Writer: Bill Mantlo
Artists: Sal Buscema, Mike Mignola, Gerry Taloc
Marvel Comics, 1984
STAYING YOURSELF is such a devious trick. Which part is which among I and you in a habitat habitating with a hundred eyes and voices within and without concentrating inside this moment together as one?
Theoretical schizisms like this in the life of the Hulk is standard fare. His character moves in bold new directions all the time, and mostly he rolls with it, better a new identity now between Hulk or scrawny Banner, or some combination of one or the other, or multiple others.
The whole exaltation of human intelligence relies on part of our mind existing outside in our environment. To wrap my own head around my own head has become an awesome girth, tragically hulkish, brutish, unbreakable, unknowable, and yet all mine: what I imagine occurs to each of us very quickly in modern currents at the crossroads of time where for a while one can stand and watch zephyrs and monsoons trail off in sifting strands of featherous light almost meaning something. Dreams and reality blur together, presenting a past, a present, a future, three mistakes at once at your service.
Myths of the Hulk play with this archetypal condition where the dumb beast confronts itself. My favorite Hulk episode, Crossroads! in issues 301-313, by standard prop Bill Mantlo, with classic line art by Sal Buscema, later Mike Mignola, introduces a new direction! according to emcee Stan Lee. The story was reprinted as a graphic novel in 2013, with additional material.
The deal is this: after an epic battle with the Avengers, Doctor Strange exiled Hulk to a dimensional crossroads with all those swirly energy tendrils in the distance, where the gamma-irradiated monster could step out and visit worlds of various kinds, yet only places where he can do no harm. The spot is a Hulk asylum. This period of incarceration appears to be the basis for later legends of an intergalactic Hulk and ruler of worlds.
The good doctor wants the Hulk to find the least restrictive place to live, where he can be content, just like modern medicine, not yet comprehending the Hulk’s complicated psychology that makes anywhere a burden. Or perhaps, rather more like all of us, Hulk gets along for a while, falls afoul of someone else’s plans, and ends up back at the familiar crossroads where nothing exists except I and I.
Motives come and go. A large part of the Hulk is anger personified, expecting force to work. On the inside, not wanting to be there at all, meek and mild scientist Bruce Banner exerts other directions with other cues.
Hulk, where are you going? one side of him asks at one point.
Must go end the howling.
And there, all sides agree to unite.