Earlier this month I declared that August’s Marvel Madness posts would be devoted to the strange world of inter-company cross-over stories, which began with me sharing the very first time that comics’ two biggest companies, Marvel and DC, crossed over together. That resulted in a surprisingly fun little tale about Superman and Spider-Man defeating some weather machines while hanging out at a journalism conference, and was generally a much better time than the gritty 90’s stories we talked about last year. Plus, while the pairing seemed a little strange, it did make sense to put both companies most famous creation together. But, we’re going to lose that thread a bit today with our second tale of superhero cross-overs, because in 1981 Marvel and DC teamed up once again to pair Batman and the Incredible Hulk together. Logically. The best guess I can come up with is that they were both famous TV shows? I’m not quite sure. But, for whatever reason, we’re taking another trip into the nebulous world where both DC characters and Marvel characters seemingly coexist and are continually frustrated that they’re suddenly interacting. And folks? It gets weird.
The story begins on a hot and sweaty night in Gotham City, at the peak of a terrible heat wave that’s driving the city insane. People are doing their best to sleep and ignore the awful heat and humidity, when something strange starts to happen. It begins in the home of a man who is busy trying to lucid dream about being in the Antarctic in order to cool down. He’s suddenly awoken from his slumber to find that his apartment is now filled with snow and icy winds, all of which seems to be bellowing out of his bed. And, before we can stop and figure out what the deal with that was, we hop over to a local movie theater that’s playing a slew of schlocky B-Movies, where two teenagers are exploiting the air conditioning to make out a bit. But, their date is ruined when they find that the theater is suddenly full of all the weird monsters and ghouls that have been appearing on the screen, but alive now. And, just like before, we leave that scene before we see what becomes of it, and move instead to a warehouse near the Gotham City docks, where an unseen voice is gladly thanking someone, clearly having caused all of these issues as a test in order to find someone who can truly help it. And, who is the one person in Gotham that this seemingly mystical being has come to aid for? Well…
That’s right, we don’t know who this mysterious being who is bringing the dreams of random citizens of Gotham to life is, but we know that he’s found his champion in the form of none other than the Clown Prince of Crime, the Joker. The Joker announces that he’s ready to help this being with whatever it needs, which presently takes the form of it requiring a very specialized technical device that’s currently in the city. So, the Joker and his men head out to acquire that device, and get the hell away from the strange being in the warehouse. It’s apparently so odd that some of the men noticed that even the Joker seemed afraid of it, an observation which earns the goon who make it a swift death from a poisoned flower. So, the Joker and his men are in the need to a high tech laboratory!
And, luckily, that’s where we’re off to next, because it just so happens that a Wayne Enterprises laboratory is the current employment for a man named Robert Bruce Banner, more commonly known as the Incredible Hulk. Banner has been wandering the country, hiding under a variety of aliases, attempting to find some way to cure himself of his monstrous alter ego. And, that search has brought him to Gotham City, where this very laboratory is experimenting with some sort of gamma energy gun which they believe will be able to cure all human ailments, in theory including a bad case of the Incredible Hulks. And, today seems to be the day that Banner is going to make his move and attempt to use the device on himself. But, he picked a bad day, because while he’s working on the machine he notices that his co-workers start busting out in psychotic laughter. Which, I’m sure is a fairly common occurrence in Gotham City.
Bruce is able to think fast, and dives for a set of radiation suits, knowing that they would be able to cut out whatever gas is causing this attack. And, after using the internal air supply to help calm himself down, Bruce begins to investigate what’s going on, only to walk right into the Joker and his goons, who have begun traipsing through the laboratory. The Joker begins barking orders out to his men, telling them to steal the Gamma Gun, and Bruce realizes that his one chance to heal himself may be flying out the window. So, he decides to do something stupid, and makes his presence know. Bruce comes running out from the shadows, wearing half of a radiation suit, and begins attacking the Joker’s men. Which, doesn’t go well.
Bruce is pretty quickly defeated, and slammed onto the ground. But, not before he can hit a secret security switch, hoping to get some aid to the building. However, before any aid can get there, the men begin beating the crap out of Bruce, which as you might have guessed, begins to trigger a reaction in the mild-mannered scientist. He suddenly begins transforming into the Incredible Hulk, throwing the goons off of himself, and causing quite a ruckus. Which is kind of more than the Joker was bargaining for. He orders his men to attack the Hulk, while he himself flees of his life with the Gamma Gun.
