Issue(s): Hulk #331, Hulk #332, Hulk #333
As for Peter David, these issues set about to change direction, removing Rick Jone's Hulkness and setting the focus squarely on Bruce Banner and the psychological symbolism of the Hulk.
David also creates a schism between Bruce and his relatively new wife Betty in these issues. The issue starts in the aftermath of the battle between Rick-Hulk and Nevermind last issue. Rick-Hulk has jumped away, and the Hulkbusters are getting ready to go after him. But Banner suggests that he turn himself back into the Hulk so that he can go after Rick-Hulk instead. And Betty is of course confused and outraged by this - hasn't Bruce spent his whole life trying to rid himself of the Hulk? Why would he now deliberately reactivate his Hulk side?
After the Hulkbusters have deployed, we see Bruce in full Reed Richards mode, ignoring Betty (whose father just died, and she'd been demonstrating instability prior to that). And then it comes out that in the early days Bruce would frequently force the transformation into the Hulk.
"It always seemed there was some emergency". Good stuff.
Meanwhile, the Hulkbusters locate Rick-Hulk.
Distracted by his fight with Betty, Bruce accidentally slips while the Hulkbusters are fighting Rick-Hulk, and talks directly to the Rick-Hulk over the intercom, calling him "Rick".
Bruce later heads out to one of his old labs to force his transformation again to help Rick.
While all this has been going on, we're (re-)introduced to a Sam Sterns, a manual laborer working for the local city morgue that is called in to take away General Ross' body.
When Bruce forces his transformation into the Hulk, the Hulk laughs and immediately destroys Bruce's transformation device, thinking that it will prevent anyone from turning him back into Banner.
It turns out that Bruce was followed to the lab by Sterns, who cries out when the Hulk destroys the equipment.
If you haven't been studying your handbook entries, Sam Sterns is the civilian name of the Leader. He's lost his gamma brain power, and was hoping to use Bruce's device to restore it. Sterns now promises the Hulk to remove Banner forever, and also get rid of Rick Jones' Hulkness, if the Hulk will help Sterns in return.
The Leader says his gamma power simply wore off, which he says is similar to how the Hulk always transforms back into Banner (but obviously it's not quite the same, since the Leader transformed back permanently). In flashback, the Leader describes a Flowers for Algernon style experience as he lost his super intellect.
At this point, he's really powerless to make the Hulk help him...
...but the Hulk does agree for his own sake. There's no internal debate for the Grey Hulk in forming an alliance with his former villain, and he's doing it out of pure self-interest.
Another thread in this storyline is that SHIELD agent Clay Quartermain is afraid that he's losing control of the situation at Gamma base...
...and he's willing to authorize increasingly risky actions by the Hulkbusters to get things settled before his superiors find out. Actually, what he authorizes seems sensible enough to me. Having learned that Rick Jones is the Hulk, John Laroquette (seen here using an early prototype of Professor X's floating wheelchair)(actually Bruce Banner's wheelchair from Hulk #317) decides to hunt him down in the daytime while he's in human form and easier to kill.
Now, the other Hulkbusters didn't seem to have a problem using lethal force against the Hulk. But they don't seem to find it sporting to hunt him while he's in human form. To be fair, Laroquette is another character in this book that has clearly been unstable. So they go to Doc Samson, who goes to stop Laroquette.
Meanwhile, to avoid letting Banner roam free during the day, the Hulk locks himself in the prison in the lab that Banner used to use to keep the Hulk trapped at night. Come night time, McFarlane does a nice job depicting the transformation as it seems to Bruce.
The Grey Hulk then hunts down Rick-Hulk...
...and the Leader drains Rick's gamma energy into his own body. However, something goes wrong with the transformation...
...causing an explosion.
The Grey Hulk saves Rick from the explosion...
...although Hulk claims it was just a coincidence. The Leader has disappeared, but Rick makes his way back to Gamma Base and announces that he's cured. But when it comes out that he is cured thanks to Bruce becoming the Hulk again, Betty understandably gets upset.
Meanwhile, Peter David has brought back the ethnic stereotype named Ramon that John Byrne used when he first brought Betty back into the cast. I can't say that David handles the character any better. Ramon has decided he's going to find Betty, who he calls his wife.
But the character is clearly a violent jerk and an idiot.
However, upset over Bruce's actions, Betty agrees to meet with him. At least he isn't wearing a wife beater.
With Bruce's lab destroyed, the Hulk needs a new way to keep Banner incapacitated during the daytime. He tries alcohol.
This results in Banner being held in a small town drunk tank the next day. Peter David uses this as an opportunity to bring in the topic of abuse, which, since the Mantlo/Windsor-Smith revelations is an important theme for the Hulk, but which hasn't been explored since that issue. This story doesn't look at Bruce Banner's experience with abuse, but it does re-introduce the subject to the book.
The town sheriff is a wife-beater...
...in addition to possibly a murderer. He gets his comeuppance when Banner transforms into the Hulk the next night.
The sheriff's wife rushes to help him, but he doesn't appreciate that...
