Issue(s): Hulk #341, Hulk #342, Hulk #343, Hulk #344, Hulk #345
Clay Quartermain, Rick Jones, and the Hulk head to the home of Clay's brother, Alan (who might look just a little bit like Richard Chamberlain in 1985's King Solomon's Mines). Before becoming a farmer, Alan was a computer expert, so Clay wants to use his set-up to break into the Pentagon's system to find the location of the gamma bombs they are searching for.
The relationship between Quartermain brothers is tenuous, and Alan initially refuses to help.
But also wandering the town where Alan's family lives is the Man-Bull, who the Hulk actually encountered the night before.
The primitive intelligence of the Man-Bull reminds the Hulk of his earlier green incarnation. But the Hulk is put into a position where if he doesn't help the town take care of the Man-Bull, Alan won't help with the Pentagon hack.
The parallels with Man-Bull make this more of a psychological fight, with the Hulk both lashing out and holding out at various times because of the similarities between him and the devolved creature.
He eventually sees that the Man-Bull, who has realized that Hulk can't help him become human again, is not fighting back...
...and when the locals show up with torches and pitch forks, the Man-Bull refuses to even speak, hoping that they'll kill him. However, they notice that he's crying, and decide not to kill him.
Meanwhile, the Leader takes control of Craig Saunders and John Laroquette at a press conference where it comes out that SHIELD is involved in a cover-up over the gamma bombs (thanks to a tip from Clay to reporter Diane Bellamy).
The next issue begins with the Leader recording his super-villain monologue for the end fight of this arc ahead of time so that he doesn't have to do it later.
As part of this, he notes that he's currently sending Half-Life after the Hulk. He doesn't expect Half-Life to win the fight, but Half-Life begged him to give him a chance, so he's allowed it. He uses a matter transporter to teleport Half-Life away, and quickly notes that it was this device that saved his own life "not long ago", which would have been after Hulk #284).
He also says that the reason he's able to track the Hulk right now is because, when he absorbed Rick Jones' gamma radiation, it created a link between them. The Leader can even play guitar!
Meanwhile, Alan Quartermain gets the info on the gamma bombs. But Half-Life shows up and starts terrorizing Alan's wife. Luckily it's still night so the Hulk is still around.
But the Hulk is confounded by a villain that drains his strength. He says he'll fight any creature no matter how strong it is, but doesn't want to fight something that can drain his strength, and he seems to actually be afraid. When Half-Life drains him, the Hulk says he realizes what it's like to be Bruce Banner, and thinks that for the first time, he doesn't hate Banner. Instead he pities him.
But the Hulk finds a way to get at Half-Life, by making him realize that no matter how much energy he drains from other people, he's never going to be fully alive again. And Half-Life decides to die rather than live a, well, half-life.
Meanwhile, in the aftermath of the press conference, Nick Fury kicks Saunders and LaRoquette out of SHIELD.
The Leader captures them, and also captures Betty Banner.
And note that the Leader actually detects four life readings. It's not because LaRoquette is wide enough to fit two Saunders inside him.
Clay, Rick, and Bruce get the info they need from Alan and continue on. But towards the next evening, they see Betty Banner running across the road in front of them, chased by a giant robot. Bruce Banner runs out of the SHIELD van and tries to take on the robot by himself...
...but the robot is actually joined by two brothers. Despite it being an obvious set-up, Bruce insists that Clay follow the robots in the van, and they use the van's weaponry to fight the robots. But it's to no avail. And as evening turns into night, Bruce starts transforming into the Hulk. He complains that it's not fair; he wanted to be the one to rescue Betty, not the Hulk.
The Hulk has better luck with the robots than Banner...
...but when Betty gets hurt during the fight, the Hulk shows his human side.
But then he continues as his blustery self.
What's interesting is how Peter David enhances the fight with a running narrative from Rick Jones. When the robots start to get a little much for the Hulk to handle, David has Rick talk about missing the stronger green version of the Hulk.
And when McFarlane's art is perhaps a little unclear, David has that reflected in Jones' words ("I dunno, kinda shredded him").
It works very well. Without that extra layer, this would still be a good fight sequence, but only just that, and the big panels don't leave room for much extra story. So it would have been a decent issue with the Hulk battling a trio of robots, but not much more. The script enhances McFarlane's art and smooths out the rough bits. By contrast i think back to the days where, for example, Roy Thomas' dialogue fought against a nice John Buscema battle, overwhelming the panels with dialogue and re-explaining things that were already clear in the art. And of course David has a nice handle on the brutish Hulk as well.
That gruffness does hide a human side, as we see in the end here.
