Avengers: 2017 “Where Are They Now?” Update (Hulk and Rick Jones)

It’s funny but for all the boasting of being “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes”, the Avengers sure do start out kinda “remainder bin”. While the first two parts focus on the big guns and the mighty tiny, this last look at the founding class is indeed the most… misfit.

hulk.kirby

Art by Jack Kirby and Dick Ayers

HULK (Dr. Robert Bruce Banner)

Joined: Avengers #1 (Sept, 1963); Founder

Current Affiliation: Former Member (Deceased)

History:  Brilliant nuclear physicist sharing existence with a gamma-fueled, rage-monster alter ego. Purple pants aficionado. Excellent smasher. Historically the second-most recognizable of all Marvel icons behind Spider-Man, you’d be hard-pressed to find a soul alive who doesn’t have some inkling as to who the Incredible frikkin’ Hulk is!

For those who may need a reminder, though, he’s been rockin’ this catchy ditty since the ’60s. In the late 1970s, he even gains a sad “walking away” outro, playing him off screen until the next adventure.

However, despite all this greater pop culture love, the career of “Hulk The Avenger” is altogether something else…

In the early days, the Hulk serves more as a catalytic element for driving the plot forward than as an equal-footed partner in the fledgling organization- literally being the reason the Avengers form!

Using the Hulk as an unwitting pawn, Loki the Asgardian God of Mischief devises a scheme to lure his hated brother, Thor, into hopefully-mismatched combat.  An unforeseen side-effect of baiting the Thunder God also independently brings Iron Man and the Ant-Man/Wasp duo onto the scene. Before long, Thor senses his adopted sibling’s handiwork as the others track down “The Strongest There Is”. This is where things get… interesting.

av1.robotclown

Art by Jack Kirby and Dick Ayers

On the run for Loki’s criminal framing, the Hulk seeks refuge in the one place he knows to be the perfect sanctuary: a traveling circus (of course, so obvious!). Now, bear in mind that this is just one of those logic-defying-yet-delightfully-campy Silver Age moments that you just have to take with a proverbial grain of salt but somehow the Hulk enacts a ruse wherein he pretends to play (wait for it)… a robot clown. Yes, that’s right- once again:  A Robot. Clown. Both words together as a compound concept- as if it’s just some commonplace thing that you’d never think twice about. Nonchalantly pretending to read a newspaper on a park bench until it all blows over evidently isn’t an option…

So, yeah, the subterfuge doesn’t last and a classic “misunderstanding” fight breaks out. Eventually, Thor shows up with the real villain, the heroes all combine forces and the Avengers are born.

Depending on who’s writing over the years, there’s some latitude as to exactly how long and to what extent this “honeymoon phase” lasts. However, by the historic second publication (November, 1963), ol’ Jade Jaws is on the outs as a member of the official “charter and mansion” Avengers. The next few issues thereafter chronicle the relationship going from bad to worse.

From there, the Hulk is rarely in the franchise- save for the odd appearance throughout the decades. And it’s never the same interaction. Sometimes he’s an adversary, sometimes a reluctant ally, sometimes he’s only semi-reluctant and sometimes he genuinely surprises, making the Avengers kinda have to say, “why did we break up with this guy, again?”. It really all depends on his mood, disposition and general level of intelligence at any given moment.

indhulk11.mukesh

Art by Mukesh Singh

Fast- forward to 2012. In an effort to better cross-platform promote, the Hulk gradually makes his way back into the fold. Starting with an extremely Marvel Cinematic Universe-friendly storyline running in the Avengers Assemble title and moving through the Avengers Vs. X-Men big summer event series, the Hulk is viewed more and more as a powerfully valuable asset by his once and future peers.

Indeed, when the Avengers restructure during the original “Marvel Now!” marketing initiative, Banner is given a core position on the new roster. Tony Stark, particularly, lobbies heavily for his “Science Bro”…

Banner continues to give back and get his by also enlisting in S.H.I.E.L.D., who assign him his own science-based task force (the Indestructible Hulk series). In exchange, the Hulk is called upon to handle missions far above and beyond regular agents (like policing the timestream in the wake of 2013’s Age of Ultron series).

