A Mighty Tale Told in the Mighty Marvel Manner
The Hulk Meets the Fantastic Four!
March 20th, 1963
Crowds exited the Metropolitan Opera House as a recent concert ended. Amid the tuxedo and evening gown clad upper class there were two people who were not the usual type to frequent such a place. The woman, pretty in a plain way, hugged the arm of her date and stared up with unblinking eyes. "Oh Ben, wasn't that most wonderful rendition of Beethoven you ever heard?"
Her date, bundled under several layers of clothing and a large slouch hat, grumbled as he tried to push his way through the crowd using his bulk. "If you say so Alicia. Me? I wouldn't have liked it better if that fancy conductor knew some Louie Armstrong tunes."
A rough elbow to the back made him stop. Turning around, Ben glowered down at the puffed up man behind him. "You got a problem mister?"
"Yes you clod, you're blocking my way." The man sniffed and tried to press foward. Ben stood his ground and crossed his arms. Beneath the hat, he grinned. "I say, what's that noise?" The man asked as the street rumbled.
Ben ignored the man's protest and stared at the street. "Ben, what's going on?" Alicia asked as she held onto his coat arm. Ben gave a low whistle when several tanks and a full platoon of men marched into Lincoln Center.
"I say, move out of the way!" The man ordered again as he shoved Alicia aside and made his way towards the commotion.
"And that pal, was your last mistake." Ben growled as, with one mighty gloved hand, he reached out and lifted the man straight up. "You wanted to see the parade so bad? Well here's your chance!" The man shrieked as he was spun around, but as he thrashed, his foot caught Ben's hat and flipped it, revealing Ben's face to the crowd. At the sight of the lumpy orange rock that made up Ben's skin, hysteria took hold of the crowd,
"A monster!" One heavyset woman cried. The crowd parted, nearly trampling Alicia as she tried to grope her back to Ben.
The troops moved forward, making Ben lower the screaming man. "What, ain't none of you blue bloods seen a real live Thing before?"
"Hold it!" One of the soldiers ordered. Several men surrounded Ben. He wasn't worried about them, but the bazookas they were pointing at him did give him pause. "Ben Grimm?"
Ben picked up his hat and Alicia at the same time. "Yeah, who wants to know?"
"The United States Army. You are to come with us. We are ordered to use force if necessary." The man said as Ben noticed several fingers tightening around the triggers.
"Alright, alright. No need to get your stripes in a bunch, but do you mind if I walk the walk the lady home first?"
The commander shook his head. "Actually yes. One of my men will escort her." Ben bent down as the man gestured to him. "We have orders from the top. Your country needs your skills Mr. Grimm, and the sooner the better."
"Hey, let it never be said 'old Blue-eyed Benjy refused Uncle Sam's call. Where do I go?"
"We'll brief you on the way." The man nodded as Ben was escorted towards a large armored truck. Before he stepped inside, Ben shot one last look at Alicia, as the young blind woman was lead into an awaiting car. He couldn't but feel a prickly feeling in the back of his neck as the door closed behind him.
Since the truck was lacking windows, Ben had no idea where they were going. He couldn't feel any bumps or turns, which made him nervous. Cracking his knuckles, he was about to see how tough the door was when the truck suddenly went silent. The door opened, making Ben stare in open wonder.
Before his eyes he saw gray walls. Men in blue uniforms moved around in frenzied activities. "If you'll follow us please." One of the uniformed men gestured towards Ben. "Your teammates are waiting for you."
"Eh? Stretch and the gang are here too? What's going on? This don't look like no Army base I've ever seen!" Ben protested as he stepped out of the truck. The man in blue smiled slightly as he led Ben past fantastic machinery. Ben's questions fell on death ears as they walked past armed sentries into a posh waiting room. Occupying three chairs were the rest of Ben's friend, otherwise known as the Fantastic Four.
Reed Richards, better known as Mr. Fantastic, barely glanced up as he studied various tech journals that had been left on the table. Sue Storm and her brother Johnny respectfully referred to as the Invisible Girl and the Human Torch, jump up in surprise. "Hey, what are you doing bringing this bum in here for?" Johnny joked as his fingers ignited. "I thought you guys said you need the members of the FANTASTIC Four."
"Johnny, be quiet!" Sue elbowed her brother as she greeted Ben. "Ben, do you know what's going on?"
"You got me Susie-Q. Hey Stretcho, what's the deal here?"
Before anyone could speak, another man entered the room as the guard left. He was tall, and so thin as to appear taller. His face was nondescript. Even staring directly at him, Sue found she couldn't focus on a single detail about his face. There was something in his eyes, however, that made all of them, even Reed, snap to and give him their full attention. "Gentlemen, ma'am, on behalf of the United States government I would like to thank you for your cooperation."
"Yeah, not like you bums gave us a choice." Johnny grumbled.
"My name is Colonel Stoner. As many of you have guessed, this is not an Army operation." Reaching into his coat, he removed a bulky remote and pointed it at the ceiling. With a mechanical whir, a film began to play on the screen behind him. "What we are is a top secret organization. So secret in fact, that we are under the highest orders not to reveal ourselves to the general public."
"Then why did you bring us here?" Reed asked.
"This is the reason." The images of the screen showed a military base in the desert. "This is Gamma Base. It's situated in a top secret location in the Southwest, but the problem, to be more specific, is this." The images switched to a blurry film stock of a massive gray figure rushing towards the camera. "May I present, the Hulk."
Handing out several files, Stoner continued to talk. "This creature, as I'm sure you are aware, was recently pardoned by none other than the president, which unfortunately puts us in a bind. Due to our nature and this being's legal standing, we are unable to formerly investigate Gamma Base without risking exposure."
"Ah, so you want us to check out the base and bring back the Hulk?" Reed volunteered.
"Not quite." The footage changed again, this time to a series of explosions. "You see, for the past three weeks there have been accidents. Everything from missing paperwork to actual sabotage has been reported. What we want from you and your team Doctor Richards, is to go to the Base and find out if the Hulk is responsible or not."
