Today, Shelby and Ethan are discussing Indestructible Hulk 12, originally released August 21st, 2013.
Shelby: “Whatever happened, happened.”
“Save the clocktower!”
“Dust. Wind. Dude.”
Time travel in stories can be heavy, paradox-laden stuff. When I first saw the episode of LOST with the [SPOILER ALERT] photo of Jack and Hurley on the island in the seventies, my brain imploded; the “it happened this way because it always happened this way” approach to time travel is somehow both the easiest and hardest explanation to understand. You can also go back in time to change the future, though as a real-world solution it is far too dangerous. Who knows the web of effects your actions will have? Just ask anyone in the Marvel universe, they’ll tell you. Or, time travel can be utterly meaningless: no paradox, no consequences, just “we traveled in time and it was neat!” Mark Waid’s Indestructible Hulk takes a slightly different approach; Hulk and Banner-bot have gone back in time to save the present, but not from things that did happen in history, from things that didn’t happen in history. And when the time stream is as broken as it is, a little more time travel can’t really make things any worse.
Hulk and Banner-bot are in the wild, wild west, punching dinosaurs and rescuing cowboys. Not just any cowboys, mind you: we’re talking the Marvel classic cowboys Kid Colt, Two-Gun Kid, and Rawhide Kid. Delightful.
Like any villainous, time travel scheme, this particular Chronarchist’s plan is complicated. He picked up his dinosaur friends when he traveled back to prehistory to infect the silver in this part of AZ with an “alchemical virus,” slowly transforming the silver into a time travel alloy that would make the current time travel problems look like babytown frolics. His mining his new alloy at this point in time would ruin the area FOREVER, which is why that airport suddenly vanished last issue. So, Hulk punches some dinos while the cowboys deal with the Chronarchist. Hulk and Banner-bot race to the mine to bury it, but the time radiation starts to mess with Hulk’s suit. The two destroy the mine and quick jump through time to end up an alternate history Dark Camelot.
This is exactly what I want with my time travel stories: just enough confusion and paradoxical behavior to make me think a little bit about what’s happening, and a lot of Hulk punching dinosaurs.
Time travel awesomeness aside, what I really enjoyed in this issue was watching Banner-bot interact with Hulk. Banner-bot has to keep Hulk angry, which amounts to this tiny robot being a huge bully to poor Hulk. He’s got a classic repetoire: don’t be such a baby, are you scared, too bad you’re so weak, etc. The best, though, is definitely this exchange:
Hulk: METAL THING STOP TEASING HULK!
Banner-bot: Why? Does it make you mad?
As hilarious as Waid essentially using “you mad, bro?” here is, I’m most interested in the weird bully/victim relationship established. Even though Banner-bot has to do whatever it takes to keep Hulk as Hulk, he admits that it feels good to call him a baby, and I can’t say I blame him. Most of Banner’s existance has been defined by the Hulk showing up and ruining things with a punch-happy rage-spree. It feels good to just let go and go on an angry rant every now and again; just ask Patrick, he has to put up with my work-rage venting all the time. But Banner doesn’t have that luxury. He has to hold himself in tight control at all times, for the safety of those around him. For once, he is finally free (sort of) of that constraint, and on top of that freedom he gets a chance to call out the Hulk. It’s gotta be pretty empowering. That really is the heart of the tormentor/tormentee thing, though, isn’t it? The bully feels bad about himself for some reason, so he picks on someone he perceives as weaker to make himself feel more empowered (I am, of course, referring to a universal “he” here; there are plenty of ladybullies out there). Except instead of the traditional, meat-head jock picking on the nerd, it’s the other way around.
Really, what Waid is doing here is making me pity the Hulk. We’ve talked a lot about how much we love this new, empowered Banner, the man who’s not going to let his weird, destructive handicap get him down, but we’ve also seen a lot of growth in the Hulk. Just like Banner isn’t just a sad-sack who only wants to eliminate his Hulkness, Hulk isn’t just a mindless creature of rage and power. He has a basic sense of right and wrong, and is fiercely loyal. So every little jab Banner-bot delivers makes me want to put my arms around poor, defenseless (?) Hulk and tell that mean ol’ robot to quit it! What about you, Ethan? Are you digging the bizarro bully relationship between Hulk and the robot version of his regular self? Did you see that time when Hulk punched a dinosaur?
