A Mighty Tale Told in the Mighty Marvel Manner!
In the Hands of a Madman
April 12, 1963
Betty would have sold her soul for some spit. The heat blazed down upon her relentlessly; all around her was noting but endless stretches of barren waste. She already spent one night huddled by a makeshift fire. She had no desire to repeat the experience.
"So, how am I going to get out of here?" She asked a question she already knew the answer to; she just hoped the Hulk wouldn't answer her. If she changed, then there would no doubt the Hulk could carry her back to civilization, but the real question was would she? In that regard, she doubted very much that the gray skinned beast would want to do anything that would in some way benefit her.
Forcing a change might work, but she didn't feel like taking the gambit if the Hulk decided to remain sleeping. Falling to her knees, she continued to move. "If I die, then I die. I won't just give up. I survived with this curse, I can survive this!"
A slight skittering sound made her stop. Carefully looking over her shoulder, she thought she caught a glimpse of sand shifting. "No, I must have imagined it." The sound then filled the air around her as she tiny legs glide through the sand around her like water. "Maybe I didn't!" Scrambling to her feet, she dived out of the way as a giant millipede burst out of the sand and plunged towards her former spot.
Ignoring the pain, she dashed up the nearest dune and slid down it as the monster insect passed though it and scuttled before her. Her left heel slid back in the sand. "Ok, I have nowhere to go, and this thing knows it. What can I do?"
Bringing her arms up, she steeled herself for another attack as the monstrous million legged monstrosity's head suddenly split open to reveal a small television monitor and transceiver. With a slight crackle the picture came to life and Betty found herself staring down at a black and white image of a hooded figure.
"Greetings Ms. Ross. I do hope you'll forgive the penny dreadful theatrics, but I have found it necessary to guard myself against outsiders. Since you are clearly an exception to this rule, I will permit you to watch my genius firsthand."
"Um, alright." Betty lowered her arms, but not her guard. "If you can hear me, how can I-"
"Ah, never fear my darling. I have arranged a vehicle for you." The monitor disappeared back into the head of the millipede. The stranger's voice was still being broadcast. "Mortimer here shall accompany you to the living quarters. Don't worry, he's a fully licensed driver and pilot."
Before Betty's eyes, the millipede's legs shot down and straightened. A strange mechanical clicking filled the air as the legs reshaped and connected to each other. Black liquid poured in from a hidden compartment, splashing down into the groves and holes formed by the legs. Within seconds, the liquid hardened forming tires. A hidden pump inside the beast filled them with air as a plush seat rose from the middle of the creature's metal back.
"Well, why not? It's not I haven't seen stranger things." Betty shrugged her shoulders and took the offered seat. A seat belt suddenly whipped around her waist and shoulders, binding her to the seat.
"Safety first!" Chimed the mysterious voice as the mechanical beast drove into the desert.
Bruce Banner fidgeted in his chair as the meeting went past the three-hour mark. Major Talbot looked the worse. His haggard face showed the lack of sleep was catching up to him. "Gentlemen, what we have here is a serious crisis."
Pointing to a projections screen behind him, he continued to lecture as a film played. The images of destruction served to drown all the voices in the room save for the major's own. "The Hulk has vanished. This creature was last sighted in a downtown major metropolitan area, yet somehow managed to avoid being captured despite the efforts of every available official at the scene. Thanks in part to Dr. Banner," Banner nodded sheepishly at the mention of his name, "we were able to devise a way to track the Hulk due to its gamma energy. As of 0500 hours gentlemen, the Hulk vanished from our monitors and we have not seen hide nor hair."
Talbot ran his hand over his beard stubble before continuing. "I want the Hulk; dead or alive, makes no difference to me. The President agrees with me, and formed a special taskforce for the sole purpose of finding and stopping the Hulk." Major Talbot picked up a small stack of dossiers and handed them to the seated men. "Gentlemen, this is out mission. Find the Hulk and stop it."
Bruce prayed his fear wasn't showing as he opened the black leather packet and stared at the contents. "Methods of termination?"
Betty sighed with relief as the strange mechanical beast drove into a tunnel. The relief from the heat was doubled as she felt cool air blowing over her from overheard air conditioning ducts. "What is this place?"
