[Editor’s Note: Billy is taking a little vacation, so today, your Olde School goodness will be brought to you by writer Andrew Hurst.]
Usually when I think of DC/Marvel crossovers, I cringe with awkward memories of DC vs. Marvel from the 90s and the more recent JLA/Avengers. But once upon a time, DC/Marvel crossovers were actually really cool. DC and Marvel icons first collided when Superman met Spider-Man, but as a child, my first exposure of the two publishers coming together was with Batman vs. The Incredible Hulk! In 1981, no one was more fit to direct the first meeting between the Dark Knight and the Green Goliath than Len Wein. Having already touched both characters previously, Wein offers an authentic exchange between the two comic book headliners, and along with Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez’s beautiful art, it’s an over sized one-shot that will excite both schools of fans.
The story begins with an ominous overview of some Gotham City citizens experiencing their dreams and thoughts becoming reality before their eyes, leading us to the sadistic smile of the Joker on his way to his next crime. We soon meet Bruce Banner – easily recognizable by his signature purple pants – working as a grunt in a gamma research facility as part of his quest for a cure for his unique radioactive ailment. When Banner’s co-workers begin dropping dead with devilish delight and demented grins across their faces, Banner thinks swiftly enough to evade the poisonous chemical filling the air, but fails to escape the growing rage in his heart. The Joker makes his grandiose entrance with his evil entourage, ready to lift some expensive gamma gear from the research facility, but when the Hulk appears to smash the “puny white-face man,” so does the Batman. Joker’s charm quickly convinces Hulk that the dark cowled creature is Hulk’s enemy, and the two face off in a devastating duel, while the Joker ditches the duo with the gamma gizmo he came for.
Later we learn that the Joker’s interest in the gamma gun is not for his own personal use, but for the assistance of his new best friend, the alien demigod, The Shaper of Worlds, He Who Makes Dreams Live! Or, as Joker refers to him for the rest of the book, Shaper. The first twenty pages of the story were awesome and exciting, and all that was really brought down by the silliness of the “shaper of worlds and dreams,” but thankfully, he doesn’t kill the entire book. Shaper, a rather obscure Marvel villain who looks exactly like a 100-foot cyborg Skrull, has a headache that is literally driving him insane. And given his special powers, making dreams come to life, him going insane would somehow cause the entire universe to go coconuts, and somehow an extreme dosage of gamma energy is his equivalent to a couple of Tylenol and a nap. The Shaper’s mad journey for help has taken him to Earth, where he met the Joker, and since Joker’s ego wont allow anyone to be more crazy than he is, and with the promise of alien dream shaping abilities, he’s offered to help.
Out on the streets, Batman is putting his fist and boot-heel to the jaws of the local dregs, looking for information on the Joker, while Bruce Wayne, fully up to speed on the Banner/Hulk situation, has offered Banner a place on his payroll to help not only further the research of gamma energy, but in the hopes that Banner can find a cure for himself. As work begins, a stressed out Banner is consoled by Wayne’s trusty butler, Alfred Pennyworth. Soon, military forces drop down on the Wayne research facility to extract the fugitive Bruce Banner. It doesn’t take long for the green meanie to show his massive face, but when a 50 foot goo monster (that’s right…a goo monster) arrives to trap the Hulk in its cream filled center of a stomach, and a slip of the tongue exposes these “soldiers” as phonies, it doesn’t take the world’s greatest detective to realize this attack was not sanctioned by General Thunderbolt Ross, but by the Joker.
When the gamma gun the Shaper ordered Joker to jack doesn’t cure his conundrum, he decides he needs the raw gamma power of the Hulk to ease his pain. Though, as you might expect, it doesn’t take long for the Hulk to break free of the goo monster and flee the scene. Now, with an angry Hulk on the loose, and the threat of the entire universe being driven to insanity, Batman and the Joker team up to find and persuade the Hulk to confront the Shaper, but not without another battle between Batman and the green behemoth. When Hulk leaves the puny humans and their “confusing words” to themselves, it’s the wisdom of an old man (Batman disguised a guy who looks like Stan Lee. I’m not making that up.) and more charm from the Joker that convince Hulk to face the Shaper. I won’t spoil the surprises that follow for you, but it’s definitely an exciting final 12 pages.
My favorite part about this whole book, aside from Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez’s fantastic art, is that this felt like a genuine issue of either Batman or Incredible Hulk. The story, while reprising that goofy sci-fi quirkiness of the era, felt extremely organic. You really felt like you were reading Batman and Hulk instead of watered down versions of them. The book is simply fun, and a treat for any fans of either characters.
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