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Quote1.png You were playing a blues riff on the harmonica, do you remember? That day on the atom bomb testing range, all those years ago. "That'll Be The Day That I Die". Ironic, considering. Quote2.png
Bruce Banner

Appearing in "The Lone and Level Sands"

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Synopsis for "The Lone and Level Sands"

It is the tenth anniversary of the death of Elizabeth Banner, and the Daily Bugle is planning a retrospective. So they have sent one of their senior staffers, Pete Parker, to interview the people involved. Unfortunately, part of what makes the story so fascinating is that most of the players are unreachable, and so Parker calls on one the last ghosts of the Age of Wonders: Rick Jones. Jones is initially reticent but eventually, agrees to set the scene...

It had been night when Betty Banner died, and Rick had been asleep. His wife, Marlo, had been up late reading when the news had come in, and her scream had been enough to wake Rick. By the time they were both able to go in, Bruce Banner was being held in administrative segregation, partially because he had tried kill himself right after Betty died, but mostly because the base commander, Thaddeus Ross, Betty's father, blamed Bruce for the death. A barrage of weaponry designed to go off if Banner's heart accelerated ringed the room as Rick went in to talk... only to discover that Bruce had cracked, and was imagining a grand going-away party of all his friends and foes. As Rick tried to talk his friend back to reality, Bruce had started rambling about the poem "Ozymandias" by Percy Bysshe Shelley, which concerns a statue in a desert. A plaque on the statue trumpets a ruler, but for all the ruler's claim of being the strongest one there is, "Nothing beside remains. Around and about the remain of that colossal wreck, the lone and level sands stretch far away."

Saying goodbye to Rick, Bruce hid from his pain in the Hulk, not activating the guns because his heart never accelerated. He leapt away. Hulk sightings were sporadic for the next few months as Hulk tried to find ways to bring Betty back, but none could be found.

While Bruce was gone, his superhero friends arranged Betty's funeral. Per her request, she was cremated and buried in a closed casket, which started some conspiracy theories. But for all that, the funeral was truly something to see. Afterward, Bruce began trying to kill himself, as the Hulk, who wanted to live, would let Banner get just far enough to be amusing, and then change, destroying the specific plan.

Several months later, Rick, his legs healed, couldn't sleep. Marlo having left him, Rick began playing the harmonica, only to feel his blood go cold when he discovered that Bruce had broken into his house for a brief chat. Looking like a normal man with glowing green irises, he apologized for going missing, and for missing the funeral. He called his suicide attempts a "permanent solution to a temporary problem", and said his life had left him with a message he thought he should give Rick: the most powerful and important force in the human world is love. Telling Rick "Sometimes it's better to burn out than fade away," he left. It was the single most frightening night of Rick's life. It was also the last time he saw the Hulk in the flesh.

Thaddeus Ross' interminable crusade against the Hulk had restarted by then, though Ross himself would die a few months later during the Hell on Earth War. In the aftermath, Hulk had paired off with Cary St. Lawrence, to surprising effect.

Parker is enthralled by the story, and muses at why it happened the way it did. Rick asks if it even happened. Drawing on his long friendship with both superheroes and physicists, he points out that parallel timelines and sub-optimal future worlds are scientific fact. It is entirely possible that their whole universe is nothing more than a dark potential world and the Hulk's real life is something... incredible.

At this point, Rick's little daughter Betty comes in and wants to be tucked in. Rick loves his child, but the combination of his emotional rant and his little girl causes him to cry, and he ends the interview. He talked long and loud, spinning Parker a tale of derring-do and tragedy about two of his greatest friends in the world, and now, for his own sanity, he must ask Parker to leave. He has said enough.

Appearing in "Epilogue"

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Synopsis for "Epilogue"

General Ross preserves Betty's body in stasis, rather than having her cremated as everyone believes.


Continuity Notes

  • While the flashback in this story takes place on Earth-616, the future Rick Jones exists on Earth-9828.
  • The priest in this story is depicted as Peter David. Unlike most real life people, Marvel Comics creators are exempt from the topical reference rules of the Sliding Timescale. All Marvel staff who appear in modern age appear in their relative prime, regardless of their physical age.

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