"A place of wonder and delight!" Came the same voice from a hidden speaker. It echoed down the tunnel as the metal beast came to a sudden stop. "Please disembark carefully."
Standing up, after the belts loosened, Betty entered a nearby elevator lift. The metal cage lurched to life as it descended deeper and deeper into the ground. "How low are we going?"
"Higher than you think but lower than you know." The voice answered back. "Just sit down and wait. All will be revealed to you shortly." Several compartments opened up inside the cab, offering tall glasses of water, a chair, and even a simple robe.
"Well, why not?" Betty slipped on the offered robe. She had forgotten about her near nudity and the Hulk was certainly not one for modesty. "It would be rude not to, and if this guy was going to kill me, I doubt he'd do with a poisoned glass." Slipping the water, she marveled at the cool taste as it slid down her parched throat. "Ah, this is Heaven!" She sighed aloud as she sat into the deep cushions of the chair.
The blissful ride came to a stop shortly thereafter as the lift finally reached the bottom. Exiting the elevator, Betty followed a lighted path towards the center of a massive arena. Her footsteps echoed across the length of the area as she came to a suddenly stop before a large flat screen. The screen flickered to life, bathing the area in almost blinding white light. On the screen she saw the same hooded figure as she saw before. "Hello Ms. Ross. I trust the water is to your liking?"
"Yes, very much, but who are you exactly?"
"Exactly what, I'm not sure. I am, however, the only person you can trust at the moment."
"Oh? And why is that?" Betty raised an eyebrow.
"Because you are about to hunted. You are going to be feared and despised, and only I can stop it."
"Hunted?" She raised an eyebrow as she drank more water. "Since you know so much about me you should know that the Hulk could handle anything."
"Ah yes, the Hulk. Recently pardoned, but really, all that is a smudge of ink on some pressed wood pulp. While you were resting in the desert, a committee was formed to hunt you down. They have mobilized the troops-in fact they even have a name for themselves: The Hulk-Busters."
"What? That's the most insane thing I've ever heard!" Betty felt flushed with anger, but not the tell-tell sign of transformation.
"It's true." Before her the image changed. On the screen she saw a group of military men, Dr. Banner included, all sitting around a table while Major Talbot spoke. The sound was muted, but the anonymous host provided narration. "They just announced it. Using the full might of the United States armed forces, they are going to hunt you down."
"But…but my pardon…"
"Was revoked the second they spotted you in San Francisco. You crossed a boundary my dear. You have to pay the penalty." The stranger's face returned. "Ah, clearly this could be a problem, no?" His voice went down a few octaves as he spoke. "I can help you though."
"I know of the Hulk, and the horrors the beast has committed. What would you say if I told you I could free you from your curse?"
Betty's heartbeat went up. "I'd say prove it before I agreed to anything."
"Ah, a woman after my mine own heart!" His voice went lower as he spoke. "Very well. On your right is a small cart. Step inside it and it shall take you to my laboratory. From there we will set about the removal of that particular gray blemish."
Rick slowly opened his eyes. "What happened?" He sat up and looked around. He was in familiar surroundings: a jail cell. Rising to his feet, he looked around and tried to get his bearings. There were neither windows nor any sounds. The lights were all focused on him. He could see the standard cot affixed to the wall, which as far as he could tell was the only fixture in the room. "Hello?"
Walking forward, he was rewarded with an almost broken nose as he walked face first into the wall. Gingerly rubbing it, he felt around in the darkened portions of the cell. Much to his shock, he found no door or even any possible way in or out. "So how did I get in? Through the ceiling?" Looking up, he could only see the blinding light emanating from the center of the ceiling.
"Mr. Jones." The cold voice echoed down from a hidden speaker.
"Yeah, what's it to you?" He tried to sound like Marlon Brando, but he felt it came across more as Jerry Lewis.
"You have been charged with numerous crimes against our people." The voice sounded more and more like it was being broadcast through some kind of amplifier. "And you have been found guilty."
"Guilty of what crimes?" Rick slammed his fist into the wall. "Who are you?"
