Apologies for my absence, but I think it all worked out in the end, because this week we celebrate the end of Greg Pak’s six-year run on the Incredible Hulk. And we do so by talking about someone else’s comic.
Fantastic Four #51 is titled “This Man… This Monster.” It’s one of those inspiring cover blurbs like “Spider-Man No More!” and “This Issue: Everybody Dies!” Phrases which catch the eye and demand you read the book. “This Man…This Monster!” is about the struggle of man… versus also man; our darker parts or outer appearance versus who we really are, inside. You’ll notice there is nothing between the man and the monster, just an ellipsis. It’s not “This Man AND This Monster,” which would suggest two different people, nor is it “This Man, This Monster” suggesting they are one and the same. Three little dots almost let the reader decide as to what exactly the inner struggle is. And that’s kinda what I’ve been doing with the Incredible Hulk throughout my adoration of the book.
No matter who he fought, the internal battle is key. It’s tortured scientist Bruce Banner versus his raging alter-ego in a never-ending stalemate over who gets to be human. I can’t say this is always the thrust of an issue or storyline, but it IS the thrust of the really good ones. The ones that make you think, and linger with you long after you’ve put the book away. We come for the “Hulk smash,” but stay for the “Hulk think.” And then Incredible Hulks #635 came along and blew my freakin’ mind.
Because after six years, the struggle is over. (A few SPOILERS after the jump!)
Greg Pak’s six-part story “Heart of the Monster” gets absolutely outrageous at times. When you watch Fin Fang Foom cram gamma bombs into his mouth and threaten to take out… well, I don’t even know how much that would take out, but it would be a lot. When everyone is gamma-enhanced and explodes off the page with bulging muscles and radiating green power, when there’s magic and science and everyone and possibly their mother shows up, things get a little messy. The whole crux of the story is based on a mystical wishing well. Get to it, wish for something, and it will appear. As always, there is a catch: the wishing well doesn’t exactly give you what you want, just an idea of it that has been kinda soured. Wish for an apple, get a rotten apple, etc. It doesn’t solve your problems, but could possibly make them worse. So there are monsters and villains and family and explosions. Doctor Strange shows up, the aforementioned Mister Foom, it’s just madness and the story does not stop until the epilogue of the very last issue; it’s loud, it’s violent, it’s exciting, and it all hinges on a very simple answer to the wishing wackiness.
In the end, Bruce uses the wishing well to give everyone what they wanted: all the monsters are defeated, Rick, Jen, and Betty all have control over their alter egos, and can become A-Bomb, She-Hulk and Red She-Hulk at will. So, in a way, he wished for control: for his family and his foes to have control of their situation. Control, of course, not meaning that everyone wins, but everyone gets some sort of stability. Even the outrageous peril they had gotten themselves into had vanished into dust because really, escalation of that type was going to destroy everything. Tyrannus might have told everyone he could rule from the ashes, but hey. Magical wishing well, pal and you don’t always get what you want.
But here was Bruce Banner, a man who for years and for one selfless act, has been saddled with this terrible, destructive, shoot-you-into-space-because-you’re-a-danger-to-yourself-and-others, mind fracturing, loved-one-distancing, uncontrollable monster that, you would think, if you could get one wish it’d be to be free of that.
Yeah, it’s an evil wishing well. So your wish to be free of it might still have some dangerous effects. But you think it would cross his mind when Red She-Hulk (side note: please change this name! The Red She-Hulk is ridiculous to say, ridiculous to type, and so derivative it makes me cross-eyed. If they are serious about keeping her a gamma-powered creature, then let’s get the woman a serious name.) uses the last of the wishing power because she “.. wanted Bruce to get what he wanted. Not the Hulk.” You would think this would mean some sort of peace, stability of his own, at least some ice cream? Something positive to come from all of this madness, smashing, and tragedy.
But that’s not the case. Bruce DID wish for what he wanted. Another selfless act from a selfless man. The Hulk had nothing to do with it because he and the Hulk, while fractured, while at odds, while locked in tragedy, are merely facets of the same person. There is truly an ellipsis between Bruce Banner and the Hulk; sometimes they are separate, sometimes they are together, but in the end it is for the reader to decide. Greg Pak has given us six incredible years of Hulk stories. This is the final issue of his run, and this isn’t a revelation he has come to lightly: that Bruce and the Hulk are really interchangeable. From “Planet Hulk,” the physical absence of Bruce Banner on Sakaar should have been our first warning. In World War Hulk, when the Hulk tells Reed that “I will never forgive you and will hate you forever. Almost as much as I hate myself,” that should have been our second clue. This whole time, during Greg Pak’s story, he has been easing us into the new epiphany that Bruce and the Hulk, while still at odds, are no more different than you and I in our own frustrations.
Because that is the Marvel way. Ordinary people with extraordinary problems. And while you can’t always get what you want, when you try sometimes, you just might find you get what you need.