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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…*)

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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…

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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…

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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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“What’s so Civil about War, Anyway?” Looking Back on Marvel’s 2006 Mega-Event (Prologue Segment, Part 2)

Things may happen quickly in the Marvel Universe but they rarely come out of nowhere. The first part of this series deep-dives into some of the earliest examples of the Marvel heroes gradually pushing toward their Civil War. Let’s jump back into it now and examine the next batch of cases…

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Cover to Wolverine, Vol.3 #20, cover-dated December, 2004. Art and colors by John Romita, Jr., Klaus Janson and Paul Mounts

WOLVERINE: ENEMY OF THE STATE/AGENT OF S.H.I.E.L.D.

Wolverine, Vol. 3 #20 – 31 (2004 – 2005)One-part spiritual homage to a discarded Chris Claremont X-Men plot. One part swipe from Akira Kurosawa. Prior to properly writing the MU’s “cast of thousands” in Civil War, Mark Millar backdoor-pilots his ambition through this saga (accompanied by future Kick-Ass co-creator, penciler John Romita, Jr.). Spread out as it does over twelve issues, it actually has more in keeping with Kill Bill.

Like Quentin Tarantino’s cinematic two-parter, each half has its own distinct flavor. You don’t exactly get a grindhouse-esque “revenge flick/cowboy flick” but what you get is a super-hero “action/suspense/horror story” followed by a “action/spy-fi/revenge-thriller”. And ninjas. Such ninjas, omg…

If you have a penchant for crying “Rip Off!”, please note that Millar springboards the entire run by wholesale lifting the logline from the 1963 Japanese film High and Low (well, maybe not the “shoe company” part). Wolverine easily grafts into the scenario: the chauffeur of the wealthy businessman is the cousin of Mariko Yashida, Logan’s deceased ex-fiancee. Wolverine feels honor-bound to get the cousin’s abducted-in-a-case-of-mistaken-identity kid back BUT- Admiral Ackbar-senses tingling– It’s a trap!!

Turns out the gangsters actually kidnapped the right kid. The ransom was never the thing- they wanted the one with tangential ties to Logan. Double twist: these goons are also the little fish. The real masterminds: a diabolical consortium of HYDRA, the deadly Hand ninja cult and a nihilistic extremist mutant faction called The Dawn of the White Light (which actually sounds more like an underground gothcore band that releases all of its music exclusively on hand-written cassettes…).

Triple twist (the really sad one): They killed the kid off-panel prior to the ambush…

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“This is how boastful The Gorgon is, defeating you in the third person!” (Wolverine Vol. 3 #20, cover-dated December 2004. Words by Mark Millar. Art and colors by John Romita, Jr., Klaus Janson and Paul Mounts)

Thanks to the Hand’s ninja magic (as seen on the Netflix Daredevil series), the bad guys resurrect Wolverine after somehow killing him. Don’t ask how one sword to the back is supposed to take out a guy with a mutant healing factor, shown to have taken far worse on multiple other occasions. But, okay, disbelief suspended for the sake of seeing where this is going…

Brainwashing the ol’ Canucklehead into being a cybernetically-monitored murder puppet, he’s Trojan-horsed back into the world. Picked up by a S.H.I.E.L.D. freighter, Logan feigns injuries acquired during a falsified escape from captivity. Taken to the infirmary, he soon unleashes a campaign of bloody hell while gathering intelligence data and sinks the ship! Old white Nick Fury appoints unlikely anti-hero, Elektra Natchios, freelance field leader of a special task force and places all of herodom on double-dodeca super-secret lockdown.

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Better get used to these guys and their “big ideas”… (Wolverine Vol. 3 #22, cover-dated January, 2005. Words by Mark Millar. Art and colors by John Romita, Jr., Klaus Janson and Paul Mounts)

One of Wolverine’s next big targets is the Baxter Building- home of the Fantastic Four- to steal as many theoretical designs for potentially-destructive superscience gadgets as he possibly can (like a terraformer that Reed Richards just happens to be working on at the moment). While this infiltration is happening, Reed is seen in virtual teleconference with Tony Stark and Hank Pym. Seems incidental in the moment but it’s a think-tank gathering that Millar revisits at length during Civil War.

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“Gratuitous appearance?! Do you know whose book yer in, bub?!?” (Wolverine Vol. 3 #24, cover-dated March, 2005. Words by Mark Millar. Art and colors by John Romita, Jr., Klaus Janson and Paul Mounts)

During a(nother) fake-out ploy to bring Daredevil over to the dark side (‘cuz Matt Murdock versus The Hand is such low-hanging fruit), The Gorgon and company acquire their real objective: killing and resurrecting Elektra. (What was that about low-hanging fruit, again?)

Bringing the nightmare to a crescendo, Wolverine is outfitted with a weaponized version of Reed Richards’ terraformer. Utilizing it as blackmail, he stealths his way back into the X-Mansion and demands that one of the resident psychics (Rachel Summers/Grey) use the X-Men’s Cerebra telepathic amplifier to remote-control mentally kill the US President.

Being telekinetic as well as telepathic, Rachel turns the tables by mentally contacting Reed Richards instead and learns how to safely dismantle the device. Wolverine begins cutting a destructive swath across the school and its grounds, pursued by a combination of X-Men, S.H.I.E.L.D. agents and heroes such as Cap and Iron Man.

