Friday, August 15, 2014

"Bah!" To The Big Apple

In the year-long sub-plot where writer Len Wein has had Bruce Banner take up residence in New York City in an effort to establish a life for himself, we've seen Banner begin to build that life step-by-step, in a way that's almost therapeutic. The first step was to locate a place to live, followed by finding employment--all while managing his condition as the incredible Hulk. Normally, you'd think the two would be incompatible--how does one "manage" an existence as the Hulk? The brute would neither know nor care about Banner's apartment, or his new friends, or his job, or anything else about this man he hates above all others--which means that at some point, Banner's "new life" would become untenable.

So how will Wein make something like this work? He starts with Banner himself, who reaches his limit with his rootless and hunted existence and decides to reclaim his life, while making every effort not to change into the Hulk. Of course, if you looked up "high strung" in the dictionary, you'd see a picture of Bruce Banner next to the definition--and since New York is a mecca for super-villain activity, for this man not to occasionally wind up in shredded purple pants would be a minor miracle. Indeed, the Hulk has already appeared, fighting the Absorbing Man at Banner's job site, and appearing in Dr. Druid's conflict with the Maha Yogi. And Banner finds himself slowly coming to terms with the realities of a shared existence with the man-monster.

Still, his next words here are a little surprising, considering the alternative:

Obviously, Banner is growing impatient with half-measures, and wants a little more than what he set out for. But there's one reality he can't push to the back burner: as long as the Hulk lies dormant within him, he's in effect a prisoner of his own captivity. A fact that's made more apparent when his landlady, who's been so welcoming and supportive, begins to ask the wrong kinds of questions:

You and I would probably have tactfully but in no uncertain terms told a nosy landlord to mind their own business, though Banner getting into an argument here would likely have unfortunate results; but at least he catches a break in finding perhaps the one person in New York who isn't familiar with the name "Bruce Banner." It's a good thing Google wasn't around then.

In the meantime, Jim Wilson re-enters Banner's life, while the Hulk has encounters with both the Constrictor and a metal monstrosity called the Quintronic Man, provided by Stark Enterprises to assist law enforcement in dealing with super-powered threats. From all indications, Wein seems intent on establishing that this trade-off life with the Hulk is going to be the "new normal" for Banner:

But, is this really something Banner is okay with? Wasn't the whole point not to change into the Hulk at all? By now it looks like he's accepting the fact that, at times, his transformations will be out of his control--and he seems to be regarding it as just another day at the office.

With a creature as volatile and unpredictable as the Hulk, it's only a matter of time before that kind of situation comes to a head, though Wein's storyline still has a few months before it runs its course; but with the return of Kropotkin the Great, the magician who skipped out on his rent and whose apartment Banner took over, Banner's situation with April (who's transformed in just a few issues from perky to harpy) has become contentious, and makes clear the shaky ground Banner is trying to navigate with his condition.

While Banner's struggle with the Hulk is regrettable, it's at least gratifying to hear him refer to it as an "endless battle" rather than the pretense he's been living. And after the Hulk returns from a drawn-out fight with the Jack of Hearts, Banner seems even more willing to face up to the cold hard facts:

(We also finally see the convenient excuse Wein has offered as to why the Hulk is lingering in New York, when his usual behavior is to seek out solitude and isolation.)

One thing Banner won't have to worry about, at least, is another grilling from April--well, this time. I imagine he's in for quite the Q&A session after she witnesses him beamed skyward (by the SHIELD helicarrier) before her shocked eyes. For the next few issues--six months, by our time--the Hulk is taken from one battle to the next, with a variety of foes and in a number of locales. The stories contain some of Wein's best work with the character--yet they're also a reminder of why the Hulk's name is on the masthead, and not Bruce Banner's.

In his attempt to spotlight Banner by giving him a chance at life on his terms, it almost seems as if Wein has thrown in the towel--which is an apt way to phrase this change in course, for several reasons. For one, when Banner finally makes his way back to the states, Wein has already been replaced on the title by Roger Stern--and Stern is all set to withdraw Banner from Wein's storyline and have the Hulk become more prominent in the book again (though Wein would script the following stand-alone story, his last). The irony is that, thanks to a nerve-wracking cab ride back to his apartment building, Banner would make a discovery that would give him every reason to remain steadfast in his belief that he can make this situation work:

We'd soon see that this development has more to do with Stern's upcoming story with the Leader--but the timing is rather coincidental.

Also, Stern seems to be burning dynamiting Wein's bridges in this issue. First, Banner returns to find that Jim has spilled the beans with April concerning his identity, for really no good reason:

And before you know it, a fight breaks out between the Hulk and Stingray, at the end of which the Hulk has reached his limit with even his friends:

And that's that. The Hulk leaps off into parts unknown; April is tidily wrapped and subsequently discarded as a recurring character when Stern begins his stories for the Hulk; and when Banner discovers his body has finally rid itself of all gamma radiation, his first thought is to get to New Mexico and meet with Ross, with no thought whatsoever for New York, April, or anything that he might have established for himself. At least Kropotkin got his old place back, though I doubt April will be dropping in on him to chat over breakfast anytime soon.

Which brings an end to the "Banner Takes New York" sub-plot, along with Wein's tenure on the book. It's doubtful that readers had high hopes for Banner's success--the practicalities were just impossible to push aside and ignore for long, which even Banner seemed to grudgingly realize. Yet it's difficult to feel sympathy for Banner, dropping New York like a safe even though Stern's cure for him gives him cause to return. It makes a mockery of the year spent on this storyline, to say nothing of future instances where Banner would again cry out for a normal life. Sorry, Doc--you bailed on that, remember?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Boy, it's good of Jim to include a new pair of purple pants in that package of clothes he had ready or Bruce, isn't it? They'll come in handy!