A Mighty Tale Told in the Marvel Manner
Beauty and the Beast
November 12, 1962
By now Rick Jones was no stranger to trouble. Betty, or rather the Hulk, had managed to change back into her old self once again in the cave with seemingly no aftereffects. She had seemed cheerful, not to mention overjoyed at her body apparently being healed, but there was just something wrong about the experience.
"All that work, and we undo in less than a minute."
"Calm down Rick" Betty teased as she covered herself a spare lab coat that Dr. Sterns had left behind. "I'm normal now." Walking up towards the mouth of the cave, she stuck her hand out into the moonlight. "See? No change, plus I am in control when I do change. So there is no problem at all."
"Easy for you to say Betty, but what about your father? Our little outing yesterday" He checked the calendar to see that they had been gone a full day, "Is going to attract some attention. And you were supposed to be cured."
"But I am cured Rick. Don't you see? With my mind and the Hulk's body, there would be no end to the good we could do."
"Un huh. And what about your old man? When he hears about this he's liable to have me shot on sight."
"You let me worry about Daddy." Betty smiled and walked over to him. Before Rick could question her actions or the strange look on her face, he was enveloped in a hug that suggested the embrace of the Hulk and not Betty.
"Whoa, what's that for?"
"For helping me. Now come on, we might as well break the news to the old Thunderbolt."
As it turned out, there was little need for them to travel all the way back to the base. Once the sighting of a "strange gray-skinned monster and a teenager" was made, A small envoy of men lead by Dr. Sterns drove out to the cave and met them half-way. Seeing Betty's state of dishevel, most of the men assumed that something else had transpired out in the desert, and a few sniggers were had, but Dr. Sterns instantly saw the real reason for her attire.
Ushering the two teens into his jeep, Dr. Sterns waved off the soldiers as they continued on their mission. "I'll just take these two back to the base Captain" He said with a phony smile as he turned the jeep around. "Good luck hunting that monster."
The ride back to the base was largely silent. As the Gamma Base loomed before them, Sterns shot a quick glance at Betty. "Your father knows Betty. How could you undo all that work?" His tone was more hurtful than anything, but Betty rolled her eyes.
"I healed myself doc, and I am I control of the Hulk. I'd say I improved a few things, wouldn't you?"
The argument continued until they drove up to the base, when all three of them had enough smarts to keep silent. Passing through the gate, Dr. Sterns drove all the way to the home of General Ross without saying a word. As the jeep pulled into the driveway, he looked back at Rick and Betty. "Your father has a few things he wants to show you Betty." He turned his attention to Rick. "Mr. Jones, I think it best if we let the two talk. I want you to come with me back to the lab and show me exactly what you did."
Rick offered no argument. Betty climb out of the backseat without revealing too much of herself and made her way inside. "How much trouble are we in?" He finally screwed up courage to ask as Dr. Sterns changed gears and started to drive back out into the open desert.
"More than I am in. Rick, all that work, all those months of research, and you manage to undo all that within what, five minutes?"
"An apology isn't going to cut it mister. You say Betty is in control, but how much control?"
"Alright, I screwed up, ok?" Rick had finally had enough of being talked to like he was a mutt. "Doc, you saw how Betty was. I just wanted to help."
Sterns was silent as they drove. He spoke up again just before they reached the hidden lab. "I can appreciate your wanting to help Rick, but that was the wrong way to go about it. You may, however, have given us a golden opportunity. If Betty is really in control of the beast, and the metamorphosis trigger is now the gamma gun and not nightfall, then I think we are still in the clear."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, as long as Betty doesn't use the gun on herself, then she should stay as Betty, correct?"
"Yeah" Rick was slowly getting the idea.
"Then all we have to do is disable the gun, and our problems should be over."
Back at the base, another discussion was taking place. Betty had expected her father to peel the wallpaper off the walls with his screaming or smoking his cigars until the room was obscured by the smoke. Instead, he sat quietly behind his desk.
"Betty, I want to show you something." He said quietly as he turned to a control panel set off to the side. After pressing a few buttons, the room grew dark as the lights dimmed. The whirl of a projector started, and on the wall in front of him there was the beginning of a film. "Watch this." His tone brooked no argument.
The film was simply footage from the various weapons testing that took place on the base. The target of the weapons, however, was what piqued Betty's interest. Before her she saw facsimiles of her gray alter ego being shot at, blown up, and generally incapacitated by a variety of weapons. She winced when she saw a particularly large missile explode near a dummy that resembled the Hulk. Strange white foam burst forth from the wreckage and enveloped the dummy. The foam seemed to harden and encase the dummy in a cocoon, but the foam did not stop with simply holding the dummy captive. The strange mixture started to constrict, and it continued until the dummy's head was snapped off.
"And that's only a sample. Ever since the Hulk arrived, the brass in D.C. has wanted to know why haven't we taken care of her. We keep getting weapons to do much worse than what you are seeing." With a press of a few buttons, the film stopped and the lights came back on. "Do you see where I stand Betty? I can't hide you anymore. If you keep running around as the Hulk, people are going to start connecting the dots."
"But I don't have to do that anymore Daddy. I'm in control of the Hulk now."
General Ross sighed heavily as he got up. "Betty, do you remember when I said I would tell you how your mother died?"
Betty froze. "Yes" She said slowly, as a cold realization began to sink in.
"This would be a good time."
And so he talked and she listened. He told of a similar incident back during the War, and of a creature she thought was just a figment of her imagination. He spoke at length about the adventures her mother had, and for a while she actually felt closer to her mother now than when the woman was alive. Her father continued to talk, but his voice grew shaky as the story behind her death reopened old wounds. The old man was nearly in tears when he finished.
