Fantastic Friday: Banner man

Fantastic Friday! Issue #535 concludes another Thing versus Hulk fight, ending in properly explosive fashion.

The issue begins with Ben once again trying to appeal to the Hulk’s better nature, reminding him that he’s really Bruce Banner. Hulk has flashbacks of people in his past – including Banner himself – calling him a monster. Hulk punches Ben through the air, and Ben admits to Johnny that Hulk has the “I’m a monster” look in his eyes. He says they must settle this monster-to-monster.

There’s a comedy bit inside a nearby casino as people place bets on the fight. Ben and the Hulk continue to exchange blows while Johnny is distracted by a giant screen showing a news report about the New York Welfare Office taking Franklin and Valeria away from Reed and Sue and putting them into foster care.

Ben tries again to reason with the Hulk, saying Hulk probably thought he would die when the gamma bomb went off. The Hulk then has a vision of the green Hulk asking him what it was all for, and maybe it’s time to go. “Perhaps you are doomed to be this monster for all time,” the green Hulk says. “Doomed to be me.” The Hulk yells “No!” and pummels Ben so hard that Ben fears he’s broken some ribs.

Johnny sees Ben is injured, and he flies down to help. Despite Ben’s protestations, Johnny unleashes his all-powerful nova flame against the Hulk. The Hulk once again flashes back to his origin, and Bruce Banner getting blasted by the original gamma bomb. The Hulk then emerges from the smoke and wreckage, telling Johnny and Ben, “I’m all right now.”

Cut to New York, where Reed and Sue meet with social worker Simone DeBouvier. She assures them that little Franklin and Valeria are safe and that their location is a closely-guarded secret. We see the outside of this safe house then bombed by a blast from above. DeBouvier gets a phone call about this, and tells Reed and Sue, “You made the right decision.” Then we see Franklin and Valeria weren’t at the safe house, but right there at the Baxter Building.

Reed explains to DeBouvier that the entire world is a dangerous place for their children, because of the FF’s celebrity status. Sue further explains that the FF’s enemies might know where the children are, but enemies also know where the FF are as well. DeBouvier leaves, saying she gives Reed and Sue her blessing.

Back in Las Vegas, the Hulk has his intelligence back. Ben’s wounds are bandaged, and they have a heart-to-heart chat on a casino roof. Hulk asks Ben if Ben’s life flashed before his eyes before Johnny came to the rescue. Ben says he doesn’t want to talk about it. A S.H.I.E.L.D. helicopter picks up the Hulk. Ben and Johnny decide to hit the slots for a bit, joking about how nothing can stop the Hulk short of launching him into space.

Unstable molecule: Who, exactly, are these unseen enemies of the Fantastic Four who thought they were bombing Reed and Sue’s kids? Why aren’t the FF rallying to track down these enemies and retaliate? A lot of the fan sites and blogs argue that Reed set up the explosion to fake out DuBouvier and the welfare people, but I don’t see anything in this issue to support that.

Fade out: Reed gets romantic with Sue, telling her that whenever he looks up at the stars, he sees her. She reminds him that he’s a scientist, not a poet.

Clobberin’ time: This issue’s letters page has results of a reader poll asking for favorite FF character, and we’re told Ben won by a huge margin.

Flame on: We learn that Johnny’s nova flame isn’t powerful enough to hurt the Hulk, but it’s powerful enough to knock some sense into a hallucinating Hulk. Our old friend The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe: Deluxe Edition says the exact heat of the nova flame in unknowable, but the Marvel Wiki disagrees, saying it’s a concentrated burst of 1 million degrees Fahrenheit. Why didn’t the nova flame destroy Vegas like it did Empire University during the Tom Defalco issues? Because Johnny has since developed the ability to do a focused nova flame on smaller area.

Four and a half/Our gal Val: There’s a little trick when the comic makes you think Franklin and Valeria are at the safe house before it explodes. Only after do we see that there were in the Baxter Building the whole time.

SUE-per spy: The 2019 Invisible Woman miniseries revealed that Sue had a double life as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent all along. If the safe house bombing was fake, then could Sue’s spy contacts have pulled off the hoax? I find this theory unlikely for the same reason as it’s unlikely for Reed.

Commercial break: This issue was sold with a two-sided Neopets: The Darkest Faerie foldout poster stapled inside, to advertise a PS2 game. Marvel showed amazing restraint not promoting this on the cover.

Trivia time: The joke about sending the Hulk to space is no joke, as that’s what was happening at this time in Hulk comics. In the “Peace in Our Time” storyline, also known as the “Prelude to Planet Hulk” storyline, Nick Fury launched the Hulk into space to fight an evil A.I. called the Godseye. After the fight, Fury sent the Hulk farther into space where he’d never harm anyone on Earth again. But that’s only one part of the story, because Illuminati #1 reveals a lot more about secret plans to get rid of the Hulk. Further, the Las Vegas incident in these very Fantastic Four issues are cited by the Illuminati as part of the reason. It must have been tough to be a Hulk fan during this time, with so much of his continuity happening in other comics.

While Marvel characters have visited Las Vegas plenty of times over the years, this issue is the first time the MGM Grand has been drawn into a Marvel comic.

Fantastic or frightful? The main story feels like a Hulk story guest-starring the Fantastic Four, and it ends up foreshadowing the upcoming Planet Hulk epic. The Reed and Sue subplot is a little baffling. But it’s also consistent with J. Michael Straczynski’s writing, as his hero characters often pull off huge stunts to prove their points.

Next: Prelude preys lewd.

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About Mac McEntire

Author of CINE HIGH.
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