Ben flicked his folder across the table with one finger. "Our fearless leader may not be able to say anything, but I ain't pulling any wallflower act. Why can't you send someone else? You jokers look like you can handle anything."
Stoner's lip twitched at Ben's words. "Well, that's another problem. The history is further detailed in your folders, but the C.O. of the base may have a hand in it." The footage changed again to show a steely-eyed man in a general's uniform. "General Thaddeus Ross." With a press of a button the film died and Stoner leaned over the table. "Now, what I am about to reveal is never to leave this room, understand? Miss Storm, Mr. Storm, I hope you won't take offensive, but I'm afraid I am going to have ask both of to step outside." Four armed men entered. Sue's protest was silenced with a strong look from Reed.
"We keep no secrets from each other sir. What ever you can tell us, you can tell Sue and Johnny."
After a tense minute, Stoner backed down. "Alright, but since both of you served, I just feel you two might be able to handle this information better. General Ross was one of our best men. I served with him in Korea, so that makes me unsuitable to see him in person. Ross also has a personal connection to the Hulk."
"Him? How?" Ben asked. If he still retained his eyebrows, both of them would have been raised.
"General Ross was married to a woman named Jennifer Walters. She was assigned to a scientist back in '42 as an aide when fifth columnists sabotaged the experiment. She was exposed to a massive amount of gamma radiation, the effect of which caused a cellular mutation in her and triggered her transformation into a monster dubbed the She-Hulk by the Axis forces. She helped us out during the war, but a few years afterward she went rouge. She was unable to change back and had to be contained in a special prison. She escaped, but later died during a rampage. We were unable to locate a body, gentlemen, but a thing like her didn't exactly exude stealth. Her daughter, Elizabeth Ross, was tested at birth but she showed no signs of mutation. Until last year, when she was caught in the explosion of the first Gamma Bomb."
"You're saying Ms. Ross is the Hulk?" Sue stared at the information before her and devoured it with her eyes.
"We don't know. We have strong suspicions, yes, but no actual concrete proof. And with her pardon, it would be difficult to bring her officially. It certainly matches up, and reports do put Miss Ross's whereabouts during various emergencies as being unaccounted for. I know Ross, gentlemen, and I know for a fact that he would never betray his country. His daughter, on the other hand, is another matter. I want her connection to the Hulk, if any, proven. If she is behind the acts of sabotage, then I want her brought down hard. You four are the best and frankly, only, line of defense that we are allowed to use. Will you help us?" Stoner asked as he stared both Reed and Ben directly in the eyes.
"Are you nuts? Of course we'll do it." Ben slapped his hand on the table and promptly left a humongous dent in it. "Oops, sorry."
"Fantastic. We'll deliver back to your headquarters. From there I'm afraid you'll have to provide your own transportation and excuse. We can radio ahead though, and clear you with the base's defensives just so we can all avoid any unneeded dramatics." Stoner ushered them all back out and towards a waiting armored truck. Before they left, he stuck out his hand. "Let me just say, your country owes you a debt Mr. Fantastic."
Reed's hand snaked out and gripped Stoner's in a rubbery grip. " We won't let you down sir."
Ross lit his cigar as he entered his office. Reports had been piling up and threatening to overrun his desk. Sitting down, he doffed his hat and carefully put his cigar away from the stacks of paper. "I swear I've got to get some kind of assistant." He mulled over budget requests and other mundane things, but the whole while he was doing that, his mind drifted. "Betty."
His daughter, otherwise known as the Hulk, had been on his mind more and more recently. True, she had been pardoned, but her transformations were becoming more and more unpredictable. The thought of caging her like her mother did little to help his concentration. The electronic buzz of the desk intercom broke his ruminating. "What is it?"
"Sir, we have an incoming airship!"
"What? Who?" He stuck his cigar in his mouth.
"The Fantastic Four sir. We have the visual confirmation. They save they need to land and make emergency repairs for their, err, Fantasti-Car."
"Let them land, but I want a full force meeting them. We can't be too careful." After the order was confirmed, he switched the intercom off and leaned back in his chair. "Mechanical problems, or are they spying on me?" The reports of damaged and missing equipment sent another chill down his spine. What if they were sent in check up on that? He couldn't have people second-guessing him. With the reports of aliens infiltrating other cities, the last thing he wanted was a panic. "Alright, Mr. Fantastic, lets see what you have planned." He straightened his jacket and put his hat back on as he left to meet with his men.
On the flight over, the team was mostly silent. The Fantasti-Car landed with a quiet murmur as several armed troops circled around them. "Nice way to say hi." Johnny fumed as he stepped out. The clicking noise of the rifles made him pause.
"Easy Johnny," Reed intoned. "We are uninvited guests here."
General Ross stormed forward and made his way directly to Mr. Fantastic. "Alright, what's the deal here?"
"Good afternoon general." Reed smiled. "My teammates and I were on a mission in California when we ran into some trouble." Stretching his hand out, he gestured towards the strange craft. "I recently redesigned the Fantasti-Car. We'd been getting a lot of fan mail about it looking like a flying bathtub, so I went with a more streamlined approach." As the rest of the team debarked the ship, Reed turned his head back around to face the general, but continued to walk towards the airship. "We experienced some trouble with the cooling system about five miles out. Seeing the evidence of your testing ground and picking up your radio broadcast, we figured you might have the needed parts."
"This is an Army base, not a garage. I could order the lot of you to be put in bars until the Red Sox win the World Series again, and I will, unless you give me a reason to." Ross stared down the Fantastic Four.
"Well sir, we have been hearing reports of that Hulk creature," Sue offered. "If you allow us to fix our ride, perhaps we could help you in your efforts?"