Betty felt her cheeks grow hot as she tried not to cry. "Daddy, why didn't you tell me before?"
Wiping his eyes, Ross couldn't even look his own child in the face. "I didn't know how. The thought of you going through what she did, Betty, I just couldn't stand it."
"But I'm different! I don't change when I'm angry or when the sun goes down. I need the gamma gun."
"Which is why you aren't going to be using that thing ever again." Before Betty could protest, he continued. "That power you have is just too dangerous. We got lucky this time, but tell me, could you control that beast again?"
"That beast is me Dad," Betty's tone grew darker. "And I am in control. Do you want me to prove it?"
"Hang on a minute, I didn't mean it like that!" Ross tried to apologize. "Betty, you've been damn lucky so far, but sooner or later it will be either be a weapon or something else that finishes you off. The Hulk is a menace, Betty, and I have to do my duty to this country."
Betty didn't say a word. She simply turned and walked out of the room. Ignoring her father's warnings, she opened the door and stepped outside. She never looked back.
Betty just walked with no set destination. She would still be on the base technically, but the solitude of the open land around appealed to her. She hadn't given any thought about the patrols or even the guarded fences that surrounded the perimeter. The coolness of the night did little to soothe her anger. She didn't feel the pangs of transformation (thus confirming her beliefs) as she fumed but she was unsure of what path to take. She had walked to a small collection of rocks that served as the beginning of a small mountain range that overlooked the base.
"Excuse me, could you help me?" A cultured and vaguely accented voice asked from above her.
"What?" she spun around, nearly in a panic, as dirt and small rocks came sliding down the top of a nearby boulder. The speaker leaned over the top and peered down at her. Even in the dim light from the base, she could make out the man's handsome features. "Who are you, and what are you doing out here?"
"I could ask you the same my dear. My name is Dr. Tyrone. I am an archeologist and I was doing some research in the hills when I became lost. Perhaps you could help me find my way back to camp?"
The man leapt down from the rock and landed silently. Betty marveled at the man as he reached inside a pocket and pulled out a small flashlight. "Excuse me," he said as he flicked it on. In the surprisingly bright beam, Betty could see the man almost as clearly as if it were daylight. The man was tall, blond haired, and had a face that looked like it could cut through the very rocks around them. The only word that described his features was sharp. She was embarrassed to realize that he had been talking while she had been staring.
"Oh, I'm sorry. You were saying?"
Dr. Tyrone stared confidently at her before speaking. "Your name is Betty Ross, is it not?"
Betty froze. "I never told you my name." Several things began to play in high speed in her mind as she stared at the man. For an archeologist, he was rather well dressed. His suit and wingtips were also totally free of dirt. Backing up, a chill settled in her spine as the man smiled at her statement.
"A small slip on my part, but I suppose it was only a matter of time before my deception was found." The man's grin grew wider as the light from the flashlight turned red. "You will come with me now." The man ordered as he reached out. Betty lashed out with a well-placed kick to the man's midsection, but she gasped in horror when her foot passed through the man like he was ghost. His reaction served to further her fear. "A noble gesture, and one I would expect from one so brave, but ultimately a foolish one." Betty quickly found her foot frozen in place as the man placed his hand on a nearby rock and started to walk through it.
"What's going on?" Betty shouted, hoping beyond hope her voice would reach someone on the base.
"Something most interesting." The man said as his face disappeared into the stone. Betty, for the first in a long time, felt utterly helpless as she was dragged inside the rock after him, leaving only a few series of footprints leading straight up to the rock's face.
All things considered, she could have been in a worse place. The effect was almost instantaneous; one second she was struggling for her life out in the open desert, the next she was sitting comfortably on a carved seat with strange creatures surrounding her. The man stood a ways off. His grin had not altered, but the same could not be said about his clothing. Gone was the impeccable suit; in its place was a costume that looked like it had been lifted from an old Hollywood epic. A bright red breastplate covered his chest. The rest of the armor was a dull blue, and protected his lower body. A strange emblem was carved on his belt. It reminded Betty of a bat. The man ordered some of the creatures to affix a flowing blue and purple robe to his armor as he walked towards her.
"Ms. Ross. I am glad to see you were not damaged by my method of transport."
"Who, or what, are you?"
The man's grin grew wider as she asked. "I shall tell you. My true name is Romulus Augustulus, but my subjects address me as Tyrannus the Mighty."
Betty, by this point in her life, was fairly desensitized to unusual events. This, however, made her raise an eyebrow. "Alright, I'll bite big man. Why the crazy handle?"
Tyrannus gestured to the unearthly creatures as he paced around the room. "It suits me best. But you wished to know more about me, or at least, how I knew so much about you, correct?"
"Well, there is that-"
"Then I shall continue my story. My subjects shall see you to your quarters and you will be properly attired to be in my presence." Tyrannus cut her off and walked out of the chamber one way as the pale and hideous creatures ushered her off in another direction.
Once Betty was on her way towards another chamber, Tyrannus's footsteps were soon joined by another pair. "Back so soon my lord? Tell me, did you acquire the specimen?"
Tyrannus stopped and turned to look at the speaker. The man's features were hidden by shadow, but the man's modern dress stood in stark contrast to the ancientness that surrounded him. "Yes, I have brought your precious slave back. I care not for your tone surface dweller. Remember, it was I who gave you purpose."
"Yes, but it was I who told about Ms. Ross and all of that wonderful power!" the man counter argued.
"True, but once she is fully in my thrall, do not presume to dictate what action can be undertaken by my kingdom. I gave you life, and I can just as easily take my gift back."
"Of course my liege, I meant no disrespect."
