Why I Thought Bill Mantlo Was
The Best Hulk Writer, Period.*
(* as of 2004!)
Part 3: The Incredible Hulk #300-313 & Annual #13
PREVIOUSLY: Things were looking up for one Robert Bruce Banner. The world had accepted him as the Hulk, and the U.S. Government had granted him a full pardon for actions he'd taken as a savage, unthinking brute. However, such acceptance was not without cost, as longtime love Betty Ross Talbot left him, afraid of his embracing of his alter-ego, and Rick Jones had likewise departed (although in his case he was battling an illness caused by gamma ray exposure, over in Mantlo's other book, ROM). Bruce declined Avengers membership and immersed himself in gamma research with the assistance of SHIELD scientist Katherine Waynesboro. The two quickly fell deeply, passionately in love, even though Kate kept her secret agent status a secret. However, Banner's happiness didn't last, as Dr. Strange's enemy, Nightmare, attacked him in his dreams, subconsciously stimulating the return of an even more savage Hulk. During a three-way battle between Banner/Hulk, Dr. Strange, and Nightmare, the scientist acquiesced to the beast within, committing psychic suicide and leaving the world to deal with a completely mindless, infinitely powerful, terribly bestial Hulk.
While an apparently more powerful than ever green goliath stalked New York, with neither SHIELD nor any superheroes able to stop him, Dr. Strange set a course to banish the Hulk from the world of his birth in #300. He saves New York during a battle between Hulk and the Avengers, opening a portal to a dimensional nexus known as the Crossroads. Strange's idea was to grant the behemoth access to unlimited other strange, alien worlds where he could do no harm. The spell he cast also gave the Hulk a peculiar power: if he became disinterested with what occurred on a particular world, a failsafe would transport him back to the Crossroads dimension so that he may choose again.
At the beginning of this last third of Mantlo's run, remember that the scales were swung in the extreme opposite direction as they'd been previously: instead of having Banner's intellect totally in control of the Hulk, his personality has been excised, and this is, we are told, the remainder. It would seem here that Banner's personality, his intellect, holds a moderating influence over the bestial savagery (is that redundant?) of the Hulk. But if that's true, what's more effective when you split the halves--a Hulk where Banner is totally in control, or where there is no Banner?
(Coincidentally, I will note a "first" in the run of the Hulk: in #302, for the very first time since May 1962, the Hulk is shown as having been gray-skinned in his first appearance, in a flashback. Interestingly, this illustration would come to be a portent of things to come in just two years' time.)
The Hulk's voyages in the Crossroads and from it are really quite basic, propelled by a need to be something more, to learn about himself, for he is now a blank slate. True, this is a slate prone to violent rages, but also, it seems, deprived of Earth's many troubles, he can be gentle. The Hulk's guide, established because he needs someone to instruct him and to remind us continually what the new status quo is, is the Puffball Collective, a collection of alien germ whose main limitation is that for some reason, he cannot enter any of the portals. Wherever the Hulk travels, whatever he does, he does it alone. He triumphs or fails, ultimately, alone.
The first world into which the Hulk is thrust with any real duration (#301) is one where he is a tiny creature, surrounded by toys in a giant boy's playset. Perhaps it's a meta representation of the comic world in which he is only a fictional character (dolls and the house symbolizing the fictional world, with the boy as the creator). The Hulk is dissatisfied with the world, as it is not something that is a comfortable fit with him. He recognizes illusion and artifice for what it is. Moreover, he is overpowered, at least on a textual level, by the giant boy. He quickly leaves the world once he realizes his failure in the choice.
A brief interlude occurs in HULK ANNUAL #13, wherein the Hulk visits a planet of symbionts including S'ym, who attaches to the Hulk's neck and leads him on a voyage to see the stars above an endless cover of clouds. S'ym, his first true friend on this journey, dies, and the Hulk returns to the Crossroads.