Ross's face darkened. "I will not confirm or deny the presence of any such creature, but if you think for one second I am going to stand by and let some law breaking civilians tell me how to do my job-"
Major Talbot, who broke rank and stood silently behind General Ross, spoke up. Quietly, of course, since he did value his rank and physical health. "Sir, if I may. Why don't I show them around the base? We haven't seen the Hulk yet, but with their help..."
Ross held up his hand. "Alright Mr. Fantastic, you get one day. I'll send some of my lab boys out to help you. This is still a restricted area however, so none of you are allowed to move around the base without at least two guards present. My men are trained to shoot to kill, Richards. I don't want any problems during your stay, understand?"
Betty paced around the lab. Her father ordered her to one of the labs when she spied the strange airship, and she didn't argue. Pacing around the drab room, however, was beginning to get on her nerves. Rick sat silently by the window and watched the proceedings with interest. "Hey, it looks like your old man is jawing with Mr. Fantastic!" He peered through the blinds as she continued to pace. "I wonder what's up?"
"Maybe they're looking for me?" Betty wondered. She had been in a daze since her pardon, but she knew as long as she continued to change into the Hulk it was only a matter of time before someone would start a formal investigation. She felt anxious, but not enough to trigger a change. At least she didn't think so, as her transformations had become more and more random as of late.
"Betty?" Rick turned his attention away from the window long enough to look at her. She shook her head to clear the cobwebs and looked back at him.
"What is it?"
"I know I already said this, but I'm sorry." He began before Betty put her finger to his lips.
"Hush. I know Rick, but there has been some good from all of this, hasn't there?" Her eyes, however told a different story. "I may never be normal again, if I was ever that to begin with. With each forced change I lose more and more of myself to that beastly Hulk." She became lost in thought as Rick continued to offer more apologies. She did still blame him, but only to an extent now. Perhaps she was meant to follow in her mother's footsteps.
"Betty?" Rick's eyes grew wide and he backed away from the table. She made been so preoccupied with her own thoughts she once again forgot what he was saying.
"Hmm?" Looking down, she saw the reason for Rick's panic. Her drumming fingers were busy leaving a hole in the table as they swelled. "Oh no!" She lurched to her feet and stumbled away. Shucking her shoes, she watched in horror as her feet buckled and grew. "Rick, get out of here!" She gasped as the room began to spin.
Falling to her knees, she could feel the anger rising as the Hulk struggled to get out. "No, I won't let you win!" She slammed her fists into the floor and dragged her fingers back, leaving a set of grooves in the tile. Just as the floor seemed to be swimming before her, everything stopped. She sat back on the floor blinking as she looked at her hands. Rick cautiously approached her.
"Are you ok?" He looked like he might bolt at any second.
"I think so." Betty ignored Rick's offered hand and stood up. "I think I need to see Dr. Banner."
"And these two gentlemen are out top scientists." General Ross gestured towards the two men before the Fantastic Four. "Dr. Banner and Dr. Kort, meet our VIP's for the day, the Fantastic Four."
"Wow!" Dr. Banner almost raced to Reed's side and shook the man's offered hand like it was a lifesaver. "Reed Richards! I can't believe it, sir this is such an honor!" He babbled.
"Well, I've heard some mighty impressive things about your atomic research work Bob." Reed smiled, but Bruce's enthusiasm dwindled.
"That's Bruce, actually." He gestured towards the lab as Betty entered the room. "Oh, Ms. Ross! Sorry, I didn't see you there." He grinned absently.
"Sorry about disturbing you sir, but I needed to ask Dr. Banner a pressing question." Betty placed emphasis on the last part. General Ross nodded and ushered the rest of the group out. On the way to the door, Dr. Kort's wallet slipped out of his pocket.
"Ah! How clumsy of me!" The balding scientist chided himself as he bent over to pick it up. But before his fingers could make contact with the leather, Johnny entered the room and snapped his fingers.
"Hold it, there's a trick I've been working on." With the minimal amount of effort, Johnny's right hand became engulfed in flame. Pointing at the discarded wallet, a controlled blast of flame and hot air encircled it and began to spin, creating a mini vortex. The wallet spun on the floor for a second before slowly rising up with the hot air. Increasing the heat, the Human Torch gently lifted the wallet up higher and higher before Dr. Kort yanked it free of the vortex and quickly shoved it into his pocket, but the scientist burned his hand as he retrieved it.
"You flaming menace! Why don't you watch what you're doing?" Dr. Kort shouted as an orange rocky hand clamped down on his shoulder.
"Hey pal, if anyone is going to trash talk the match-head, it's going to be me, understand?" The Thing's gravely voice made the hairs on Kort's neck stand up. Slipping free, the man dashed down the hall screaming.
"Easy Ben, I think you spooked the guy out of a year's growth!" Johnny wisecracked.
A pair of guards entered the hall thanks to Kort's cries, but as soon the door closed the pair fell to the ground with their guns flying out of their hands. "Easy boys, no body needs to get hurt here." The voice of Susan Storm called out from somewhere in the hall.
"Enough of this!" Ross thundered. "By Hannah I don't care if you lot are civilians, I'm having you four tossed in the stockade!" Turning his full attention back to Reed, Ross made sure to note that Banner was quietly leaving with his daughter. "Alright smart guy, let's cut the chitchat. Why are you here?"
Reed sighed. "I suppose 'we needed repairs' was a bit hollow, wasn't it?"
"And you're supposed to be the smartest man of Earth." Ross smirked. "Alright, you know of our problem with the Wrecker then, correct."
Reed's mouth tugged upwards as his three friends converged on him. "Alright General, you caught us."
"At least you were honest about it. Now look, we are doing the best job we can do and investigating every possible lead. The last thing we need is a bunch of overeager civilians is running underfoot and getting killed." Ross waved his hand as he lit up a fresh cigar.
"What, you don't think we can pass the mustard, is that it?" Ben growled as he walked into an empty office and picked up a stack of bound phonebooks. "Could a 98 pound wimp do this?" With one tug, he turned the three-foot thick stack into a loose floating pile of paper.
