Monday, March 11, 2019

"I Fall To Pieces... Each Time I See You Again..."

The combination of being the daughter of General "Thunderbolt" Ross and watching the one you love endure a hunted existence as the Hulk would probably drive anyone over the edge sooner or later--but what really tipped the scale for Betty Ross was learning that her new husband, Glenn Talbot, had been killed while on a mission to rescue her father, news that turned what should have been a joyous reunion into a fit of rage at realizing that the happiness she'd sought for so long had been ripped away from her.

This time, tears wouldn't help to ease Betty's pain, having shed more than her fair share of them during the many instances she feared Bruce Banner was lost to her. Instead, following the confrontation with her father, she descended into a catatonic state, one which even Banner's presence couldn't fully calm. Quite the contrary:

Betty's fragile state of mind led to her being manipulated into becoming the winged, gamma-irradiated fury called the Harpy, her memories having become so twisted that she had intense hatred for anyone and anything that caused her pain in the past--particularly for the Hulk, who was at the root of it all and who became her primary target for death. Yet that path to vengeance resulted in both of them becoming captives of the Bi-Beast and taken to a city floating eight miles above the Earth, where Betty was later returned to normal (physically, at least) by Banner but both became caught in the conflict between the Bi-Beast and M.O.D.O.K., who was intent on claiming the cloud-city for the forces of A.I.M.

In the ensuing battle, the cloud-city was destroyed--leaving Banner and Betty to plummet to Earth, though not without a bit of controversy caused by the fact that Betty, who had been naked up to that point, suddenly found herself wrapped in a garment that let her avoid shocking readers of the next issue when she greeted that issue's splash page in the midst of freefall. As for Banner (who's worn the same shredded purple pants for heaven knows how long), you would think that those first few seconds of their fall would have his pulse quickening to the point of triggering his change to the Hulk; yet regardless of all the times, all the times* he's failed to control the change in far less harrowing circumstances, this time he manages to resist the transformation until shortly before impact. But aside from how he accomplished that, the real question is why? It's been established that the Hulk doesn't reach his full strength until a few minutes following the change from Banner (which seems an absurd condition to hamper him with, but I don't write the stories)--so why would he be okay with slamming into the ground in a weaker state that would leave him more vulnerable to serious injury and even death?

At any rate, the story's narrative establishes that the Hulk's velocity will be roughly 11,000 m.p.h. at the time of impact--and from the wording of the narrative, we're witnessing the first instance where the Hulk has fallen from such a distance and smashes into the ground**. Let's hope it doesn't turn out to be the last!

*Well, he did once manage to maintain control of his faculties long enough to disarm a miniature gamma bomb in a Defenders story that occurred a year later, which is pretty darn harrowing.

**The Hulk fell from an even greater height after battling the Abomination in orbit, but avoided impact on land by plunging into the ocean upon his return to Earth.

They say any landing you can walk away from is a good one, but the Hulk might disagree at this moment.

(No, I don't know how Betty could have possibly survived the shock of impact, even cushioned by the Hulk. We'll just have to assume that the Hulk is one heck of a shock absorber.)

At this point, this story by Chris Claremont takes an unexpected turn and spends most of its time on the interaction between Betty and the Hulk while the two are trapped on what appears to be a small island. Betty Ross, as she was, would perhaps have a less stressful time in such a situation, given that the Hulk considers her to be a friend and that whatever fear she might be feeling would be outweighed by her concern and love for the man within the monster, Bruce Banner. Yet Claremont, one of a handful of interim writers on the book following Steve Englehart's departure, must account for the state we last saw Betty in--and, somehow, strike a balance between that and a return to a more lucid state, presumably as part of an effort to have Betty returned to status quo by the time Len Wein comes aboard as the title's regular writer. (One hurdle is addressed and cleared almost immediately, with Claremont arranging for Betty to consider her time as the Harpy as some sort of strange dream.  You're welcome, Mr. Wein.)

Yet Betty's status quo is that of Gen. Ross's directionless daughter, who seems destined to pine over a lost love--arguably the last thing that this book needs.  Wein wouldn't begin his stay on the book for another nine months, so there's adequate time for the character to explore the depths of feelings and grief that Claremont has her thoughts sift through in this single issue. Claremont provides her with scenes where she's obviously hysterical--but already she's been dialed back from being crazed and withdrawn, the state she was in when she last dealt with Banner and her father.  Why not allow her to regain her stability in much the same way as any other person would in her place--one step after another, one day at a time? Instead, for all intents and purposes, this issue's story will settle the matter and stabilize Betty's condition sufficiently so that she and her father can move on, ready or not.

