Story and Artwork by: Stephan Krosecz
Bruce Banner had a fairly normal life growing up. His father was an atomic physicist and his mother was a school teacher, they both believed the power of the human mind is immeasurable. They raised him to do his best, to reach for the stars, and he did. He always made the top grades in school, aced every class, he did his very best. He got all the scholarships he could, won countless awards, did his community service, got accepted into the best schools, interned at the Future Foundation. Even after his parents passed away, he promised he would never let them down.
Bruce worked his way up at the Future Foundation, becoming one of their top scientists, and he made it there because he worked the hardest he could to be the best he could be. And when the U.S. military offered him a high-paying job as the head of a high-profile project, how could he say “no?” His father always told him to “keep pushing forward,” and while he loved working with the Future Foundation, he couldn’t turn down the opportunity. What would his mother and father have said if he’d declined that offer? It just wasn’t an option. So he pushed forward. He moved on.
Over the next two years working on that project, Bruce did amazing work. He was working faster than anyone ever thought possible. Everything was going his way, he worked harder than any other man and got the job done faster and better than any other man could. And, over time, he even became part of a new family. General Ross was the man overseeing the project, he respected Bruce’s drive. More importantly Ross’s daughter, Betty, was obviously falling for him. She was 19 and Bruce was 24 by the time they were officially dating. Luckily for Bruce he had already won over the General at this point, if he hadn’t Ross would have despised him. She was his little girl, after all.
Everything was going well, Bruce had done exactly what his parents wanted. He had to leave friends and places behind from time to time, but he pushed forward. He became the authority in gamma radiation at the age of 24 and he was happy. He was content.
Of course, situational irony can be a bitch sometimes.
Of course something went wrong. How could it not? Things were too perfect. Bruce was just too damn happy, so the universe decided to screw it up for him. That’s the only explanation Bruce could ever give for the accident. To this day he has no idea WHY things went wrong. He’s gone over the scenario time after time in his head, but he made sure everything was correct. He wasn’t even off by a fraction. As always, he had made sure the experiment was perfectly set up. Everything was perfect. Everything. Yet something went wrong.
The experiment got out of control, the thick layer of glass protecting him and his assistants from what was inside the chamber was destroyed, and Bruce was hit with massive amounts of radiation. He should have died. In fact, as it was happening he knew he was already dead. But against all odds he survived. Bruce hasn’t decided if that’s a good thing or not.
You know what happened next. Everyone knows. It was all over the news. “Scientist Becomes Monster, Rampages Over New Mexico.” Bruce Banner was a monster. But he was a smart one. Once he understood what had happened to him he left the country. He went into hiding, he took Tai Chi, he learned to control himself. He did his best to keep to himself, to stay out of people’s way, and to stay in control. And for three years he had. Three whole years.
Three long, painful, lonely, angry years.
Bruce could have gone to South America, but many places there are small and heavily populated, so he decided against it and went to Canada instead. Besides, he didn’t know a word of Spanish. Of course, he didn’t know French either, but at least most of the people here spoke English. It made things easier, and he could live isolated, while still being a drive away from a town so he could make money and buy food.
Bruce was getting by here, which he had no choice but to be happy with. He spent his days working as a cashier at the local gas station, once his shift was done he’d stop by the grocery store to buy whatever he needed, and then he’d head home for the night. That was the routine. He didn’t like it, but it could be worse. At least here he had a job and no one asked a whole lot of questions.
Bruce stared at the screen of his laptop. Every once and awhile he’d search for ‘The Hulk,’ just to be sure he was in the clear. He was almost certain he was safe, but he’d learned better over the past few years. Just when he felt he was safe they would find him. Luckily, things were quiet. The occasional guy looking to make a quick buck and get his name in the papers would say he spotted The Hulk in some forest in Colorado or something, but there was nothing legitimate.
Bruce breathed a sigh of both relief and disappointment. He was almost looking for a reason to leave this place, it was rather dull. Suddenly his screen turned black. Bruce groaned. The power would occasionally go out in his cabin from time to time, and it always frustrated him. He didn’t expect blue letters to appear on the screen, however.