The next world (#302-303) is a medieval one, ruled by a class of red-skinned beings who subjugate their green-skinned counterparts. In a takeoff on Rapunzel, Hulk sees a thin, green-skinned beauty held in a tower by the reds, and finds it his duty to rescue her. Her tears carry the power to make plant matter grow, and as such, the tower constructed of the bones of greens is awash in flowers. The reds are, similar to the giant of the last story, shown to be physically superior to the Hulk himself: their implements are stronger, and upon the first encounter with one of the reds, Hulk finds a spear embedded within his shoulder. The Hulk is handily defeated by the red knight Maktu, and cast an even more vicious blow by the knight's smaller page. The Hulk awakens held by otherworldly chains, having been released from the reds into the custody of the young green-skinned maiden, who has in return agreed to marry Maktu. Her touch soothes the behemoth, and she helps him to heal. Although it is heavily suggested that the Hulk remembers nothing of his previous life, the resemblance of the maiden to Jarella is too glaring to ignore. It is the first sign that perhaps some element of the previous creature's dim intellect remains.
The Hulk works as a slave to help build the red people's City of Death, but in the end it is not his will that frees the girl and dooms the reds, but rather the girl herself, who cries tears of anger that cause the green to grow into distorted, savage versions that kill the reds. It is clear to the Hulk that this is not a woman who needs his protection, nor is it one he much admires, so he moves onward, bereft of anything resembling victory or friendship.
Once again in the next issue (#304), the Hulk finds companionship in the form of an orange-skinned creature who has been branded a traitor to his homeworld's militaristic society. The tribunal shows up and kills Zgorian, subduing the Hulk so that he cannot interfere. Yet another loss, and the Hulk can do nothing. He returns to the Crossroads to find the U-Foes, a somewhat welcome familiarity, forced from Earth by Vector's unstable powers.
Now, the U-Foes have appeared once during every third of Mantlo's run, and hence there's a rhythm to their appearances. Under the savage Hulk, the U-Foes defeated themselves, unfamiliar with their own newfound abilities. Once they returned, they faced the Banner Hulk, who could not defeat them and was only saved with help from Bereet and her creatures. Their fight here (#305) echoes across the dimensions the Hulk has previously visited; time regresses backward and then forward again as Bruce Banner and Mike Steel quarrel schoolyard-style and then once more become the Hulk and Ironclad; and reality itself is unraveled by Vector. This battle's purpose is twofold: first, it reprises us of this Hulk's power in correlation to what we know, hence telling us that it is at the same level, or perhaps greater than, it was at any point during the run of the "savage" Hulk (take a look at Vector repelling the Hulk--that force has subsequently splayed the flesh from the merged Hulk's bones, but here, the creature just takes it); and second, it establishes trust between the Puffball Collective and the new Hulk, with the Puffball instructing the Hulk on which U-Foe should be thrown into which Crossroads portal, doing so quite ruthlessly, I'll add. This Hulk would not, it would seem, have defeated the U-Foes this time without the help of the Puffball, his new "friend."
Next, of course, comes the most terrible saga of the Crossroads, if these boards are any indication. A sequel to an earlier effort (INCREDIBLE HULK #136-137), this adventure (#306-307) ingeniously finds the energy-monster Klaatu (read: Moby Dick) weaving his way across worlds using the Crossroads. First, the Hulk (Ishmael?) clearly remembers the identity of Bruce Banner when interrogated with physical representations by the Collective. Then, the Hulk sees Klaatu, his brain thinking his actions an invasion of his territory, and the monster attacks. Klaatu shrugs off the Hulk's attack and his essence dissipates into the various portals leading to other realms. Then, the starship Andromeda arrives, its Captain Cybor (definitely Ahab) and Xeron the Star-Slayer (if I had to guess, Starbuck--is this getting boring already?) tracking Klaatu across dimensions. Xeron picks a battle with the Hulk, and captures him, forcing him to be an oarsman in the quest for Klaatu. The Puffball Collective is recruited as well, but is left behind due to the limitation that prevents him from moving beyond the Crossroads dimension. In the Hulk's absence, the Collective tells of his "incarceration" at the Crossroads, suggesting more than meets the eye (and a future story point). The Hulk rages aboard the Andromeda since losing his friend, causing Xeron to miss hooking Klaatu and forcing a return to the Crossroads, where the Hulk finally speaks upon seeing the Puffball: "Friend?". The Puffball is able to escape the Crossroads aboard the ship then, and Cybor and Xeron are able to hook Klaatu, only for the creature to smash the ship. Cybor and crew breathe their last on the desert world, and the Hulk releases Klaatu of the ship's laser harpoon grip before he and the Collective return to the Crossroads.
