Wednesday, December 30, 2009

"The End" week: Incredible Hulk #474

To be fair, you are mighty ugly, Emil.
Joe Casey drew the short straw when he got the writing assignment for the Incredible Hulk...after Peter David's decade-plus stint. Casey's last issue would be the last of the series, which would be relaunched a month later with John Byrne; but let's look at Incredible Hulk #474, "The Great Astonishment, conclusion: It's All True!" Written by Joe Casey, art by Javier Pulido and Sean Parsons.

The issue opens rather candidly, with Casey himself taking a call from editor Matt Idelson:
Now we know this is fiction: like a freelancer behind schedule is gonna answer the phone.
It's a bit 'man-behind-the-curtain," but it was big of Casey to own up to having trouble wrapping up his storyline and the series.

In-story, Bruce Banner and the alien Qnax are taking fire in their attempt to recover the Ultimate Machine. Following his pet, they catch up with the Watcher (and I don't believe that it's Uatu, but one of his race) who then destroys the Machine; or what they thought was the Machine: the true Ultimate Machine is the core of the Watcher homeworld, and not just the accumulated knowledge of the universe, but also "a house of truth."
I think we've seen Watchers with pets like that before, back in the old Captain Marvel book.
Meanwhile, back on earth, General 'Thunderbolt' Ross faces down the Abomination, who just dropped the bombshell that Betty didn't die from radiation poisoning caused by the Hulk, the Abomination poisoned her.

The Watcher gives a vague warning about the Machine, but Qnax, desperate to save his people, goes in. Banner is equally desperate, but has a more esoteric question: why. Bruce goes in, and has a moment seemingly taken from his childhood.
Brought to you by the letters W, T, and F!
Somehow, after a tussle with an Oscar the Grouch-analog and a gamma bomb explosion, Banner seems to have had an epiphany. Qnax was not as lucky, realizing the elders of his people used him as a pawn in their quest for power. The Watcher then breaks up the planet that he made, since another alien race was attacking it, and returns everyone to where they belong: Qnax to try and bring justice to his people, and Bruce to get the final answers on earth.

Back on earth, the Abomination explains to Ross how he killed Betty by substituting his blood for her transfusion...now, as Emil Blonsky, he had been a pretty good spy, but how the hell a huge, ugly green monster was able to mess with her blood supply without being noticed, I have no idea. He also explains he treated the blood with "undetectable, albeit lethal chemicals," and while Betty's death was regrettable, they had to feel the pain he did over losing his wife Nadia. (Interestingly, Nadia wasn't dead, and eventually Bruce slept with her; hopefully not just for revenge...)

The Hulk arrives in time to start pounding on Abomination, but Ross stops them, and the army surrounds them. Denied his victory, the Abomination leaps away; and Ross grudgingly lets Banner off the hook...if Banner won't let himself off.
I do like Bruce's spacesuit, with the little beacons on the shoulders.
Banner gives Ross the chance to kill him, but Ross declines since Betty loved him too. In the end, Banner is back on the road, with "absolutely no plans," but feeling like his life was "a sphere of chaos" and not wanting anyone too close to him. And Ross visits the cryogenically frozen body of Betty, to take his share of responsibility as well; although Betty knew about the danger of her life with Banner as well, and stayed to the end.

While I did like this issue, it's nowhere near the level of Peter David's last issue, but Casey didn't have the same history with the characters and may not have been given enough time to prep, either: I get the feeling the space adventure with Qnox might've been planned as one issue, with the Abomination/Ross/Hulk confrontation another storyline. A month later, the new Hulk #1 went in the direction Marvel had tried to steer David, more "Hulk Smash" than the book had been in years. I think lower-tier Hulk baddie Tyrannus was responsible for the Hulk's backslide, but I don't recall. Casey's Hulk I remember though.

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