Tuesday, July 1, 2014

My Cross To Bear

In exploring the essence of the connection between Bruce Banner and the Hulk, we saw psychiatrist Leonard Samson open the door by developing a procedure that would allow him to observe and take part in the Hulk's dreams. But we wouldn't come to understand the foundation of the connection until writer Bill Mantlo, closing out his run on the book, had Banner face the traumas of his past--finally realizing that the rage of the Hulk was really his own, given form through his over-exposure to gamma radiation.

During this time, the Hulk had been absent from Earth's dimension, existing as a creature of pure rage while Banner's influence, however minimal, had been effectively suppressed. Facing the events of his past allowed Banner to re-emerge and reassert himself; and, through a turn of events, he was able to return to Earth, though once again sharing his existence with the Hulk. Eventually, Leonard Samson learned of the Hulk being sighted again and attempted to contain his threat, still believing that Banner was (for all intents and purposes) dead and that the Hulk would once more be in a savage, destructive state. But Samson learned that Banner had survived--and so his plans changed. Obtaining clearance and funds, Samson arranged to have the Hulk undergo a radical procedure that would hopefully eliminate the threat of the Hulk while giving Banner a new lease on life--as an entirely separate person, divorced from the Hulk.

As we can see, Samson is still operating under his original diagnosis--that Banner and the Hulk are separate entities co-existing in one form, however transformed. And so he applies an understandably scientific approach to the problem (an approach similar to that previously attempted by Banner's college alumnus, Raoul Stoddard), yet one that's ignorant of Banner's recent realization--that he and the Hulk are one being, one mind, with his transformation to the Hulk bringing to the fore the bottled-up rage of his past and breaching any barriers that might have held it in check. Samson may well think he's completely exorcised Bruce Banner from the Hulk:

...but as he'll discover, he's caused an instability that will, once again, send the Hulk on a mindless and devastating rampage of destruction.

After Samson's procedure successfully split the Hulk and Banner, it was Samson's hope that the Hulk could then be reconditioned into a force that would benefit humanity. But SHIELD promptly showed up with its own plans for the Hulk--to take custody of him and then "dispose" of him once and for all. Learning of their intent, Samson managed to intercept and sabotage the Hulk's transportation vehicle; but, in the chaos which followed, the Hulk, stimulated into consciousness and exhibiting a rage no one expected (lease of all Samson), destroyed the attached SHIELD forces and escaped.

And in the aftermath, Samson brilliantly states the obvious:

What follows is a series of fruitless efforts by Samson to recapture the Hulk, as the monster begins taking apart New Mexico town by town:

Samson is mostly driven by guilt, as it was his actions that released the Hulk from custody and unleashed him on innocent people. (Though he'd no doubt be horrified if he realized the blunder he'd made in the lab in the first place.) When a muscled complement of Avengers gets involved, Samson refuses their assistance and pleads for the chance to make things right himself, though he's only granted a window in which to get the job done. Samson's attempts take place over the course of several issues, but, basically, this is how things work out for him:

Eventually, when the carnage caused by the Hulk reaches frightening proportions and with lives endangered, the Avengers arrive en masse to take over, but pull their punches with the Hulk because of the assumption they've always made with him--that he's not truly responsible for his actions. But their eyes are opened when the She-Hulk stops the battle and attempts to reach whatever humanity may yet exist in him--and the Hulk's response serves to commit the Avengers to bringing him down, including his possible death.

Meanwhile, Banner, showing signs of weakening and under hospital care, continues to be adamant about making sure the Hulk is killed, his fear of returning to a dual existence with the monster obviously taking precedence over the strong possibility that his own life might very well be terminated with the Hulk's. Banner has already demonstrated his willingness to end his own life to be free of the Hulk, so it's not surprising to see him so vehemently advocate the Hulk's death, particularly with so many forces now in place with cause to bring it about.

After further tests are conducted on Banner's condition, we finally learn just what has happened to Banner and the Hulk, confirming why Samson's method to separate the two was apt to fail:

From what we've learned of Banner before he left the crossroads--and from what he learned of himself--the diagnosis fits like a glove: "Bruce has lost half his persona." The question is: Will he be willing to pay the price to get it back? And what of Betty Ross? Betty, above all else, wants a life of normalcy with Bruce Banner; and now that the two are married, Betty still has normal expectations of a honeymoon and starting a new life as husband and wife, a life which doesn't include the Hulk in any way, shape or form. And so the thought of merging the Hulk with Bruce once again would only serve to dash her hopes, something that's happened in her life with Bruce too many times to count. But putting an end to the Hulk would mean almost certain death for her husband, at the point where she's finally achieved her dream with him.

But she makes her choice--and a timely one at that, reaching the Avengers before they've fatally dealt with the Hulk.

Eventually, with the help of the Vision, the Hulk and Banner are reintegrated. By this time, John Byrne had already jumped ship on the book, leaving Al Milgrom to wrap up the plot Byrne had begun six issues before--so it's difficult to speculate whether Byrne was eventually going to circle back to what Mantlo had established with Banner, or instead leave the matter within the confines of that story. The only real reason to broach the subject again is to return the focus to Samson's procedure, and Milgrom seems only concerned with using it to initially merge the two once more. But it seems Milgrom was making an effort to keep everybody happy, particularly with this scene occurring well after the dust had settled:

It was a fine story by Mantlo that finally brought perspective to both Bruce Banner and the Hulk, and Milgrom gives a nice indication here that it wasn't going to be swept under the rug--though future writers seemed content to move on. This story took close to a year (give or take a few issues) to play out, which was probably thought to be enough time spent on it.  Samson would tinker further with the Hulk's psyche, once or twice--but hopefully Banner would pull him aside one day and set him straight on just who and what it is that make up the incredible Hulk.

(This post covers events from Incredible Hulk #s 315, 317, 321-322, and 325. Whew!)

1 comment:

Murray said...

It was almost Hulk-like. There I was, an adult by any legal definition, seeing the John Byrne cover of Hercules, Wonder Man, Iron Man and Sub-Mariner ready to rumble with the Hulk. The transformation to my inner 12 year old comic fan took only seconds. I practically squealed with delight.

Of course, it was only a tease of what was promised. Doc Samson effectively pooped all over the party. My inner 12 year old left, sad and unfulfilled.

I kept my eye open (I didn't collect Hulk) for the return of the Avengers, but when they did, the art (apologies to Mr. Milgrom) blew chunks. And I could see that it was just a silly mob scene, with feebs like Tigra and Hawkeye mostly getting in the way of a proper battle royale. I didn't buy the comic.

To say Doc Samson "tinkered" again is something of an understatement. He was the guiding physician (with the help of Ringmaster) that created the Hulk cover in the wallpaper montage decorating your blog. The flipside of this diagnosis and procedure, reintegrating Green, Grey and Bruce into one psyche.