When last we left the Hulk, he'd just freed the alien Klaatu from servitude by Captain Cybor and Xeron. and along the way he found his voice again, proving that the creature is learning how, like a baby....or could his mind be on the way to full recovery of its status before Bruce Banner forced himself into psychic retreat? We still haven't heard those familiar utterances yet, just a couple of "Friend"s. Still, could it be...?
Still, the Hulk has shown his first vague victory after some very crippling defeats, and the fact he has again found his voice lends credence to my argument--that the Hulk personality, at least the savage one, is of a homeostatic balance between Banner's rationalism/intellectualism and the raw, unbridled savagery and instinct of the animalistic variant we've seen in the last 9 issues. Separated into these two extremes, the Hulk cannot function to his fullest--that is, like the army reserve, he can't be all that he can be. When such extremes occur, some part of the Hulk acts to restore the balance, which is why we ultimately saw the savage Hulk return to dominance in IH #296 for a few issues directly preceding the pendulum's swinging the OTHER way, and placing the animal, for the first time, in full charge. Now, with #307, it would appear that the pendulum is again swinging back toward homeostasis.
In #308, the Hulk continues to learn lessons that he cannot always trust his instincts, that they can often lead him to disaster. From the start of his adventures in the Crossroads, the Puffball Collective has been his only friend, and would seem at first to be a kindred spirit, stranded in the dimension with one important distinction from the Hulk: he is not permitted to enter any of the portals, never allowed escape from this realm! At first, we didn't pay the idea much lip service, because the Hulk needed someone to interact with, who could teach him things, and potentially put him on the road to recovery. But we must herein ask ourselves: who exiled the Puffball, and why? He/it doesn't seem harmful, does he/it? The Hulk has accepted the Puffball's friendship, but now we learn that it was all an act, a sham so that it could use the Hulk to escape its prison!
The Puffball's story he tells the green goliath is wrong--that much we know, for how can the Hulk freely traverse the realms of the Crossroads when the Puffball cannot? But, such logical questions evade the Hulk's mind, and all the Puffball can offer is the idea that the evil creatures from its home dimension barred all gateways, not just the one to its home. It asks for help, and the Hulk eagerly grants it, shattering the mystical chains that shut off the Puffball from its home realm, and doing so in a manner that is entirely rational, conjuring comparisons to the Inhumans' Karnak, who attacks foes at their weakest point. The Hulk follows the Puffball into the portal, where they encounter a terrible, blackened wasteland. The beast falls asleep and cannot hear the Collective utter resentment toward him.
Out of the aether, while the Hulk sleeps, three new beings appear: Goblin, a small, blue-skinned demon creature; Guardian, a young, golden-skinned prepubescent girl with bow, arrows, and quiver; and Glow, a shining pink star hovering in the air. The three observe that they have been "watching" for some time, and that now that the mystic portal somehow awakened them, they must help the Hulk to act. Guardian shoots a golden arrow toward the Hulk, which awakens him in time for him to witness a purple-skinned alien approaching--a representative of the demonic N'Garai race (as anyone who read X-MEN #143 among others would recognize).
The creature at first thrashes the Hulk, but Goblin appears and commands the Hulk to evade his foe, accentuating his survival skills; then, Guardian lets an arrow fly into the Hulk, awakening his senses and letting him know that he has been hurt, making him fly into action. Angst over the possible loss of the Puffball enrages the Hulk, letting us know what we've suspected since last issue--the Hulk is back, as per the following words: "Friend said he would watch over Hulk! Friend is not here! Then friend must already be--dead!" The Hulk smashes his alien foe, but soon thereafter is ambushed by more N'Garai.
Suddenly, the Puffball arrives and tells the Hulk the whole, fateful story--that the Collective is actually a collection of rogue cells that worked to sabotage their brethren, calling forth the N'Garai. The "good" Collective exiled their evil selves to the Crossroads while sealing their own dimension so that the demons could not escape to menace another world. The Hulk sundered the spells, freeing the N'Garai to potentially cause chaos across many dimensions. The triad of Goblin, Guardian and Glow again appear at this time, knowing the Hulk to be outnumbered and concluding his only course of action is flight--but "(h)e ain't never been smart enough t'run from a fight before!" Nonetheless, the Hulk bounds away towards the dimensional portal whence he gained entrance to this world.