Meanwhile, the surface…
Dr. Sterns popped his back as he cut off the engine to the jeep. "How steamed do you think the general is going to be?" Rick asked as he hopped out of the back.
On cue, General Ross himself showed up with an armed guard. "Sterns, Jones, inside." He growled as several armed guards surrounded them. Glancing at each other, they both wished the beat up jeep had wings as they were ushered inside the lab.
Noticing that it was only the two of them and the general, both men became nervous. "General Ross, sir, to what do we owe the honor?"
Ross was silent for a full minute as he carefully measured and cut a cigar before lighting it. "Betty's missing."
Surprisingly, it was Rick Jones who stepped forward. "We haven't seen her sir. We've been busy taking the gamma gun apart."
"That's the truth General, I swear!" Sterns felt his brow grower wetter by the second.
Ross said nothing as he stared at the two men. "Alright, let's say she didn't walk all the way out to that hidden cave by herself. Then where did she go?"
Both Sterns and Jones were at a loss. "I have no idea sir. As near as I can tell, she would need the gamma gun in order to become the, you know." he edited himself as he saw the silhouettes of the armed guards passing by the windows.
Ross tried to maintain his composure, but they could tell he was having a hard time doing it. "We had a argument. I told her about her mother, and, blast it I never should have let her out of my sight!" he chomped down on his cigar as he paced around the lab. "If I send patrols out, they might encounter the Hulk, but if I do nothing…no. I won't let my child suffer out there." Ross seemed to be speaking more to himself than to either Sterns or Rick at this point, but both men nearly jumped out of their skins as the general exclaimed loudly. "By thunder, this is pointless!" He lowered his voice as he gestured towards Sterns. "Sterns, use whatever gear you can find and see if you can hone in on her location." Turning to Rick, he stared at the younger man in a way that reminded Rick of some kind of angry god. "You got her into this mess. You are going to be riding with me Mr. Jones, and Heaven help you if my daughter is in any danger. I'll send some men out, but not too many. If the Hulk is out there again, I want the casualties light."
And while her father was raging on the surface, the most danger Betty was in at the moment was of getting a stomachache. Spread out before her was a feast the likes of which she had never seen before. Exotic foods were laid out before her in a culinary frenzy. Foodstuffs she could not even begin to describe tempted her as she tried to ignore the exotics smells that drifted invitingly towards her nose.
Tyrannus was stretched out before on a lounge made of marble. "I see my garment makers were able to weave a dressing that did not hinder your charms," he said, indicating the flowing (and nearly transparent) dress that Betty now wore. "As I was saying earlier, my story does connect to yours in an interesting way. The year was, by your standards, 41 AD. I was little more than a spearman in the service of Emperor Claudius when we invaded the country you call England." Tyrannus's eyes glazed over as he recounted the memories. "We were the mightiest army in creation! Whole tribes fell before out blades as we pressed ever forward, until we encountered that strange man far in the north." His brow deepened at the memory. He snagged a leg off of the nearest plate and tore it away. He chewed loudly as he continued his tale. "The old man was a sorcerer named Merlin. He decimated our ranks with little more than a wave of his fingers." Tyrannus tossed the half-eaten thing away in disgust. He amused himself as he watched the hideous creatures fight over the remains. "I tried to rally the men to lead one last charge, but Merlin cursed me for doing so. Using his infernal magic, he caused the ground beneath our feet to open up and shallow us whole. Out of nearly five hundred men, I alone survived."
Betty was silent throughout the tale. The man's story, if it were true, was the most amazing thing she had ever heard. "Incredible, but how could you have survived for so long?"
Tyrannus laughed at her question, but the laugh seemed to be good humor. "These creatures found me. Even to this day I have little clue as to their origins. These things you see scuttling about before you are the most trained of the lot. If not for me, then I have no doubt that as a race they would have been wiped out centuries ago. They are easily dominated and have no minds to speak of, but in their hands I found marvels! Devices and machines that defy any sort of description, but you, Ms. Ross, are the most important thing in my kingdom."
Betty nervously looked around. There seemed to be no guards, so she didn't she would have a problem fighting her way out, but she wanted to see what Tyrannus had to say before she did anything. "Oh? And why is that?"
"You shall be my queen." It was said in such a matter of fact way that Betty didn't believe it.
"My queen. I have seen your battles, and I must say, that I could think of no one more suitable for my mate. Together, my destiny shall finally be fulfilled."
Betty, now actively searching for a way out, tried to stall him. "And what is your destiny? To be ruler over dirt?"
Tyrannus laughed again, although this time she noticed there was a harder edge to it. "No. My destiny is to rule. I have already conquered the Underworld, now I shall bring the surface world under my rule. With your power by my side, all the armies of the world shall tremble before my might!"
"He's insane!" she thought as she quickly slid off of her lounge and made a break for the door. Dashing past the sentries and barreling past the slaves, she exited out into a vast underground city. "Got to find a way out!" she panicked as she darted down the closest alley and ignored the inhuman babbling that her appearance was causing.
"Going somewhere?" a far too familiar voice rang out from the nearest doorway. The sound of it was enough to make Betty lose her focus and trip. As she lay sprawled on the stone payment, she saw a pair of scuffed boots step into her line of vision. Looking up, she saw the boots belonged to the one person she would have never thought she'd see again. The figure stepped out into the strange light that bathed the area, almost as if to make sure her eyes weren't playing tricks on her.
"In the flesh my dear Ms. Ross!" the man cackled with glee as he stared down at her prone form. "Although, I would appreciate it if you referred to me with my proper title: Chief Scientific Advisor. Doctor is just too limited a title for a man in my position." He calmly spoke as he reached into a pocket on his unkempt pants and pulled out a small disk. "No tricks if you please Ms. Ross. This device may look harmless, but I can assure you even your alter ego would be hard pressed to overcome its effects."
