Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Pounding The Pavement--Pounding The Villains

In a 1977 sub-plot of Incredible Hulk, Bruce Banner decided to pursue a new direction for himself, determined not to transform into the Hulk and instead making every effort to forge a life of normalcy. Since this is a comic book where the presence of the Hulk in its pages is relied on to sell it, we can assume that Banner's efforts are going to be met with mixed success; but for someone resolved to turn his life around, making the decision to do so is half the battle, and we've already seen Banner establish a residence in New York. So now comes the hard part: what is Banner to do with the rest of his life?

Perhaps it's a little early to make that call, given that Banner has put himself on a kind of "probation"--taking things day by day and making sure he has a handle on his Hulk problem before making long-term plans. The question is--is he fooling himself? The Hulk, after all, isn't "going away"--he's simply dormant, ready to appear again at any moment, for the rest of Banner's life, and any transformation into the Hulk has the potential of destroying the house of cards that Banner is building for himself. And while it's true that there are many, many people who live with debilitating diseases that flare up and incapacitate them for hours or days at a time, the Hulk's actions destroy lives--not the least of which has often been (and could again be) Banner's own. Banner, in short, is a bomb waiting to go off--with a fuse that could be lit with the next spike in his pulse rate. Perhaps taking a "this is the first day of the rest of my life" approach isn't the way for him to go here.

However, this is the second day of Banner's new life, and for now we have to give him the benefit of the doubt. Besides, if all of this puts a smile on his face, that means the Hulk stays buried for the duration. So let's pick him up as he's making a casual breakfast for himself and meets his first hurdle: how is he going to support himself?

And so the good doctor and former physicist finds himself getting his first dose of true normalcy--by pounding the pavement like the rest of us. Except that you and I carry valid means of identification and a résumé, and we're not trying to keep a low profile:

"Bruce Banner, construction worker" is probably the last occupation we'd associate with the man, and not just because of the physical requirements--construction work can be a high-pressure occupation for the inexperienced, and this is one man who doesn't need any pressure in his new life. "Bruce Banner, laborer," however, has a more sensible ring to it, and Banner would seem to agree:

But, what was it I said last time about how, in Marvel's NYC, trouble has a habit of finding you? The cabal known as "They" has sent Crusher Creel, the Absorbing Man, after the Hulk--and with Creel's explosive entrance and hostile intentions, we can probably assume it's the Hulk he's going to be battling:

And so the choice of whether to transform into the Hulk or not has been taken out of Banner's hands--assuming it was ever Banner's choice to make. Banner seems to be the only one who thinks it was. After a pitched battle, Creel is beaten, and Banner finds himself in familiar surroundings once again.

Given this stark and telling image, this incident should have been a wake-up call for Banner. After all, the Absorbing Man could just as easily have shown up at his apartment, with the resulting battle literally smashing Banner's dreams of normalcy to dust. The Hulk could also have left New York far behind after the fight. Yet look at how light-heartedly writer Len Wein treats the matter.  Wein has committed a full year to this storyline, and so the copy he attaches to this image leaves us with the impression that this sort of thing will be the norm, treating Banner's deplorable state as little more than a minor inconvenience to be shelved under "stuff happens."

Already, though, someone else has come in search of the Hulk--this time, Anthony Druid, who is in conflict with an old X-Men foe, the Maha Yogi, and needs a powerful ally. Fortunately for Banner, Druid is able to spare him having to make uncomfortable explanations to his landlady by giving Banner the illusion of normal attire instead of shredded clothes.

However, despite Druid's pleas, Banner remains adamant about not transforming into the Hulk, though his decision is obviously easier to make when he continues to believe that it's a choice:

But while Banner agrees to accompany Druid and to lend him assistance, that choice is again taken out of his hands when he finds his life in danger:

As if to underscore the facts for Banner, it's never a good sign when the villain you're up against has to spell things out for you:

Banner's admittance is all well and good, if the Hulk were truly on board with him in this venture of his. But aside from the fact that the Hulk hates Banner more than any other person alive, the Hulk has no reason at all to sign on with Banner's new life, even if he could--particularly since he's always angrily denied the assertion that he and Banner are one and the same. Naturally, it wouldn't be possible for both Banner and the Hulk to ever come to terms on the issue--and so the best that Banner can hope for is to "release" the Hulk only under extreme circumstances, and hope that his apartment and whatever job he holds will still be there for him when the dust clears. If that strikes you as very shaky reasoning, join the club.

When we see this sub-plot conclude, such contradictions will come to a head, and some pertinent questions will be answered. Why is the Hulk bothering to remain in the NYC area? How is Banner coping with his still-dual existence as the Hulk? Will he be satisfied with this kind of life--this solitude? How will he placate April Sommers, who's getting too close to the truth? And what will happen when Kropotkin the Great returns? We'll also find that Bruce Banner's hopes all hinge on the arrival of his book's new scripter, whose interests seem to lie with the man-monster and not the man.


Anonymous said...

In the recent Indestructible Hulk storyline Banner did a deal with SHIELD whereby he's allowed to do his scientific research and then in Hulk mode he helps SHIELD whenever they need him which seems like common sense to me. I just don't believe that a top scientist like Banner would wander the world as a hobo knowing he was inflicting the Hulk's destructive power wherever he went - and yes, I know the "agent of SHIELD" thing ended with Banner being shot or something (I didn't read them all).

Comicsfan said...

Colin, the IH setup sounds like it parallels the Hulk's status shaping up from the Avengers film, where Banner is no longer hunted and continues his work but voluntarily becomes the Hulk to pitch in when needed.

Banner, in the '70s stories, didn't really have many options to explore for dealing with his condition, particularly since he was only himself for short periods of time and was "out of the loop" on what was happening with the parties that might be tracking him. You'd think, as you imply, he would simply turn himself in to Ross instead of constantly scrambling for his freedom and thereby putting people in danger.