With N'Garai in tow and closing fast, the Hulk leaps for his life, and miraculously remembers the only chance for his salvation--the failsafe spell which Dr. Strange placed upon him that would guide him back to the Crossroads with but a thought! And so, he returns to the Crossroads in time to mystically seal the portal to the Puffball's dimension by merely uniting its magical chains, sparing perhaps untold realities, but in so doing still feeling as though he has lost a friend. However, the role of the Collective is filled from here onward quite nicely by the mysterious Triad.
Now that the Triad is in place, representing the Hulk, or rather Banner's, Freudian id (Goblin), ego (Guardian), and superego (Glow), the Hulk is on the road to an even faster recovery. In #309, the narrative works to further distinguish the Hulk as a man and not an animal, doing so successfully in the form of a sojourn to a desert world which, ironically, the Hulk picks to try and satiate his appetites as urged by the Triad. The Hulk, urged by one of Guardian's arrows, remembers his past and longs to go "Home," which the Triad knows to this point is impossible. They also acknowledge that the Crossroads, with its isolation, is not the cure for the creature's psychic retreat--he must venture forth into portals, interacting, hoping that the alien races he encounters usher forth his lost humanity. On this desert world, the Hulk forages for food, even when his other aspects condemn his actions and wish for a hasty return to the Crossroads. Guardian condemns the others' reactions, having never know the Hulk to act "suicidally" before, but even her beliefs are taxed as the Hulk sweats amid the blazing sun, on the verge of dropping over--when he spies what he thinks is water. Goblin dives in, but is rewarded only with a mouthful of sand. However, says Guardian, the mirage proves that the Hulk was thinking rationally, that he knew what he was doing. Still, the Hulk continues to weaken, and the Triad tries unsuccessfully to get him to trigger the fail-safe spell, lest he be too exhausted to select another world. Finally, the Hulk protects the Triad from an awesome sandstorm, and when the storm passes, Goblin looks over the next hill and sees an oasis. The Hulk saw the earlier clues--a skeleton of a fish, and the scent of water in the air--then deduced that what he required was indeed on this world, and by sheer force of will, found it! Pleased, the Hulk smiled--"an expression known only to--man."
#310: All I can say is, IT'S ABOUT TIME! Another world, another set of dramatic circumstances with a specific purpose in mind. The Triad discuss amid a thick swamp whether the Hulk's returning rationality is result of his own true personality finally becoming ascendant via exposure to the Crossroads realms, or whether some aspect of the "previous two" personae exists and is causing the change. Perhaps, Glow posits, the very existence of the Triad is not to help the Hulk toward a healed mind, but a form of rebellion triggered by one of the former personae against this "new," "true" Hulk. Outside the swamp, the four arrive at a city made of skulls, where a yellow-skinned alien woman who arouses strange feelings in the Hulk, seems ready to be the victim of a sacrifice. The Hulk's own mind motivates him into action against those who would do the woman harm. Accosted in turn by skeleton-warriors on the backs of what look like horses with horns, the Hulk rises to action thusly: "Bone-riders will not touch woman--or HULK WILL SMASH!" hence dispelling any ideas to the contrary just which persona is now dominant. "Music t'my pointy li'l ears!" as Goblin says. Guardian hopes to let reason shine through in the Hulk as he wages war against the warriors whose touch causes instant death, and the arrow she shoots causes the Hulk to talk articulately, but allows one of the warriors to thrust his spear into the creature's side--the very danger to which Guardian wanted to warn the Hulk. The "instant death" the Hulk felt from the spear causes him to falter, collapse...and change back into Bruce Banner, completing the final steps in the cycle begun by his psychic suicide several months earlier! The Triad disappear back into the psychic aether from which they came, confirming as they do so that they assumed Banner's place in the Hulk's mind, helping to balance the equation, so to speak. The unconscious Banner is then carried off to the lair of the death-creatures' mysterious master, where the creatures tie him to a table and the yellow-skinned woman prepares to sacrifice him...