He gestured back towards the open street. With a sigh, Betty slowly stood up and walked back into the throne room of Tyrannus. "This looks bad. If their weapons can give the Hulk trouble, what can my father hope to do?"
On the surface, General Ross was answering his daughter's unheard question. All the patrols had reported back with no luck at all save Dr. Sterns and his group. "If anyone can luck their way into finding Betty, it's those two." Ross tried to rationalize as he lit up a fresh cigar. He was against sending Rick off with the doctor, but then luck did seem to favor the pair.
Dr. Sterns and Rick Jones, however, were not quite living up to the expectations of the general. True, they did discover some tracks that may have belonged to Betty, but the tracks seemed to come to a stop directly at the base of a large rock. With the soldiers watching them, Sterns and Rick crouched down near the rock.
"This is nutty doc!" Rick exclaimed. "I'm sure these tracks belong to Betty, but where could she have gone?"
"I don't know Rick. The Geiger counter confirms that she was here fairly recently," he patted the device reassuringly. He had to convince the men with them that the counter was being triggered by fallout particles from the various tests (and not Betty herself), which did little to reassure any of them. "But we know she couldn't have changed. It's almost like she stepped into the very rock itself."
"Weird doc, I mean really weird." Rick agreed as he placed his hand against the stone. Much to his surprise, his hand passed through the rock. It held fast, and the more Rick pulled, the further he found himself being dragged into the stone. "Help me!" He shouted as his cried were quickly muffled as his head disappeared into the rock. Sterns leapt forward and snagged the boy's legs, but he too was soon being dragged into the stone face.
The soldiers watched in abject horror as the two men were swallowed up by the rock. The sight of Dr. Sterns' hiking boot vanishing into the rock face was enough to make the most hardened of them bolt for the relative safety of the base.
As Rick and Dr. Sterns were transported into the strange underground world, Betty once again found herself standing before Tyrannus. His demeanor was less pleasant than before. "It is rare that I have to hunt a woman, but your trip must have convinced you that there is no safe passage back unless I permit it."
Betty hated to admit it, but he was right. She had no idea how to work the machine that brought her here, and she didn't even know if that was the same device that could send her home. "Alright, so you have me trapped here. That doesn't mean I am going to marry you."
Tyrannus's smile returned, and Betty felt her insides flutter as he spoke. "Actually, when I spoke of marriage, I was referring to your other self. You are beautiful my dear, but the mate of Tyrannus must be strong. "The Hulk", as you are also called, would be the ideal. With her by my side, I shall finally escape this prison of a realm and return to the surface to conquer. The children we sire shall become a new race of Titians, and we shall rule forevermore!"
Betty's opinion of the man did not change. "I hate to break it to you pal, but the Hulk and I are a little closer then you think." She smugly thought about revealing the truth, but then thought against it. It would better to keep that particular tidbit as her ace in the hole.
Her smugness turned to panic when she saw Dr. Marks lean in and whisper something into Tyrannus's ear. He had already known her secret, could he have known about her cure? The look Tyrannus was giving her did not relive her fears one bit as he gestured towards the sentries. One of the blind creatures waddled over and apparently communicated something trouble to the underworld dictator. The man's smile vanished as he took in the report. Tapping a message of some sort on the creature's wrinkled head, he left the hall. As he was leaving, he turned to Dr. Marks.
"Marks, I expect my bride to be in my chambers and you to be nowhere in my sight." Tyrannus ordered. Turning towards Betty, his smile returned. "You are a most resourceful woman, and it will be a pity that I can not kept the two of you."
Betty glowered at him as the guards prodded her. She couldn't help but notice the sinister look Dr. Marks gave her as she was being lead away. "I have to do something!" she thought, as she was lead down winding roads and through twisted doorways.
Rick rubbed his head as he slowly stood up. "Ow! Where the heck are we doc?"
Dr. Sterns looked around at the alien room and the strange creatures that stood over them. "I'm not sure. We could be on another spaceship, like last time, or maybe another dimension entirely." Looking at the closest one, Sterns reached out in what he hoped was a friendly gesture. "We come in peace."
The creatures' only response was to grab a short rod that was tucked into its belt and crack the weapon over the doctor's hand. As Sterns yelped in pain, other creatures entered the chamber, each one holding a larger rod in their deformed hands. "I don't think they are on our side doc." Rick muttered as he was forced to his feet and lead to an uncertain fate.
Betty was scared. She had been scarred both before she became the Hulk and especially afterwards, but a new kind of panic was settling in as she was forced into a large crystal cocoon. Before the cocoon a device, which bore a passing resemblance to the gamma gun, which was suspended from the ceiling. Dr. Marks softly sang to himself as he began to turn the machine on. Staring up at the barrel, Betty realized the danger present. Not just for herself, but Marks as well. "Dr. Marks, please, don't do this. You don't know what you're doing!" She pleaded as the guards shuffled out of the chamber.
Marks sneered at her as he took his place behind a thick screen. She could still hear him as he secured himself. "I know exactly what I am doing, and frankly I am growing weary of having people tell me that. It was supposed to be my crowing achievement, you know. The gamma bomb would have been America's next big prize in the arms race." His tone grew peaceful as he recalled, but the bitterness flared up again as the gun started to hum. "At least it would have been, if you hadn't fouled everything up you little fool!" A bright green glow began to emanate both from the gun and her crystal prison. Marks began to cackle as the humming increased. "You thought Sterns was smart, didn't you? Well, I'm smarter than both of you! And I'll prove it with this Gamma Cannon. I'll turn you into the Hulk for Tyrannus, but then," his laughter grew in hysterical pants as Betty could see energy building for a massive discharge, "I can turn you back just easily for me! Isn't it perfect?"