"My directories! I swear you bunch of prima donnas will pay for that" Ross's threat was cut off by an elastic finger from Reed.
"And we will fully reimburse you sir. But you were right; we were hired to investigate this saboteur business. And we are wasting time. Perhaps if we try to lure this Wrecker character out?"
Betty wiped her brow as Dr. Banner held the Geiger counter up to her. He shook his head as the machine gave off a steady ping. "Betty, I'm not sure how I can say this…"
"Then say it already!" Her hand shook. "I'm dying, aren't I? I mean, I've soaked up enough radiation to glow in the dark, right?" The throbbing in her head made it harder to concentrate.
"No, no! It's not that, it's just that, well, you're healthy. The Hulk is radioactive, but you're not. Your body seems to be acting like a battery. Normal when you are you, etc. If we somehow get Mr. Fantastic to look at you, then maybe we might be able to find a cure!"
"Yeah, but come on, you know that group is only here to lock me up. I figure the best thing to do would be to keep out of sight." Betty rubbed her temple as the headache steadily increased.
"A wise idea." Banner cursed as he looked at the clock. "Blast, I'll be late for the latest testing." Grabbing his lab coat, he tossed a small bottle to Betty. "Take some aspirin and lie down for a bit." He rushed out of the door, unaware of the strange glow coming from Betty's eyes…
Dr. Banner felt the explosion long before he saw the flash or the smoke. Driving past the scrambling emergency crews, he made it in just enough time to see the crowning achievement of three months work literally go up in smoke as the smoldering remains of Project 34 toppled over into the dust.
Slamming his hands on the dashboard, he brought the jeep to a stop before cutting the engine and racing over to Dr. Kort and General Ross. "What happened?"
"What do you think?" Kort sneered. "Typical Banner, you always seem to vanish when something like this happens!"
"Don't take that tone with me Karl, we both worked on this project!" Banner shot back as Ross held up his hand.
"Stow it gentlemen. I think I've found a way to trap our little pest." Ross took a drag on his cigar. "Kort, how's that rocket sled of your coming?"
"I've got the prototype ready, but Banner hasn't given me any help with the fuel problem." Kort snidely remarked as emergency crews dosed the flaming debris with foam. Ross ignored the ending remark.
"Fantastic. Banner, I want you to help set it up for a launch ASAP."
"What? But who's going to pilot it?" Banner shouted the wailing of the sirens nearly drowned everything else out.
"Don't worry, I've got the perfect man for the job!" Ross grinned, leaving both scientists wondering. Kort said nothing and wondered off, while Banner followed the retreating general.
Part II-Who is the Wrecker?
The next day
Betty rubbed her forehead as she sat in the bunker. She had slept uneasily. Her dreams kept coming back to the day of the Gamma Bomb. She tried to push those thoughts aside as the preparations for launch started. Watching through her binoculars, she smiled at the activity going on the testing range. "So far, no attacks. Let's keep it that way." She thought to herself. Rick had excused himself shortly before the countdown began, but a glare from her father made sure she stayed inside.
On out the range, preparations were being completed for the testing. Ben, strapped inside what looked like a large silver bullet, fiddled with the restraints. "Hey doc, you sure I need these? I'm not exactly the bruising kind you know."
Dr. Banner smiled as he went over the checklist. "I'm sure, but we have to maintain appearances, don't we?" He whistled to himself as he went over the ship. "Don't worry Mr. Grimm." Pointing to a large red button, he patted Ben's rocky hide. "If anything goes wrong, just hit that. The eject mechanism will handle the rest."
"Alright doc, but if I get so much as a scratch you'll be hearing from my Aunt Petunia, you get me?" Ben leaned back in the seat and gripped the stick. "Now let's fire this puppy up. I want to see how my tax dollars are being spent."
Betty felt a nervous pang in her stomach. It wasn't the pain that came with the Hulk, but it was similar. She was scared. Scared for the Fantastic Four, but also of them as well. Drumming her fingers on the arm of her chair, she dropped her binoculars when she noticed the grayish tint her hands had taken. Quickly getting up, she mumbled an apology to her father and dashed from the bunker, praying no one noticed how tight her dress was becoming.
Ben rubbed his fingers over his chin. He knew the effort was wasted; lacking hair as he did, but running his fingers through his stubble was one of the few things he did before takeoff. Going over the preflight list, he gave the thumbs up before being slammed back into the seat as the engines ignited. Even with his rocky hide, he could feel the g-forces pressing him further and further into the cockpit. The control panel was lit up like a Christmas tree as he raced along the desert floor. "Boy, I haven't had this much fun since the last time I went to Coney Island!" Ben increased the speed.
In the control room, Dr. Kort stared in mute horror at the readings. "He's insane, no human could survive that amount of g-forces!"
"Ben's built a little tougher than your average man doc." Johnny smiled he flicked his thumb on and off like a lighter. "He'll get that rocket sled up to Mach 1 before stopping it, just you wait!"
The sled continued to gain acceleration, but a distinct shimmer from further up on the tracks made Ben reach for the eject button. "Holy Hannah, the track is broken!" His rocky orange hand slammed down on the red button, but to his horror, he felt noting but the button cracking…
Betty stumbled out of the bunker. Her legs were quivering, and she already felt the buckles on her shoes threatening to break apart as she ducked behind a row of parked jeeps. "Calm down Betty, just get to the lab." Her head felt heavy as she dragged one foot in front of the other. The sound of an explosion made her stop and look towards the testing ground.
The rocket sled had derailed. The sight of Ben Grimm being flung through the windshield was almost enough to make her retch, but the sound of open flame made her stop. The Human Torch and Mr. Fantastic rushed out towards their comrade. The Torch snagged Grimm's hand and brought him down in a spiral while the ever-stretching Mr. Fantastic formed a perfect trampoline with his rubbery body. Tearing herself from the scene, she dashed off towards Dr. Banner's lab as the sound of ripping cloth went unheard due to the screeching sounds of ambulances racing onto the field.
