Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

Story: Bill Mantlo
Art: Sal Buscema & Gerry Talaoc

Despite the cover, this is one of those rare Spidey / Hulk crossovers when the two of them never come to blows, or even meet.

In fact, out of the whole 40 pages, Spidey appears on only two!

As I turned these pages, I had to wonder just how any magazine could run for an (erm) incredible 300 monthly issues, with a lead character so at odds with reason or thought.

I mean, stories about the Incredible Hulk hardly have the same dynamic as, say, Superman, who's typically solving crimes and fighting the good fight. The Hulk is just a raging monster.

Ahhh, but not always...

Narration: "Perhaps you felt compassion for that accursed creature you knew as the Hulk. He was not a monster, you might once have said, but a poor, tormented titan within which was trapped a poor tormented man.

Understand then, even as these terrified policemen are now coming to understand, that the Hulk you knew is dead and gone...

... and only a bludgeoning, brainless behemoth remains to take his place."

In addressing the reader directly, the narration in this ish reads a bit like a throwback to the sixties, but it maintains the tone of hopelessness throughout this 'special'.

Despite Bruce Banner's recent successes at controlling his alter ego, specifically managing to retain his own persona whilst in the body of the Hulk, by the start of this issue that identity is no more. Bruce Banner's mind has been destroyed forever, so what we are left with for this issue, and by implication forever, is the mindless, rampaging Hulk. Nothing more.

For this battle, then, there's an interesting shift in the other Marvel heroes' perspective. Previously they've always felt some sort of responsibility to Dr Banner, aware that killing the Hulk will also kill an innocent person. Now however, the Hulk has no mind. He can never become anything other than the raging miserable monster which is tearing up New York, and killing people. Without any purpose for their compassion, there's an uncomfortable sense that killing him might actually be the right pre-emptive thing to do.

Mostly, then, this is 40 pages of "Hulk sma-a-ash!", as he indeed does to an apparently endless supply of heroes.

This special 300th issue features a gaggle of guest-heroes, all attempting to stop, and very possibly kill, the title-character, in the name of right. Who on earth are we supposed to side with? Anyone who says comicbooks are clean-cut hasn't acquired much of an overview of them.

Even Power Man and Iron Fist join in the fray, although this is a rare day on which Luke Cage fights without drawing any parallels between the frustration of his predicament and his favourite Christian holiday.

On another subject, look at how scared these people are on the opening page:

You have to wonder why, in the face of so much super-crime, for so many years, so many people still choose to live and bring their families up in such a dangerous part of the Marvel world. Manhattan gets evacuated in this, although as we can see above, many citizens need no encouragement.

Like the wording there too – VREEESHTROOM! "RRAARRGHH!" "MA-MAAAAA!"

I'm not sure who scripted this, as while there is a credit for Bill Mantlo's story, no-one seems explicitly credited for the text.

This is ironic, as the credit-box manages to sneak onto four separate pages.

What I mean is, you know how some comics will bury the credits in the details of the artwork? You know, the opening page will feature a close-up of a newspaper or something, with the strip's credits hiding-away in the other headlines? Well that's always bothered me. If those people's names are written on the front page of the Daily Bugle, then doesn't that mean that everyone in New York can read them too?

In this issue, most of the credits, along with the strip's title, are up on a gigantic metal sign that the Hulk is ripping-up on pages 2-3.

Prompting the question, can those extras running away actually read the words "Days Of Rage!" too? What does it mean to them? Why is the sign there? Is there a shop below it called "Days Of Rage!", which has been standing there for many months, maybe years, before this issue takes place? Or is it advertising this very comicbook?

Or, to their eyes, does the sign actually say "K'Mart" or something?

Finding out the answer is not that unlikely. Throughout this issue, the extras are helpfully verbose. Several scenes feature a crowd working together to drive the story, which is handy given how the lead character isn't too keen on explaining things.

Here's a section of page 3 above again, only enlarged so that you can see just what a friendly conversation it's possible for seven apparent strangers to have:

I really want there to be an eighth extra, who responds to extra seven's line "Buddy, the headlines were wrong!" with "The only headline I'm bothered about is that one up there with all those names on!"

But, as this issue makes clear, the Hulk doesn't like too many words. In another post-modern moment (to be clear - I jest), he apparently chooses to hurl half the sign up at the narrator when he gets a bit too chatty...

Yep, the word 'RAGE' is still there on the sign, but Jim Shooter and Carl Potts' credits were apparently only visible earlier to comicbook readers! (I should have paid more attention back on page 1)

You have to hand it to Marvel. They mark their 300th issue of this title, not with a happy celebratory tale, but by actually killing-off its main protagonist (Bruce Banner), making its title-hero the villain, and ultimately winding the whole story up by banishing the Hulk to another dimension for the rest of his existance.

I mean I know it was all probably reversed in a later issue, but the sheer finality of the Hulk's fate here really makes the whole thing feel like it's the last issue ever.

And if that's not a cliffhanger that will bring 'em back again next month, then I just don't know what is.

Who said regular audiences like happy endings?

"True, the Hulk as those heroes assembled for his passing knew him – and as you knew him, reader – is dead and gone.

But somewhere in the spaces between dimensions, if you cock an ear and listen carefully, you'll hear a howling so horrible as to chill your blood, a screaming fit to freeze your soul.

It is the cry of the Hulk you hear, a bestial cry, the cry of an animal abandoned and alone. It is the bay of a beast banished from the only reality he has ever known...

... and his rage is enough to ravage worlds!"


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