A Mighty Tale Told in the Mighty Marvel Manner!
At Midnight I'll Take Your Life!
June 9, 1963
It had been pandemonium for the past month. When a being like the Hulk doesn't appear people tend to become nervous. Glenn Talbot, especially, as he marched towards another source of irritation, "Banner!"
Dr. Banner looked up from his desk. "Yes?"
"Where are those results you promised?"
"Where they are supposed to be; when the Hulk shows up, you will get your result."
Talbot fumed. All of Banner's weapons and gear and delivered in the tests, but would they hold up against the real thing? The answer to that was easy, but the only problem was that the Hulk had seemingly vanished off the face of the Earth.
Unknown to all, the Hulk had actually vanished off the face of the Earth. The figure walking through the desert, however, was not the Hulk. Betty Ross and Rick Jones made their way through the hot sands as the blazing sun beat down on them. She hadn't changed since their last encounter with the Space Toads, a fact that worried her.
"The Hulk hasn't said anything. Am I cured?" She tried not to think about that last part. As much as she wanted to hate the gray beast, she loved the freedom and power that came with her other self. "Or is she just waiting?"
Rick had been mostly silent since they came back to Earth. Since crash landing near Mexico, Rick had been the one to pull them out of the fire. Working odd jobs, they drifted north until they nearing the American border. "So, what do we do?"
Betty snapped out of her musings. She hadn't really planned that far ahead. "If we get stopped by a patrol, lets just go with them. I'm tired of running, and frankly, if we don't things are just going to get worse."
Rick nodded and kept his eyes on the road over the dunes. "I'll see if we can flag down a truck or something."
It was dark, but then it was always dark. "Soon, soon I'll have my revenge! Those weak, pathetic mortals can't stop me, nothing can! And when I free myself, I'll carve out my empire, starting with the West Coast."
The base command was abuzz. Reports from Washington were coming in every hour, and the news was anything but good. Mysterious underground tremors had been reported in the Midwest, with all evidence that whatever was causing them was moving westward.
"Alright people, what's our status?" Talbot glared at the frantic pace of the men.
"Sir, our radio stations report nothing unusual!"
"NATO wants an update!"
"Dr. Banner's here!"
Talbot waved off the rest of the troops as the scientist entered the room. Taking him aside, he looked the scrawny researcher over. "Alright Doc, what do you have for me?"
"I've been modifying the Iceberg rocket, as well as a few other toys. Whatever this thing, we can handle it."
"Good, but not quite what I want to hear. Can you handle the Hulk?"
Banner stiffened. "If it comes to that, yes."
"Don't 'if it comes to that' me mister! We are looking at something that can set off a chain reaction capable of sinking the West Coast, I want to know if we can stop that blasted monster dead."
"Even if we kill an innocent civilian?"
Talbot narrowed his eyes. "We do what we have to do to protect this country. If you can't handle that mister, then I've got a cell waiting for you."
Betty and Rick crossed over with little trouble. At the border Betty thought about confessing, but with some many people it just seemed like a poor idea. "No telling what may happen here. Better if I'm in a controlled environment."
Giving false names and claming to be lost hikers, Rick and Betty managed to slip through without too much difficulty. Flagging down a car, they hopped in. "Where to kids?"
"North, but only for a bit." Rick leaned against the back seat and closed his eyes.
"Better let him sleep." Betty answered the driver's questions but refused to say too much. "Just let me get back to the base."
As the car drove on into the desert, the driver, an older gentleman, suddenly pointed out to a distant telephone pole. "Excuse me kids, but am I going crazy or is that pole dancing?"
Rick snapped awake as Betty peered out into the distance. Before them was a long line of connecting telephone poles that were wobbling back and forth. "What on Earth?"
Before the old man could slam on the brakes, the closest pole suddenly lurched to the side and crashed, blocking the road. "Look out!" Betty braced herself for impact as the car plowed into the wooden pole. Going into a skid, the small roadster slammed into the broken beam, arching lines dancing all around them.
Groggily looking up, Betty tried turning her head. Finding only blinding pain when she did that, she tried calling out. "Rick?" Hearing no answer, Betty managed to pry the door open and stumbled out. The driver was slumped over the steering wheel. Rick was crumbled up in the back seat, unmoving.
"Rick!" Her heart started to beat wildly. Reaching out, she had to draw her hands back as the downed lines failed closer to her. Leaping out of the way, she rolled onto her back as smoke began to pour out from the car's hood. Looking down, she spied her flesh taking on a gray hue. "Hulk?"