"Dr. Marks, please, don't!" Betty begged one final time as the cannon fired and hit her dead center with a full load of gamma radiation. Pain ripped through her as her body soaked up the deadly radiation. Betty felt as if her mind was being torn asunder. Green and gray spots flashed before her eyes as she slumped to the floor. "Stop, please…" she slurred as the familiar pangs began to emerge. The transformation itself was different this time. Betty felt like her brain was being ripped open and stuffed with lead, as she was dimly aware of her limbs thickening and filling out. Her clothes, strangely enough, grew with her instead shredding. She briefly thought the oddness of the material before a gray haze settled before her eyes and she blacked out.
Dr. Marks stood in rapt attention as he pumped wave after wave of the strange energy into the prone from of Betty Ross. He marveled at all the years he had spent studying and working for pompous generals and executives when he could have had the very world in his hand. "If I had only known," he mused as he increased the power to the cannon. "I would have thrown in my lot with Tyrannus years ago!"
Before him Betty Ross screamed in agony as her cellular structure was being altered by the gamma radiation. The younger woman dropped to the floor as her body began to inflate. He was reminded of a balloon inflating as he saw her muscles twitch then expand. The trim figure of the girl was quickly giving way to a massive Amazon. Her tanned skin started to pale, taking on a grayish hue as her auburn locks spilled down over her shoulders and darkened. He was both impressed and disappointed that the weave the strange underground creatures had dressed her in hadn't been ripped to shreds, but that was immaterial at this point.
Ross, or the Hulk shuddered as the transformation process came to a finish. Marks shut down the cannon and waited as the crystals that lined the chamber absorbed the excess radiation. When he received the all-clear signal, he marched out from behind his safety curtain and opened up the cocoon. The gray skinned figure slipped out onto the floor and did not rise. He was concerned, but more about Tyrannus's wraith than anything else. Bending down, he placed his fingers on the neck of the Hulk. "I know that wasn't enough to kill you, you stupid beast, but why aren't you moving?"
As his fingers lightly touched the gray flesh, Marks let out a howl of agony as the Hulk, as he was now quite certain that there was no trace of Betty Ross left, instantly flipped over and grabbed his hand in her mighty grip. "Where am I?" she growled as she tightened her hand.
Marks tried to speak, but the pain was too great. Sentries stormed in, but their presence was not the salvation he had hoped for. The Hulk let out a low guttural laugh at the sight of the guards and with no visible effort on her part she lifted Marks up with one hand and slung him into the short pasty creatures. The underground dwellers bowled over like pudgy tenpins as the Hulk stood up and easily strolled outside. The Hulk roared as she saw the panic her appearance was causing, but even the sight of the little creatures running away from her could not ease the burning hate she felt. "Where am I?" she demanded from the closet creature, but there was no reply.
Stomping around, and causing the very foundations of the street to shake, the Hulk felt her anger building as she was confronted again and again by confusing sights and sounds. "Stupid little men, tell me where I am!" she roared at a group of creatures that were huddled fearfully together in a nearby alcove.
"You are in my kingdom," she heard a voice say. Whipping around, she snarled at the men standing before her. "And I bid you welcome Hulk." The man seemed familiar to her as he gazed at her body. A bedraggled shape was moaning softly on the ground behind him. Dr. Marks looked up with unfocused eyes at the two of them. "I have no desire to fight you, and I can assure you that you will find the peace you seek here."
The man's words struck a cord within the Hulk's breast. "No more attacks or the Army hounding me?" She asked suspiciously.
"The only army here is mine, and you may command it as you deem fit."
The Hulk looked down at the man. She had no idea who he was or even how arrived in this strange place, but she felt oddly at peace. For perhaps the first time in her entire existence she smiled. The smile was brief, but Tyrannus took note of it as she turned her attention from him to the injured body of Dr. Marks. "He is my enemy." Her anger started to build as she stared down at the whimpering man.
"Then he shall be my enemy as well!" Tyrannus swore as he drew a short sword. "Shall I have him slain, or would you prefer the honors?"
Dr. Marks struggled to speak. "But, you promised me a kingdom! I helped you, designed all those weapons-"
"For which I am thankful, but once you made your intentions on my bride clear, your presence was no longer needed. You think me a fool? I am well aware of what transpires in my own kingdom. I did give you the chance to earn titles and ranks under me Marks, but you spurned them and insulted me. Now you will suffer for your misdeeds." Turning to the guards, he spoke in a final tone. "Take this traitor away. Tell the executioners to warm the pit, I want his skull gleaming and atop my throne before my wedding tomorrow."
"Wedding?" The Hulk repeated. Her surprise was almost palatable. "Who's getting married?" Her confusion cut down on her anger, but a confused Hulk could very easily become an enraged Hulk.
Tyrannus chuckled at the question as Dr. Marks was dragged away screaming. "We are. Come, I shall explain more at the feast."
The Hulk silently nodded and followed the strange man as the creatures around them formed an honor guard. As they walked, the Hulk noticed for the first time how the creatures reacted to them. Streets were cleared as they marched through the downtown district and the creatures clapped as they strolled past. "Cheering, for me?" The Hulk asked slowly as none of the odd little things ran away in terror or tried to attack her.
"Yes, I can see I was wise in choosing you for my bride. See how my people respond? They recognize strength and superiority; but enough of them my queen, we have other business to attend to."
