Issue(s): Hulk #369
The period between "Joe Fixit" and "Merged Hulk" continues to have a lot to recommend. This issue is an encounter with Freedom Force. That does introduce a (surmountable) difficulty regarding their continuity, confirming that no one was managing the team's schedule, but that's not this issue's problem.
The story starts with Bruce Banner, still wearing the cape that he took from Mr. Hyde last issue, waking up in a house in South Carolina that was ruined by a hurricane. The owners of the house have returned, and initially try to chase Bruce away, assuming he's a vagabond (which he is) but then decide that he might be a hurricane victim as well.
Bruce is more interested in the family's child, who reminds him of himself as a boy. Bruce suspects that the fact that he's quiet and withdrawn means that he might be a victim of child abuse.
Meanwhile, Freedom Force are on their way.
A flashback shows that this is their first engagement after Acts of Vengeance, with Mystique being the one that rescued the Blob from the effects of Pym's shrink gas from Avengers #312. Note also the reference to Avalanche's injuries, which were barely acknowledged in their Avengers appearance.
This is a valiant attempt to address the continuity problems introduced by Freedom Force's appearances circa Acts of Vengeance (as long as we push this story before New Mutants #88 even though it came out later), but it still ignores Punisher #29, which showed an unshrunk Blob fighting alongside Pyro and Avalanche against the Avengers a second time. The Punisher issue was almost certainly meant to be the same fight as the one in Avengers #312, but different Avengers were drawn, making it a separate fight. So the Blob must have temporarily recovered and convinced his teammates to go back and fight the Avengers again, and then got re-shrunk.
And just to show that we can't assume that the flashback takes place at some point earlier than the rest of the series, here is the rest of it, which shows that their first assignment after Mystique returned was to go after the Hulk.
One really nice thing about this story is how David and Keown depict the Blob's powers. His power may be silly (he's fat!) but they do come with some unique attributes, and his use here is very much in contrast to the way he's been used elsewhere recently, most notably in Rob Liefeld's New Mutants where he's basically just a generic strong guy. Peter Davis is also taking an interest in the Crimson Commando, giving him the most character development he's had since his first appearance.
Mystique follows up on a separate report of the Hulk. The report comes from a lonely old lady that reminds Mystique of Destiny.
The lady's report is dismissed, but after she leaves she's attacked by a monster in her closet.
Bruce sticks around and helps the family restore electricity to their home. He is not able to find any actual evidence that the father is abusing the boy. And when night comes, he takes his leave before he transforms into the Hulk. He's accosted by Pyro before he changes, and similar to what we saw last issue with the soldier, Bruce shows an unusual amount of aggression and strength.
But after he gets pushed around a bit...
He doesn't remember the Blob (or just acts like it?).
The Hulk initially just tries to get away (cleverly telling the Blob to brace himself for a punch, and then just jumping away), but Pyro attacks him with a fire monster.
Despite it obviously being very solid when it punches him, the Hulk distinguishes it from the Human Torch by saying that it's made of fire instead of just being something that is on fire.
I've always loved this sequence with the Blob.
Once the Blob is in the air, he's not able to absorb the impact of the Hulk's punches.
The Blob's landing crushes the house of the family that Bruce had been with earlier, and at that point the Hulk gives up the fight to save the kid. And Crimson Commando does too.
Again, nice work with the Crimson Commando even while establishing that the Hulk and Banner are closer to the same person than we might think. Of course, the Hulk still punches the Commando out at the end.
Really nice stuff. There's a lot of care to just use people's powers in "correct" and innovative ways while also trying to smooth over some continuity issues (or at least acknowledge past stories and make the characters feel like they really are the same ones that we've seen before). But also continued work to develop Peter David's ideas about the nature of the Hulk while still taking the time to get into the heads of guest characters like Mystique and Crimson Commando.
Also in this issue, Prometheus continues to track the Hulk, but that is still just a teaser.
Statement of Ownership Total Paid Circulation: Average of Past 12 months = 157,892. Single issue closest to filing date = 145,900.
