Shadows & Light #3 (July 1998)
"Where Will All Come Home"
Roger Stern-John Buscema/Stephanie Cerwinski
Doug: One of the issues we've discussed from time to time on the BAB is the relative decline in artistic prowess of some of our beloved creators as they aged. Today's story is a short 8-pager contained within Marvel: Shadows & Light #3, a book I was not privy to until several years ago when I purchased the hardcover Marvel Visionaries: John Buscema. This is the collection from which I drew the Silver Surfer short story we looked at four weeks past. If you've never perused these volumes, dedicated to the likes of Stan Lee, Jack Kirby (two volumes), Buscema, Roy Thomas, Chris Claremont, John Romita, et al. then you are missing out on some nice books that do truly survey the careers of these giants at Marvel Comics. What's really interesting about the Buscema book is his artwork not only through the years, but under the influence of different inkers. In today's Hulk tale, Big John inks himself, with an "ink assist" from his granddaughter Stephanie Cerwinski (aka Stephanie Buscema). This story for me is a celebration of John's enduring style, as well as an homage to his days penciling The Savage Sword of Conan almost 20 years earlier. While you may note that this is not the John Buscema who worked with Roy Thomas and Tom Palmer on the Avengers, with Roy Thomas and Joe Sinnott on the Fantastic Four, or with Stan Lee and Dan Adkins on the Silver Surfer, I think you'll still find that this is undeniably Big John, all the way. Let's check it out.
Doug: As you can see from the splash page above, Bruce Banner's come back to one of his old haunts -- the desert caves of New Mexico where he and Rick Jones first tried to contain the Incredible Hulk, Banner's alter ego. Roger Stern's script is really solid in terms of characterization. This is a pensive Banner, bitterly at terms with who (and what) he is, but nonetheless aching to be free. Just from these first three panels, we can pretty safely assume that Dr. Banner isn't going to reach the self-actualization level on Maslow's Hierarchy of Human Needs, huh? We get a recap of the Hulk's early history, from the gamma bomb explosion through the nighttime changes (almost werewolf-like -- Stan and Jack, and Steve Ditko, too, really did reach into all sorts of monster myths and stories when evolving the Hulk, didn't they?), and on into his role in founding the Avengers.
Doug: Banner really begins to have a pity party for himself. Everything he says is true, of the Hulk's rages, his inability to control the monster, the Hulk's inability to stabilize his anger, etc. But Banner lets this get the best of him, and sometimes when we let our guard down we make bad decisions. Catching himself as he notices his pulse rate elevating, Banner tries to take a breather. However, at that instant (ah, fate...), a tremor takes place. Snapping back to reality, Banner reacts quickly by entering the containment chamber -- a place even the Hulk could not get out of. Where else could one feel safer while underground during an earthquake? Careful what you ask for.
Doug: Of course, the cave-in pushes the door to the chamber closed. Hey, I said Stern wrote characterization well -- I didn't say anything about a formulaic story! But what this scene did for me when I read it was trigger a link to Mark Ruffalo's portrayal of Banner in last summer's Avengers film. His reluctance to do anything to anger or initiate the presence of "the big guy" is the sort of dichotomous struggle that our Bruce Banner now finds himself going through. The chamber doesn't have a great source of oxygen, and even less-so after the earthquake. Banner thinks to himself -- the curse could be over, and soon. Just let nature take its course and the Hulk will lose. Of course, Banner will be dead. But he won't have to deal with the Hulk anymore.
Doug: Buscema draws two transformation scenes in this story -- the longer one is pictured above. I love Banner's line, "One thing is always the same... every time... it hurts!" It was years before we learned that Wolverine's claws pierce his skin each time he unsheathes them, actually causing him to bleed -- the healing factor is what makes it even remotely tolerable. Referencing the Avengers film again, the stress and strain of bones and muscles growing to gargantuan proportions was well-done in the SHIELD Helicarrier scene. Both Ruffalo as well as our first live-action (David) Bruce Banner, Bill Bixby, gave us a visual flavor of what that might just feel like. I like Buscema's depiction of the Hulk with the Moe Howard haircut -- sort of dumb and savage all at the same time. But the Hulk's speech patterns fall somewhere in between his Bronze Age characterization and the so-called "smart Hulk" of the 1990's. I should mention that there is no indication of when this tale takes place.
Doug: After hammering the walls almost to the point of exhaustion, the Hulk -- near collapse -- notices that fissures have manifested themselves in the stone and water is showing along the new seams. Sensing that if water can get in, the Hulk can certainly get out, he makes one last herculean effort to punch his way out. Just prior to the panels above, Stern showed us the ongoing mental struggle between Banner and the Hulk, as Banner's voice was in the Hulk's brain, taunting him for not being able to break out. The Hulk spoke directly to his alter ego, telling Banner to shut up. Of course Peter David would really explore this schizophrenia during his run on the book. As you can see, the Hulk's final effort proves sufficient, and he is at last free. The deluge carries him out of the subterranean chamber and to freedom. As he drifts to the surface, completely spent, the Hulk mutters, "Can rest now. But Hulk cannot be beaten! Remember that, Banner... Remember..." As we see Banner replace the Hulk in the water, he in turn says, "I can never forget, Hulk."
Doug: Roger Stern really nails the whole aura of the Hulk in a line thought by Banner at the end of the story. I think it's really nice -- it's so good, in fact, that if you were going to give a newcomer a one-panel tutorial on what the Incredible Hulk is all about, it would be this:
"He heard me. He heard my fear as taunts, and fought all the harder. The Hulk has been the bane of my existence... but I owe the big brute my life. Again."