...and in the resulting argument, she accidentally shoots him. Or at least she says it's an accident. The Hulk doesn't think so.
I really like these issues. As the start of a new run on the Hulk, you can feel the status quo changes: Rick's cure, the return of the Leader, the conflict between Bruce and Betty. But it builds on what has come before and everything feels like a logical progression. And David definitely gives us a statement of direction with Doc Samson and Grey Hulk's comments indicating the psychological aspects that we're going to explore. On top of that, the villainous Grey Hulk is an interesting protagonist; Peter David might have written a similar wife-abuse type story in Spectacular Spider-Man but it wouldn't have ended with Spider-Man grinning at the wife after she shot her husband.
On a more technical final note, we also get an explanation for why the Hulk is sometimes affected by the sun and transforms into the Hulk at night (if you can believe an explanation from a floating hallucinated head of the Leader).
Statement of Ownership Total Paid Circulation: Average of Past 12 months = 196,933. Single issue closest to filing date = 163,600.
Quality Rating: A-
Chronological Placement Considerations: This begins at Gamma Base, in the aftermath of the attack from Nevermind.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (3): showArmand Martel, Betty Ross, Clay Quartermain, Doc Samson, Hideko Takata, Hulk, Leader, Ramon (Betty Ross' boyfriend), Redeemer, Rick Jones, Rock
I'm surprised that you didn't mention the biggest flaw in this story- it doesn't explain how the Leader returned after he fell into the volcano in Hulk 284. Unfortunately, we've been seeing too much of that think lately.
Posted by: Michael | March 30, 2014 8:37 PM
We find out, if not in these issues then just a while later, that Omnivac and/ or the Leader's time machine saved him from the volcano. It's just one line of super-villain monologue, if I recall.
Posted by: Walter Lawson | March 30, 2014 10:24 PM
Strange, I see a lot more of Todd McFarlane's signature style in these issues than his first two or three issues of Amazing Spider-Man. The art in 298 and 299 look a lot more conservative and Marvel house style.
Posted by: David Banes | March 31, 2014 12:55 AM
After many years of Bruce Banner referring to himself as trapped within the Hulk, it's (deliberately) unsettling to see a more intelligent and cunning Hulk start to plan on ways to free himself from being trapped in Banner's body and 'cursed' to become Banner by day, every day.
Posted by: Harry | March 31, 2014 10:45 AM
Michael, i agree generally that it's good to hear how villains got out of their previous seeming deaths, and per Walter i'm glad that it is explained at some point, but in this case i don't think it would have seemed appropriate to the story. I'm not sure this incarnation of the Hulk was more than vaguely aware of the Leader, and he was definitely more interested in why Sterns wasn't the Leader any more than why he survived an encounter that he probably didn't remember (since Banner was dominant in the Hulk body at that time). If the Leader had thrown in an explanation as to how he survived the volcano, it would have been pure exposition for the reader and would take some dexterity to make it sound right "After our last encounter, Omnivac teleported me away, but you didn't ask about that. Six months later my intelligence started to fade away..." I know why you're calling it a flaw - villain deaths are already meaningless enough and having them return with no explanation gets to all my perennial complaints on the main blog about lack of cohesion - but in these issues i didn't have a problem with it. That said, again, i am happy that it is addressed eventually.
Posted by: fnord12 | March 31, 2014 6:28 PM
It's #342, p. 4, that the Leader refers to his matter transporter as "the same device that saved my life not long ago." Doesn't explicitly say "from that volcano," but it's a solid inference.
Given the Leader's mental incapacity, relative to his former self, in the issues under review here, it might have been hard for him to explain his escape. But PAD fills in the blank quite diligently once the Leader is back to relating exposition to himself as normal.
Posted by: Walter Lawson | March 31, 2014 9:21 PM
You forgot to add Ramon here.
Posted by: EHH | March 28, 2015 2:05 AM
Thanks, EHH. Added him.
Posted by: fnord12 | March 28, 2015 11:39 AM
As fnord implies int eh entry, we do find out later that the Leader was either lying or wrong: Hulk #368 and #375 together explain that Banner initially changed only at night out of a subconscious shame at the angry side of himself represented by the Hulk.
Posted by: Omar Karindu | October 20, 2015 9:35 PM
Hi, fnord. Any particular reason you don't have the individual Hulkbusters tagged as a characters appearing? Also, you call Sam J. LaRoquette "John". I think you're thinking of John Larroquette, from Night Court.
Posted by: Andrew | April 20, 2017 7:16 PM
Armand Martel and Hideko Takata are both tagged for this entry, and LaRoquette and Craig Saunders are tagged as Rock and Redeemer respectively. Bruce calls LaRoquette "John" in issue #331, page 2, so that's the name i used (LaRoquette's full name is Samuel John LaRoquette, as stated on page 12 of issue #332).
Posted by: fnord12 | April 24, 2017 10:53 AM
Thanks, fnord! Sorry to pull you out of your vacation...
Posted by: Andrew | April 24, 2017 7:52 PM
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