"Easy rock head" Johnny quipped as he lowered Ben none too gently onto Reed's stretched out frame. "I think you can still play the violin after this."
"Next time kid, leave the jokes to Carson." Ben groused as he straightened himself. "Well Reed, what happened?"
A gaggle of troops surrounded them. Major Talbot made his way to the center of the group as Ben pushed aside the medics. "What the Blue Blazes was that?"
"Sabotage major. Someone who knew the inside and out of that machine, but someone would could tamper with the rails and get away with it."
A thought dawned on Talbot. "Well then, that would only leave two…" Looking back to the bunker, Talbot swore when he saw both scientists were missing.
Rick ducked behind a nearby building when he heard Dr. Kort's jeep coming around the corner. He held his breath as the balding man exited the vehicle and went inside his lab. Creeping out, Rick moved to the jeep and started looking through it. "Come on, there has to be something here. I know that creep's behind the Wrecker!" Rick opened up the glove compartment and rummaged through it, hoping to find some kind of evidence. Noticing Dr. Kort's wallet laying on the seat, Rick picked it up. He was surprised at how heavy it felt. Flipping it open, he gasped as he found himself staring at a mesh of wires and metal, with a small glass screen near the top. "What the heck is this, some kind of crazy radio?"
While he was staring at the discovery, Rick was not aware of Dr. Kort slipping out through the back door and sneaking up behind him, nor was he aware of the blackjack in the scientist's hand. With one swing, Rick was knocked the ground. "Thanks kid," Kort smiled as he stripped Rick's jacket off. "You gave me exactly what I needed."
Betty leaned against the doorframe for support. She had barely managed to make to Dr. Banner's lab in time. As it was, her shoes were stretched out almost beyond repair, and her dress was riddled with tears. Wiping the sweat from her eyes, she gave a silent prayer of thanks that Bruce had installed the control panels in the floor before the gun. Once quick blast and the pain vanished. Weakened, she staggered outside. Her thoughts of peace were shattered when she saw a jeep spinning wildly out of control before crashing into a dumpster.
She gasped when she saw the driver. "Dr. Kort?" The scientist was slumped over the steering wheel. A fresh gash over his forehead and Rick's jacket crumbled up in the passenger seat made her heart race. "What happened?"
"The Thing!" He mumbled as he clawed at his seatbelt. "Went wild, said that Jones boy knew the Hulk was behind the sabotages. They dragged him off, heading towards that faux town we use for bomb testing."
"So, they do know about my secret." Betty's heart began to beat faster as she felt rage building. "Dr. Kort, I need you to stay here. I'm going to call my father, and he'll get the troops to handle the Fantastic Four."
"No time!" Kort babbled as he revved up the engine. "That boy's life is at stake! You call your father, but I'll warn Dr. Banner. Together we can whip up something that can stop them!" He sped off towards as Betty dashed back inside.
"So, it comes down to this, does it?" Betty thought. Dashing back inside, she powered the gun up again. Not even bothering to unbutton her dress, she gripped the strained cloth in both hands and with one tug, tore it free from her frame. On a workbench near the gun was a pair of purple shorts and a top made of a new material Dr. Banner had read about. It was supposedly able to be able to withstand a vast amount of stress, which frankly all she paid attention to when he described it. Slipping the clothes on, she flicked the power switch with her toe and awaited the change.
As the remains of the rocket sled were cleared away, several shouts went up when one of the sentries spotted Dr. Kort's jeep hurtling towards the men. Without a word, Mr. Fantastic reached out with his fingers and formed a giant net. Snagging the runaway vehicle, medics helped drag the near delirious doctor from the driver seat. "Major Talbot!" he panted as head of security rushed forward. "The Hulk, the Hulk's here!"
"What? What happened man!" Talbot supported Kort as the scientist hurriedly recalled.
"The Hulk, attacked me, kidnapped that Jones boy!" He gestured wildly. "It took him out in the desert, maybe near the faux village we set up."
"And from the way we built it, that blasted monster would be able to see us coming from at least a mile." Turning to the assembled, he shouted orders as he broke into a run. "Call the general and inform him. Banner, get on the ball and get some of those missiles, the what, the ones that freeze the target? I want non lethal actions, but let's be realistic here."
"Major? Perhaps it would be better if we were sent in first." Mr. Fantastic offered.
"What? You're a bunch of civilians! General Ross would have my stars if I allowed you three to wonder into a combat zone!" Talbot stopped in his tracks.
"You forget Major, we both served." The Thing countered. "And no offensive to your boys here, but I don't think too many of them could handle the Hulk one on one, get me?"
Talbot opened his mouth, but then quickly shut it. "You do have a point." Turning back the men, he shouted new orders. "Alright men, listen up. Mr. Grimm here has offered to go in and act as a scout." Turning to the Thing, he jabbed a finger on Ben's rocky hide. "You have exactly 30 minutes. After that, we assume the worst and level the joint."
"Understood." Reed pushed a button on his belt. Over near the motor pool, where the Fantasti-Car had been moved, the rear section of the ship suddenly disengaged from the main body. Mechanics scattered as the engines on the rear section suddenly flared to life and lifted off. Seconds later, the ship landed neatly neat Ben. "If you can provide a map, Ben can be there within a minute."
Talbot raised an eyebrow. "Impressive work Richards." His next words were lost as Ben snagged a map from one of the men and blasted off towards the desert. Unseen by the assembled group, Dr. Kort had gotten into a parked truck and speed off.
Rick was aware of the sounds first. The engine shutting off, the crunching of work shoes on dirt, and then the flicking of a switch. The next sensation he was familiar with was pain, as Dr. Kort took upon himself to kick him the side. "Alright junior, we are going for a walk!"