The Hulk said nothing as she walked in equal step with Tyrannus. The feelings of confusion and rage were slowly being replaced with something entirely new to the strange creature: acceptance. She saw no hatred or fear in the faces that looked back at her, only devotion to Tyrannus and by extension, herself as well. She felt, for the first time in her existence, genuinely happy.
While the impromptu parade was making its way through the city, Rick Jones was feeling more or less the exact opposite feelings that the Hulk was experiencing. He had been tossed into a small foul smelling cell. He didn't know where Dr. Sterns had been taken. He had read, in old comic books, of heroes easily escaping from similar circumstance. The brightly garbed men would usually fire off a witty comeback as they fled their jailers and rescued the damsel in distress. "Except that I'm the one in distress" Rick bitterly thought as he looked around his cell. The walls were perfectly smooth. Only a few scratches near a rotting pile of bones stared back at him to show the odds of escape. He closed his eyes and started to drift off to sleep when he heard a commotion outside his cell.
The heavy door opened as Rick saw his strange jailers standing outside and gesturing for him to move. Rick moved warily as he moved towards them when two familiar voices made him stop in his tracks. The voice of Dr. Sterns made him feel relived that the scientist was still alive, but the voice Sterns was quarreling with did nothing to bring his spirits up. "No, it can't be" he thought as he stepped out.
Stepping out confirmed his suspicions. "Dr. Marks?" the question sounded dumb as the words left his mouth, but the shock of the seeing the disheveled man was the final straw for Rick's patience.
Marks, for his part, weekly looked back at him and glowered. "So, the gangs all here. Fitting I suppose" he mumbled as the three of them were marched down the hallway.
"How did you end up here?" Rick asked. He was genuinely as to how the man ended up in the strange place, although Sterns rolled his eyes at the question.
"Does it matter Rick?"
"Yes, yes it does." Marks fired back. "After you conspiracy to have me fired succeeded, I walked out into the desert. I had no plans save for dying when Tyrannus appeared before me. He said he saw how unjustly I had been treated, and how he could put my genius to better use. So I followed him down to this marvelous place and have been toiling away for me ever since. Until that blasted behemoth showed up and wrecked everything."
Rick tuned out the bickering between the two scientists, as they were lead through a tunnel into a massive arena. "What do you think they are going to do with us?"
Marks answered as the crowd began to clap at their appearance. "That's easy even for you boy. We're going to fight something."
"Fight what exactly?" Sterns asked, as the clapping grew louder. In the main box, two figures emerged that drew exclamations from all three men. Tyrannus was known to Marks, but not to Rick or Dr. Sterns. The gray skinned beauty that hung on the man's arm, however, was known to all of them.
"Betty?" Rick questioned as he saw the Hulk waving to the crowd. "Doc, I think we are in some serious trouble."
"Rick, my boy, that may be an understatement."
The Hulk watched the three tiny figures scurrying around on the arena floor as Tyrannus sat back on his throne. "What are you going to do with them?" She asked as the crowd clapped wildly.
"Something we do to all who trespass in my domain. If they can prove themselves worthy, then they shall be granted citizenship."
The Hulk gave a bloodthirsty smile as she saw the three tiny outlines huddle together. "Maybe I should be there? I wouldn't mind giving those puny humans something to be frightened of."
Tyrannus laughed. "Jove's beard, could I have picked a more perfect mate?" He thought as he gazed at the Hulk. "A tempting thought my queen, but I wouldn't want you to sully your hands. That foolish surface dweller Marks helped to create the engine of his own destruction." He pulled a lever hidden beside the throne. The crowd turned deadly silent as below in the arena, a section of the floor opened up and a hideous metal claw slowly snaked out. The floor of the arena began to rumble as more claws and snake-like tendrils filled the hole. "Amazing that the man would perish here. He made almost everything possible. Once we are wed, we shall lead my forces up and take your world by force."
"How are we going to get up there?"
"A little surprise. Dr. Marks was quite apt at improving a tunnel I had been constructing almost as soon as I arrived here. All one must do is step in and ride the wind itself to the surface."
A huge thing rolled out into the arena proper. The crowd went utterly silent out of respect, but the three men facing the odd thing were silent for different reasons. "What the heck is that?" Rick asked as he stared at the metal monstrosity before them.
The robot was almost ten feet in height and sitting on a pair of tank treads. The main body was shaped like a cylinder. A red light encircled the top. Multiple tendrils were attached on all sides of the body, with each appendage sporting either a claw or some kind of melee weapon.
"That is the means of our death." Marks said with a defeated tone. "Tyrannus had me build it to fight in this place. I'm afraid I outdid myself this time."
"If you built it Marks than it should explode once we hit it with a feather." Dr. Sterns shot back as he grabbed a broken piece of wood and held it before him. "Those treads should be easy enough to jam with something."
"You idiot, you think I didn't plan of something like that? That red light functions as its eyes. It has 360-degree senses and just as many weapons. You couldn't even get within fifty feet of it before it would kill you."
While the two scientists argued over their fate, Rick decided to take a more proactive stance. Running headlong towards the main box, he dodged the snapping claws of the death-dealing machine as he ran towards the familiar figure of the Hulk.
"Hulk!" he screamed as he saw the gray skinned beauty look down at him. He had been expecting a flash of recognition, followed by a cry of his name and perhaps the sight of her leaping from the balcony and plowing into the machine. What he got was something else.
The Hulk looked down at him with look of irritation. He could almost imagine the look of disdain of her face as she turned around and vanished from the side. Crestfallen, Rick slumped to his knees in defeat.
"That boy is a brave one, isn't he?" Tyrannus remarked as he saw Rick's display. "I might give him and his friends and full proper burial once the match is over."
