In every Look Back, we examine a comic book issue from 10/25/50/75 years ago (plus a wild card every month with a fifth week in it). This time around, we head back twenty-five years to June 1998, when Peter David's historic run on Incredible Hulk came to an end.
It's interesting, in retrospect, to look at the various long comic books runs of the late 1980s/early 1990s and compare how they all came to a close. You have the ones that had true finales where the writers left on their own terms and got to say a definitive goodbye (Mark Gruenwald's Captain America, Giffen and DeMatteis on Justice League), you got to see the runs that sort of petered out (Bob Harras' Avengers, Keith Giffen's Legion) and you got the ones where the writers were abruptly fired after years of service (the Triangle Superman writers, the Knightfall-era Batman writers).
Peter David's Incredible Hulk run was a bit of a mixture, in that he was definitely pushed off of the book, but in part, it was his own decision (but only in the sense that he wouldn't do the story that they wanted him to do, which was probably a case of editorial trying to get him to leave so that they didn't have to fire him). Whatever the reason, it resulted in a memorable finale in June 1998's Incredible Hulk #467 (by David, Adam Kubert, Steve Buccellato and John Workman) his nearly twelve year-long run on the series.
What was going on with the Hulk at the time, and what led to David's departure?
Peter David's run on Incredible Hulk was most famous for the long storyline where David showed the inner conflict between Bruce Banner, the gray version of the Hulk (who was the Hulk of the series when David took the title over) and the classic "Rampaging" Hulk. David then resolved this conflict by having all of the various personalities of the Hulk merged to form one unified version of the Hulk - Hulk's body with Bruce Banner's mind in control. The Hulk then went to work for an underground peacekeeping organization known as the Pantheon. That ended poorly, with a new twist, now, when the Hulk got angry, he would turn back into Bruce Banner, just a "savage" version of Banner! Then Heroes Reborn happened, and David had to deal with Banner and Hulk separating for a year or so. When they reunited, David was then joined by superstar artist Adam Kubert on the series. This all led to the last big story of David's run, when Bruce Banner's wife, Betty Banner, suddenly dropped dead of radiation poisoning, possibly killed by her longtime exposure to the Gamma radiation of the Hulk.
Peter David explained that this was what led to his departure from the series:
I actually didn’t know I was going to be leaving The Incredible Hulk when I did go. What happened was that my editor at the time, Bobbie Chase (also now at DC, go figure) had suggested — when we were kicking around future plot directions — that I kill off the Hulk’s wife, Betty Banner. Betty had always been my wife’s favorite character and because of that I’d always sworn nothing bad would happen to her. But then my wife left me so that she could go off and do other things like, I dunno, not be married to me. On that basis, Betty’s safety measure was gone. When Bobbie suggested we plug her, I said, “Sure, why not?” So I killed her off. This got Marvel all excited. See, when I’d started on the book and, over years, doubled sales on it, it caused people to suddenly start paying attention. With the death of Betty, this prompted Marvel to have a Brilliant Idea. Mourning the loss of his wife, the Hulk would now go dead silent, stop talking to anyone, and run around the Marvel universe smashing everything in sight.
When I was told the new plan, I objected. I told them it was out of character with the psychologically complex giant I’d created over the years. I said I wouldn’t write that. And the editorial higher-ups (none of whom still work for the company) said that I shouldn’t hesitate to avoid having the door hit me on the way out.And that was that. After twelve years, I was gone.
What happened in the finale of Peter David's Hulk run?
The issue opened with a riff on Alan Moore's classic "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?" story, where a reporter visits an older Rick Jones in the future, with Jones then explaining what happened to the Hulk through a series of flashbacks...
The clever aspect of this approach is that David basically got to deliver, in a condensed form, the storylines that he was planning to do on the book before he was pushed off of it, including a series of stories where Bruce Banner, suicidal after Betty Banner's death, keeps trying to end his life, but the Hulk won't let him...
Adam Kubert does a wonderful job on the artwork for this series, with the distinctive double-page layouts really giving him room to cut loose, like this GORGEOUS funeral sequence for Betty with Thor creating a rainbow....
Of course, as Rick notes at one point, the whole point of these future stories is that they are just POSSIBLE futures. It was fun to see David hang a lantern on that right in there...
And after the touching farewell, Marvel undercuts the whole thing by adding a quick story by the incoming creative team, Joe Casey, Javier Pulido,
Steve Buccellato and John Workman, with the reveal that Betty Banner WASN't actually dead (one of the quickest retconned resurrections in comic book history)...
As an aside, Daniel Clowes began his iconic David Boring story in the pages of his anthology, Eightball, this month in 1998, as well. Reader Michael H. suggested that one, and it was definitely a memorable comic book issue, but I'll be frank, I think the Hulk issue likely stood out to more CBR readers.
If you folks have any suggestions for July (or any other later months) 2013, 1998, 1973 and 1948 comic books for me to spotlight, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org! Here is the guide, though, for the cover dates of books so that you can make suggestions for books that actually came out in the correct month. Generally speaking, the traditional amount of time between the cover date and the release date of a comic book throughout most of comic history has been two months (it was three months at times, but not during the times we're discussing here). So the comic books will have a cover date that is two months ahead of the actual release date (so October for a book that came out in August). Obviously, it is easier to tell when a book from 10 years ago was released, since there was internet coverage of books back then.