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Al Ewing (writer), Lee Garbett (guest artist), Paul Mounts (colorist), Virtual Calligraphy's Cory Petit (letterer), Alex Ross (cover artist), Brent Schoonover & Woo Dae Shim (Cosmic Ghost Rider VS variant cover artists), Sarah Brunstad (associate editor), Wil Moss (editor), Tom Brevoort (executive editor), CB Cebulski (editor-in-chief), Joe Quesada (chief creative officer), Dan Buckley (publisher), Alan Fine (executive producer)
Hulk created by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby
Bruce Banner sits in his motel room, thinking about recent events. He knows he needs to communicate with the Hulk, but the ability to have mindscape conferences is gone. He lets the Hulk take over his hand, hoping he can write something to him – and what the Hulk writes to him is “home”. Betty Ross watches news reports, upset about the claims her husband is back from the dead – she is certain the Hulk is still dead, although she is unaware that she is being watched by the US Hulk Operations, who are keeping tabs on her and other associates of the Hulk. The man in charge is General Fortean, who speaks with Dr Clive about the current assignment of the US Hulk Operations team, and how Thunderbolt Ross gave him command. They observe Del Frye who is currently in stasis, but Dr Clive tells Fortean that what they need is an actual Hulk. Fortean wonders what happened to Langkowski. Aboard the Alpha Flight Space Station, Shaman checks Walter for any signs of possession, but is certain Tanaraq wasn't behind the possession – he thinks it is a shadow, a darkness – the One Below All. Jackie McGee is with them and tells them that won't hold up to a jury, before Captain Marvel arrives and informs Walter she has been speaking with General Fortean who wants to take him into custody, threatening him with lethal injection, unless she can offer him up the Hulk. Bruce Banner is now in Iowa, walking through the countryside when Captain Marvel and the Avengers find him. Jennifer Walters, Bruce's cousin, expresses her anger towards Bruce, and Captain Marvel tells Bruce that he has to go with them. They aren't prepared to fight him, as they know they have to kill Banner to set the Hulk free – until Banner announces that he is already dead and transforms into the Hulk.
Minnesota, where in his dingy motel room, Bruce Banner sits on the edge of a bed. He remembers dying years ago – bombarded by gamma radiation, he couldn't stop screaming – so he got up again, and something inside him was unlocked that day – a dark opposite, a shadow self – stronger than him, stronger than anyone – too strong for death to claim. Bruce knows that he can die during the day, but the night is the Hulk's time – and when it comes, he drags him back – and then he is left with hazy, broken memories – and the Hulk's rage in his mirror. Bruce stares into a full-length mirror across the room, the Hulk glaring back at him. Bruce decides that if he is the scientific self, the voice of rationality, the Hulk then represents unreason. The Hulk is smarter than him, but takes the form of hunches and gut feelings, strange synchronicities and intuitive connections – magical thinking. Bruce looks tired, he sips a cup of coffee, and the Hulk in the mirror suddenly punches the mirror, cracking it. 'That's new' Bruce thinks.
Bruce knows that the Hulk has been like this for two days now, while he has been doing the hard work of survival – stealing clothes, food and a credit card for a motel, the Hulk has been banging on the inside of the mirror. Bruce hasn't dared let him out since fight with Walter Langkowski, where something had infected Walter's Sasquatch form - his attempt to create a controlled Hulk by subjecting himself to gamma radiation. Bruce's memories are hazy, but he knows that Hulk defeated Sasquatch by draining Walter's gamma energy into himself – into them – and he is starting to suspect that something else came with it – the evil of his father, Brian Banner.
Bruce needs to talk to the Hulk and recalls how they used to be able to have diplomatic conferences in baroque mindscapes, metaphorical wrestling matches – but now he needs other methods. Bruce closes his eyes, takes a breath and lets it go, emptying his mind as he holds a pen over a piece of paper. He lets his hand move as it will, nothing guiding the pen on the paper but his unconsciousness – automatic writing. Bruce reminds himself that the magician John Dee used it to transcribe the language of angels. 'Now what does that mean, Hulk?' Bruce wonders, looking at the piece of paper which has the word “HOME” scrawled on it. The irony does not escape Bruce, but he wonders where “home” is.