In response, the light at the ceiling went out, to be replaced with the light coming from the far wall. Before him, Rick gasped as he saw the speakers. "Toad men? You have to be kidding me!"
The alien in the center, his uniform soiled and tattered, puffed his chest before bellowing at Rick over the intercom. "Silence! Thanks to you, out fleet was wiped out! We were dishonored and banished from our home, sentenced never to return unless we brought those who caused us so much shame. We know of the older Earthling's death, but we require the Hulk. Where is the monster?"
"Aw, go meet with a Frenchman!" Rick felt his confidence slowly returning. "What makes you think I'd help you?"
The center Toad man looked defeated, at least until both toad men on either side of him simultaneously leaned in and whispered in his ears (at where ears would be on a human, Rick noted). The disturbingly wide grin on the alien's face made him nervous. "Oh, you'll help us Earthling, one way or another." The trio laughed, or croaked rather, and waddled off beyond the range of the glass.
With that, the room was plunged into darkness once more. Rick felt more alone than ever as he slid down the wall and rested his head on his knees. "What am I going to do?"
Betty nervously licked her lips. Before her was a large table overflowing with every kind of foodstuff she could imagine. Her unseen host's voice drifted down from an overhead speaker. "Please, eat and enjoy Ms. Ross. I would think you'd be fairly starved after your ordeal."
Pulling back a chair, Betty cautiously reached out and picked up a large plate. "Come, come there is no need to stand on ceremonies here. Eat your fill!" The voice grew higher pitched as she piled on freshly grilled steaks and roasted chickens. "Yes, eat up my dear. You'll need a full stomach for the cure."
The way in which the host spoke made her stop. "Why is that?"
"Hmm? Oh, ah yes the cure. What I meant was, the procedure will be easier if you have already eaten, yes that is what I meant."
The food before her suddenly didn't look quite so tempting. "That's not the first time you spoke of a cure. Tell me, what exactly are you planning on doing?"
"Simple, I plan to separate you from the Hulk. It should be fairly simple really."
"And what if I say no?" Betty rose to leave, but the room started to spin. "You, you drugged me!" She struggled to stand. Knocking her plate to the floor, she staggered towards the door. "I knew I shouldn't have drunk that water!"
"Actually the water was perfectly safe. I dipped the elevator's seat in a special tranquilizer, as well as the robe you're wearing. Oh, and the almost microscopic needles on the chair, tables, and the ones covering pretty much the entire floor." The Host giggled as Betty pitched face first to the floor.
Bruce drummed his fingers on the desk as he slipped the headphones over his ears. Turning the knobs up, he was unaware of the door opening behind him. He was jerked out of his favorite song by the sound of the needle being yanked up from the vinyl. "Hey!" Spinning around in his chair, he looked up in shock at Major Talbot looming over him.
"Got a minute doc?"
Talbot looked haggard. "I'm not sure what to do with this task force."
"Well, we're just supposed to capture the Hulk, right?" Picking up the scattered papers from his desk, Bruce stood up and handed various diagrams to the major. "I've been working on various things to help us do just that, so what's the problem?"
"Word from on top is the boys don't want her captured."
"Really? Then what am I going to do with all this work?"
Talbot shook his head. "We have new orders. Eliminate if necessary, and for some reason, General Ross is raising hellfire over it." His eyes narrowed. "Now why do you think that is?"
Betty woke with a start. The first thing she noticed were the heavy iron bars strapped across her chest and thighs. A blinding light shown down from the ceiling. "Where am I?" Her throat felt like it had been lined with cotton.
"Wherever you are." The host stepped into her view, allowing her to see him fully. He was an average size with a slightly large gut. His black leather boots echoed on the concrete floor as he loomed over her. Removing his surgical gown, she saw he was wearing what appeared to be a strange uniform. The jacket that was buttoned up to the top was a bright crimson. Gold and blue epaulets dangled from his shoulders. Across his chest was a bright green sash, adorned with dozens of medals that each clanked as he moved. His pants were of burgundy material and each leg had multiple yellow and black stripes running down the legs.
His face was hidden under a black mask that seemed to be draped over his head. One bright manic blue eye stared down at her from the single hole. She blinked her eyes she stared at him, due to the fact that portions of his chest seemed to be moving and undulating under his jacket. "So how is my little trooper doing today?"
