Monday, August 11, 2014

Long Live Bruce Banner!

In his existence as the incredible Hulk, it's hard to picture Bruce Banner making such a life "manageable" by simply resolving to no longer undergo the transformation--but, soon after the death of Jarella, Banner's/the Hulk's love from a sub-atomic world, writer Len Wein decided to give Banner his shot at a normal life by suspending the Hulk's wandering and constant hounding by the military and instead shifting the focus to Banner and his desire for a more normal, everyday existence. If you're thinking that's easier said than done, you're certainly justified--but it's an interesting direction for Wein to attempt. On the one hand, I can probably count on the fingers of that hand the times in my routine day-to-day life when my pulse rate has quickened to the point that Banner's has in order to trigger his physical transformation to the Hulk--so unless Banner makes a point of attending a lot of live sports events or Kid Rock concerts, he should be able to manage getting up in the morning and cruising through a day without breaking out in a fearful sweat. He might even fashion a wardrobe for himself that doesn't include the color purple--that would certainly be a step in the right direction.

On the other hand, Wein isn't likely to go that route, given that this comic's title is The Incredible Hulk and readers are going to want someone a little more rampaging for their 30¢. This is also New York City that Banner has chosen to reside in, of all places--to be more specific, Marvel's New York City, where deadly encounters like the one pictured on our Hulk cover here take place at a moment's notice. In Marvel's New York, trouble finds you--and it's generally going to be costumed, or armed, or deadly, or all of the above. With Banner's kind of luck, he could just be browsing a market stand, and clowns like the Bombardiers could be barrelling around the corner toward him.

So Wein is going to have to strike some kind of balance, giving readers the Hulk in every issue (every issue, which already makes this premise sound unworkable), while still making Banner's decision feasible if the man is aiming to make a "normal life" for himself the rule rather than the exception. We've seen Banner make this sort of move before, but being considerably more timid and nervous about it, presumably taking up low-key residence in New York and keeping himself under the radar--until a message from the Human Torch had him hailing a cab with disastrous results. Now, with Jarella's death and the incentive for a change in direction, Banner approaches the decision again but with more motivation to make a success of it--particularly upon awakening, for what must seem the hundredth time, amidst garbage cans in an alleyway.

Banner recalling Jarella's death is a necessary prerequisite to proceeding with Wein's main plot involving Banner's new direction--even though, ordinarily, Banner has, at best, vague recollections of his activities as the Hulk, and hardly to the extent of "every detail." Which must have presented Wein with a problem. This is the first we've seen of Banner since the Hulk's battle with the Crypto-Man--and, before he'd transformed, Banner had just spent a picture-perfect day with Jarella in the city. Upon awakening in this alley, Banner's first instinct would have been to find out what happened, and definitely to find Jarella--which would have essentially repeated scenes of shock and mourning which we've already spent the past two issues going through with the Hulk. So, this once, Wein allows Banner to remember in perfect clarity what happened during his time as the Hulk, and thus deals with (and disposes of) Banner's grief in two panels. Had Banner not paused at least for a moment to reflect on Jarella's death, there would have been a conspicuous gap regarding his feelings. As it is, Wein probably gets away with a lot more than he should here.

And so Banner, without missing a beat, moves to make himself less conspicuous:

But Wein, to his credit, doesn't fast-forward Banner into becoming just another New Yorker. Banner has been at this point before--the seemingly hopeless task of trying to pick up the pieces of his life, with the curse of the Hulk still hanging over his head. He realizes this is just a respite--and how unrealistic it is to try and pretend the problem doesn't exist. And with despair dogging his every step, his mind turns to other options:

At this point, we can almost applaud Banner's resolve, even though he has no real plan--but that's what resolve is all about. He's rejected a more fatal solution in favor of the will to continue to live and to try--and considering the hell that Banner's life has been thus far, that's saying a great deal.

Now that Banner has made his choice, finding a place to live understandably puts a spring in his step--though Wein stacks the deck a bit by giving him a perky, flirty landlady who practically rolls out the red carpet for him and who isn't at all inquisitive of his background:

Clearly Wein wants this sub-plot in place ASAP, given some of the concerns he's tabled or otherwise already dealt with. For one thing, he's conveniently arranged (through Leonard Samson) for General Ross to call off the manhunt for the Hulk and give Banner a chance to deal with his problem on his own. But there's now a more pressing concern: how does Banner plan to avoid being recognized, especially in New York? For all he knew, Ms. Sommers could have been a news junkie. And how will Banner "manage" his vulnerability to over-excitement? Some things, of course, Wein will give us the answers to as Banner himself discovers them. For now, let's not deprive the man of his Mary Tyler Moore moment:

But, speaking of the news, it isn't long before we see that the world doesn't stop for Bruce Banner--nor, given the title of this book, is it likely that he'll be able to simply avoid those who may present a danger to him:

Next time, we'll take a look at how Banner copes with the realities of starting from scratch, as well as his continuing belief that he's able to keep the Hulk suppressed indefinitely. Until then...

...I'd suggest stocking up on Diazepam, Dr. Banner. If it isn't already too late.


Anonymous said...

I remember an issue of the Hulk when he takes Jarella's body back to her homeworld and (after the inevitable adventures) buries her at which point a flower springs from the grave and Hulk says it's Jarella saying goodbye for the last time - it was one of the most poignant things I've ever read, in comics or anywhere else.

Anonymous said...

Alone and destitute in New York City, Bruce Banner takes the boon of his find to set himself up with new clothes and a place to live. And what outfit does lucky Bruce emerge with. A lilac top, a blue Member's Only jacket and MORE PURPLE PANTS!?! I guess his genius doesn't apply to apparel. I think the Hulk Busters should just track sell of purple pants and they could pretty much locate Banner. Failing that, widen the search to include purple overalls, and you've got your man.

The Prowler (color uncoordinated).