Fantastic Friday: Slamma gamma

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. It’s another Thing versus Hulk slugfest in issue #534, along with a journey through the Hulk’s past.

Recap: The Hulk, with Bruce Banner’s intelligence, went out to the desert with S.H.I.E.L.D. to diffuse a gamma bomb. Things went south and the bomb exploded, reverting Hulk from a brainy professor type to the classic brutish grey-skinned Hulk. Johnny and Ben flew out to Nevada to investigate, running right into this new/old Hulk.

Ben tries to talk sense into the Hulk, saying he only wants to help get the Hulk’s brain straightened back out. The Hulk only roars at him, and then… fighting! The brawl goes on for several pages, with Johnny joining the action as well. When Ben mentions the gamma bomb, Hulk gets confused. He has a flashback to his origin, when Bruce Banner got exposed to a gamma bomb while saving teenage Rick Jones.

The Hulk gets confused and wanders off in a daze. Johnny contacts their Fantasticar by remote control while Ben prepares a sonic gizmo Reed gave him before they left. Hulk flashes back to the death of his love Jarella. Johnny and Ben reveal that the Fantasticar is armed with a psychic disruptor, designed to attack the Hulk’s inner ear. This just makes the Hulk angrier (because of course it does). Hulk destroys the Fantasticar and jumps off toward Las Vegas.

The Hulk smashes into a hospital. Seeing a patient in bed reminds him of the death of his friend Jim. Johnny and Ben find Hulk and fight him again, with the battle spilling onto the street outside. Ben tells Johnny to let up, saying the Hulk isn’t fighting them, but instead is only fighting the things he’s seeing in his head. He admits he feels the same way. He says whenever the FF go to space, he gets flashbacks to becoming a monster. “Monsters understand monsters, Johnny,” he says.

Ben confronts the Hulk again, saying he knows the Hulk doesn’t really want to hurt anyone. He offers to help Hulk deal with the gamma radiation. Upon hearing that, Hulk has another flashback, this time about Bruce Banner being told his wife Betty has gamma radiation poisoning. In his mind’s eye, Hulk sees Ben as the Abomination and blames him for Betty’s death. Hulk punches Ben through a building and then looms over him, saying “I swear I’ll kill you!”

To be continued!

Clobberin’ time: At the hospital, Ben takes a moment to offer comfort to a blind man. But, upon touching Ben’s hand, the man reacts in fear. This is what prompts Ben to show sympathy toward the Hulk.

Flame on: Johnny questions why Reed would have built an anti-Hulk weapon into the Fantasticar, only for this question to go unanswered.

Four and a half: This issue comes with a six-page preview of Franklin Richards: Son of a Genius by Chris Eliopoulos and Marc Sumerak. It’s a parody of Calvin and Hobbes, with Franklin as Calvin and H.E.R.B.I.E. the robot as Hobbes. (Freakin’ H.E.R.B.I.E. the robot.) Franklin discovers a bunch of Doombots in storage inside Reed’s lab, and he uses a bunch of silly gadgets to dispose of them. I assumed these Franklin Richards comics were non-canonical, but the Marvel Wiki says they are.

Trivia time: About these flashbacks. The Hulk’s wife Betty, who had been his girlfriend since the early days, died of gamma poisoning. While Hulk was initially told that it was due to long-term exposure to him, it was really gamma poisoning caused by the Abomination. She’ll eventually come back to life thanks to cosmic being Nightmare and the machinations of her father, General Ross. She then turned into the Red She-Hulk. (Poor Betty has had to put up with a lot over the years.)

Then there’s Jarella. She’s a green-skinned warrior woman from the Microverse world of K’ai, who was able to love both Hulk and Bruce Banner. She died while saving a child from a collapsing building, only to come back to life much later during the Chaos War crossover.

I’m pretty sure everyone knows the Hulk’s origin by now, but just in case: Bruce Banner was exposed to the gamma bomb while saving teenage Rick Jones. Banner became the Hulk, and Jones improbably became one of Marvel’s most influential characters for a while. He was sidekick to the Hulk, Captain America, and all the Avengers. He later went full-on cosmic by being Captain Marvel for a while.

Speaking of sidekicks, this issue’s other flashback is about Hulk’s friend Jim Wilson. He helped the Hulk once and thus became one of Banner’s closest pals. He died of AIDS in the groundbreaking Incredible Hulk #420.

Fantastic or frightful? We all love a Hulk/Thing fight, but this one’s different in that the Thing isn’t so much fighting but trying to show compassion for the Hulk. Not a lot happens in this issue, but the action and the little character moments make up for it.

Next: Banner man.

* * * *

Want more? Check out my new ongoing serial, THE SUBTERKNIGHTS, on Kindle Vella. A man searches for his missing sister in a sprawling city full of far-out tech and secret magic. It’s a sci-fi/fantasy hybrid full of action, romance, mystery, and laughs. The first three chapters are FREE! Click here for a list of all my books and serials.

About Mac McEntire

Author of CINE HIGH.
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