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CSBG Archive

The Abandoned An’ Forsaked (Death is Not the End) – The Death of the Hulk’s Wife: The Quickest Retcon in Comic History?

Every week, we will be examining comic book stories and ideas that were not only abandoned, but also had the stories/plots specifically “overturned” by a later writer (as if they were a legal precedent). Click here for an archive of all the previous editions of The Abandoned An’ Forsaked. Feel free to e-mail me at bcronin@comicbookresources.com if you have any suggestions for future editions of this feature.

This is the fourth of a series of special Abadoned an’ Forsaked editions specifically spotlighting notable overturned comic book deaths. I call it “Death is Not the End.” This week, based on a suggestion from Fraser, we take a look at what is likely the quickest retcon in comic book history.

In Incredible Hulk #466, Betty Banner suddenly develops severe radiation poisoning…

Her husband, Bruce Banner, tried to save her, but to no avail…

The next issue, which was the last in Peter David’s long and stellar run on the book, a future Rick Jones tells the writer (ostensibly Peter David himself) about Betty. Rick holds an urn containing Betty’s ashes…

This is a throwback to Hulk: Future Imperfect, where Betty’s ashes play a minor (but key) role in the battle between the Hulk and his evil, future self…

However, in what is likely the quickest retcon in comic book history, the VERY NEXT PAGE of Incredible Hulk #467 retcons Betty’s cremation…

Betty is eventually resurrected as the Red She-Hulk (here’s her quick origin as Red She-Hulk from Incredible Hulk #610)…

That’s it for this week! Thanks again to Fraser for the suggestion! If YOU have a suggestion for a future abandoned an’ forsaked, let me know by e-mailing me at bcronin@comicbookresources.com

37 Comments

Yeah, nothing cheesed me off more than that epilogue, pretty much because it screwed with a beautiful ending to PAD’s run. I don’t even recall it being all that necessary to Joe Casey’s brief run that followed–Betty’s corpse didn’t really come into play until it was used as a plot device in Paul Jenkins’ run two years later.

I don’t know if I would call that a ret-con. It was obviously supposed to be a part of PAD’s storyline. Now if that happened under a different writer in the next issue, I would call it a ret-con, but not this.

Cass–

Hmmmm, I don’t know what to tell you here. I thought it was a fantastic end to PAD’s 130+ issue run, basically premised on the idea that “the Hulk can’t be happy.” (This was a pretty typical trope in the 70s–the Hulk would stumble into some remote village or something, meet some people who accepted him, and then some enemy would attack and the Hulk would be forced to leave or else make things worse. It was also echoed at the end of PLANET HULK.) The issues leading up to Betty’s death basically had the Hulk reconciling with his wife, Rick (who he’d crippled a few issues earlier), and even General Ross–he was going to become an agent of the Army. So Betty’s death came at this critical moment where it looked like the Hulk was about to find happiness, and instead he very obviously gets set on the dark road leading to FUTURE IMPERFECT. Future Rick’s narration pretty much indicates that’s where it’s going, brining the run full-circle back to FUTURE IMPERFECT and the ripples it left on the series for a few years after.

My only regret on the rapid end to PAD’s run is that a few storylines were never resolved. Rick’s descendant from FI was running around a few issues before, and kind of disappeared (in almost 20 years, she hasn’t come back). PAD also brought back the Maestro, who…got stuck under a pile of rock and also hasn’t come back (outside of a few cameos unrelated to the return).

Nathan–

Check the “retcon” pages again. They were written by Joe Casey as a prelude to his run which began the next issue. I’d be astonished if PAD approved them in any form. (I’m also curious if Casey wanted to do those, or if they were editorially-mandated.)

Brian, it might be worth noting in the article that the epilogue of 467 was written by Joe Casey, not Peter David.

Mind you, it does say who wrote it on the first page of the epilogue itself, so the question is really whether folks are more likely to pay attention to the article text than they are to the visible credits.

i loved how peter since he was kicked off the book wind up making sure fans remembered his run by having Betty die giving hulk some heart ache. only to have marvel decide one she was not creamated she got frozen on ice and then her father makes a deal with the devil to bring her back to life undoing one of the saddest comic deaths ever. even though i do like betty running around as red she hulk.

There’s another “problem” with Betty Ross’s “death”.

That whole run of Bruce Jones, where Betty was “Mr. Blue” and had an affair with Doc Samson.

Okay, someone will say that Peter David said that all of those events were creation of Nightmare… but, in fact, he didn’t say exactly what was real and what was unreal (surely that arc about the new powers of Absorbing Man was unreal… hehe). Yes, he didn’t say “all”, he said “some”.

The OHOTMUs still report all those events since then, just telling that “it is unclear what was result of Nightmare’s manipilation and what wasn’t”.

Even the characters introduced at Bruce Jones’s phase still have entries in the OHOTMUs.