Being something of a smarty-pants, Banner’s only back in the Avengers for a short while before uncovering that Tony’s also involved in an ongoing reunion of the secretive Illuminati. Instead of going public with the information, Stark brings Banner into the think tank on a full-time basis as the two concoct a “Hulk freak out” scenario that “conveniently” leads to the green giant’s removal from the Avengers.

Shortly thereafter, Banner is shot in the head(!) and only a direct cranial injection of Tony’s hi-tech Extremis formula is able to save him. Unexpectedly, this yields a new intelligent-yet-still-kinda-schemey Hulk personality: “Doc Green”. Before stabilizing, the bromance hits a snag when the apparently long-forgotten tidbit that brash, young weapons-manufacturer Tony Stark drunkenly forgets to carry a “2” or something when asked to consult on a certain infamous gamma bomb test comes to light (2014’s Original Sin).

After this, Doc’s agenda is rounding up his extended Hulk family and one by one removing their gamma powers. He also has to briefly wrestle with a separate, inverted personality: “Kluh- the Hulk’s Hulk” (2014’s Avengers and X-Men: Axis).

When the Multiverse’s final two Earths collide (2015’s Secret Wars), Banner stays behind to battle the invading forces of the Ultimate Universe and seemingly perishes.

bannerhulk

Art by Alan Davis and Mark Farmer; Colors by Matt Hollingsworth

After reality reconstitutes itself after Secret Wars (the “All-New, All-Different” marketing initiative), Banner evidently goes back to being a fairly standard Hulk still in good standing with the hero community.

On hand for a crisis involving the meltdown of a nuclear reactor, Banner becomes the Hulk in order to safeguard a sizable nearby population. Absorbing way too much radioactivity, colleague/ wunderkind protege Amadeus Cho utilizes nanotechnology in an attempt to leach off the Hulk’s excess. This instead leads to Cho himself accidentally soaking up enough gamma energy to become the “Totally Awesome Hulk” while Banner appears human and completely cured.

banner_rip

Art by David Marquez

After this, Banner’s friends begin to get increasingly concerned. Apparently Doc’s got a bit of a severe morbid fixation despite having this new lease on life. The fact that he keeps mostly to himself and tries to stay off the grid doesn’t help.

At some point, Banner reaches out to fellow Avenger Hawkeye and entrusts the archer with a very special arrowhead and a serious request: if at any point he is showing signs of reverting to the Hulk, Barton is to become Banner’s executioner.

By coincidence, a young Inhuman named Ulysses soon has a prophetic vision of a rampaging Hulk single-handedly destroying the hero community (2016’s Civil War II). Tracking Banner down in the middle of nowhere Utah, a large coalition of heroes and S.H.I.E.L.D. agents decide to give a friendly check-in.

During the course of the whole awkward “hey, we all just happened to be in the neighborhood” conversation, it’s discovered that Banner’s been self-experimenting with gamma again. Just as things are getting their most heated, the aforementioned arrow flies from the treeline, hitting Banner square in the forehead with a quick follow-up bolt piercing his heart.

Surrendering immediately, Barton is soon put on trial. It becomes public knowledge that Banner masterminded his own demise, choosing Barton for his ability to live with making tough decisions. Banner has a respectable funeral and leaves many of his friends behind with some surprising warm fuzzies and profound personal notes.

unav15handhulk.larraz

Art by Pepe Larraz

However, it doesn’t end there. Shortly after the service, the Hand ninja clan (of Netflix’s Daredevil fame) are up to their old “resurrecting the dead” tricks! Temporarily enlisting the aid of the assassin Elektra, the Avengers Unity Squad contend in Japan against the mind-controlled, undead corpse of the Hulk. Once the walking nightmare is defeated, supernatural Avenger, Doctor Voodoo, is able to attest that Banner’s spirit has indeed “crossed over” and is finally at peace.