Before her eyes, her body began to expand. Her shoes easily popped apart from the pressure of her widening feet. Her pants buckled and split up her calves as her muscles hardened and grew. Leaping to her feet, the Hulk effortlessly tore her shirt free. "I'm back."
Marching forward, she gripped the sparking lines and tossed them aside. Reaching into the car, the gray behemoth ripped the roof free. With both hands, she scooped the injured men and leapt away as the flames overcame the car. Putting the men down, she saw in the distance the possible source of their problem.
In the desert she saw the dirt moving, as if something were burrowing at a high speed. Before she could leap out and confront it, a small voice in the back of her mind seemed to stop her. "Wait!"
"We have to help Rick and the old man!"
The Hulk looked down at the injured men. Rick was moaning softly, but the old man was silent. The Hulk thought about leaving, her baser instincts telling her to run away, but a small part inside told her no. The Hulk, silently, with nothing to indicate the raging battle happening inside her mind, picked up both men as carefully as she could and leapt away towards the nearest town.
Seeing the spot fading away in the distance, the Hulk swore under her breath. "Next time, whatever you are, next time."
"Sir, we just a sighting of the Hulk!"
The room fell silent as Talbot snatched the report of the officer's hands. Scanning over the document, he felt his throat dry up. "The Hulk touched down ten miles from here at a civilian hospital. According to this," he shook the paper for emphasis, "all the blasted beast has done is stand in the parking lot."
"Sir, what are your orders?" Lt. Kearns asked.
"We formed the Hulkbusters, didn't we? So lets go bust a Hulk!"
Dr. Banner sat in the back, drinking his coffee. More to himself than anyone else, he muttered under his breath. "This is going to end badly."
All things considered, if the worse thing the Hulk ever did was land in a parking lot and stand still then one could say the day was still pretty good. To Major Talbot though, this was not an example of a good day. "Status?"
The Army mobilized at top speed. Within twenty minutes, a large group of troops had been positioned around the perimeter. The heavier vehicles were left outside the city limits. Each man was armed with an experimental launcher, a fact that didn't sit well with Talbot as the group radioed in. As each team checked in, Talbot got out of the jeep. Turning to the driver, he nodded curtly. "I want a full evacuation, and I don't what the local authorities say, this is our ballgame."
Banner shook his head as he watched the Hulk through his binoculars. "She hasn't moved."
"Good, a standing target is better than a moving one."
"Look major, I understand where you're coming from on this, but can't we at least try to communicate first?"
Talbot looked at Banner. "Look doctor, I understand the legal ramifications of this. I also understand that there is a nearly seven foot tall monster capable of leveling the city standing not fifty feet from us. Now, maybe the Hulk is going to be really nice and go with us back to base, but what if it isn't?"
Before Banner could argue, the ground under their feet rumbled. Turning around, Banner felt his heartbeat do an impersonation of a jackrabbit as the Hulk climbed out of the asphalt crater and walk directly towards them. As Talbot frantically shouted into the radio, the Hulk loomed over them both and spoke.
"Take me back to the base."
The Hulk had barely said a word. From the parking lot to the base, the Hulk had sat in the back of a specially built truck with an armed escort. When they reached the base, the Hulk quietly left the truck and followed the troops to a waiting cell. As the door closed and the special locks engaged, the Hulk turned around and faced the assembled men. "I could have escaped at any point, but I didn't. I came here because I'm tired of running and being hounded. What do I have to do to be left alone?"
This caused a commotion. "Well, what do we do?" Banner questioned.
"I'm not sure." Talbot shook his head. "Legally, the Hulk has been pardoned, but we can't allow something this powerful to roam free."
"It would be helpful if you stopped calling her 'it'" Banner muttered under his breath. Aloud, he gestured towards the cell door. "Look, Sterns was working on a cure. Why don't I break some of his equipment out of storage before we do anything drastic?"
"That could work." The ground shook violently. "What was that?"
"Sir, reports coming from town, another monster has been sighted!"
"What?" Talbot and Banner both shouted.
"It burst out of the ground, bullets and fire don't seem to stop it!"
Talbot turned to Banner. "Ready your weapons." Turning to the rest of the men, he issued orders. "Keely, mobilize the tanks, Stanton, I want a full battalion in the city within ten minutes." A deep, throaty voice interrupted him.
"What about me?"
"What about you?" Talbot glanced her over. "Look, I know you can escape from this without too much effort, but what do you suggest? Me letting you go free to fight another monster?"
"Why not?" The Hulk stepped forward and gripped the bars of her cell. "If you can handle this without me, fine, I'll cool my heels here, peacefully, quietly," She drew closer to the increasingly uncomfortable major, "but if you can't, are you telling me you'd let your best weapon sit around?"