"What did you do to me?" Betty tried to move her arms, but she was secured too tight.
"Do? Why my dear, I have fixed you!" Stepping back, he clapped his hands. Another spotlight turned on at the sound and shone on a doorway several feet away. "I would like to introduce you to someone. You've met her before but this is the first time."
Before she could ask what he meant, the door slowly creaked open. A hollow feeling in her stomach made her shudder uncontrollably as a gray skinned hand grasped the door and flung it open. "You!"
"That's right honey!" The Hulk strutted into the room and loomed over them both. With all of the power and confidence radiating from her, the Hulk leaned over and stared Betty right in the face. "So what do you think of the new me?"
"It's…different." Betty finally found the words to say.
"You bet it is babe!" The Hulk smirked as she flexed her bicep.
"Ah, to see such heavenly beauties in my lifetime! Truly I am blessed!" The Host, as he never did get around to formally introducing himself, placed his hands together and looked towards the heavens.
"Yeah, whatever." The Hulk's smirk grew as she stared down at Betty. "So what exactly are we going to do with her?"
"That's a good question!" Betty stared in utter amazement at the Hulk. "This isn't a dream, is it?"
"Nope." To prove it, the Hulk flicked Betty's nose. "Real enough for you?"
"Quite." Her amazement was quickly being replaced with annoyance. "So when can I get out this thing?"
"Hmm? Oh yes, I knew I forgot to do something." The Host walked over to her and gripped the end of the table. "Now don't fret, I'll be sure to invent a way to open this device soon. Maybe after my coffee break."
"What?" Betty shouted as she was wheeled into a large drawer. "You can't do this!" She trashed around on the table as the Hulk leaned in.
"Looks like we just did. Don't worry honey, I won't forget to write." Laughing, the Hulk slammed the door shut, plunging Betty into total darkness.
Rick opened his eyes. Before him was a plate of food, hovering in midair. As he reached out to touch it, he quickly drew his hand back as a small current shocked him. "Hey, what's the deal?"
"Simple, Earthling, if you want to eat or rest anymore, then you will tell us what we need to know."
"But I'm telling you the truth!" He protested. "I don't know where the Hulk is, and besides, you bozos kidnapped us!"
Behind the screen, the commander of the Toad Men, his own name erased due to his failure, seethed. Inwardly he knew the Earth boy was correct. Their spies had told him as much. Alone, he knew the boy wasn't enough of a prize to restore his honor. He needed the Hulk at least to bring any kind of respect from the Homeworld, but as he glanced around the makeshift command post, he snorted in disgust. Their weapons proved to be utterly ineffective against the Hulk before, so how could they expect to capture the beast a second time? Tracing his webbed fingers around an old and faded medal, he sighed in despair. "What can I do?"
Breathing hard, Betty tried to remain calm. "Oh God, what if I suffocate?" The air was already starting to taste stale. "No, I have to keep cool." As her eyes adjusted to the darkness, she tried to pick up on anything she could use. Noises, smells, anything that could have told her what was going on outside. "After all that, they just stick me in a drawer and that's it?" The reality of the situation made her chuckle. "So that's it. After all that, all the battles and fighting, I die inside a nut's closet. Somehow that makes sense."
Straining with all her might, Betty stopped when she felt something pop in her shoulder. Grunting with pain, she tried to stretch out, but found her movements blocked. "I won't die like this, do you hear me?" She raged as her heart rate increased. Her heart began to beat faster and faster. Like a jackhammer inside her rib cage, she felt her blood flowing and surging inside her head as she lay back on the slab. "What's going on? I thought he said he cured me?"
As her heart beat faster, she tried one last time to free herself. Tensing her arms, she strained against the restraints, easily ripping the metal bands apart. Even in the absence of light, she knew her skin was darkening to the familiar shade of gray. Her muscles swell with each breath. With one smooth jerk she freed her legs. A haze descended over her as she propelled herself out of the drawer and back into the theater.
