Today, Shelby and Spencer are discussing Indestructible Hulk 15, originally released November 20th, 2013.
Shelby: Games have rules for a reason. Everyone has to know how to play (and how to win), and rules lay that out. A game without rules is chaos, which for a game like Calvinball is precisely the point. The only rule of Calvinball is you can’t play the game the same way twice: essentially, the only rule is whatever rules are made are to be broken. When there are no rules, you can do whatever you want. Worried about consequences? Why bother, there’s no rule that says there will be any! While it might be kind of freeing to play a game with no rules, when you’re dealing with time, history, and your very existence, rules are pretty damn important. So when Bruce Banner finds himself facing his own past, an irradiated Hulk, a potentially Hulk-less future, and a timestream so broken it can be shaped like clay, he knows he needs to act fast before it’s too late, if it isn’t already.
So, Time-Traveling Hulk knocked Past-Banner out of the way of the gamma bomb blast which created him in the first place. Now, Time-Traveling Hulk is Gamma-Irradiated Hulk, and he is literally an unstoppable force of nature.
Meanwhile, Past-Banner had Robo-Banner’s consciousness downloaded into his brain; not only is he fully briefed on the mission and his entire future, he’s actually pretty excited about living a Hulk-free existence. Until General Ross reminds Banner he has no daughter, that is. Faced with the choice of either a Hulk-less life or a life with Betty, Banner makes his way to the chronarchist Khotto to try fix time. Turns out, Zarko had been playing Banner like a harp from hell; creating Gamma Hulk at this point in time was always Zarko’s end game. This is where things get confusing; Banner tries messing with Khotto’s timesuit so he can get back to the point when he was supposed to become the Hulk. But since time is such a mess, Zarko can basically control everything that’s happening from the present. Banner finally manages to push back to the gamma blast and becomes the Hulk, grabs a hunk of the time travel alloy from a few issues back, and PUNCHES THROUGH TIME ITSELF. Before he can deal with Zarko and Khotto, some mysterious hands (of time) pull them into [unknown], and Hulk manages to pull himself through the hole in time back to the present, with some help from Red She Hulk! Yep, everything is totally back to normal in the present.
Or is it? Banner has a sneaking suspicion he’s forgotten something important with all the nonsense that’s been going on, and I think I know what it might be. We seem to be short one Hulk/Banner pair; the Hulk that got pulled through time to the present was Past Banner, with future Banner’s memories and a face-full of gamma radiation, so what happened to Gamma Hulk? Did he cease to exist when time went back to normal? If so, does that mean the past is sans-Bruce Banner? There have got to be some heavy consequences of this arc for Banner, and I hope Gamma Hulk is a part of them.
Mark Waid’s approach to time travel is a fun one. Instead of worrying about paradox or the complex subtleties of actually traveling through time, Waid goes for broke and just makes it so messed up anything can happen. For a brief period, the rules don’t matter. The whole experience is elevated by Kim Jacinto’s art. His heavy outlines and graphic style, paired with thick, black panel borders and candy-colored inks from Val Staples and Lee Loughridge, give each page a stained-glass effect.
I can’t help but think of church when I think of stained glass, so for me this whole story had a sort of holy feel to it. And really, for Bruce Banner and the Hulk, this is a sort of holy experience. This was the birth of the Hulk, a day that changed Banner’s life (and the world) forever. Not only was Banner able to go back in time to witness it again, he was put in a position to stop it all. For a second, Banner knew his future and had complete control over it. What did you think, Spencer? Do you think Waid is going to get away with re-writing Hulk’s origin? Do you think we’ve seen the last of the ÜberHulk? Do you think ÜberHulk would be a great name for a thrash metal band?
Spencer: I’m kind of surprised there isn’t already an ÜberHulk thrashing its way through small-town dives as we speak, but perhaps stealing a band name from the Hulk just isn’t a great idea; you won’t like him when he’s litigious.
I’m not sure if rewriting the Hulk’s origin is what Waid has in mind or not, but if there’s one writer in the biz I’d trust to do it, it’d be Waid. Waid has an encyclopedia knowledge of and reverence for the past, but also a desire not to repeat those same stories into infinity, so I think that any tweaks he makes to Hulk’s origin—whether permanent or not—could be a lot of fun and would definitely be well-written, and I’m totally on board for that. As for ÜberHulk himself, this does kind of seem like his final appearance, what with him dissolving into time-nothingness and everything:
That said, the whole point of this issue is that there’s no rules, so I don’t think I can make any definitive statements about ÜberHulk’s fate one way or another. The idea of “no rules” works extraordinarily well for the Hulk; the very first issue of this title featured the Mad Thinker’s discovery that the Hulk’s power levels are “incalculable,” and now it’s progressed to the point where Hulk punches his doppelgänger so hard that he’s basically erased from history and I’m not even batting an eye because I’m so used to the idea of Hulk doing the impossible. This idea also works because the Banner side of the equation is so grounded in realistic, relatable emotions, but I’ll get back to that in a bit.
There was, unfortunately, one point in the issue where “no rules” caused some confusion: how did Banner manage to become the Hulk again? Banner spends much of the issue trying to return to the site of the blast, and at one point even succeeds and begins to Hulk-out, but Khotto seems to reverse the process and allow ÜberHulk to intercept Bruce again. On the next page, though, Banner just becomes the Hulk again for seemingly no reason. If he managed to get back to the blast site I didn’t see it; maybe it has something to do with the strange object he grabs?
If so, what is this object and why does it allow him to change into Hulk? I honestly don’t know. Both Waid and Jacinto are strangely muddled throughout this segment, and it’s just not clear to me what’s happening. Maybe I should just let it go—“no rules” and all—but I feel like this speaks to the Banner/Hulk dichotomy I mentioned a little earlier. Hulk is this unstoppable force of nature who can snap the laws of physics in half if he gets angry enough, but Banner is a human scientist, and things must follow some sort of rational logic for him.
As distracting as that scene is, though, Banner’s presence in the rest of the issue is a tremendous boon; as much fun as the Hulk’s no rules rampage is, it’s Banner’s reaction to being freed from the Hulk that provide this issue with character. Lately it’s been easy to forget the problems that Hulk causes since Banner’s been working with S.H.I.E.L.D., making both sides of his personality into forces for good, and even serving as a core member of the Avengers.
But Banner’s just so happy to be free of the Hulk, and it’s hard not to be happy for him. Banner immediately proposes his plan for living his life out with Betty, a plan that must have been in his brain for years even though it couldn’t possibly come to fruition with the Hulk in the picture. Likewise, he finally gets to tell-off General Ross.
This scene is cathartic for so many reasons, but quickly becomes heartbreaking when you realize that this is something Bruce could never do as the Hulk; perhaps he couldn’t even imagine flipping out like this. Waid has an excellent handle on the joys of life—both big and small—that Banner’s missed out on over the years, and it makes it all the more tragic when Bruce gives it all up to save Betty’s life. Banner is a true hero, and his humanity and heroism combined with the Hulk’s strength and outrageous abilities is the winning formula at the heart of Indestructible Hulk.
Ultimately, as much fun as I’ve had with it, I’m happy to see the “Agent of T.I.M.E.” storyline come to an end. It was a success, but it also lasted a long time, and I’m eager to return to Banner’s mysterious assistants, discover who was behind those ghostly hands that pulled Zarrko to his doom, and explore whatever changes have been made to Bruce’s past. Consider me aboard this book as long as Waid is.
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