We resume in #311 with Bruce Banner about to be sacrificed by a yellow-skinned woman whom the Hulk rescued from similar sacrifice. Her yellow skin perhaps has function beyond merely showing that she's an alien creature: after all, the reason the Hulk saved her is obviously due to her similarity to another alien woman, Jarella...but note that the difference between yellow and green is the mix of blue into the mix, ergo she is only 'half' the woman Jarella is. Banner is saved--"in best beginning-of-the-next-episode-of-the-serial form"--by a very human-looking, bespectacled scientist, who wears a green shirt (obviously evoking the Hulk, acting as a "dark mirror" to Banner).
His name is Dr. Daniel DeCyst, and he fancies himself an alchemist from the eighteenth century who somehow found his way to this world. His presence here again resumes the thread that somehow, there exists a path between this world and Earth after all, and that the Hulk may yet find a way "home." DeCyst shows his hubris in his backstory, wanting a method to ensure his "immortality" and thereby transporting himself via magicks to this alien world. He reveals that he has obtained a few centuries of immortality by bleeding the yellow-skinned natives of this world, Notice their blood is green (leading to the reason why he wants the Hulk, not realizing that he is from the world of his origin). Banner escapes, and the yellow-skinned woman from earlier kills DeCyst. Banner runs, questioning his decision to do so when he could just as easily stop and let the aliens kill him, end his suffering (alluding to this "insane" survival instinct), when his pulse races and once again the Hulk takes control.
Aided again by Goblin, Guardian and Glow, his mind submerged, the Banner and Hulk sides still seeking balance, the Hulk battles the demons and aliens of this world, while a telling narrative intones: "Fight the brainless Hulk does...with a savagery unmitigated by the reasoning mind of Bruce Banner buried unreachably deep within the monster! The equation of their shared existence might best be stated thusly: To live, Bruce Banner has to die...that the Hulk might live to save them both!" Additionally, Glow highlights the specific reason why it and the two others must exist: "If the two sides of the Hulk/Banner personae were linked--as they were in the beginning--our presence would not be necessary!...Until man and monster are reunited in one form, we must guide and guard the Hulk!" When Guardian lets fly her arrow of reason, again the Hulk can speak. Since he cannot see the girl to save her, he decides to return to the Crossroads, where Guardian states, "...(I)t is at this interdimensional intersection to which Dr. Strange banished the Hulk that the man and the monster must be reconciled if both are ever to return...home!" which paves the way for the purpose of the next issue.
So then, what is the purpose of #312, "Monster"? The narrative seems to be the attempt by the Triad to heal the Hulk's fractured halves--that is, to establish a firm link between Banner and Hulk so that Goblin, Guardian and Glow do not need to continually watch over the Hulk. The method in which they choose to accomplish this daunting task is by revisiting the Hulk's origin, yet in a way that no one, to date, had examined. We are introduced to Brian Banner, whose wife, Rebecca, is about to give birth to a "monster" whom Brian thinks was conceived with the "help" of his atomic research. The child, Bruce, is born, with the spectre of the Hulk hanging over him from that moment! After several months and many tests, Brian and Rebecca are able to bring Bruce home. Here, we see both the Hulk, ghostlike, hovering, superimposed on Bruce at every panel, but also, we are introduced to Glow (in the form of a star hanging above Bruce's crib) as symbol of reason and analogue to Rebecca Banner, whom we also see here clearly for the first time. Brian ushers Rebecca away to a symposium, deliberately trying to get some "alone time" with her away from the child he believes is still a monster. They leave Bruce in the care of Nurse Meachum, who leaves young Bruce with Guardian, the doll that his mother gave him (and presumably enabled Bruce to "survive" these trying times), before she herself becomes the spitting image of Goblin, the personification of Banner's rage, at first projecting the sources that encouraged that rage to grow. Here, we at last know the origin of the appearances of all three characters who strive to foster the Hulk's awareness of self.
On Christmas Eve, we see Bruce opening his presents in the presence of both his doll Guardian, and Glow, which now adorns the top of the Christmas tree in the living room. Bruce displays his apparent superlative intelligence and ingenuity by building an immense construction from an erector set. Guardian falls, indicating that Bruce's safety is at risk, and Brian appears, transforming in Bruce's mind into another version of Goblin and wrecking the erector set, ranting how Bruce should not be this intelligent and that he is still an inhuman monster. When Rebecca defends her son, Brian beats her, and when Bruce rises to her defense, Brian backhands him, as well. After that night, Bruce never saw his mother smile again, and soon afterward, his father murdered her, avoiding culpability for the act by reason of insanity.