Jumping off the stretcher, the Hulk roared in a rage unlike any kind ever witnessed. Gripping the stretcher hard enough to rend the metal, she began an orgy of destruction. Smashing the stretcher against every surface within reach, she didn't stop until every fixture, light, and even large portions of the walls were little more than rubble. "Hulk Smash!"
She wasn't finished. She hadn't even started.
Bruce ran his sweaty palm over his face once more as he looked at the data in front of him. "I don't know what you mean Major."
"I mean, Dr. Banner, is that both the Hulk and Ms. Ross are missing. In fact, I'd wager a month's pay that every time the Hulk has been seen, Ms. Ross hasn't, correct?"
"Well, I wasn't stationed here until fairly recently…"
"Can it Banner. Betty Ross is the Hulk, and I think, no, I know, that's why General Ross retired and why we had the Fantastic Four snooping around. Am I wrong?"
"I wouldn't know all the details Major." Bruce stood up. "I was brought here to fix problems Major, and the Hulk is not a problem!"
"I beg to differ." Removing his pistol, he leveled it at Bruce. Two armed sentries entered the room and forcibly restrained the scientist. "Bruce Banner, you're under arrest for treason."
The Hulk, the stretcher in her hands long since turned to flaked bits of metal, swung with one open hand and knocked the heavy door off of its hinges. "Stupid door."
The Host and the faux Hulk were sitting on a stage before a large monitor. The Host swung around his chair. "So that's where she went."
"Hulk smash phony!" The Hulk gritted her teeth in rage as she leapt towards the duo. The imposter Hulk, who or what ever she was, jumped towards her and met her in mid-air for combat the likes of which few mortals have ever seen. Latching onto each other, the pair tumbled through the air and hit the floor with a deafening thud.
"Is that all you can do?" The imposter jeered as she regained her balance first and wrapped her obscenely thick forearms around the Hulk's neck. "I'm going to squeeze the life out of you!"
The Hulk didn't make a comeback. With each jerk, she felt her windpipe being forcibly closed. Spots danced around the edge of her eyes as she balled her fists tight. There must be a weakness! Taking in her surroundings, she saw the fake's right leg outstretched. With one smooth motion, she slammed her elbow into the phony's outstretched knee. Breath returned to her as the imposter toppled over, clutching her cracked kneecap.
Ignoring the wailing woman behind her, the Hulk again leapt towards the stage. Landing almost on top of the host, she reached out and grabbed him by his shoulders. "Wait!" He protested.
"No!" The Hulk yanked him up from his chair and started to squeeze. To her confusion, she felt nothing but liquid in her grasp. Flinging him away, she looked down at her sticky palms. "What are you?"
"You have the gall to ask me that?" The Host lay in a heap on the floor. "I am nothing! Nobody! In life I was a doctor, a respected man, but no, you ruined that! You took everything from me!"
The Hulk raised an eyebrow. The host reached up and yanked off his hood. "See? Once I was handsome, then I created you and you stole my beauty!" The man's face was grossly misshapen. A few tuffs of hair poked out from his rumpled scalp. His sole blue eye glared balefully at her as it rolled around in the socket. The rest of his flesh looked like melted putty. The entire side of his face was crumpled. "I created you, and this is the thanks I get?"
"You created me? Nobody created the Hulk!" The Hulk sneered as she ripped the heavy chair free from the floor and threw it at him. The host easily avoided the projectile.
"Yes I did! I wore a different face then of course." He spoke as his chest started to inflate. The sash and ribbons popped off and fell to the floor with a clatter. Easily tearing the jacket away, the Hulk looked with revulsion at the sight of the man's red deformed flesh twisting and swelling before her. "I was there from the start, but you ruined me at every turn!"
A dim memory went off in the back of the Hulk's mind. "Marks?"
"No, not Marks, not anymore! He died in that radioactive river. I am better than Marks, smarter and stronger than he ever could be!" His loose lips jerked upward into a disgusting grin. "I am perfect, the alpha male!" His chest bubbled and a large portion of it collapsed in on itself as he moved towards her.
"You're crazy." The Hulk slammed her fingers into the steel floor and ripped out several chunks. "And I'm going to beat the crazy out of you."
"I'm not crazy, I'm not! I'm a Madman baby, why can't you see that?"
