Warning: This article contains SPOILERS for Civil War II #5 and Uncanny Avengers #15.
Bruce Banner has been through a lot. First of all, he was exposed to gamma radiation which transforms him into a raging green monster every time he can’t get a doggone can of pickles open. Second, despite his heroic actions which have saved the lives of countless millions, his irate alter-ego tends to do almost as much harm as good. Over the years, Bruce has managed to sever himself from the Hulk, had his powers drained away on a few occasions, and even found a way to control his seething inner child.
As the events of Civil War II rage on, Banner finds himself meddling with his own gamma irradiated self, fearing the return of his big green friend in a dangerous way. Unfortunately, the Hulk and Banner don’t fare well during the course of events. The end result of this tragic sequence could leave the legendary Emerald Avenger in a very bad place indeed.
The Hulk Takes a Dive
The real skinny on Bruce’s rough times comes down to the treachery of a now HYDRA-powered Captain America. Sowing the seeds of discord among the Marvel Universe, he convinced Banner to restart his gamma radiation experiments – playing on his fears of a major Hulk resurgence. After Ulysses predicted a Green Goliath-based FEMA-level event, his superhero cohorts looked into Bruce and his little research project and didn't like what they discovered.
Unbeknownst to his colleagues, Bruce’s radiation therapy wasn’t his only defense against Hulking out. He’d also made a little pact with old chum Clint Barton, giving him a special Hulkbuster arrow to use if Banner ever showed signs of turning green. His ultimate plight, tragically, was to meet his end at the tip of Hawkeye’s arrow before he became the eye at the center of a storm of tragedy.
Of course, in the comic book universe, death isn’t quite the handicap it used to be.
The Hand Plays Its Hand
Away from the mess of CWII, the Uncanny Avengers haven’t been doing so well either. As the Terrigen mist keeps thrashing mutants and popping out new Inhumans, the X-contingent of the team does their illicit best to discover the cure – right under Captain America’s nose. After Cap uncovers Cable and company’s little side work, he isn't so pleased. The team has its own little meltdown, mostly on Cap, who promptly disbands them, effective immediately.
Away from the action, Doctor Voodoo’s brother, it would seem, isn’t too fond of the whole ghost thing. He makes a deal with The Hand to set himself up with a brand new skin suit. All he has to do is give them a head’s up on Bruce Banner’s grave site and he gets yet another shot at the land of the living – and has the opportunity to stab his brother for good measure.
What Does the Hand Want with the Hulk?
The long answer: as an evil clan of mystical ninjas led by a demonic force (The Beast, not to be confused with furry blue Hank McCoy), The Hand is always looking to bolster their position and their ranks. As a result, they have been known to offer resurrection to the dead whether they asked for it or not. If someone (such as Doc Voodoo's brother) chooses to side with the ninja clan, they pay the price with their unyielding service and their recruitment efforts. Using the information attained from Daniel Drumm, they were able to locate the whereabouts of Bruce Banner’s body and corpse-nap him.
Much like Elektra and others who they've re-animated, the clandestine ninjas corrupt demonic influences slowly corrupt their undead wards, turning them into agents of chaos - assassins. They've also been known to use captive souls to manipulate their own friends. The Hulk, obviously, is best used as a weapon of mass destruction, but he could also emotionally affect his cohorts during combat. Corrupting him is a win-win for The Hand.
The short answer: Undead Hulk smash!
The Hunt for Green October
During the events of Uncanny Avengers #15, the disbanded but still active Unity Squad learns, thanks to the badly wounded Doc Voodoo, that The Hand has the Hulk. Before even letting the disbanding out of the bag, the team leaps through Voodoo’s mystical doorway, landing in Japan. Once there, Deadpool has arranged a special surprise for them – the aid of former Hand acolyte and would be champion Elektra.
Who better to get results than someone who knows them inside and out? Especially since time is precious and the covert martial art nationalists have a head start on their Hulk conjuring. After wading through a hip-deep sea of ninjas, the team emerges at the super-secret double dog hideout of The Hand – the Kai Estate in a remote prefecture. Bursting through the paper walls, they valiantly defeat the ninja clan and obtain the body of Bruce Banner, only to find out that it wasn’t actually Bruce Banner's corpse.
After making their shocking if unsurprising discovery, the team realizes how expansive The Hand's lair is. But before they can even attempt to navigate their way to where the Hulk may be, the earth shakes beneath their feet. Our heroes only have mere moments worth of panel-space to react as Deadpool’s wishful earthquake is revealed to be an unearthly, glowing Hulk who bursts through the floor wearing a samurai helmet. Apparently, the Hulk is now alive - er, undead (it’s complicated), and under the control of evil ninjas.
In the words of George Orwell, this development is “doubleplus ungood” for the Uncanny Avengers. At this point, it looks like Bruce Banner is going to have a short afterlife, unless his friends are forced to destroy him that is. Of course, even Elektra was purged of The Hand’s evil. It will be fascinating to watch this powerful batch of Avengers (it’s also great seeing Doctor Voodoo get more face-time) take on one of the strongest now-undead forces in the Marvel Universe.
Their latest adventure showcases the strengths of the Uncanny Avengers, as well as those of its creative staff. The book’s tone is both light on its feet but also deals with serious matter. Of course, anything with Deadpool and the southern charms of Rogue is a born winner. Gerry Duggan also shines throughout this issue, as the overall team dialogue crackles, especially Deadpool and Rogue’s banter. Pepe Larraz’s panels are imaginative and his heroes showcase a wide range of body language and facial expressions which are well-complimented by David Curiel’s full hues and rich purple and blue tones.
Come next issue, we'll find out just how deeply unmanageable this new evil ninja undead Hulk is – and what the future holds for Bruce Banner. The presence of the Hulk also means that, yes Margaret, Bruce can still loose his cool in a big way. Or is his rage-overdrive now powered by the dark magic of The Hand? Does this have anything to do with those experiments Steve Rogers suggested Banner undertake before his untimely passing? So many questions and yet another month until we get a few answers.
Uncanny Avengers #15 is currently available. Uncanny Avengers #16 arrives November 9, 2016.