Also in this issue, we get some background on the former Hulkbusters Saunders and LaRoquette. The story for Saunders is especially good. We knew from his introduction in the Byrne run that he was a demolitions expert and that, like all the Hulkbusters, he had ghosts in his past. We learn here that he killed a terrorist at an airport thinking that he'd be able to disable the bomb, but he failed and got a mother and child killed. And for that, the Leader turns him into the Redeemer. LaRoquette's background isn't quite as interesting. He's always had a hair trigger temper that got him in trouble at various times, and of course he blames himself along with Doc Samson and the Hulk for the death of his girlfriend Carolyn. The Leader turns him into the Rock.
McFarlane's art has gotten sloppier looking compared to his earlier work on this series. It's not necessarily a bad thing given the nature of the lead character and the stories, but it's a stark contrast to, say, Hulk #331-333. Along with that are bigger panels, less background detail, and interesting spacing choices that are innovative but definitely require less to be drawn per page. Now of course on that earlier art McFarlane wasn't inking himself. So i was curious to see how the art changed with issues #344 and #345 of this arc, since McFarlane backs off of the inks for those. On #344, it actually looks pretty similar to the earlier issues in this arc, which made me wonder if there was something else going on, like, is McFarlane evolving or was editorial (especially now with Jim Shooter gone) no longer forcing him in a more conventional direction? But on issue #345, the art does start looking a little more solid and clean again.
Storywise, issue #344 is a landmark issue in terms of the Hulk/Banner relationship. Now that Betty is reunited with Bruce, we see them talking together and reconciling. But he's still unable to really express his emotions with her.
The idea that Bruce has been repressing his emotions is great subtext for earlier issues, and of course there's the fact that he's had to keep his emotions in check because in the past rage is what turned him into the Hulk. Peter David may be bringing that subtext to the forefront a little too quickly here...
...but it works well as a set-up for where we're going for this issue. Betty hasn't yet told Bruce that she's pregnant. She first wants to see "how it is" between her and Bruce, and in talking with him, she realizes that means confronting his other half. Because Bruce isn't just holding back on his negative emotions; he's also shunted his ability to express love to the Hulk. So she demands that Bruce stick around as they approach nightfall, and faces the Hulk.
She tells him that she knows that he and Bruce are two sides of the same person. He doesn't accept it.
She had been holding back on telling the Hulk about her pregnancy until she could get him to accept her. However, he doesn't accept her, and she's forced to tell him that she's pregnant. She considers that a failing on her part. But this does get him to accept her.
It should be noted that this all takes place on the night of a full moon, when the Hulk is supposed to be his most subdued and closest to being like Banner. But this issue is an important step towards an integrated Hulk, and it's very nicely done.
It'll be a long time before we get to the implications of it, though, because with the final issue of this arc, we'll have a major change in status quo.
Earlier, when Bruce and Betty were talking, Rick and Clay took in a movie (nice ROM reference, although i'm not sure how ROM would have felt about the violent Robocop despite them both being cyborgs).
Clay says that the return of Betty was too convenient and is obviously designed to slow them down in their search for the gamma bombs.
And he's correct. The Leader already has Rock and Redeemer attacking the base where the gamma bombs are being held.
I like the question about the Humanoids in the same way as the ROM reference. Just little nods to past history.
Rock and Redeemer take a gamma bomb. We see that the Leader considers them disposable. And we also see that someone is watching the Leader as well.
But for now, his minions have the bomb. So the next morning he starts working his machinations in the desert town of Middletown, shutting down their communication with the outside world, and he contacts Bruce Banner and company (after the news about the pregnancy is shared and after they stop at the base where the gamma bomb was stolen from) over the radio in the SHIELD van.
The town of Middletown is shown to be a dying town with a dwindling population, although it's still got nearly 5,000 residents. We see a few of them.
The Leader says he's going to detonate the gamma bomb there at 10pm. Clay tries to get the mayor to clear the town, but the mayor doesn't listen to him thanks to the fact that the Leader has taken over their communication and the fact that SHIELD is apparently a "secret" organization (i guess secret to the mayor of a small town, anyway).
So they spend the day trying to get the town residents to evacuate, but they're dismissed as a bunch of kooks, and by nightfall the Hulk brings the van with Clay, Rick, and Betty out of the town and then goes back in to look for the bomb. In a warehouse he finds a tape recorder with the speech the Leader recorded earlier.
And then he's attacked by Rock and Redeemer.
Did it huuurrt?
The Leader shows up to intercede when the Hulk does so well against his two minions, and serves to distract the Hulk while the Rock rather phallic-ally impales him.