At a small cabin in California, Betty Ross Banner sits on the sofa watching a television report which informs viewers that authorities remain silent on the events that left four dead in a Minnesota hospital, but on social media the rumors won't go away. The announcer adds that they will have more on the deadliest Hulk sighting after some messages.
'It isn't him. Just stop it, Betty. Stop doing this to yourself. It isn't him' Betty tells herself as she turns the television off. 'Your husband isn't back from the dead' Betty remarks, wiping tears from her eyes, she is sure that if he was back he would have let her know – so this isn't him. 'It can't be' she utters.
'Ouch. I don't know about you guys... but I'm starting to feel like a creep' remarks someone who is suspended upside down, attached to some machinery by cables, their eyes held open with metal devices, wires extending into their eye socket. There are several others all hanging upside down as well, and before them is an aquarium with sharks and jellyfish, and several monitors, each depicting a different person or location – the crying Betty Ross Banner, Doc Samson who is reading a book, and also the gravesite of Rick Jones. 'Why? It's just monitoring. How are we supposed to know if Banner's contacting his support network if we don't keep tabs on them?' one of the others asks. 'I honestly figured he'd show up when Cho went crazy in New York' another remarks, referring to Amadeus Cho.
'He should've showed up for a lot of things. Banner hasn't even visited Rick Jones' grave. That's just cold' one of them mysterious people declares. Another of them asks if this data is logging, and reports that Monitor Five has had no contact with Skaar in the last 24 hours. 'No, we're just – it's a conversation, Five. C'mon. All I'm saying is, this isn't just a civilian, this is – it's General Ross' daughter. The boss of our boss' they point out. 'It just feels like -' they begin, when a voice calls out 'This job is too much for you'. 'General Fortean?' the Monitor responds, as General Fortean walks down a corridor, another man in civilian clothing moves alongside him on some sort of platform with wheels. 'I was listening in. Even the Monitors need to be monitored' General Fortean declares, adding hat monitor work takes dedication, unquestioning dedication. 'Maybe we should put you to work on something more your speed' General Fortean suggests as he opens the door to the monitor room. 'I – Sir. I was only -' the Monitor begins.
General Fortean announces that they will have the Monitor's implant procedures reversed by 0600, then they can report to sanitation for a mop. General Fortean instructs Monitor five to handle the other Monitor's feed until they install their replacement. 'He understands the importance of the work' General Fortean declares, before telling the rest of the Monitors that the people on those screens are not innocent bystanders, they are not civilians and they are not friendlies – they have all given aid and comfort to the Hulk – which makes them the enemy. 'As you were' Fortean instructs them as he leaves the room with the other man. 'Oof. Sorry, bro' one of the Monitors remarks to the Monitor who has lost their job.
'So... you think Ross would mind? If he knew?' the other man asks, sipping a soft drink as he follows General Fortean down the corridor. 'It's not his business to know, Dr Clive' Fortean replies, adding that General Ross is too close to Banner, that he always has been, and he understands that now, so it is better he focuses completely on the Steve Rogers situation and leaves Hulk Operations to a trusted second in command, such as he. Dr Clive points out that it gives Ross plausible deniability, and recalls that the great American public was not thrilled with how Gamma Base was run back in the day. 'If they knew about Shadow Base -' Dr Clive begins, but Fortean interrupts him, telling him that he would be surprised, as more and more the electorate understands that nothing is off the table when it comes to the security of their nation. 'When the enemy acts – we react in kind. Thunderbolt Ross taught me that' Fortean tells Dr Clive. They walk past the green skeletal remains of something stored in a display case, as Fortean informs Dr Clive that he fought Ross when he was a Hulk, and when he found the truth, it opened his eyes – Ross turned himself into the same kind of monster he was fighting, by doing so, he nearly achieved final victory – but he made one mistake.
A door slides open, 'He thought one moster was enough' Fortean declares as he and Dr Clive step into another laboratory, where several scientists are going about their work, a stasis chamber in the center of the room glows green with the gamma-irradiated remains of Del Fry. 'Hey, Charlene, how's our buddy Del today?' Dr Clive asks. Charlene looks up at the stasis tank and reports that Mr Frye has been the same since he was dug out of that grave in Colorado. She explains that his pain receptors are still off the charts, he is in agony. 'But if you approve some adjustments to the tank mix, we can reduce that. Eliminate it, even -' Charlene tells Dr Clive, who points out that recalibrating the system would take days. 'And what do we get? What's our get here, Charlene? Forget his little fee-fees. Where are we at replicating him?' Dr Clive asks. Charlene turns to a man sitting at a computer and calls him Jase as she asks him what they've got. 'Not much, Dr McGowan' Jase responds.