Instead of a response, the Hulk charged at the Madman. Slamming the steel chunk down into his shoulder, she didn't even blink as the metal shard was absorbed fully by his body.
"You can't hurt me!" The Madman shouted glee as she swung the second piece into his legs and easily separated them from his body. He fell to the floor with a wet thud. "You can't hurt me!" He wheezed as he pushed himself forward and enveloped her ankles.
"Stupid water man, let go of Hulk!" Bringing one foot up only served to make her unsteady, an advantage the Madman took full use of as he surged forward and around her.
Meanwhile, the faux Hulk crawled towards them. "Hey, I'm the real Hulk!" She said with ragged breath.
"Quiet!" Both the Hulk and the Madman shouted in unison.
His form oozing over her, the Madman soon enveloped the Hulk utterly. As his misshapen head came to a rest at the top of the still shifting mass, a puzzled look crept across his face. "Eh? That doesn't feel right…"
From inside the mass of what was once Dr. Marks, the Hulk held her breath. Planting her feet on solid ground, she tensed her body. In one spilt instant, she jumped. The fleshly barrier around her stretched as she leapt higher and higher. Gripping the skin around her, she pushed her fingertips as far as she could, finally being rewarded with the faint feel of air on her nails as latched onto a solid surface.
"Help me you fool!" The Madman screeched as his body was distorted as the Hulk shaped lump grabbed hold of a low hanging support beam. His body was slowly tearing apart as the Hulk's arms ripped through the thin membrane. The faux Hulk staggered over and wrapped her hands around the Hulk's ankles and tried to pull her away. Her actions did little to appease him. "Stop her! Stop her now!"
Something went off in the imposter's eyes. "No." Stepping back, she looked the horrifying lump in the eye. "I'm the real Hulk, not that phony. And the Hulk doesn't need anyone!"
"No, you're not!" The Hulk's head burst free from the Madman's body in a shower of multicolored fluid. Ripping her way out, she landed near the imposter. "I'm the only real Hulk, and I'll smash anyone who says otherwise!" Ignoring the frenzied screams of the Madman, the Hulk flicked some of his entrails off of her forehead and cracked her knuckles.
"Oh Yeah?" The phony swung out with a wild punch. The Hulk blocked it, but found her grip ruined due to the slimy residue of the Madman clinging to her fingers.
"Yeah." The Hulk inwardly shrugged and launched her own attack. Seeing how her doppelganger was still favoring her leg, the Hulk tackled her leg, but as she moved forward, the faux Hulk grinned and brought her knee up directly into the Hulk's nose. Cartilage shattered under the impact. "Sucker!"
"Now I'm really mad!" Rolling to her feet, the Hulk unsteadily stood up. Her feet were coated in whatever was inside the Madman at the time. As she fought for balance, an idea came to mind. Crouching down, she propelled herself along the floor like a skater.
As the other Hulk raised her arms to block, the Hulk fell backwards and dropkicked the other Hulk's knees. Knocking her down, the Hulk quickly scrambled and gripped her ankles. "So you're the only Hulk, huh?" Spinning, the Hulk threw her towards the Madman. The congealed kook absorbed much of her impact, but not her momentum, which was powerful enough to move the pair into the control panel.
Sparks and fumes can prove to be a powerful combination. The cracked lights leaked mercury vapors as the shattered monitors threw sparks into the air. None of this was dangerous, but as the fleshy remains of the Madman sloshed over the bent and rendered metal, the combination of the two suddenly made him the most flammable item in the room.
The faux Hulk ripped her way free from the burning mass. Plunging her fists into it, she dashed towards the real Hulk and swung at her. With her feet still slimy, the Hulk found herself unable to fully concentrate on the fight. A fiery right hook knocked her senseless. Catching her breath, she gripped the imposter's flaming left hand in an unbreakable hold and twisted. Forcing her to her knees, the Hulk suddenly let go as the ceiling gave way.
"This isn't over, do you hear me?" The Madman's oozing and burning head screamed as it slid down the wall.
"Yes, it is." The Hulk calmly marched over to it. With the barest hint of disgust, she slammed her heel down into the pulpy mash and spread it across the floor. Turning her attention to the imposter, the Hulk gasped at what she saw.