In high school, Bruce avoids his classmates, immersed in his work, having bottled himself up following the death of his mother. He's a control freak and the headmaster dreads the day when he finally externalizes his trauma.
Later, by Rebecca Banner's grave, Bruce encounters his father for the last time. We know as per INCREDIBLE HULK #-1 that Bruce's real memories were repressed--that here, Bruce killed Brian Banner, but that's not Mantlo's work, so I'll ignore that version here. Brian, fresh from the mental hospital, still suffers the "delusion" that Bruce is a "monster" and must be destroyed for the good of mankind. While they fought, Brian told Bruce that what he did now would "be done for the sake of mankind!" After beating Bruce, Brian took his leave. Bruce all the while denied that his intellect was spawned by the radiation, for "any latent 'powers' would have shown themselves in early adolescence." He'd hoped to make his mother proud of him while making her forget him, and leaves Glow by her graveside in memoriam.
Finally, at Desert Base in New Mexico, we come full circle. The first one to help welcome Bruce to the base is Betty Ross. He immediately warms to her, surprisingly not suppressing his feelings ("Call me Bruce," he says upon their meet, and he says the military "censored the best things from my briefing!"). Betty is exposed early to a photograph of Bruce's mother and the doll of Guardian that Bruce "meant to throw...out." Betty establishes herself as sentimental, while Bruce obviously frowns on his memories, his whole life to that point per Mantlo possessing nothing but strife. (Interestingly, Betty is shown to wear a green dress, while Bruce wears a purple suit, suggesting via the Hulk's colors an inextricable bond between them.) Then, Bruce meets "Thunderbolt" Ross, who chides him for being a "simpering civilian" and who tells him he knew Brian Banner at Los Alamos, calling him a "real man." Bruce takes offense, knowing of his father as a murderer, but Ross says the attitude is just another sign of Banner's instability and inability to reconcile the problems in his past. Symbolically again, Ross picks up the Guardian doll, tearing off its arm, and transforms into the image of Goblin while Banner equates Betty with Glow as a symbol of his mother's reason.
Interestingly, at all pivotal moments of Bruce's life--upon being brought home, being accosted by his father on Christmas, and here at Desert Base--all three are very much in the foreground, and Goblin is seen as another, distinct identity from Bruce, not coveted but rather feared. This concurrence occurs again when the G-bomb explodes, where Igor (renamed Sklar as a surname here) transforms into Goblin (out of sight of Bruce, yet!), and at Banner's base residence, as the bomb triggers, the picture of Rebecca and the armless Guardian doll both kick up in the air. Symbolically, to close out the origin flashback, we see Bruce Banner in the light of the G-bomb as he grows into the image that ever hovered over him since he was born--that of the Incredible Hulk!
Interestingly, just as the MPD/DID angle can be drawn from this story, with the abuse by Banner's father, there's another picture that can be painted of the life of Bruce Banner herein. And by implication it could mean that PAD's MPD/DID is an incorrect interpretation--but with some tinkering, that interpretation still fits, somehow. Remember that the first appearance of the Hulk's image over the child Bruce is on page 3--the first time we see him! Furthermore, the image is also there when Bruce, as from the captions, was first brought home, before, it is assumed, either Nurse Meachum or Brian ever had the opportunity to abuse him. What does this mean? Quite possibly, it means that Brian Banner was correct: that he passed on some genetic flaw to Bruce that was undetectable in the hospital tests. There was a "monster" in Bruce Banner all the while, which would be shaped in subseqent years by the abuse he suffered and splinter into various forms. Those forms festered, until they were finally let loose when the G-bomb took hold of this other piece of Bruce, augmenting it. I'm moderately sure that Mantlo's intent was to show that this piece, by itself, separate from Banner's intellect, was the Hulk from #299-307 and pieces of the following issues, but the longer it existed with Banner, the more closely Banner empathized with those feelings of rage and angst, that other piece took on some of Bruce's traits as a sort of stable anchor, and hence, the savage Hulk was born. I've tried my best to integrate the Hulk's other personalities into this idea--Banner's abuse shaping the form, splintering it causing the gray persona and more besides--but don't have a definite workable theory. I do find it very interesting that, although this idea seems in Mantlo's run very savage Hulk-centered, the gray variant did make appearances in flashback during the run (starting in #302). Also, there is no doubt in my mind that the flashbacks that started so early were a buildup to this very issue, where by examining the Hulk's and Banner's lives in-depth, the Hulk and Banner might finally be reunited in spirit as well as body so that the Triad could safely disappear.