Ethan: I see what you’re doing, Shelby: you’re trying for two issues in a row of making someone squee over dinosaur-punching goodness, and I for one, will not be drawn into your plot. Except to say that Dino-Punching Hulk is ENTIRELY AWESOME and that they should totally create an action figure set devoted to this concept.
Anyway, I’m glad you brought up that whole Hulk/Not-Quite-Banner dynamic, because while the time-travel aspects of this arc offer a lot to talk about, the robot-Banner part is what I’m stuck on (in a good way). The pivotal panel for me was actually in the previous issue, when the Banner-bot comes online and thinks “I’m AWAKE in here. Disoriented, insensate… but SELF-AWARE, nonetheless.” Like time-travel, this idea of copying your consciousness onto a machine that then IS in many ways now YOU is a well explored one, but I was pleasantly surprised to see it pop up in Indestructible Hulk. Let’s zip past all of the questions of what makes “you” yourself, and jump ahead to the part where you’re confronted with a person who feels the exact same sense of “you-ness” that you do. I like to think I’d be able to play it cool in that situation – construct some kind of self-defense rationalization about the other person just being someone who happens to have a whole lot in common with me, and is, second by second, becoming a distinct, different person by virtue of their separate frame of reference. To be honest though, I would probably freak out from trying to process the fact that both of “us” think that they’re “me.” I mean, I had enough trouble taking in the denouement of the Nolan brothers 2006 film that dealt with a similar plot device (SPOILER ALERT – don’t look it up on IMDB if you don’t know what I’m talking about; high-fives all ‘round if you do).
Waid ups the ante on this conceit in a different way by applying it to a character who’s already got some duality issues. One of the things that I never thought about much before this title was how distinct Banner was from the Hulk, and how that distinction is something he spends a lot of time thinking about. So, in some ways, pulling Banner out of his body and dumping him into Hulk’s robot babysitter isn’t quite so weird. After all, Banner’s a brilliant scientist; the Hulk’s capacity for innovation is pretty well limited to finding new things to smash and new ways to smash them. They’re well defined as polar opposites. But then we have that warning from Zarrko that Bad Things will happen if Hulk calms down and reverts to Banner while robo-Banner is still present. On the practical side of things, a de-Hulking would be problematic because he wouldn’t be able to survive the jump through the timestream to get home. On the more philosophical side, maybe Zarrko is just stating the obvious that putting two versions of a man with as much ego and instability as Banner into the same room isn’t a recipe for success.
But speaking of the now-inhospitable timestream, Waid is pulling not one but TWO big twists on the way we think about time travel. First there’s that thing about the weakened continuum providing a perfect storm for time-criminals to screw up reality and to make their changes “stick;” honestly, I wasn’t really feeling that part of the plot. The bit that grabbed my attention was how all of the especially reckless time travel has not only scrambled up some parallel realities, but it also fundamentally changed the mechanism of time travel itself. As I mentioned, one of the reasons it’s so important that Hulk stay Hulked out is because that’s the only way for him to survive the hostile trip. Maybe this idea is being played out in other titles I’m not following, but this was the first I heard of time travel becoming even slightly tricky. I mean, look at the range of means that characters historically have had at their disposal for waltzing through history: Reed Richards whipped up a ship that flies through time as easily as it flies through space; Superman has his counter-clockwise speed-of-light orbital trick; for crying out loud, Doctor Doom’s Time Platform is less a “platform” and more a “few square feet of the floor that glows sometimes.” In comics, time travel hasn’t typically been portrayed as more than mildly strenuous, so the new rules about it we’re seeing are a marked departure from the norm. Personally, I consider it a welcome change. If the Age of Ultron taught the Marvel universe that the space-time continuum isn’t something to take lightly, I think the lesson applies in equal measure to its writers. Let’s get away from using time travel as a quick fix to our problems and start giving it back a bit of its mystery, yeah?
Finally, this is a non sequitur times ten but I have to ask: is it just me or is Matteo Scalera messing with us by imitating Picasso’s Don Quixote in this panel?
Correct answer: Scalera IS Picasso, AND (you guessed it) a time-traveler.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?