Roughly hauled to his feet, Rick opened his eyes to see some familiar sights: a rock wall and the mouth to a large cave. "Caves?" He chose not to reveal how he knew about the cave system surrounding the base. "Where are we?"
"Someplace where you'll be spending a great deal for the immediate future." Kort cackled as he shined his flashlight on the cave floor. "Now get moving." He gestured with a pistol as Rick entered the cavern. "Just keep walking for a bit." Kort continued to talk. "These caves run for miles, so even if you run, don't think you can find your way out."
"That's what you think gramps!" Rick smiled to himself, but he knew he had to play along. "Ok, so I'll be a good scout. What's the big idea?"
"Let's just say that in a few hours I am about to join the ranks of Hearse and Rockefeller and leave it at that, alright? Now keep quiet and keep walking. I'll tell you where to go."
Unbeknownst to both Rick and the traitorous Kort, the Hulk knew the exact layout of the caves too, and she was using them to her own advantage. "These tunnels go right under that ghost town. Those bums aren't stupid enough to let themselves be tracked, so they must be coming in from the air." Her thoughts were grim under her beastly brow. "So they think they can just barge in and do whatever they want? I'll show them the Hulk isn't going to be pushed around by anybody!"
The Thing walked down the empty main street. Having left the Fantasti-Car parked on the outskirts, he made his way towards the center of the town. "Jeeze, all that's missing is John Wayne or Gary Cooper." Ben mused as he imagined himself staring down a group of desperados. A fluttering object down the street caught his eye. "What's this?"
Quickly moving, Ben snagged the jacket that had been stuck inside a one of the hollow cars that dotted the town. "The kid's jacket! That Hulk crumb must have stashed him somewhere!" Standing still, he listened for any movement. A slight rumbling under the ground was all the warning he got when two giant gray hands burst forth from the dirt and latched onto his ankles.
"Got you!" The Hulk cried as she forced herself up from the ground. "And now I'll smash you to pieces!" With no visible effort on her part, the Hulk swung the Thing around like a hammer thrower and let the orange projectile fly free.
"Oh brother!" Ben mumbled to himself as he flew through the air. He wasn't afraid of physical injury, not yet at any rate, but he knew this battle would take time. Plowing through a prefabricated house, he came to a stop after hitting the dirt hard enough to rattle the windows. Getting to his feet, he causally dusted himself off as the ground beneath him shook. "Alright, maybe I deserved that, but there hasn't been a thing alive that beat the Thing!"
Rick blinked in the darkness. The only thing running through his mind was the leering face of Dr. Kort. "Just stay down here my boy. If I'm in a good mood, I might come back before you starve or dehydrate." He remembered the scrawny scientist lugging a giant backpack and some kind of barrel away, but the traitor wouldn't answer his questions. He knew whatever the device was its purpose couldn't be any good.
"How am I going to get out of here?" Rick worked the gag free as he felt dirt hitting his face.
"Maybe I could be of some assistance?" A feminine voice whispered in his ear.
"Who's there?" Rick thrashed in the dark as he tried to sit up, but a hand on his shoulder stopped him.
"The effect is lost in the dark, but most people call me the Invisible Girl." Rick felt the ropes being loosened. He rubbed his wrists and ankles as the strange voice continued to speak. "I saw the whole thing with you and Dr. Kort, but I had to stay silent to see where he was taking you." Rick scrambled to his feet as he felt the invisible hand on his. "Come on, we have to save the Hulk and Ben before Dr. Kort unleashes his robot!"
The fight wasn't going as well as the Hulk had hoped. True, she never really encountered anyone who could stand up to her fists before, but the fact the Thing was just standing up after her throw put some doubt in her mind. Charging ahead anyway, she broke through the home in front of her and rained blows down upon the orange head. The Thing stepped back and held up his arm as he tricked to trick her, but she better than to fall for anymore lies…
Ben sighed as he tried to talk. "Look, can't we just talk this out?" He sidestepped a right hook, but caught a left jab to the gut. The Hulk pressed her advantage and struck a savage blow across his face. Had he still been Ben Grimm, test pilot, then that would have been the end of the fight right there. But then creature going toe to toe with the Hulk was hardly Ben Grimm anymore. "I just want to find that Jones kid, that's all!"
"Liar! Hulk knew you took him!"
"Ok, I tried Reed's way, now it's time for mine." Ben put up his hand to block the Hulk's blows as he slammed his knee into her midsection. The gray Amazon staggered back, surprised at the strength of the blow. "It's Clobbering Time!" Ben unleashed blow after blow upon the Hulk. One uppercut later, he managed to knock the gray beast back through the ruined house.
Putting his hands on his hips, he took a moment to stop and think. "Wait a second, the Hulk said I took that kid. Was this a setup?" His questions would go unanswered as the house began to tremble. Before his shocked eyes, the entire section of the wall broke free as the Hulk lifted it high overhead.
"Aw Crud." He barely had time to blink before the Hulk swatted him across the street. Plowing through another house, Ben came to a stop before ripping a support beam free. "Ok, two can play at this game!" Charging like St. George, he nailed the Hulk with the beam and broke the timber in two before the pair began trading punches loud enough to shatter windows.
"Hulk make you free Rick!" A gray haze settled over the Hulk's mind as she slammed her fist into the rocky hide. No longer listening to the Thing's words, the Hulk continued to fight until she felt the ground beneath her start to rumble…
"Ok, so maybe chatting wasn't the best idea" Ben chided himself. He had never really used his full strength against a living opponent before, but a part of him found the experience thrilling. Despite the pain of the Hulk's fists, he could see a savage sort of beauty in her features as she snarled. A vicious haymaker to the jaw, however, colored his thoughts. "I wonder how those other guys banter." He gripped the Hulk's wrists and transitioned the punches into an arm lock. He was midway through composing a snappy joke when the dirt beneath his feet began to split open. "What on Earth?"
