WARNING! This article contains spoilers for the Marvel comic Avengers #684!
The Hulk isn’t easy to defeat, but doing it isn’t impossible. The problem is, as Marvel readers found out with Avengers #684, even when you kill the big green guy, there’s no way to stop him from coming back.
Hulk fans have been waiting for the return of Bruce Banner since 2016, when Hawkeye killed him with two specially crafted arrows in Civil War II #3. And he has come back a couple of times — he was resurrected by The Hand in Uncanny Avengers and by Hydra in the miniseries Secret Empire, but neither revival stuck. Finally, as part of the 2018 No Surrender event in Avengers, Bruce Banner has returned — and his existence has been redefined by a massive retcon.
In the 10-page prologue to Avengers #684, we learn that the Hulk isn’t just tough and he doesn’t just have a great healing factor like Wolverine. As the title of his new series – Immortal Hulk – suggests, the Hulk can’t die, at least not for good. We’re shown multiple "deaths" from the Hulk’s past, each from actual Marvel stories dating as far back as 1965. In the original stories, the Hulk didn’t truly die — or at least that’s what readers thought. But as part of the new status quo, we learn that the Hulk did die in every single instance. But part of the Hulk’s power, apparently, is that every time he dies, he comes back.
Here’s every time the Hulk died according to Avengers #684 — plus a couple of others they forgot.
The Hulk’s first death came at the hands of an anonymous soldier in a 1965 issue of Tales to Astonish. Knowing his nemesis the Leader was going to use one of Bruce Banner’s inventions to wreak havoc, the Hulk destroyed it. A soldier spotted the Hulk amidst the smoke and flame issuing from the destroyed machine, and fired on him as the Hulk turned to run. Presumably, the Hulk was in the middle of his transformation back to Bruce Banner, because when the smoke cleared, the soldier found Banner lying on the ground without any vital signs.
Rick Jones stole Banner’s body and brought it back to Banner’s secret desert lab, hoping he could trigger Banner’s transformation into the Hulk and revive him. It worked, and Banner awakened in control of the Hulk’s body; theorizing the bullet lodged in his skull somehow was helping him stay in control, but that if he ever changed back to Banner’s body, he’d die.
In Tales to Astonish #73, after he captured the Hulk, the Leader detected the bullet in the Hulk’s skull and dissolved it with the least technical-sounding comic book science thing ever: the "Gamma-Ray Laser-Type Beam."
In spite of being able to return to Bruce Banner’s form without dying, the Hulk remained green for seven more issues. He traveled through time and space, met the Watcher, fought a dude underwater, locked horns with Thor villain Skurge the Executioner, enjoyed his first of many throw-downs with Hercules, and ran into the underground jerks Tyrannus and the Mole Man before finally changing back to Bruce Banner at the end of Tales to Astonish #80.
When the cure is worse than the disease
Bruce Banner is always searching for a cure. The thing is, he’s found a ton of them — it’s just that every time he does, he immediately finds a really good reason for not having cured himself in the first place.
Such was the case for the Hulk’s second death, in Incredible Hulk #225. Having been miraculously cured of the Hulk, Banner was helpless to fight off an assault on Gamma Base by, once again, the Leader.
While his allies tried to convince him to change himself back into the Hulk, Banner had what he thought was a better idea. He strapped himself into a "Gamma Control Harness" that he used to control a Hulk robot (fun fact: most scientists in the Marvel Universe have at least one Hulk robot sitting around just in case). The Leader defeated the robot, and upon blasting the automaton’s power source, an energy feedback shocked Bruce Banner.
Like Rick Jones before him, Doc Samson reasoned the only thing to do was to blast Banner’s body with gamma energy and hope it turned him back into the Hulk. It worked, but not before Banner’s vital signs dropped and Samson thought he was lost for good.
One instance that certainly deserves inclusion but was missed in the list of deaths in Avengers #684: the gray Hulk’s skewering by the mutant Wolverine in Incredible Hulk #340.