For the time being, it seems that’s all she wrote for the big guy but who really stays dead in comics, anyway? Given the Hulk’s track record of being spat back out by the void, there could still be a case for “To Be Continued”… (*Turns up collar on back road interstate as “Lonely Man Theme” cues up softly in the distance…*)

rj.kirby

Art by Jack Kirby and Dick Ayers

RICK JONES

Joined: Avengers #1 (Sept, 1963)

Current Affiliation: Honorary Member (Inactive)

History: Musician, hacktivist and professional sidekick. A/V enthusiast. Let’s face it, for an everyman in a world of Marvels, Rick still gets up to a lotta cool stuff! In fact, Comic Book Resources recently published an article highlighting the Top 15.

As a fairly all-encompassing and recent read, I don’t want to retread the same ground. However there are some points to elaborate on…

ihulk1.origin

Art by Jack Kirby and Paul Reinman

So, yes- as an eager-to-impress teenage orphan, Rick accepts a dare from some desert towny kids to drive out onto an active military testing ground. This, of course, leads to his boneheadedly bringing the “public service message” aspect to the origin issue of the Incredible Hulk.

Over the initial six-part run, it’s clear Smilin’ Stan and company really enjoy their new bizarro buddy duo. However, they don’t exactly know what to do with them as the formula switches on a near issue-to-issue basis. Forget the whole historic “grey-to-green” happy accident at the printers- at one point, Rick is granted the ability to mentally control the Hulk!

As the first series winds down, the Teen Brigade is introduced. Showcasing the “big tech craze” all the kids are into in the early ’60s, Rick organizes a bunch of friends into a neighborhood watch-type network using shortwave or “ham” radio. (For those on the younger side, think of it more as trucker-style CB broadcasting and try less to imagine, say, the pork equivalent of a potato battery…)

Due to Marvel’s “sliding timescale”, this bit of mid-century kitsch is given a facelift in recent years. In 2010’s five-part re-examination Avengers: The Origin, the Teen Brigade is brought up to speed as computer hackers. They even introduce some edge to the whole “extras from Happy Days” pallette by packing handguns!

All the same, a lot of them are never given any real identity and only ever appear again in the most minor of roles.

But not Richard Milhouse Jones- who is essentially accredited some kinda “Forrest Gump Award” as the guy who gets the Avengers together…

rj_whisperer

Art by Jesus Saiz

Just prior to the multiversal collapse of 2015’s Secret Wars, Rick abandons one of his brief forays into being an actual superhero when Banner’s Extremis-driven “Doc Green” Hulk removes the gamma energy Jones employs as the blue armadillo-like “A-Bomb”.

When reality resets as the “All-New, All-Different”, Rick realizes he retains the ability to um, … quickly develop new abilities. Not superhuman, mind you, but ridiculous life hacks all the same- some very much in the literal sense. This kinda brings him back to his “geek squad” roots and a new life as anonymous interwebz agitator “The Whisperer”.

In this role, Rick serves as advisory informant to the socially-attuned Captain America, Sam Wilson. However, this is much to the consternation of Old Man Steve Rogers and causes a rift between the former partners.

All this comes to a head when Rick blows the lid off ongoing-though-officially-denied top secret S.H.I.E.L.D. operations involving the Cosmic Cube and a prison where reality is manipulated to reshape inmates (the  Avengers: Standoff! event aka Captain America’s 75th Anniversary).

During this “Assault on Pleasant Hill”, Steve Rogers is reverted to his youthful physique but changed by the Cube with a *cough* secret agenda. In the aftermath, Cap (Rogers) tracks down Jones in a spider-hole and enlists his one-time partner to put his talents to use for S.H.I.E.L.D.

Given that the lid is about to get blown off Rogers’ Secret Empire plans, it stands to reason Rick is probably gonna be on the Helicarrier command deck when it all goes down! That said, he’s front and center for yet another epic without even trying. Who has this luck?!!?

UP NEXT: Tales of Retcon! Lo, There Shall Cometh… The Support Staff!

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