The Hulk said nothing as she returned to her seat. True, Rick was a friend. One of the few humans that hadn't tried to kill her, but he was weak. She shouldn't feel anything about him, yet there was a nagging voice in her mind. She felt that she should save the boy, but by doing so could cost her the only man who showed her love. She felt at peace in this underground world, and felt nothing but hate for the puny pink creatures that inhabited the surface. Why should she give all that up just to save the worthless life of one stupid kid?
"Why should I?" she said aloud as she turned her attention back to the fight.
Tyrannus was also busy watching the fight, but the boy's flight towards them made him worry. He knew of the bond between the two, and there was a chance his pleas might reach the weaker side of his queen. Silently, his hand slipped down towards a small set of controls hidden by the throne. There he pulled a lever and sat back in anticipation.
Rick was numb. His cries to the Hulk, or Betty, were unanswered. A strange rumbling drew his attention away from his sorrows. Looking back towards the bizarre machine, he saw a series of holes opening up in both the walls and in certain spots around the ground. Before he could comment on that, an eerie green liquid began to flow out of the top holes and slowly flood the arena.
"What's going on?" the Hulk asked as she saw the terrain change.
"Merely a little something to make the contest more interesting. Atomic testing has contaminated several underground tributaries. We collect the water and use it for our own purposes." Seeing the look of horror on the Hulk's face, he gently placed his hand over her own. "Do not fear. We are quite safe from the radiation inside this box."
The Hulk felt her confusion growing. She didn't really care about the humans, but there was still a part of her that felt horror at the thought of those men down there dying in such a way. "Not like that!" she muttered and leapt forward. She cleared the box in one leap and hit the arena floor with a loud impact.
The robot stopped its assault of the two scientists and turned its glowing red visor towards her. "Hulk, thank God!" Dr. Sterns said weakly as he hung limply from the thing's metal claws.
"Ease off you overgrown salt shaker. If anyone's going to smash these two, it's going to be me!" She snarled as she rushed forward towards the robot. The robot dropped Sterns without ceremony and rolled forward in response.
Sterns dragged himself away from the insuring fight as he struggled to regain his bearings. He was away of Dr. Marks standing him. "Marks, we have to escape!"
""We" don't have to do anything. That overgrown freak has betrayed the master. If I destroy all three of you, then I will be rewarded for my loyalty!" Marks cackled with mad glee as he picked up a rock and held it high overhead.
Dr. Sterns barely rolled away in time. As it was, the rock glanced off of his shoulder. "Good God man, we don't have time for this!"
Marks started to laugh as he brought the rock down. It made a sickening crunch as it connected with Sterns' face. Marks's face contorted with sick glee as he saw the blood splatter against the ground. "One down, two to go!" he giggled as he lurched off of Sterns' body and made his way towards the Hulk.
The Hulk cursed both outwardly and inwardly as she wrestled with the robot. For every single tentacle she tore off, another would sprout from the main body. "Hey kid, got any ideas?" She asked as she pried off a claw that had locked on to her ankle.
Rick stayed his distance from both the machine and the Hulk. He wasn't sure if his mental control was still in effect, or if the Hulk had just decided to save him out of the kindness of her heart, but he wasn't taking any chances. He spied Marks falling on top of Dr. Sterns. "Hulk, look at that!" he shouted as the manic Marks drew himself closer, waving a bloody rock around.
The Hulk barely glanced in the madman's direction. Seeing the radioactive waters rising, she allowed the robot to enwrap her left arm with its deadly coils. Seeing her limb secured within the metal, the Hulk kneeled down before leaping. The robot left the ground as she soared through the air. Its internal sensors blaring, the robot fired off several more tentacles that latched onto the Hulk's massive limbs. It was too late, though, as the Hulk had already cleared half of the area and landed safely on a dray patch of the arena floor.
The robot was not as fortunate, as it was dragged through the air and came to a landing deep in the middle of a radioactive pool. The radiation and the water served to make the metal creature screaming in digital agony as electricity danced over its metal skin. The Hulk took a full blast of the charge before snapping the coil. Shaking off the effects of the blast, she saw the mad Marks plunge headlong into the radioactive waters. The scientist screamed in agony as the water swelled over his head. She could see his form thrashing under the water, but she made no move to rescue him. Leaping back, She clutched Rick in one hand as she looked around.
Above her Tyrannus stared down at the two of them with a unreadable expression on his face. Her heart was breaking as she saw him stand up and leave. She idly thought about flinging the boy away and leaping up into the stands to go after him, but Rick's voice brought her back.
"We have to get out of here!" Rick pleaded as he saw Dr. Sterns' unmoving body disappear under the glowing water.
"Quite your whining!" The Hulk snapped back as she jumped. The crowd panicked at the sight of the giant Amazon tearing through the stands. She waded through the creatures like a great gray shark going through pale seaweed as she slung Rick onto her back. "Just hold on and don't bug me too much." She grunted as she jumped again.
Rick clutched her ebony tresses for dear life as he sail through the air with her. They flew over the city, past the dwellings of the creatures and various statues and bubbling fountains until they landed near a set of columns. Rick shakily dismounted as the Hulk looked around. The sound of Tyrannus's army echoed down the paved street. "Rick, duck in there" The Hulk ordered. Rick nodded as he stepped in-between the twin columns. It was dark, and there was the sound of howling wind coming from within the space between.
"Halt!" Tyrannus shouted as he approached. In his hand was a device that looked like trouble. "You may not go any further my queen."
"Can it pal," The Hulk shot back. "This tunnel can get us back to the surface, right?" She jerked her thumb at the space between the columns.
Tyrannus looked uneasy. The device in his hand was humming and giving off a bluish light. "Yes, it was designed to bring my army to the surface" He answered slowly as his army surrounded them. "This paralysis beam will ensure that your escape attempt will fail."