A portion of the roof had fallen in, pinning the other Hulk to the ground. To the Hulk's horror, the other woman's face had started to run and drip like oil. "What's happening to me?" She gasped, as her lips broke free and tumbled from her face.
The Hulk was at her side in an instant. Easily tossing the rubble away, the Hulk gagged at the sight: only the other Hulk's upper torso and right arm were still intact. The rest of her body had melted into a gray and white mush.
"Help me, please!" The other Hulk begged through rapidly dwindling teeth.
The Hulk bent down as the base around them collapsed and turned into a raging inferno. Gingerly, the Hulk picked up her double. Conflicting emotions raged; this creature was an insult to her very being, yet she was only creature alive who was like her. What could she do? The other Hulk was turning into a puddle in her hands and slipping through her fingers.
A voice, much like her own, spoke to her. "Help her."
Silently, the Hulk nodded. Taking a few bounding steps, the easily jumped through the roof of the base. Soaring through the air she landed almost a mile away. In her arms, the other Hulk's body continued to deteriorate. Gently as she could, she placed her on the sand.
As she stared down at the pitiful figure, the Hulk felt an all too familiar feeling of dizziness sweeping over her. Instead of fighting it, she simply stood still as her skin turned back into a healthy pink. Her muscles shrank as her hair receded. Betty Ross stood before the other Hulk. Kneeling down, she carefully took the decaying mass that was once a hand in her own.
"Thanks." Her voice was raspy and the words were badly slurred. Her eyes rolled up as her body started to shake. "You were the real Hulk." She tried to say more, but her words were lost as she breathed her last.
Betty couldn't think of anything to say. She had checked around, but found no trace of the Madman's mutants or anything salvageable inside the base. The holding pens were all open, but given the way the Madman's methods, she doubted they would have lived long out in the open. Almost all of the tools and supplies were burned up or broken. Taking some scraps and whatever wasn't incinerated, she changed the strips of cloth and ruined bits of junk into passable tools. Later, using her own strength and what passed for a shovel, she dug a makeshift grave for the only other creature to be called Hulk.
After the burial was over, she stood at the foot. "I'm sorry. For a second there, I thought I was cured, and the relief I felt was…" She shook her head. "I don't know what he had planned for you, or how you would have handled the power, but I'm sorry we had to fight."
Walking towards the horizon, Betty grabbed a few items she could use from the wreckage. In the makeshift bag were a few broken bits of pipe and enough scraps of cloth to keep her from freezing at night. "Alright, so it looks rough. I've been in worse scraps, and I'm not going to be pushed around anymore." The blasted landscape around her gave her nothing. "The Hulk's going to be hunted-well, let them try. I'm not going start anything, but if something happens, then it will be the Hulk who puts a stop to it." Mentally, Betty seemed pleased at this prospect. "It's a whole new me and a whole new game."
And thus another issue comes to a close. This particular tale was original, but the Madman was based on the character with the same name. Thanks to Peter David for creating that one.
And now for the fan mail:
First from Agent00Soul
Wow - this was an entirely new story? You are a great writer. The pacing was pretty flawless and the urban setting was a real pleasant change! In fact, one of the things about those old Hulk comics that was a bit boring was that they tended to always take place in the desert so I'm glad you tried something different. Thanks as always!
No, thank you! If you liked the pace of the last issue, then the next few are going to knock your socks off, or at least ruffle your shoes a bit.
And a letters pages wouldn't be complete with a word (or several) from our own Mistress of the Dungeon, Tiffani:
Great story as always Cambot. You always do a wonderful job. Thanks for sharing.
Thanks really go to you for reading so much of my stuff.
Be here next time-what's going on with Rick? What's going on with Dr. Banner? How is the Hulk going to react to the Hulk-Busters? Answers and more in-
The Celebrated Flying Toads of Outer Space!
And be sure to keep your peepers peeled for the following tales, soon to here on your monitors-
Journey Into Mystery#10-The Day the Thunder was Stolen!
Amazing Adventures#6-Meet Krogg+An important message concerning the future of this title.
Tales to Astonish#8-The Voice of Doom!