Talbot pinched the bridge of his nose with his thumb and forefinger. "Alright, alright." Turning to Banner, he pointed towards the door. "You're with me. Brown" Another solider saluted, "You stay here and keep radio contact. If something goes south." He left the sentence unfinished, but Brown nodded.
"Alright, let's go hunting."
"Nearly twenty minutes? I'm impressed."
Talbot sat in his jeep and listened. The creature before them had burst out of the ground. It had shown fairly standard tactics, i.e. throwing cars around, terrorizing the locals, but once faced down with a row of tanks it stopped and spoke. It was tall, nearly eight feet high and almost half as wide. The remnants of a jacket hung around its broad shoulders. One foot was bare while the other was clad in a mud soaked shoe. With a barrel of an M48 Patton staring it down, the creature laughed. Its voice was deep and grating. Pearl white teeth shined from the craggy face like jewels stuck in a ball of tar.
"Who's in charge here?" The monster shouted, hands on its hips.
Talbot stood up. "Major Glen Talbot, US Army."
"A major? I would have thought I'd have rated a general at least." The monster shrugged and started walking towards them. "Victor Avery."
"Mr. Avery, you are in present wanted for destruction of civic property, but if you come in quietly, we will do all we can to reverse your condition."
"Reverse it? Boy, I did this to myself!" Avery rushed forward before Talbot could give the order, and with one smooth motion lifted the tank overhead. "Your news dubbed me the Midnight Monster, for some blasted reason," Avery continued to talk as he held onto the tank. "But I think Emperor Avery might be more appropriate."
Flinging the tank away, Talbot shifted the jeep into reverse as he shouted orders over the radio. "Fire!"
The air was drowned out with sound of explosions. Tanks, rockets, grenades, all were fired or launched at the mutated form of Victor Avery. The explosions threw dirt high into the sky, obscuring Avery. After nearly five minutes of the most intense bombardment created by man, Talbot ordered a ceasefire.
"My, was that your best?" Avery strolled forward. The only damage inflicted had been to his clothes. Picking up the tattered remains of his shoe, Avery sighed. "This pair cost me over eight hundred dollars. Oh well," he let the ruined leather flutter out of his hand. "Perhaps I'll make a new pair from one of you."
"Fall back!" Talbot ordered as Avery slammed his foot down, sending tremors rippling through the ground. Rocked about in his seat, Talbot screamed orders as he drove. "Ready the rockets!"
Avery spotted the launcher as it targeted him. Throwing his head back, he laughed as he saw the missile. "More puny weapons?"
Dr. Banner lowered his binoculars. Technicians scurried around as the newly modified Iceberg rocket was brought to bear. "Target in sight. Fire when ready." Raising the binoculars again, he watched as the rocket streaked through the air and struck Avery dead center. The area was enveloped in a white fog as the rocket's payload was released.
Bruce briefly thought back to the invention of the rocket. He knew Dr. Sterns had been the one to actually create it, but only after being helped by some Stark Industries lackey. Banner never got the chance to ask Sterns just how he came with such a silly name for a weapon, but as he saw the white foam spread and utterly envelope the area, he quickly changed his mind.
The foam reacted to the open air and hardened in seconds. Within half a minute it shrank and hardened again, leaving almost as strong as a diamond. "No way that freak survived that!" One of the technicians bragged. A celebratory cheer went among the men, but Banner silenced them with a glare.
"Wait, I see something!"
As he stared, hairline cracks began to form. Stepping closer to the edge of the cliff, Banner focused the lenses, praying he wasn't seeing what he thought he was; a chunk of the foam broke free and fell to the ground. "Holy Hannah!"
Avery ripped his way free of the foam. "Was that all?" His laughter echoed back to Banner as he ground the hardened material to dust in his hands.
"Run." Banner turned and made his way to a jeep. One of the technicians stared dumbfounded.
"Sir, we still have another missile…"
"Then fire it, then leave. That overgrown toy can't even slow him down." Before another complaint could be raised, Banner tossed his binoculars to the man. "Look at it! That monster is unstoppable, and nothing we have here can even slow him down. If we stay here, we're dead."
Before the young man could even argue, Banner started the jeep and drove off. "No choice about it now, our only hope lies with the Hulk."
The Hulk hadn't moved since Major Talbot burst into the room. His frantic recounting of the fight didn't move her at all, nor did his demands for action. Throwing his helmet down in frustration only caused her to raise an eyebrow. "Well? Aren't you going to say something?"