The two run into each other in a snowstorm. Wolverine is on his way to his own "death" and that of his teammates in the Fall of the Mutants event. He and the other X-Men stop to save the passengers of an airline the Hulk mistakenly takes down by hitting it mid-leap. When Hulk finds Wolverine amidst the plane’s wreckage, the Hulk tries to goad his old rival into a fight. Wolverine refuses initially but, after dodging and painfully withstanding the Hulk’s attacks, Wolverine finally cuts loose and spears Hulk through the torso with his claws. Afterward we see the Hulk lying on his back with his mouth open and his eyes closed. Wolverine, with his heightened senses, believes the Hulk is dead. Moments later the mutant is shocked when the gray Hulk rises from the ground, clutching his chest, saying, "Let’s…try that…again."
The Leader seems to be involved with a lot of these deaths. You’d almost think he has a problem with the Hulk or something.
The next death was another experienced by the gray Hulk, in Incredible Hulk #367 — which marked not only the conclusion to the "Countdown" storyline of the series, but was also memorable for being the first issue featuring Dale Keown as regular artist.
In the four-part story "Countdown," the Hulk experienced multiple massive heart attacks for reasons he couldn’t figure out. In the first issue, he dealt with his old sparring partner Abomination. In the second, looking for help from fellow science bro Reed Richards, the Hulk got his terminal diagnosis, but only after fighting his way through She-Thing (who was still ticked at the Hulk for putting her boyfriend Ben Grimm in the hospital back in Incredible Hulk #350). In the third, he was teleported to the Leader’s base where, after a tussle with the Leader’s various followers, the villain informed the Hulk he knew what was happening to him. He had been poisoned by a villain called Madman — and Leader wanted the Hulk to kill Madman.
The fourth issue begins with what we now know to be the Hulk’s death. He’s been slowly weakening and shrinking throughout the story, and at the beginning of "Countdown" Part 4, the poison has finally killed him. After he revives, he learns that Madman is Leader’s brother, Phil Sterns. He finds Madman, does his hero thing, and gets the cure (which he apparently didn’t need because he could just "Kenny" his way back).
Future Imperfect wasn’t included in the list at the back of Avengers #684, though it’s tough to imagine why. After all, it’s a two-fer.
In Hulk: Future Imperfect, the Hulk travels to the future and learns that one super-powered villain rules over what’s left of humanity — and that villain is a future version of himself who calls himself the Maestro. Maestro is just as intelligent as Bruce Banner of the present, more vicious than the Hulk ever was, and — in spite of his advanced age — stronger because of the increased radiation in the environment.
Hulk and Maestro throw down twice during Future Imperfect. Their first battle begins in an underground rebel base and ends on the streets of Dystopia (the city Maestro rules), and it’s Maestro who ends it by breaking the Hulk’s neck. That’s Future Imperfect‘s Hulk Death #1.
The second death is suffered by the Maestro when the Hulk uses the same time machine that brought him to the future to send Maestro to the past — specifically, to ground zero of the explosion that erupted at the moment of the gamma bomb blast that changed Banner into the Hulk.
A hero unborn
The line-wide event Onslaught was catastrophic for many heroes of the Marvel Universe, none more than the Hulk. Sacrificing themselves to defeat Onslaught, the Fantastic Four and the Avengers were sent to the "Heroes Reborn" universe, where their stories were rebooted and they all lived new lives. Meanwhile, everyone on the world from which they came believed them dead.
The Hulk suffered a more torturous fate. It was the Hulk who delivered the blow that shattered Onslaught’s armor in Onslaught: Marvel Universe #1. The blow released such power that Bruce Banner and the Hulk were physically separated from one another. Bruce Banner, along with the Avengers and the FF, sacrificed himself and was reborn in the new timeline…while the Hulk stayed where he was.
In the immediate aftermath, the Hulk was first unconscious, and then — as the military arrived and attempted to cart his body away — he went wild. He was screaming and clearly in agony, with his insides appearing to literally rip out of his skin. Eventually, an "irradiated cocoon" formed around the Hulk that made him look like he was frozen in some kind of volcanic slag. The following issue, a new kind of Hulk emerged from the cocoon — one with the power and savagery of the green Hulk, but the viciousness of the gray Hulk. Because of Avengers #684, we know now that the cocoon didn’t just change the Hulk. It killed him.