The Hulk smirked as she backed up. With one foot, she knocked Rick into the tunnel. He gave a yelp as he was suddenly sucked upward into the darkness. "All these years, and this is your only means to the surface?" She asked as she casually put both her massive hands on the columns.
Sweat broke out on Tyrannus's brow. "No, of course not."
"I think you're lying. You're trapped down here, right?"
Tyrannus's nerves broke as the Hulk pushed against the columns. "Yes, yes I am! That blaster Merlin enchanted the very stones, or most of them. That passage is the only way back to the surface. It would take me another thousand years to dig another, and another thousand to construct the proper method to power it." Dropping the beam projector, Tyrannus did something he had never done before in his long life: He begged.
"Please, I gave you my kingdom! With you by my side we could raze the rulers of the surface and bring forth a new golden age!"
The Hulk stiffened as she looked down at the man. "A chance to be at peace, as long as I accepted you?" She was silent for a long minute as she thought her options over. Without saying another word, she tightened her grips on the columns and started pushing against them.
"Stop you fool, you'll bury us all alive!" Tyrannus screamed as he picked up the projector and took aim. The Hulk found herself growing angry with the little man who dared to order her, to threaten her, and when she became angry, her strength began to increase. The rock around her started to crumble. Standing like Sampson, she pushed the columns past the breaking point. The Earth around her crackled as the supports snapped and fell away. Tyrannus stared in abject horror as the loss of the two supports triggered a chain reaction within the underground land.
Dirt and rocks began to fall. Amid the chaos, the Hulk stared to look back towards the hole when she caught a glimpse of Tyrannus. The man was half-blinded by the raining debris and in danger of being buried alive. "Please, save me!" he begged as large chunks of the roof began to crumble. The strange people who dwelled down below ignored his cries as they struggled to save their lives and homes. "This can not be the end of Tyrannus!" He wailed as a tidal wave of dirt knocked him off his feet and then the Hulk heard him no more.
Seeing the pandemonium that the city had become, the Hulk turned her back on the chaos and confusion and jumped in after Rick. Tyrannus was right, it was a simple matter to jump and allow the wind current to propel one's self up to the surface. "Rick's probably already up there" she thought as she flew.
Within the dark tunnel, the Hulk felt a strange sensation wash over her. As the wind caressed her body, she felt herself grow relaxed. Her lids felt heavy as she soared through the tunnel. A sudden tiredness overtook her as she flew. The starling change began to reverse itself as her muscles suddenly decreased. Her flowing ebony locks turned a lighter shade of brown as they resumed their shorter length. Her massive dimensions slowly changed from the incredible presence of the Hulk to the more normal form of Betty Ross.
Almost on cue, it was now the form of Betty Ross that exited the cave. She landed with a soft thud on the cave floor as familiar hands wrapped around her. "Betty!" she heard Rick cry as he pulled her up. Opening her eyes, she stared into the haggard familiar teen face.
"Oh Rick!" the cave was soon echoing with their respective sobs. Rick's tears were ones of happiness. Betty's were founded on more pressing matters. "Oh Rick, Marks, he did something to me!" She sobbed into his chest as Rick held her close. "I'm not in control anymore, I'm not! I can feel her struggling to get out!"
Rick helped her to her feet. He felt numb as they walked towards the mouth of the cave. "So we're right back were we started. Doc's gone and we dismantled most of the desert lab."
Betty followed him up until they reached the outside. The bright sunlight blazed down overheard as they started to walk. "Funny that the tunnel dropped us off so close to the base" said Betty as the pair started to walk towards the distant group of buildings. Her thoughts drifted back to her experience as Rick nodded in agreement. "Ok, one menace taken care of, but the Hulk now has more control. I could have been a queen, but I gave it all up. Is this it? Am I destined to be alone?" She unconsciously stepped closer to Rick as they walked. The two of them silently contemplated their futures as they approached the base. There would questions, of course, not only about Betty's current manner of dress but also about the now missing Dr. Sterns.
Neither one of them knew how to answer the questions when they arose, but they knew that Betty would never be rid of her curse so easily. The empty desert around them gave them no answers.
Well folks, another terrifying and titillating twice told tale has once come to a total stop. This story was inspired by "Beauty and the Beast", which first appeared in Incredible Hulk #5 (January 1963), and is credited to Stan Lee (script), Jack Kirby (pencils), and Dick Ayers (inks).
Things are starting to change. Next issue will see the Hulk battle the Metal Master, but unlike the original history, here General Ross is not interested in hunting down the Hulk. What will that mean for old gray jeans? I hate to be cruel, but you'll just have to wait and read upcoming issues to find out.
Fan mail is a little lighter than last time, but here it is anyway:Another great job! The man is on a roll, people! But seriously, very cool installment of your story. As always, the usual compliments apply...great dialogue and descriptions, and pacing and everything. Just a great story. Thanks for sharing. Take care, Tiffani
And the usual thanks apply as well. With as many of my stories as you have read, I do believe the resident mistress of the Dungeon deserves… well something. For once I'm tongue-tied folks. Any ideas as to what Ms. B deserves for all of her tireless efforts?
Upcoming works coming soon to a monitor near you!
Journey into Mystery #6-the Vengeance of Loki! See Lady Thor's most devious foe return! See a Shocking Secret Revealed!
Amazing Adventures #2- the World Below! Droom goes upon her first real adventure-will she survive to see 1962?
Tales to Astonish #4-Betrayed by the Ants! Ant-Man and the Wasp VS Egghead! How is this seemingly harmless man able to usurp Ant-Man's ants? And can the Wasp save Ant-Man in time, or will it be too late?