Meanwhile, Clay Quatermain decides the situation is important enough that it's time to stop being on the run from SHIELD, so he calls Nick Fury.
When Fury and SHIELD arrive, though, a forcefield springs up around the town.
And then the gamma bomb is detonated inside the forcefield, with the Hulk and all the residents of Middletown inside.
And that's how it ends, without even a Next Issue blurb. And we'll find that this isn't just a cliffhanger ending. The Hulk survives, of course, but it's a major defeat for him, and the destruction of a city of 5,000. Per the Leader's plan, some of the residents will survive and mutate into gamma characters that we'll see further into Peter David's run. So it's a pretty significant ending. But issue #344, with Betty realizing that the Hulk represents all of Bruce's repressed emotions and confronting him, is even more significant in terms of the Hulk's development.
Statement of Ownership Total Paid Circulation: Average of Past 12 months = 153,691. Single issue closest to filing date = 137,423.
Quality Rating: A-
Chronological Placement Considerations: Because the Hulk's transformations are nightly, these issues can at most take place a day apart and so i've kept them all in a single entry. Hulk will not appear in next issue, and then in issue #347 we'll see him already established as an enforcer is Las Vegas after some time has passed. Hulk Smash Avengers #4 also takes place with him in Vegas, and this arc therefore has to take place prior to Iron Man #229, when Iron Man is kicked off the Avengers (there are some complications with the Hulk Smash placement but we'll cover that in its entry).
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (15): show
The Hulk actually kills Redeemer this issue- although next time the Hulk fights Leader in issue 366 he has a Redeemer working for him, we later find out that it's someone else in the armor.
Posted by: Michael | May 21, 2014 9:03 PM
The two monsters observing the Leader were supposed to be Psyklop and the Bi-Beast, presumably setting up the return to Jarella's world, but instead Peter David goes in a different direction when the time comes and the Psyklop/Bi-Beast angle is abandoned. This dangler bugged me for years as a kid, along with the Yorgon Tykkio mystery in Iron Man.
Posted by: Walter Lawson | May 21, 2014 9:40 PM
Keep in mind that in Hulk 351, Gorsham explains that he found the Hulk by spying on the leader. So the monsters are probably two of Gorsham's goons.
Posted by: Michael | May 21, 2014 10:23 PM
Something weird happens: from issue 344 Todd's art actually begins to look really good. I'm not even being sarcastic.
Posted by: JSfan | May 22, 2014 4:24 AM
As good a place as any for me to mention that MacFarlane's art was the beginning of the end of my comic collecting. He ushered in a style over substance in comic art that never went away. Artists didnt have to be good story tellers anymore, just had to do "kewl" pinups in their own distinctive styles, nevermind what came before, put your own "stamp" on the characters.
And in general not really giving a damn about anything but lines and detail. I mean those guys are shaking each others hands left handed, fershuggers sake. take some pride in your work in anatomy.
Ok, that's out of my system
Posted by: kveto from prague | May 22, 2014 6:10 AM
Kveto from Prague, you're indeed right about style over substance. I don't think it's the artists fault. The editors need to reign them in. Mind you, Bob Harras was the editor on this book and on books that Liefeld was on so it explains the nonsense that we'll see in the 90s.
Posted by: JSfan | May 22, 2014 7:38 AM
It's incredible (pun intended, I guess) how much depth Peter David suddenly brought to this book. The shadow of his work falls over everything Hulk-related that came before and after it. Even beloved writers like Jason Aaron and Mark Waid have struggled as of late to create a "classic" Hulk run, but Peter David really nailed it.
(I guess some would say that Greg Pak had a classic run, but I consider his work to be a successor to Bill Mantlo's run, flaws and all.)
Posted by: Uncanny Michael | May 22, 2014 3:29 PM
This was so good, I was convinced that the book had ended with the Hulk's death after that last double-page blowout.
I bought and read these issues in real time. This is easily my favorite Hulk story arc of all time. The character dialogue is flawless. Bruce, Betty, Rick, Clay, and the Leader spring to life from the pages. The Hulk acts human in a "truer" sense which the classic Green Hulk man-child never quite got across. I love everything from the ROM reference to the Hulk beating the crap out of Larry, Curly, and Moe. The final clash against Rock and Redeemer is both brilliant and brutal.
Going back further, there are so many great moments to be found: Man-Bull's anguish and the Hulk's reluctant empathy towards him, Rick's play-by-play during the robot ambush, his anger towards Bruce and the Hulk, Betty's analysis and huge reveal, Clay's spot on observations, the Leader enjoying the Bond-esque recording of his master plan and then "cheating" at the end. Man, I could go on and on...