After a nice, long, well-deserved vacation from his own violent death, Bruce Banner died once again at the end of Indestructible Hulk #20.
Mark Waid’s Indestructible Hulk series ended with a mystery: An unknown assailant shoots Banner in the back of the head on the final page. The story was relaunched with Hulk #1. After surgery, a really long fight with the Abomination, and just a tiny spoonful of Extremis, the Marvel Universe was introduced to Doc Green: a version of the Hulk which, while it shared Bruce Banner’s intelligence, didn’t identify as Banner, and went on a crusade to rid almost all of the other gamma-irradiated heroes and villains in the Marvel Universe of their powers.
It’s in the middle of Doc Green’s anti-gamma crusade, in Hulk #8, that we finally learn who was responsible for his attempted murder. While it was Dr. Melinda Leucenstern who shot Banner, it was Betty Ross — a.k.a Red She-Hulk — who gave the group the Order of the Shield the intelligence they needed to do the deed. After her own adventures in Red She-Hulk, Ross was convinced her former husband was going to cause an extinction level event in the near future.
The most bizarre death revealed in Avengers #684 is from the 2015 mini-event Ultron Forever — and it’s the strangest because it was so cleverly explained as not only not being fatal, but not even particularly harmful. Just kind of funny.
In Avengers: Ultron Forever #1, the Hulk is part of a team of Avengers pulled from different moments in time. Almost as quickly as he enters the fray, he’s apparently decapitated by one of Ultron’s lackeys, who throws Captain America’s shield at his neck.
In the issue that follows — New Avengers: Ultron Forever #1 — we learn that the Hulk didn’t lose his head. He lost a mask.
See, the Hulk of Ultron Forever is a very early version of the Hulk. You may think that it wasn’t until much later that Hulk writers and artists chose to do crazy stuff with Hulk’s transformations, but you’d be wrong. In 1963’s Incredible Hulk #6, one of the transformations produced a Hulk with a Hulk body, but a Bruce Banner head. That’s right: big green body, little pink head. The Hulk was forced to don a Hulk mask (most scientists in the Marvel Universe keep a Hulk mask around just in case — usually on a hook next to the Hulk robot) to hide his identity.
So, in New Avengers: Ultron Forever #1, we learn Cap’s shield didn’t take off the Hulk’s head, it just knocked off his mask. The Hulk spends the rest of the Ultron Forever event looking kind of like Total Recall‘s Kuato, with a Hulk head where it should be and a Bruce Banner head below his right shoulder.
But now, because of Avengers #684, we know apparently Hulk was decapitated. And just grew two heads immediately afterwards. Like you do.
Finally, there’s the most recent and most well-known time the Hulk died.
Before Civil War II #3, most of the heroes of the Marvel Universe thought Bruce Banner was Hulk-less for good. Amadeus Cho had absorbed the gamma radiation from Banner, as told via flashback in the beginning of the Totally Awesome Hulk series, and in the aftermath, Banner was certain he was permanently cured.
But the Inhuman Ulysses, whose nascent psychic abilities caused so much trouble in Civil War II, had a vision of the original Hulk on a rampage, apparently murdering most of Marvel’s heroes. When those heroes confronted Banner, they found he was researching gamma radiation again and they were less than happy.
Before anything could be resolved, two arrows shot from the distance, killing Banner instantly. A flashback (within a flashback) revealed that months ago Banner had approached Hawkeye with two arrows Banner had made. He asked Hawkeye to use them on him if he should ever show signs of turning into the Hulk. After the killing, Hawkeye claimed he saw Banner’s eyes flash with green. (The art was left purposely ambiguous.)
Whether or not Banner was about to turn into the Hulk, it’s clear that Hawkeye could never have done the deed — at least not with as much finality as Banner wanted. Robert Bruce Banner and the Immortal Hulk are in the Marvel Universe for good…or for at least as long as it takes them to pick another adjective.