Issue(s): Hulk #437, Hulk #438, Hulk #439, Hulk #440
We're talking planes, bombs, yachts, cars, buildings, monuments, etc., all bombed, all around the world. Interposed with that is the introduction of Chief Largo's friends, the goofy Headshop.
The Headshop are all victims of gamma exposure. The Leader offered to help, but his help - saving their heads by grafting them onto android bodies - is not appreciated by the Headshop, and they've gone to Betty, offering to help free the Hulk if the Hulk will in turn help them get the Leader. Betty thinks that the Leader is dead, but decides to lead the group on to get the Hulk rescued.
We also learn that the character Frost, who the Hulk and the Punisher fought in Vegas, was originally a member of this group. The Headshop aren't aware that the Hulk encountered and killed him, either. He was originally the group's pilot, a role that Betty fulfills while she's helping them (kind of continuing what i said in last issue's entry about utilizing her background as a military brat).
While i - and most fans - love Peter David (at least through this period), one criticism that comes up is his inability to create good new characters. I'm ambivalent about the Pantheon, but the Headshop certainly supports that opinion. Their motivation doesn't make a lot of sense (i mean, the Leader does seem to have saved them, and gave them superpowers!) and they are woefully uninformed, but mainly the problem is they're just goofy looking with punny names and powers.
The Hulk is kept in a special facility because of "all the trouble the Vault had". The Headshop aren't interesting and they don't appear again after this story, but since Largo has been appearing, here's a shot of him in costume.
The Headshop manage to break into the Hulk's prison, but the Hulk - as Angry Banner - gets hit with a grenade during the escape. Bruce doesn't die - seemingly confirming the idea that even as Banner the Hulk is near-immortal - but when he recovers and transforms back into the Hulk, he's changed again.
I mean, we have a new artist so it's hard to tell what constitutes a change, but he's definitely meant to be a different shade of green. A Maestro shade, even.
The grenade shrapnel is still in the Hulk, with his organs having dangerously regrown around the shards. The Hulk - after laughing at the idea that he has any "friends" who might help him - decides to go to the Leader's Freehold, hoping machinery there can help him. It's at this point that the Headshop learn that the Leader is (supposed to be) dead. The Headshop folks want to go with the Hulk, but, after the Pantheon, the Hulk has decided that he's "not much for being a team player". He gets mean and violent when they try to insist.
(If Peter David came out and said that the Headshop were a deliberate parody of the Pantheon, a metaphor for the Hulk deciding to leave goofy superheroics behind, i'd happily believe it, no questions asked.)
When Hulk leaves, he causes a lot of debris to fall, endangering even Betty, and doesn't seem to care. We see him laughing maniacally before wondering what's happening to him.
On his way to Freehold, the Hulk passes over Mount Rushmore, which happens to explode thanks to the continuing "Alliance" attacks. As he gets closer to Freehold, he's attacked by Ogress.
At Freehold, the other residents are getting suspicious of Omnibus' (Leader-influenced) behavior. There's also a running gag about two lab mice that Omnibus has been experimenting on. It's a Pinky & The Brain reference.
More importantly, Jailbait learns that Omnibus is behind the Alliance.
Hulk beats Ogress fairly easily despite concerns about the shrapnel weakening him. He's then challenged by Hotshot, but the Hulk convinces him to let him in without further fighting.
Omnibus claims that he's unable to help the Hulk, and offers to let him stay in Freehold instead. But the Hulk sees on Omnibus' screens the destruction that the Alliance is causing, and hears that governments are blaming each other and that a world wide nuclear war is likely. The Hulk notes that the scenario is just like how the Maestro described the end of the world. It's worth noting that if this is meant to be the deviation point from the Maestro's future, the Maestro was wrong in saying that in the end it was humans, not super-villains, who caused the apocalypse, since the Leader is clearly causing these events. Anyway, the Hulk starts muttering to himself and, to Omnibus, seems "demented" but he's actually decided to "become" the Maestro and take credit for the attacks, giving everyone a target to attack.
Despite the other Avengers in the above scan, in #440 it's purely a Hulk/Thor fight.
A flashback shows that Thor has been granted a temporary restoration of his powers
The flashback continues to show Thor saying that he's always held back in the past against the Hulk, for fear that the Warrior Madness would overtake him. This time, he says he won't be doing that.
It's worth noting that even while Thor is sure it's the Hulk, the Maestro disguise and the fact that the Alliance attacks started before the Hulk's breakout give some slight pause. Only slight, though.
The Hulk brings the Thor fight to the Arctic North, which Betty says is a reference to the end of the Frankenstein novel.
There was another flashback with Hulk returning to Betty to basically say goodbye. Actually, with all the flashbacks, there isn't much left for the actual Hulk/Thor fight. Which is too bad because - despite the weird appearances of both - this is a case where both Hulk and Thor seem to be at full power. On the other hand, even though i generally like Angel Medina's art, he isn't doing much with the choreography here.
Matt Talbot doesn't wait for the fight to end; he orders that a nuclear missile be launched at Hulk, Thor be damned. Thor has indeed succumbed to the Warrior Madness, so the Hulk has to knock him away before the bomb hits.
This is seemingly the death of the Hulk. Reactions vary.
As for Omnibus, word has gotten out that he's responsible for the Alliance attacks, and the other Freeholders aren't happy about it.
Due to the nature of the story, a culmination of so much and the ending being what it is, there isn't much in the way of ongoing subplots in these issues. But in #439, Rick & Marlo are again approached by Elaine Schoenfeld, who has an offer for them to star in their own talk show.
This isn't perfect (The Headshop) and in general the Hulk book has been following the 90s trend of feeling very "light" contentwise even when the story is good. But this series continues to deserve the mantle of The Only Book Worth Reading (at least for 1995; by 1996 there are a few contenders). The scripting continues to be good, with David's light humor and pop-culture references balancing out the dark aspects. The story closes the loop on Future Imperfect while shaking things up with the Hulk again in a very interesting way. Even the Hulk's seeming death, which we know can't be true, will keep things interesting for the next couple of issues.
Statement of Ownership Total Paid Circulation: Average of Past 12 months = 123,003. Single issue closest to filing date = 124,253.
Quality Rating: B+
Chronological Placement Considerations: Hulk has been held prisoner by the government and shouldn't appear elsewhere between last issue and this arc. This takes place between Avengers #396-397.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (3): showBetty Ross, Black Widow, Captain America, Chief Largo, Doc Samson, Dum Dum Dugan LMD, Elaine Schoenfeld, Henry Peter Gyrich, Henry Pym, Hercules, Hotshot, Hulk, Jailbait, Leader, Marlo Chandler, Ogress, Omnibus, Quicksilver, Rick Jones, Ringmaster, Thor, Vision, William Matthew Talbot
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