't give a second thought to the Punisher's methods or that he works outside the law (nor, curiously, do the other Pantheon members raise any concerns), issues which David side-steps completely except for a reference to the man's rap sheet which is added at the story's end almost as an afterthought. As far as the story is concerned at this stage, the Punisher is relegated from this point on to guest-star status, welcomed aboard the Hulk's plans for dealing with Striker and, by extension, Frost. In the end, the heavy lifting will fall to the Hulk, though David's trademark witticisms will give most of this cast dealt in to one extent or another.
Once the group has touched base with the police, the Hulk is ready to put his plan in motion--one that involves Paris leaking to Striker that Fixit is making a drug deal that evening at a local warehouse. Once Fixit takes delivery, Striker makes his entrance and makes a smooth attempt at blackmail--only instead of putting one over on Fixit, both Striker and Frost find that the tables have been turned on them.
As you might imagine, Striker and Frost aren't the types to go quietly--and a fierce gunfight erupts. The Pantheon focuses on Striker's men, while Striker himself is wounded by gunfire. The Punisher goes after his prime target, Frost; but when Frost successfully holds him off, the Hulk takes over, only to find that Frost more than lives up to his name.
The Hulk and the Punisher would find themselves in the same story once more in three years--though this time, their paths only cross in passing, with the Punisher more obsessed with taking out the one he blames for the death of his family (Nick Fury) while the Hulk, having his own problems with Fury, all but rolls out the red carpet for Castle.
While you can't label the Hulk and the Punisher as enemies, given what we've seen here, it's not really accurate to call them friends, either--more like two men who have found themselves on the same page and teamed up for their mutual benefit, parting company once their business was concluded. The Hulk would likely have rated a favorable footnote in the Punisher's war journal--something of a dubious honor, to be sure.
|Incredible Hulk #s 395-396 |
Script: Peter David
Pencils: Dale Keown
Inks: Mark Farmer
Letterer: Joe Rosen