Seeing the dust flying and buildings collapsing below him filled Dr. Kort's heart with a sick glee. Picking up a large remote, he flipped a series of switches and whistled a jaunty tune as he extended a large antenna from the controller. "Just in case those two meatheads start to figure everything out." He spoke to no one in particular, but he still needed to say it out loud. "The Wrecker will finish the job, but just in case." He dropped the remote and smashed it under his heel before slipping on the backpack. "I really should thank Dr. Banner for this prototype. Maybe I'll send him a postcard from Buenos Aries." Continuing to whistle, he carefully made his way down the embankment as he turned the deadly device on.
The Hulk slipped free of the Thing's hold just as a large mechanical hand burst out of the ground and clamped down tight on her legs. "More of rock man's tricks? Hulk smash this too!" With a deafening roar, she slammed her fists into the metal fingers as a giant humanoid robot emerged from the ground below. Its blue crystal eyes gleamed in the hot desert sun as it threw the Hulk to the ground. With a speed that belittled its massive size, it brought a giant foot down upon the gray form hard enough to punch the Hulk into the ground like a spike. The Thing stepped back in horror as the mechanical monstrosity turned its attention to him, but then shrugging his shoulders he just changed his method of attack. "Eh, I've seen bigger."
Before he could move, however, the robot began to sway. Bracing himself for an attack, He found himself staring agape as the robot toppled over backwards as the Hulk emerged from the ground with the robot's severed foot clutched tightly in her hand. "Hulk deal with you later!" She spat at the Thing as she leapt onto the robot's chest and began to pummel the robot's head with its own severed foot.
"Wow" Ben gave a low whistle of appreciation at the sight before him. "What a woman!"
Kort cursed as he saw his robot fall. "Well, like I said, if you want something done right…" he muttered as took cover in an alley. "If Banner's notes were correct, one blast of this gamma gun should either kill them both, or at least stun them enough for my robot to finish the job."
Quickly walking, and avoiding the flying debris, Dr. Kort stepped out to see both the Thing and the Hulk on top of the robot. Both of them were pounding the metal monster into a pulp as he raised the barrel and took aim. As his finger tightened on the trigger, the roar of an engine coming from down the main street made him freeze in his tracks. Lowering the weapon, he could feel the blood drain from his face, as he saw none other than that blasted boy driving his truck. "What? But how could he have escaped?"
"He had some help!" A feminine voice whispered in his ear.
"Who's there?" Kort whipped around in time to see a two by four fly through the air and connect with his head. Had he stayed conscious enough, he might have seen Sue Storm become visible.
"I really should start announcing my name before I speak." Sue dropped the board and unhooked the atomic pack from Dr. Kort's slumbering frame. "I'm the Invisible Girl, not the Unknown Girl." Dragging the weapon away, she signaled to Rick, who bore down on the robot faster. "Ben!" She shouted to try and get her teammate's attention. "Clear out of there, that truck has a bomb in it!"
"What?" Ben stopped in his assault long enough to turn around. "Oh boy." Turning his attention to the Hulk, Ben lunged forward and knocked them both clear of the robot. Scrambling to his feet, Ben made tracks as the enraged Hulk followed him. Before he could try to explain, a deafening explosion knocked the wind out of him. The heat seared his back as he was flung through the air. He hit the ground hard and tumbled end over end. Groggily getting to his feet, he looked around in confusion as the Hulk raced towards the burning wreck. "So, did we win?" he weakly joked as Sue dusted herself off.
"Rick!" The Hulk dashed past the flaming wreckage. The thoughts of the previous fighting were gone, and in their place was only one: concern. Hearing coughs coming from a pile of debris, the Hulk slid over to the pile of boards and siding just as Rick Jones emerged, dirty but safe.
"Hey" He stopped himself before he said 'Betty', "did we win?"
For a response, Rick found himself hoisted up into the air. "I'll take that as a yes."
"I thought you were dead." The Hulk scolded him as she let him down.
"I could say the same thing. Where's that bum Kort?"
"Over here." Ben dragged the dazed doctor over to them. "He was behind the Wrecker and all the thefts."
"So this is the guy that made my life so difficult?" The Hulk growled as she cracked her knuckles. "Let me at this guy or-"
"Or nothing!" Sue interjected. Placing a force field between themselves and the Hulk, she stepped forward. "We have the evidence to clear you and to put this traitor away for a long time. Let's just turn him over to the proper authorities. We can even clear your name while we're at it."
The Hulk sneered at them. "Who asked for your help skinny?" Turning back to Rick, she gestured towards her back. "Hop on kid. I've been asleep too long, and I've been itching to stretch my legs."
"Wait Hulk" Rick interrupted. "Why don't we follow them back to the base first and clear all of this up? I mean, if you take off, all of those army guys might say you're guilty or something."
"What? Those puny little twerps!" The Hulk shouted. "I'll show them, I'll show all of them!"
"Right, so let's go back to the base and show how innocent you are, ok?" Rick begged. "Remember, you got pardoned, so they can't hurt you anymore if you don't give them a reason."
The Hulk was silent, which may not have been a good sign, but Sue let her force field down anyway. Without a word, the Hulk snatched Rick and threw him on her back as she took a running leap towards the base. Within seconds they were little more than dots on the horizon.
"Well, I guess we'd better catch up." Sue helped load the now mumbling doctor into the Fantasti-Cat section. "I suspect we'll have some explaining to do."
Word had spread around the base of an incoming object. Ross whispered a prayer when Glenn told him. The troops were marshaled out into the desert and all available weapons and vehicles were rolled out. Ross smoked his cigar nervously as he saw the outline of the Hulk drawing nearer and nearer. "Orders general?" Glenn asked nervously.
Ross's reply was short. "Standby until I give the word." The order was issued to the troops. Ross didn't care how many questions it raised.
The Hulk landed with enough force to equal a bomb blasting. Rifles were brought to bear and tanks rumbled in the dust. The Hulk snarled at them all before a frail looking teenager climbed down off of her back and walked in front of her. "Don't shoot!"