It's simply outstanding writing on Peter David's part. By far the very best Hulk comics I've ever read.
I never did find out just who was watching the Leader, though. Was it Psyklop and the Bi-Beast? Because, even after the Mr. Fixit and Smart Hulk eras were over and done with, I was still scratching my head over that one panel.
Posted by: Clutch | May 23, 2014 10:40 AM
Regarding the creatures watching the Leader, i think Walter and Michael's comments tell the story. It was originally going to be Psyklop & Bi-Beast but Peter David changed directions and never did that story exactly, so instead it must be some of Gorsham's minions.
Posted by: fnord12 | May 23, 2014 10:57 AM
read this in real time as a kid and that final story haunted me. what's worse is that I was grounded and not allowed to buy the very next issue (with Larsen art) and was literally tossing and turning over what happened! Really liked the dynamic of the gang on the run and thought Clay Quartermain never got a fair shot as a supporting character in the Marvel Universe after this arc.
Posted by: George Gordon | July 18, 2014 11:47 AM
5k in one go. We should start a "mass death in the Marvel U" tally.
Other than the complete destruction of the Earth and its replacement with a duplicate, is this the largest death-toll in postwar 616 so far?
Posted by: Cullen | July 18, 2014 2:40 PM
@Cullen: yeah, I think it might be. I distinctly remembered Egghead and friends causing some mass destruction, but upon looking at fnord's Avengers 64 scan, it seems the town was evacuated. The recent Four Horsemen battle in X-Factor apparently wrecked much of NYC, which is, of course, totally ridiculous.
Anyways, PAD's brought so much class to this title, it's not even funny. I think the difference in quality between this and everything else going on in '88 is comparable to when Claremont began his X-Men run amidst all the late Bronze Age dreck that was going on at the time.
Posted by: gfsdf gfbd | October 8, 2014 1:44 AM
One of all-time favorite Hulk stories, and the one that got me hooked on David's run.
Posted by: Bob | June 30, 2015 9:24 PM
Just like with Spider-Man, I'm not a fan of how MacFarlane draws any of the supporting characters, but I love his Hulk. Just fantastic. That was also probably the best Bruce / Betty scene in the history of their relationship, one which has often been written rather poorly.
Posted by: Erik Beck | July 29, 2015 7:44 PM
I agree, it was a great, great story.
A small question: is there some sort of significance to "Rock and Redeemer"? Are these names are supposed to be a pun on something?
BTW. Isn't it interesting that one of the irradiated citizens of Middletown is a female lawyer? Who ends up as a gamma creature so unlike She-Hulk?
Posted by: Piotr W | April 30, 2016 8:23 PM
"Rock and Redeemer" is a reference to Psalms 19:14.
Posted by: Michael | April 30, 2016 10:15 PM
Orgess is a character that I never quite understood. Of course, when a character never appears the same color from issue to issue, I can be charitable and write it of a coloring error. But on the other hand, we have an attorney who can't speak, whose trapped as a raging monster, and this is the only issue we have to go by as for characterization. Now, I guess we are supposed to assumne her unhappiness with her job and losing her husband is the reason for her transformation, but it's still kind of thin, compared to most other characters who've appeared in PAD's Hulk run. Maybe PAD had something in mind like with Ramon that he never got around to. He made sure the Riot Squad and all of Freehold was destroyed in his last issue, so I guess we'll never find out unless we ask him.
Posted by: Brian C. Saunders | May 26, 2016 7:55 AM
I sort of wonder if Ogress was supposed to be the "antithesis" of the She-Hulk: a lawyer woman who becomes a pure raging monster instead of one who gets what she wants outside emotional issues. Considering Jen gained control and confidence in her gamma form, having a pure monster like this one is probably the only way to contrast it. (plus I sort of remember Ogress as a Shulkie rival in the '90s Hulk animated series at one point)
Posted by: Ataru320 | May 26, 2016 8:16 AM
I'm not certain if the comparsion to She-Hulk was intential, although I remember the cartoon did use Orgess a lot and she got to speak instead of "RAAAWAARR" and "HONK!" But PAD created her for the Hulk book specifically and didn't have She-Hulk as a cast member or any plans to that I know of. Maybe she was just supposed to be a walking victim and her human side ceased to exist in any perceivable way, like Man-Thing. Certainly, the other Riot Squad members got good powers with no real downsides(other than Soul Man's survival guilt fueling his power), so it's fair someone picked the short straw.
Posted by: Brian C. Saunders | May 26, 2016 8:25 AM
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