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“Oh my god, you killed Northstar!!” (said in mock ‘South Park’ fashion. By no one ever…) (Wolverine #25, vol. 3 #25, cover-dated April 2005. Words by Mark Millar. Art and colors by John Romita, Jr., Klaus Janson and Paul Mounts)

Eventually, their efforts prove to be enough to take Wolverine down (Cap gives him a pretty fierce slam with the shield from behind) but not without casualty. On-loan Alpha Flight mutant speedster, Northstar, is fatally stabbed during the round-up. (Canadians sticking together, eh?)

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Side ‘B’. (Cover to Wolverine, Vol. 3 #27, cover-dated June, 2005. Cover art and colors by Greg Land and Richard Isanove. Homage to cover of 1968 Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. #4 by Jim Steranko)

Back in S.H.I.E.L.D. custody, Wolverine undergoes a rehabilitative process to dial him back to pre-abduction levels of hairy mutant psychopath. During this time, the bad guys change up tactics. In addition to absconding with and resurrecting Northstar’s body, they begin “recruitng” from the less-organized costumed villain population. Amassing a small army, The Gorgon then turns his legions onto S.H.I.E.L.D. and its Helicarrier as either a manuever to liberate Wolverine or to outright cripple the organization. Either way…

Fury is severely injured in the raid but not before Wolverine gets commissioned to get back into the field as the best there is at what he does. What he does next is criss-cross the globe  with fully-sanctioned S.H.I.E.L.D. assets, kicking ass and taking names.

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“Shut your eyes, Marion. Don’t look at it no matter what happens!” (Wolverine, Vol. 3 #31, cover-dated October, 2005. Art and colors by John Romita, Jr., Klaus Janson and Paul Mounts)

Eventually, he catches up with the bad guys. It’s revealed Elektra’s been a deep-cover plant since her abduction (because Elektra gets brainwashed by The Hand?! Pffftt– sooo been there, done that…). Wolverine also manages to turn The Gorgon’s mutant “turn you to stone” stare back on him using the old Clash of the Titans trick and the reflectiveness of his metal claws.

So, all’s well that– oh wait, the kid’s still dead. Man, kinda hard to put this one in the “win” column, huh?

The impact on the Civil War landscape: This is probably the last story wherein S.H.I.E.L.D. operates in a “passive alliance” capacity with individual masked heroes. Certainly the last with “classic” old white Nick Fury at the helm.

Time was, the Old Warhorse would just show up with his red shirt bit players, roll up his sleeves and lend a helping hand to whatever shenanigans were going down- didn’t matter if you were Cap, Kitty Pryde or frikkin’ Howard the Duck. Sure, he’d grumble about loose-cannon vigilantism but everybody’d just go on their own way at the end of the adventure. After this story, though, seems like it might not be the case much longer…

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“Why don’t you jump on the team and come on in for the big win?” (Wolverine, Vol. 3 #30, cover-dated September, 2005. Words by Mark Millar. Art and colors by John Romita, Jr., Klaus Janson and Paul Mounts)

The idea that “capes” would just organically fold into a paramilitary organization as superhuman “assets” is one Millar institutes in his Ultimates run and it kinda seeps in here- particularly the expeditious and somewhat offhand manner in which S.H.I.E.L.D. “deputizes” not only Wolverine but more questionable costumed characters such as Elektra, Rhino, Tombstone and the Constrictor. This trend of using villains willing to play ball with “the man” is one that will prevail into Civil War and beyond. But yeah, Millar is sure chomping to push some big, unified “us versus them” super-police force thing…

Another sign of that this indeed a “through the looking glass” post-9/11, post-Ultimates Marvel is the facility with which superscience equals WMDs; particularly that of Reed Richards, which, until this point, always held a certain naive/kitschy retro-tinged panache. However, the 21st Century seems to be all about pervasive notions and the air is now rife with conceptual genies that refuse to go back in the bottle. Indeed,  it’s at the very core of  the current Invincible Iron Man series as Brian Michael Bendis ramps into 2016’s Civil War II.

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Wolverine is an evil bastard man. (Wolverine, Vol. 3 #25, cover-dated April 2005. Words by Mark Millar. Art and colors by John Romita, Jr., Klaus Janson and Paul Mounts)

Final note on this story: Wolverine as a villain is one scary mofo! You get impression that the regular people of the Marvel Universe probably should get up every morning and thank him just for fighting on sides of angels. Just sayin’. Oh, and he does go back and rough up the White House again later, though. That’s all with the intent of smoking out operatives of a guy named Romulus responsible for jerkin’ Logan’s chain since his near-literal Day One. Given how long Wolverine’s been around, that’s a long-ass time. This is all chronicled in the Wolverine: Origins series…

Couple of parting sidebars: Elektra  drops off the grid during the big final boss battle with The Gorgon. Some time later, she evidently reappears, having reorganized The Hand around her. In actuality, Elektra is kidnapped and replaced. The reordering is really the handiwork of shapeshifting alien Skrulls, playing a “long-game” revenge against Iron Man and Reed Richards. Hank Pym is also swapped-out for a Skrull shortly after this story. This is all detailed as part of the Secret Invasion saga, though. Maybe we’ll talk about that one day…

Note: The Gorgon in this story (stone-stare mutant Tomi Shishido) is not to be confused with the classic Lee/Kirby cloven-hooved, stompy Inhumans character of the same name. In fact, the article “The” serves as clear and commonly-recognized distinction.  At any rate, The Gorgon reconstitutes and goes on to serve on HYDRA’s high command council in Jonathan Hickman’s 2009 Secret Warriors series, wherein Baron Strucker turns up as well (as not a clone. Not like in this story…). You can read more about that here.

Speaking of “Secret Warriors”(but not the ones you’re probably thinking of, though)…  [MORE→]