"Let me out of this cell."
Avery laughed as he marched towards the city. "I think for my first decree, I'll have that penniless engineer dig another endless hole, only this time I'll have that faithless wench of mine fill it in after him." Avery suddenly stopped cold, feeling something akin to a second sight. "What's that?"
Looking up, he spied a small black dot soaring through the air. He dismissed it at first as a large bird or small plane, but as it grew larger, his mind drew a blank on just what was coming towards him. "Some new kind of rocket?"
The Hulk landed directly on top of him. The shockwave shattered windows for three miles in every direction. Avery was driven into the ground; dazed, he tried to right himself, but the Hulk was unrelenting. Hitting him with fists equal to a pile driver, the Hulk punched him in the face, each blow growing stronger.
"What are you?" Avery sputtered as he was driven to the ground.
"The Hulk!" The Hulk shouted, as her assault grew stronger. Her rage grew, channeling her anger and frustration, she felt her strength increase as her fists battered the black hide of Avery.
"Stop!" Avery panicked. Nothing had hurt him since his transformation, not shell or fire, yet he was feeling pain. Honest, mind searing mind; what could he do to stop it? Rolling to the side, he threw the Hulk clear as he jumped up to his feet. Stumbling away, he tried to get his bearings. "Why are you attacking me?"
His words had an effect on the Hulk. She stayed her fists, inches from his head. "I have my reasons."
Thinking fast, Avery put on the hard sell. "Listen, you obviously have strength and power. Why are you wasting your time, taking order from those weak little men?"
The Hulk lowered her fists. Avery approached her, mentally patting himself on the back. "Why not join me? Together we can rule this world!" Avery stuck out his hand.
The Hulk stuck out her fist. It caught Avery on the jaw, hurtling him through air. Hitting the side of a mountain, which was a great distance from the city, as Avery recalled, he tried to focus his eyes as the Hulk landed near him. "I've been set up by too many people using that line. Never again!" The Hulk lashed out and gripped Avery's trunk like ankles. "The Hulk doesn't need anyone!"
"Wait, what are you doing?" Avery screamed as the Hulk began to spin around. Picking up speed, the Hulk began little more than a nausea inducing gray blur as she spun faster and faster. As the dirt and bedrock gave way under her gyrations, she suddenly let go of Avery. His screams were incomprehensible as he sailed through the air like dart. The sound barrier shattered as he reached escape velocity. Within seconds, the threat was over.
The Hulk sat down on the mountainside and put her head in her hands. "Is this it? Am I just going to be a weapon from now on?"
Avery drew himself closer. He wasn't bothered by the cold or even the lack of oxygen. What bothered him was the lack of sound. He drifted silently through the black emptiness of space, with a single thought to keep him company. "My name is Victor Avery. I will not go insane. I will find my way back to Earth, and when I do, people will suffer." He repeated this to himself over and over as he drifted further and further away from Earth.
Betty Ross walked back to the base. She had some difficulty getting a ride, but after all she had been through she decided a walk alone would just cause less hassle. "Alright Hulk, it looks like we're stuck with each other." Betty heard nothing as she trudged through the sand and dirt. "I changed during the fire, but was it only because my life was in danger, or the others? Could I force a change with no danger present?"
Betty winced from the heat. "I wonder if the Hulk could wear shoes?" She cracked a smile at the image of the Hulk in high heels. She laughed, despite herself, and kept on walking. "Glen and I are going to have a serious talk when I get back to base. I've done nothing wrong, and the Hulk is cleared of any wrongdoing." Looking out at the vast expanse of desert that surrounded her, Betty sighed. "Since I'm in the clear, I'm going to leave the base. The Army doesn't need me, and I have a life of my own that I need to get back to, craziness or not."
First, the mailbag:
Great job as always Cambot. You always maintain a high standard. Nice work.
And thanks to you both.
This story is original, but those interested, yes, Victor Avery (AKA The Midnight Monster) was in fact a real Marvel character. His only appearance, not counting reprints, was in Journey Into Mystery I#97/1 (April 1962), with credits to Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Will we ever see him again? Maybe dear readers, maybe…
Be sure to tune in next issue when the Hulk fights a blast from the past. Ah, you say, one of her former foes? Well, note I didn't say whose past, did I?
Journey Into Mystery#12-Loki and Thor Attack the Human Race!
Amazing Fantasy#2-Death Comes Silently!
Tales to Astonish#11-The Terrible Traps of Egghead!
There is some upcoming work by the Distinguished Competition, but I'll talk about those in those stories (no sense in giving away advertising for the other fellas, right?)