Now that the whole truth is finally known, indeed, the Triad conclude their usefulness at an end. What I find most interesting is Goblin's soliloquy before he disappears: "I'm Banner's rage, locked up all those lonely years an' just waitin' t'be set free! Funny thing is, when I finally got the chance, Banner took a powder...t'be replaced by the Hulk!" Hmm...
Any way you look at it, the Hulk is Banner's bizarre reflection of himself, his shell, the monster Brian Banner always "knew" he'd become. Or, hmm....could it be Banner's strange method of passing the guilt (of killing his father, as per PAD) onto another...?
The Hulk becomes Banner again, still stranded at the Crossroads, when in true 80s crossover fashion, we discover that the Beyonder--nigh-omnipotent being trying to understand the nuances of humanity--is watching him. He notices that Banner embraces his despair "like a lover" and then sees a strange beam shooting through the dimension (coming from Earth, as Alpha Flight's attempt to "hook" a body to house the soul of Walter Langkowski, aka Sasquatch). He points the beam toward Banner, under the pretense of "helping" him, and departs.
That brings us to #313, and the final issue of the traditional HULK run by Bill Mantlo. Banner, standing at the Crossroads, ruminates: "It appears that life and death aren't quite the concrete concepts, the immutable states of being I'd always supposed the to be." Parts of his persona "emerged to guard and guide the Hulk" (which is interesting in and of itself, anyone care to comment?) until now, when Banner and Hulk have achieved balance. He was exiled to the Crossroads so he could cause no harm, but nobody counted on Banner coming back. To try and kill himself, Bruce throws himself off the Crossroads path, falling endlessly, until finally he transforms into the Hulk, who miraculously returns to the path at the Crossroads, knowing full well his "friend" Dr. Strange exiled him and that he must go home! As if to answer that request, the red line sent by Alpha Flight "hooks" him, just like the Andromeda hooked Klaatu. He jumps between dimensions to try to escape the line, but cannot. He cannot even sever the line by his own strength! Say it loud, say it proud: "No matter where Hulk goes--no matter how many strange doors Hulk passes through--Hulk cannot get free from line!"
Suddenly a form drifts down through the line and merges itself with the Hulk, casting out Bruce Banner's ethereal form. The form was that of Walter Langkowski, now in control of the Hulk's body. He died, yet his soul remained on Earth in the robotic body of Box, devised by his friends, Roger Bochs and Madison Jeffries, yet he longed for a human body, and thought here at the Crossroads he found it. Banner begs Langkowski to keep the body, to do good as the Hulk, to let him die, but Langkowski won't do it, once again sacrificing his happiness for Banner's. Says Bruce: "The Hulk's personality is actually my rage personified! Should you become the Hulk you'd have full control over his monstrous power! Use it--use it for good and...." Langkowski's spirit leaves the body and Banner is forced back into the Hulk, who is then returned via the red line to Earth, where he encounters Alpha Flight.
Aside: in AF #29, the Hulk primarily just wants to get "home" but cannot see it from Canada. The "home" to which he refers is the desert, of course. Finally, he just goes away, leaving Canada. Not much to see here, but it's an interesting coda to Mantlo's Hulk run nonetheless.
Hopefully, I've shown everyone the highs and lows of Bill Mantlo's INCREDIBLE HULK run and why I think he's the best writer the book's had. He may have stolen a good bit of the plot of IH #312 from Barry Windsor-Smith, but IMO, it took a good writer to be able to do as much with the story based on that treatise as he was able, to integrate it so well into the Hulk's ongoing series and to really pack in the intricacies into a great read.
The Hulk under Mantlo was a showcase for the savage Hulk, even though he wasn't in every single issue. It's shown that the best Hulk was a balance between Banner's intellect and the animalistic savagery that is at the core of the character. Fantastic work by all involved. I only wish that Mantlo had been able to go forward from the Crossroads with the recombined Banner/Hulk.
What do you think, sirs?