Quality Rating: B+
Chronological Placement Considerations: This has been pushed back prior to New Mutants #88 so that it can be Freedom Force's first appearance after Acts of Vengeance (accepting that we can't do anything about the Punisher #29 appearance, as noted above).
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (2): showAvalanche, Blob, Crimson Commando, Hulk, Mystique, Prometheus (Pantheon), Pyro, Shanzar
Got a Crimson Dynamo in there instead of Commando. Not that I'm one to talk since I sometimes call Dynamo Crimson Typhoon after the giant robot.
Posted by: david banes | May 20, 2015 7:33 PM
Thanks, David. Guess i had the Dynamos on the brain from the Iron Man entry i did today.
Posted by: fnord12 | May 20, 2015 7:37 PM
I think the hand in the closet is supposed to be Shanzar, since he's the villain next issue.
Posted by: Michael | May 20, 2015 8:20 PM
@Michael: I believe Claremont was going to reveal Mystique as Marvel's version of Robert Heinlein's "Unmarried Mother" from "--All You Zombies"! So the versions of her we saw throughout time were through her work with Landau, Luckman & Lake. Recall that Mystique reveals in Uncanny X-Men #170 that she was born in 1953!
Posted by: Nathan Adler | May 20, 2015 11:25 PM
Boy, your life would be a lot simpler around Freedom Force and Namor if it weren't for that artist's error in Punisher #29. (If "error" is the right word. From the outside it seems like the creators of Punisher asked or were told to show the fight of the Avengers vs Freedom Force during Acts of Vengeance, but neglected to find out who the Avengers doing the fighting were. If they were told to do it by editorial, they might have been too annoyed to put the effort in.)
Posted by: Erik Robbins | May 20, 2015 11:47 PM
Are you suggesting fnord should just ignore that sequence and assume Punisher #29 just got the fight wrong? (Although if the creators didn't know that Namor was supposed to be thought dead, their disinterest in what was happening in the larger Marvel universe extended beyond the Avengers and Acts of Vengeance...)
Posted by: Morgan Wick | May 21, 2015 1:08 AM
Nope. Fnord should do things his way. I guess other art issues have caused continuity headaches (Captain Britain's costume in the early 80s comes to mind.) And yes, no matter how it happened, Namor was an odd choice to have appeared in that sequence.
Posted by: Erik Robbins | May 21, 2015 2:11 AM
I actually only just now remembered what the Rules say about "the comics are never wrong, it's up to me to No-Prize up a solution".
Posted by: Morgan Wick | May 21, 2015 7:28 AM
One image is not working.
Posted by: EHH | June 4, 2015 8:15 PM
Posted by: fnord12 | June 4, 2015 10:59 PM
An alternative No-Prizing: the fight we see in Punisher #29 is indeed the one from Avengers #312. Since they retcon away the Mansions till being there in other comics aorund this time as holograms, who's to say the Avengers didn't also try to drive off Freedom Force's three renegade members by projecting holo-images of their more powerful members?
Of course, since no one's been on-site in awhile, the holograms are out of date, and so they still use Namor. No doubt this why the rogue Forcers probably saw through the ruse quickly, forcing the actual Avengers to come out and fight. The Punisher just happened to be driving by during the few minutes when the Avengers were using the holograms.
Posted by: Omar Karindu | November 8, 2015 9:41 PM
There is a neat bit of foreshadowing in this issue. Bruce suspects the young boy he encounters is being abused. In Incredible Hulk #377, Dale Keown draws Bruce as a young child being abused by his father, and he looks almost exactly the same as the boy in this issue, right down to identical striped shirts (colored slightly differently). It suggests that encountering the boy may have been a breakthrough for Bruce, leading to Doc Samson's successful integration of the personas (which depends on Bruce coming to terms with his abuse and his mother's death).
Things like this was one of the major reasons why I loved PAD's Hulk stories.
Posted by: J | September 27, 2016 8:42 AM
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