I know that when Betty Ross really “came back from death” more recently, the general opinion was (and has been) that Jones’s phase was erased… BUT there’s no direct indication in the stories (at least up to what I remember… please correct me if I’m wrong).

So, it remains in a category such as Peter and Mary Jane’s baby or the whole Clone Saga (until some time ago). It waits there in some loop of chronology, but no one knows what to do about, so it’s better to keep it quiet.

I might have missed something, and maybe I should have e-mailed this, but what about Betty returning in the Bruce Jones Hulk? It was somewhere around issue 60 that she returned and she was revealed to be the Mr Blue that had been helping Banner all along.

Beaten by two minutes.

Betty’s corpse was still in the statsis tube as of INCREDIBLE HULK vol. 2 #25. (Jones took over with #34.) FALL OF THE HULKS: ALPHA indicated that the Leader and the Intelligencia found Betty’s body and took it at some point after #467; impliedly, this is after Huk #25 (unless they took her earlier and stuck a dummy in there). The Leader and MODOK offered to Ross to revive Betty in a flashback in HULK (vol. 3) #23, which took place around CIVIL WAR/PLANET HULK.

So based on the revelations that the Leader and pals took Betty’s body and revived here, it’s a fair bet that the “Mr. Blue” portions of Jones’ run are null and void. Alternatives are that “Mr. Blue” was never Betty (whoever she was claimed to have had plastic surgery, and only her eyes were recognizable to Bruce), or else “Home Base” revived Betty, turned her into Mr. Blue, then killed her, undid the plastic surgery, and stuck her back in stasis. I’m going with Occam’s Razor here and concluding that the Jones run never happened.

Mario Di Giacomo

February 4, 2013 at 9:46 am

Reminds me a bit of a scene done in Ellis’ last issue of DOOM 2099, except in that case, the epilogue was written by a different writer entirely.

Captain Haddock

February 4, 2013 at 9:49 am

Off topic, but how gorgeous is that Adam Kubert art, he’s such a strong storyteller that it astonishes me he isn’t more beloved. By the end of PAD’s run, it was Kubert that was keeping me on the book.

Personally I wish someone would ‘eradicate’ the whole Red Hulk/ Red She-Hulk /Atom Bomb storyline and say that was just clones or something. Sheesh talk about overkill giving all of the Hulk’s supporting cast powers.

There is some beautiful art in those pages but I wouldn’t lump Adam Kubert in that. The best is Paul Pelletier by far… if I’d known he was drawing Hulk I would have purchased it even though Hulk is one of my least favorite Marvel characters (not counting the Avengers movie).

I am really enjoying the current She-Hulk book so I’m glad for this particular reversal of Peter David’s plot.

Great analysis Brian. I had gotten out of comics in the 1990′s, I came back because of Planet Hulk and Red Hulk. I probably in the minority but I love the new take of Rick Jones, Betty Ross and Thunderbolt Ross. Those characters have been around since Hulk #1 and other writers took them IMO to new heights. I was tired of the damsel in distress. Jeff Parker makes Betty an intriguing character that I enjoy reading.

That whole issue was never supposed to be in continuity. It was just a summary of where Peter David intended to take the title if he’d stayed on as writer instead of being kicked off just as soon as he’d killed off Betty. And due to some miscommunication most of it ended up being incorporated into continuity by subsequent writer Joe Casey.

@Sherman

To be fair, while Red Hulk was a bad idea, and the book was downright awful while Loeb was on it, the character grew on me after Loeb was gone. Ross made a more interesting Hulk than Banner. I also liked his supporting cast, as he started questioning how he felt about an LMD (and then bringing in Machine Man as a co-star to make him question what “life” was even more). Plus, there was just the whole idea that unlike Hulk or Red She Hulk, he had the same personality in either mode. Even She Hulk preferred staying green.

I was going to bring up the Bruce Jones run, but that’s taken care of, I see. I had no idea that it had been retconned out so drastically.

Wasn’t Gen. Ross’s death retconned out shortly before Betty died?

Note that no comments in this piece were deleted. Some might have been moderated as they deal with topics to be addressed in future columns, but no deletions (I usually notify folks via e-mail when I do that, but sometimes there’s no e-mail address for me to use).

Fraser,

Ross’ death is…complicated. Ross died in INCREDIBLE HULK #330. In #331, his body was supposed to be shipped to the morgue, but the ambulance driver turned out to be a depowered Leader who was looking to have the Hulk help him get his powers back (which happened in #332). In #333, Rick Jones found the ambulance and notably discovered that there was no body in it. It was kind of a throwaway moment–you had to actively remember that Ross’ body was in the back.

In the #360s, Hulk ran into Leader again and was attacked by his flunky, Reedeemer. We assumed that this was a guy named Saunders who was the Reedeemer in #343-345, but couldn’t see through his helmet. In #400, it turned out that the Reedeemer was actually Ross’ resurrected but mindless body. Turned out that the Leader had swiped the body after getting repowered in #332. (Yep, seems like PAD had that planned all the way back in #333–the body’s absence was very specifically mentioned.) Anyway, the resurrected Ross apparently died again in #400. (All this got recapped in Loeb’s HULK #23.)