Jase continues, explaining that he is pretty sure what caused this is in his blood, some kind of gamma serum, but it is like cracking a code written in a dead language. 'We need a Rosetta Stone' he adds. Dr Clive sips his soft drink as he reminds General Fortean that as he has told him, they can't make real progress on the project without an actual Hulk to study. 'And that would require resources we don't have, Doctor – not yet' Fortean frowns. 'The sheer firepower it would take to capture the Hulk -' he begins, but Dr Clive interrupts him, 'Not the Hulk – a Hulk. An active one. Like Cho or Walters. But... I don't know, someone nobody will miss...' Dr Clive suggests. Fortean pauses, before asking where Langkowski was taken to.
The Alpha Flight Space Station, where Dr Walter Langkowski lies on a table wearing only a pair of briefs. Eugene Judd a.k.a. Puck and reporter Jackie McGee stand nearby, while Dr Michael Twoyoungmen a.k.a. Shaman stands next to the table, waving a mystical staff that glows with energy. 'I didn't want any of this. You all know that, right?' Walt declares. 'I mean, I checked with Shaman. I asked him if the Great Beasts were active. If Tanaraq might be back – and you said no, Mike. I distinctively remember that' Walt exclaims. Shaman just tells Walter to hold still, as Walt explains that is why he wanted to find Bruce. 'I thought the monster in the mirror – I thought it was psychological, some version of what he had. Maybe it is, I don't know' Walter adds, narrowing his eyes as he tells the others that he would never choose to hurt anyone – never.
'Really?' Jackie frowns, pointing out that Walter spent half his life and millions of dollars of his own money, years of study working to become a hairy Hulk – all of this is because of a choice he made. Walter sits up on the table and tells Jackie that he didn't choose to get stabbed, and that dying on the table was not a voluntary act. Puck sees that Walt is agitated and tells him to simmer down. Puck then reminds Ms McGee that she is here because she is the only eyewitness to what happened, and asks her if she saw any signs of this thing before the hospital. Jackie pauses before telling Puck that something about the stabbing bothers her – it was too random – there was no argument before they arrived at the pub, then it was like the closer Walter got, the angrier the two men became. 'So you're blaming me for my own death?' Walter asks, sitting on the edge of the table. 'Not you' Shaman tells him. 'The thing that stole your body at the point of death and made it a murder weapon' he explains.
Shaman puts the staff into his medicine pouch, and it vanishes as he adds that it wasn't Tanaraq, either – nor any of the Great Beasts, as they still slumber, this is something deeper. 'Imagine...a primal shadow, waiting in the darkness underneath all that is' Shaman explains. 'Creation's other face. The face we cannot bear to see. The one below all' Shaman adds. 'Seriously? Possession by the forces of darkness?' the skeptical Jackie replies, folding her arms. 'Don't knock it, eh?' Puck tells her. 'You walk the paths I have, and those forces start to look very real, Jackie – and more than a little scary' Puck remarks. 'Maybe. But you undersand how it'll sound to a jury, right?' Jackie replies. 'Believe me, Ms McGee...I absolutely do' Carol Danvers a.k.a. Captain Marvel declares as she enters the room, before asking Jackie to give them the room, and telling her that she will be happy to answer any questions she might have in just a moment. '... sure' Jackie replies.
Uh, hi, Carol...' Walter remarks, sitting on the edge of the table still without looking at Carol. Carol stands with her hands on her hips as she informs Walter that she just finished talking to one General Fortean, who is currently in charge of the US Hulk Operations. She adds that she called Thaddeus Ross who confirmed that. Carol adds that Fortean is ex-USAF like she is, and remarks that he played that card a lot, building a rapport. 'He's a very charming man' Carol remarks, revealing that Fortean charmingly threatened Walter with a lethal injection – after extradition and trial, of course. Walter looks very concerned by this. Carol adds that for what it is worth, Fortean was very apologetic, and he would love to make it all go away. 'I'll bet, eh? What does he want in return?' Puck enquires.