"Hold your fire!" Ross spat as he broke the ranks and dashed towards them. His mind was racing and his heart was pounding. The snarling and hate filled face of the Hulk gave him no relief. Rick put himself between them.
"General Ross, the Hulk is innocent! It was Dr. Kort who was behind all of it!" Rick gasped for breath. "The Thing and the Invisible Girl are bringing him back right now!" The familiar outline of the Fantasti-Car backed him up.
As the two other members of the Fantastic Four landed with their captive, Ross waved down his men. "Alright Hulk, we're standing down. The pardon still stands, and since you've been cleared of any wrong doing, I can promise you we won't hunt you anymore."
The Hulk snorted in contempt at his words. "Like I was ever afraid of you? Hunt me all you want little man, I'd still smash all of you."
"Hulk, you've been cleared of any wrong doing, there's no need to act like that." Sue admonished as MP's hauled Kort away.
"Says you!" The Hulk grumbled. "I've been hunted and hounded for long enough. Since you brought all of your toys out today, why don't I prove how weak they are!" The Hulk stepped forward, but Sue's hand on her arm stopped her.
"It's over Hulk. They won't go after you any more, but if you attack them now, the whole thing will just start all over again. Aren't you tired of the fighting?"
"No." The Hulk turned around and started walking towards the desert. "But if you're telling the truth, then there's nothing worth fighting here anyway."
"Wait, where are you going?" Ross ran forward and gripped her wrist. "We can help you, maybe even cure you." He spoke low, so that none of the others present would hear him.
"Cure? Cure me of what?" She none too gently shook her hand free. "If you're going to leave me alone, then I have no beef you old man." Ignoring Ross, she turned her attention to Rick. "Take care kid. I owe you one."
Before any more words could be said, the Hulk broke into a run and within seconds was bounding away over the horizon. No one spoke for the longest time, but Johnny Storm broke the silence. "Well, that was unusual."
Later that night, after the Fantastic Four had left and reports had been written, General Ross found himself alone in his office. An open bottle of whiskey sat before him, most of its content having been previously consumed. A knock on the door barely made him blink. "Who is it?"
"Sir, may I come in?" Glen opened the door wide enough to see Ross gesturing to him. "Sir, about what happened today..."
"Save it." Ross took another glass and out it in front of the major. "Here, have a drink with me. A congratulatory gesture, if you will."
Ross was silent as he poured himself another drink. "I realized something today Glenn; I'm old. An old man can't be in charge of this facility, not when his will can be compromised." He lifted the glass to his mouth and downed the entire contents. "I've already put in the orders an hour ago, and I'm leaving you in charge."
Glenn dropped his glass. "What?"
"You heard me. I'm taking an early retirement Glenn, and I want you in charge."
"But sir, why?"
Ross gestured towards the clutter that his desk had become. "Because you're still young enough to deal with this red tape." Standing up, he filled his glass again. "I've been in two wars and I've buried enough friends. This base needs someone like you Glenn, not this tired old man." He lifted his glass up. "Raise your glass Glenn." The major stood up and held his arm out. "May your tenure produce less heartbreak." They clinked their glass together. Ross downed the liquor in one gulp before grabbing his coat. "I've got a few rounds to make before I clear out my affects, but the office is yours."
The Hulk took in a deep breath as she gazed upon the desert. Endless miles of nothing stretched out before her. "Free" she spoke before she did something unexpected: She laughed. The booming echo rolled for miles as she began to walk. She was in no hurry, and lacked a destination, but for once in her life she took in the area around her. The smells and sights of the arid sand and rock around her brought another chuckle. "I'm free!" She shouted to the heavens. There was a strange nagging feeling, somewhere in the back of her mind, that made her stop in her tracks. "So why do I feel like I'm leaving something behind?" An image of a smaller and paler woman made her kick the ground. "Bah, that weakling Betty! She's not even here and she still ruins my mood!" Picking up a nearby boulder, the brutish Hulk imagined the ancient stone was the petite female. "If I ever see her," she intoned as she reduced the giant rock to a small collection of pebbles. "I'll teach her to cross the Hulk!"
Dusting her hands, the gray giant broke into a run and took to the air in a running leap. The sound of rushing air in her ears made her forget what she was running from, and that was all right by her. "The Hulk is free, and I'll never be locked up again!" She swore to herself as she sailed through the sky. "And anyone who even tries is going to regret it!"
Well, another issue down, and here's where things begin to change. This particular story was not based on any issue of The Incredible Hulk, but rather "The Fantastic Four Meet the Incredible Hulk!" which was first printed in Fantastic Four #12 (March 1963). Credits go to Stan Lee (script), Jack Kirby (pencils), Dick Ayers (inks), and Artie Simek (letters).
So where does this leave old jolly gray jeans you may ask? Well, in the published history of the Hulk, the magazine The Rampaging Hulk was supposed to take place between the last issue of the Hulk's comics and his next appearance in the Avengers #1, but those issues were declared non-cannon. Now, some of those stories may very well be used in this series, but for now things are going to be moving into a new direction. This Hulk is not Bruce Banner; so don't expect a total rehash of the old stories. Things are going to different in this House of Ideas, yes sir!
To see how different, tune in next issue when the Hulk encounters Madame X!
Fan mail for now (12-25-06)
From the terrific Tiffani:
Awesome story, Cambot. My usual compliments still stand, the dialogue and descriptions are excellent as always.
Thanks for sharing.
And again, thank you for reading.
Also, the character of Col. Stoner is a real character. Nick Fury, way back in Strange Tales #135,was called on to replace the first director, who had been recently assassinated. The first director wasn't named until Fury #1 (May 1994)
Be sure to check out the upcoming works!
Tales to Astonish #6-See the Wasp Fail!
Amazing Adventures #4-What Lurks Within?
Journey Into Mystery #9-Lady Thor tackles Sandu, Master of the Supernatural!