…until he showed up alive again in #455. One of the Hulk’s enemies found the Leader’s resurrection equipment and tested it on Ross, bringing him back to status quo and using him to spy on the Hulk. For some reason, the military reinstated Ross to active duty with full rank…even though Ross had been discharged for treason for working with MODOK back in the late #280s. Everything goes back to status quo eventually! (Which leads me to believe that once the current Marvel regime is gone, somebody will change Ross from Red Hulk back to cranky general.)

If anyone can think of an example, I’d love to see this feature spotlight an example where a writer has retconned something that he/she had written in the first place.

Here’s a previous Abandoned an’ Forsaked where a writer retconned his own work: http://goodcomics.comicbookresources.com/2012/09/29/the-abandoned-an-forsaked-so-cap-is-now-drug-free-or-is-he/

Although I actively dislike Red Hulk, Red She-Hulk and A-Bomb (all of whom are the sort of “updates” that only Loeb and Liefeld could find thrilling), I am willing to accept their existence if it means Bruce Jones’s run on the book is retconned out of existence. Few things in comic books are as patently risible as that horrible collection of horrible story-telling.

Ahh yes, that’s a good one.

In regards to comic book deaths, I basically place them in two categories. When a character dies, if the writer and/or editorial team already has a plan to bring him/her back, and the death is just part of the grand saga, then that’s not a real death to me. Superman, Human Torch, Mr. Fantastic, Captain America, Hawkeye, (probably) Spider-Man, and I’m sure others fit into this category.

On the other hand, when a writer kills a character and specifically has no intention of bringing him or her back, and the character only comes back years later at the behest of another creative/editorial team, then that death feels legitimate, and it’s just the industry that is to blame. Jean Grey, Elektra, Barry Allen, Hal Jordan, Oliver Queen, Colossus, Bucky, and others fit into this group. These are the deaths that feel real, because when you read the issues where said character dies, there’s a sense of finality that the title is done with the character, and the rest of the cast is moving on.

Betty could have been Red She-Hulk during Bruce Jones’ great run. Just not in “Hulking up” form.

One writer abandoning himself (IMHO) Is Gerry Conway’s run on Firestorm. When the Hyena first shows up, he’s someone in a costume (he has diamond-hard claws powered by a motor). Later it turns out she’s a woman with a were-hyena curse.
I much prefer Red Hulk to having Ross still around blustering as always, but yeah, I’m sure someone will forsake him. Everything eventually goes back to whatever some writer or publisher was reading in his early teens.

Hate to nitpick, but the phrased is “abandoned and forsakeN.” It’s alliterative, even. Let’s not demonstrate we’re sub-literate geeks by posting bad grammar in headlines, please.

Clayton: Brian is quoting Bob Dylan. Hence the poor grammar.

While I agree that keeping Thunderbolt Ross around in the same role as ever was getting tired, nothing excuses the creation of Red Hulk. Terrible, terrible idea. Just the stupidity of the disappearing mustache along gives me a headache.

I really liked the Bruce Jones run, and reread it last year. If it is non-continuity now I hope there was a in story reason given, not just a Didio like ‘Ignore it who cares.’

I do not like Jeph Loeb, but like Billy I have become a fan of the Red Hulk through Avengers and Jeff Parker’s run on Hulk. Red Hulk is the only reason I have tried the new Thunderbolts book.

Kevin

I cant put my finger on it but something seems wrong with Betty’s reflection in the first scan – I think her face should be facing the other way … not 100% on this and I dont want to be nit picky.

“There’s another “problem” with Betty Ross’s “death”.That whole run of Bruce Jones, where Betty was “Mr. Blue” and had an affair with Doc Samson. Okay, someone will say that Peter David said that all of those events were creation of Nightmare… but, in fact, he didn’t say exactly what was real and what was unreal (surely that arc about the new powers of Absorbing Man was unreal… hehe). Yes, he didn’t say “all”, he said “some”.”

But even in the retcon (‘Tempest Fugit’) that undid (maybe) Bruce Jones’ run Betty Ross is shown at the end alive and washing ashore independently of Nightmare’s actions. What was that about?

My head hurts… At one point I stopped carrying about the hulk. WTF happened with Betty during Jones run? I remember that she was back, but then Pretty much all of the run was retconed, or was it? That page about red she hulk totally confused me.

Sorry, it seems that this was taken care of.

Trivia: The time of death given is the same time that Peter David’s divorce from his wife was made final. Read into that what you will.

Even when they give you the ashes of a dead loved one after the cremation it’s not actually their ashes… it’s 90% wood. So I wouldn’t call the fact the he had the ashes in his hands a definitive nail in the “betty was dead” argument.

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