'That's the thing. Under other circumstances, I'd probably have pursued it anyway' Carol remarks, pointing out that they have Walter's gamma signature, and with Alpha Flight's satellite coverage, they could locate him, if they had to – or they could find a signature very similar to Walter's, like Bruce Banner's. Carol explains that essentially, if her team secures Banner for the proper authorities, Walter is exonerated – if she says no, they take Walter instead. Shaman turns to Captain Marvel and tells her that it seems she has little choice. 'But without the power of Sasquatch, how can Alpha Flight defeat the Hulk?' he asks. Carol tells Michael that they can't, not at their current strength – but there is her other team.
Iowa, under the cover of night, Bruce Banner shuffles along a road, fields on either side of him. He thinks that the night is the Hulk's time, and the message feels clearer now, in his mind – they are going home. The Hulk's home, his place of power – the place where he is strongest, strong enough to beat whatever is inside them, it makes perfect sense. He knows that the route is simple enough, he can hitchhike if he keeps to the back roads and small towns, head west and south across Nebraska and Colorado. He senses something approaching, a ball of energy moves towards him and he sticks his thumb out to hitchhike – but then he realizes that it isn't a car. He turns to find Captain Marvel hovering over him. 'Hello, Bruce' Carol calls out. 'Carol. Always a pleasure' Bruce frowns. 'Or is this business?' he enquires, reminding her that the Avengers have been very good at leaving him alone since he came back. A car approaches in the distance as Carol reminds Bruce that the Hulk helped save the world, it earned him a lot of rope – but that eas a very different set of Avengers.
'And if I'm being honest? Your rope's about run out' Carol declares as the car comes to a stop – it's Ghost Rider, and with him are Black Panther, Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and She-Hulk, in her human form of Jennifer Walters. Bruce looks over at Jen, his cousin and tells her that he is disappointed. 'Disappointed? You're disappointed?' Jennifer retorts. 'Jennifer...' Thor begins, as Jennifer reminds Bruce that she almost died, that she was in a coma, and when she woke up she found out that he had himself killed, that he set himself up to die. 'You knew what that'd do to me and you couldn't even do it yourself!' Jennifer exclaims. 'Had to – had to force my friend – had to guilt Clint into doing that – one of Hulk's oldest friends and you – you knew – you knew what that would do to the Hulk -' Jennifer shouts, becoming quite agitated, she begins to shift into her She-Hulk form, until Thor touches her shoulder and tells her to take control. 'Hulk – knows. I know' Jennifer responds.
Carol tells Bruce that they are not here to hurt him, that they can help him – she wants to help him, but right now, she needs him to come with them. 'Right now? Are you sure? The sun's gone down. It's night, Carol. It's his time' Bruce replies. Carol informs Bruce that she has spoken to Ms McGee and that she has studied the sightings, so they know the pattern – every sighting, it has been the same, every single one – night is the Hulk's time. 'But to set the Hulk free, Bruce Banner has to die. And that's just not going to happen, Bruce'. Carol responds. Bruce clenches a fist and responds 'But that's my secret, Captain. I'm already dead' he reveals as he suddenly transforms into the Hulk!
Bruce Banner / Hulk
Puck, Sasquatch, Shaman (all Alpha Flight)
Black Panther, Captain America, Captain Marvel VI, Ghost Rider V, Iron Man, She-Hulk (all Avengers)
Betty Ross Banner
Dr Clive, General Fortean, Jase, Dr Charlene McGowan, Monitor Five and other Monitors (all US Hulk Operations)
in Bruce Banner's memory:
This issue has the Legacy numbering of Hulk #723.
Del Fry was injected with a gamma serum in Immortal Hulk #2.
Walter was stabbed and died in Immortal Hulk #4, and had the gamma radiation stripped from his body in Immortal Hulk #5.
Shaman is not ordinarily based at the Alpha Flight Space Station, as he is still occasionally active with the Canadian-based Alpha Flight.
In Alpha Flight (4th series) #3, Sasquatch was warned that the more time he spent in his Sasquatch form the less human he would become. During his time with the Alpha Flight Space Program, he only ever appeared in his Sasquatch form. This marks his first appearance in his human form in some time.
She-Hulk was put in a coma during the “Civil War II” event, and in that same event, Hulk arranged to have Hawkeye kill him. Hulk returned to life during the “Avengers No Surrender” storyline, and it was while working with that Avengers team that he helped to save the world.