That said, the steps she takes here and now are enough for Claremont to make for interesting reading, as Betty is forced to depend on the Hulk for her well-being. To the Hulk, of course, his relationship with Betty is virtually frozen in time--the friend that he dimly remembers from previous encounters and whom he implicitly trusts; and so he cannot make sense of why she wants little to do with him, and why her responses to him are so curt and tinged with pain and sadness.

As if Betty didn't have enough to worry about, we can see from this issue's cover that there is a further complication to their stay on this island--the presence of mammoth beings, whom the Hulk attacks on sight when they give the appearance of menacing his friend.

Compared to the scenes with Betty and the Hulk, these giants are mostly backdrop to the story's preoccupation with the pair--nor do we learn much about them other than what Claremont's narrative briefly offers. The more compelling scenes are character-driven, as Betty slowly comes to grips with the loss of her husband--while the Hulk struggles to rekindle the spark of friendship between them, as best he can.

Claremont has covered most if not all of the necessary bases with Betty--the unease and indifference she continues to display toward the Hulk... the depression that borders on the suicidal... along with flashes of certainty mixed with desperation that her husband is alive and within the sound of her cries for help. And meshed with all of this turbulence are also periods of unresponsiveness, which the Hulk can only regard as further signs that he has somehow hurt his friend.

Finally, when the Hulk succumbs to sleep, Betty makes a break for it, in the hopes of finding others on this island who might have survived the plan wreckage they found. Yet so eager she is to escape her situation that she has forgotten about those she has already encountered who roam this island.

While the giants making a beeline for the island's volcano no doubt dredges up images of natives sacrificing their human captive(s) to the volcano god or some such variation of that theme, there really is no reason for artist Herb Trimpe to provide us with such an apparent scene since such a Hollywood ritual would be alien to our aliens. The location, however, does figure into this story's ending, along with that of the giants--and who better than the Hulk to see to it.

Betty's in luck, with the military 'copter turning out to be attached to Ross's command. She gives no indication to the crew that she was anything but alone on this island--which is either an effort on her part to keep them safe from harm, or an indication that perhaps she has turned the corner in regard to the hatred she has recently felt toward the Hulk and what he represents vis-à-vis the shattered state of her life. It fits in with the character's abridged bout with insanity--but whatever pace Betty's recovery proceeds at, her tear ducts aren't going to be dry anytime soon.

Incredible Hulk #170

Script: Chris Claremont (plotted by Steve Englehart)
Pencils: Herb Trimpe
Inks: Jack Abel
Letterer: Artie Simek


Big Murr said...

Yeah, that particular bit of trivia has been a pebble in my shoe for my entire comic book life.

A human falls from a Great Height. S/he is saved by being caught, often about a meter off the cement, in the arms of a superstrong hero whose body sheds bullets and bombs far more readily than mere concrete. I don't see how that is being "saved".

Dropping from orbit is the ultimate puzzler on this.

Anonymous said...

The Hulk's got 99 problems, and women is one of 'em.


Comicsfan said...

Fortunately, Murray, Betty had lost consciousness by the time of impact, because I imagine looking down and seeing the ground approaching faster and faster--to say nothing of the Hulk suddenly materializing next to her--would make someone who already had a loose grip on sanity tip right over the edge.

B Smith said...

Pity the Hulk wasn't around when Gwen Stacy was knocked off that bridge...

kevinp said...

Seems like Hulk jumped the gun,here...maybe the monsters took Betty only to bathe and feed her and worship her as a goddess. Also, this issue reminded me of "Where the Wild Things are" for some reason.

Comicsfan said...

We'll probably never know quite what the aliens had planned for Betty, Kevin--or, for that matter, learn anything about them at all, since Claremont avoids having to do so with a simple bit of narrative that establishes that they've pretty much forgotten everything about themselves and why they'd come to Earth. We can be reasonably sure, however, that Betty isn't particularly interested in anything but bringing this nightmare to an end for herself.