Bruce’s heart stopped. He was ‘David’ here. No one was supposed to know he was here. No one. But someone did, which meant danger, and not just for him. More blue letters followed.
Bruce calmed himself down. This wasn’t Ross, he wouldn’t have contacted him like this. This was someone else… And for some reason the notion that yet another person was looking for him didn’t make him feel any better.
It looked like “Mr. Blue” wanted Bruce to respond. He sat there for a minute, staring at the screen, debating whether or not this was a wise decision. He eventually decided that he may as well. They already knew who he was and where he lived, if they hadn’t tried to capture him already that must have not been their goal. A dialogue was preferable to a chase scene. So he started with the obvious question.
Warning bells were going off in Bruce’s head. In the past nearly everyone who’d tried to “help” him had tried to turn him in. That was not the kind of help he needed. He needed clarification.
Bruce’s heart was pounding. He took a few seconds to collect himself, getting his heart rate down to a manageable level. He was of two minds now. On the one hand, this could easily be a trap. A transparent one, at that. On the other, it could be legitimate. And he’d give anything for it to be legitimate. He could not pass up the opportunity. Even if he couldn’t get his life back, not having to live under the constant threat of becoming a monster would be preferable to his current situation. It’d sure as hell make life easier. His fingers drifted toward the keyboard to type a third question, but he was interrupted by more blue letters.
Bruce’s screen switched back to what it was before, an article about a supposed “Hulk” sighting in his browser. He was stunned to silence. He thought long and hard about what he had just read, carefully weighing what his next response should be. Then the gravity of the situation hit him, and he could only say one thing to himself.
Knowing Ross’s speed and efficiency, Bruce knew he didn’t have long. He had to get out now. But he needed to get a few thing in order, first.
This was awkward. Eric had been nice enough to give Bruce work when he came into town, and here he was leaving him without a cashier. Of course, if he didn’t get out of here soon he would have a much bigger problem than a vacant cashier position.
Obviously Eric wasn’t exactly sympathetic. That was fine, Bruce expected that. However, the fact that he wasn’t screaming and ranting about how disrespectful this was and what an ungrateful bastard Bruce was seemed odd. Bruce once left the bathroom light on after closing up one night and he didn’t hear the end of it for a week. It wasn’t like Eric to be so… passive. He just wanted Bruce gone, he wanted him to leave as soon as possible.
Eric’s eyes widened, obviously he felt threatened. Bruce hated that look. Everybody who knew who he was gave him that look. That look meant they no longer saw him, they saw the Hulk. He was just a monster to Eric now. Bruce would take Eric’s borderline-abusive attitude over the fear that was now in his eyes any day.
He also didn’t enjoy Eric pulling out his gun and pointing it at Bruce’s head. That was a very stressful position to be in, and that was the last thing either of them needed. Bruce needed to calm Eric(and himself) down before things got ugly.
Eric didn’t move for nearly half a minute, keeping his gun trained on Bruce. He shook violently as he went over his options. Bruce hoped that just this once Eric would listen to reason rather than whatever he happened to be feeling at the moment.
Eric slowly lowered his arm as he stared at the ground, visibly upset with himself and the situation. Bruce breathed a sigh of relief.
Bruce complied. He walked toward the door briskly, he needed to get out. He needed to take his old rustbucket of a truck, drive it as far as it could go before it expired, and find out who this Mr. Blue is. He needed to–
Really? Did they really think he wouldn’t notice a camera in the gas station where the most modern piece of equipment he’d ever seen was from 1989? They were waiting for him right outside. He’d underestimated them, they’d gotten smarter since he last saw them, and now he was likely surrounded.
Bruce came to a halt in front of the door. His hand hovering over the door knob. He COULD go right out the front door to face them directly. He could also try to sneak out the back, but they likely had every single side of the building covered. There was no easy solution here.
As Bruce pondered his next move, a loud ‘click’ was heard behind his head.
END OF ISSUE ONE
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