The Joker’s men actually put up a fairly valiant defense against the Hulk, but it seems like Gotham City hoods just aren’t familiar enough with the giant jade monster, and he’s able to pummel them pretty easily, just shrugging off their many bullets. The Joker however seems to be up on his Hulk knowledge and knows that it’s probably best to get the hell out of Dodge as fast as possible. Unfortunately for the Joker, as he and his few goons who knew to flee from the Hulk are able to escape through the elevator, they find someone waiting for them.
Batman! As you might have figured, that security button that Bruce Banner hit before being tackled and turned into the Hulk actually sent a distress signal out to the owner of the laboratory, Mr. Bruce Wayne. And, seeing that his lab was being attacked, Bruce suited up as the Caped Crusader and made his way to stop the theft, showing up just in time to kick some sense into the Joker’s men. But, as Batman enters the room he finds that the situation is far crazier than he’d been anticipating. And, as he begins recalculating his efforts now that he knows there’s a Hulk involved, he watches as the Joker’s men drop the Gamma Gun right into the confused hands of the Hulk. As usual, the Hulk doesn’t have much memory of what Banner was up to, so he doesn’t understand the significance of this strange device, but he instantly finds himself accosted by the Joker and Batman, both of whom decide it’s time to try and placate the giant behemoth in order to get him on their side. And, weirdly, the Joker is way better at it.
Yes, you read that correctly. The Joker successfully sways the Hulk to his side by noting the fact that they both have green hair, and thus can be trusted. He also points out the fact that he looks like a nice friendly clown, while Batman looks like a shadowy freak with pointy ears, which does make some amount of sense to the Hulk’s childish mind. And, because he assumed that the Joker was just going to whiff this and get smashed, Batman didn’t really launch any counter-argument, until he realized it was too late and the Hulk was firmly on Joker’s side. Batman attempts to calm the Hulk, but it’s too late, it’s time for smashing.
The Hulk just chucks the Gamma Gun towards the Joker, all interest lost in it, and begins storming towards Batman. Joker counts his lucky stars and begins fleeing once more with the delicate device, while Batman quickly starts thinking up ways to defeat the Hulk, which seem few and far between. Batman practices all sorts of his martial arts, relying on decades of experience to pummel all known pressure points on the Hulk’s massive frame, but none of them seem to work, putting the Dark Knight in a pretty rough place. And, after the Hulk almost successfully breaks Batman’s back like a twig, he decides that the only way to end this battle is going to be relying on something a little more scientific. So, Batman draws out a gas grenade full of enough knock-out gas to incapacitate a herd of elephants, and throws it at the Hulk. Unfortunately, the giant beast does have some bright thoughts, and he instead inhales a massive lungfull of good air, hoping to wait out the length of the fumes. So, Batman drop-kicks him in the gut.
Goddamn, Batman! This tactic actually does end up working, and the Hulk ends up inhaling quite a bit of gas, enough to make him suddenly stagger and collapse onto the floor. And, taking that as their cue, the Joker finally demands that his men begin fleeing, since they were apparently just standing around watching the show instead of fleeing with they have the chance. Batman of course gives chase though, and ends up leaping from the window and sailing down to the street, hoping to cut the villains off. He fails though, and watches at the villains begin fleeing through the alleys of Gotham City. Which, you would think would be to Batman’s advantage, since he was seemingly perfect knowledge of Gotham City. However, he watches the villains flee down an alley he’s positive is a dead end, and watches as the alley suddenly becomes and intersection, leading them right to a getaway care and freedom.
Batman isn’t quite sure what to make of that mysterious change in Gotham’s structure, but he figures he has bigger fish to fry. So, Bruce slips out of his Batman costume and heads back to the laboratory in full Bruce Wayne mode, ready to take stock of what’s going on. And, luckily, the gas regiment has calmed the Hulk down long enough that he’s transformed back into a very meek Bruce Banner, who immediately starts apologizing to Wayne for falsifying his credentials just to get close to the Gamma Gun. But, much to Banner’s shock, Bruce Wayne doesn’t really mind the whole lying thing, and in fact wants to set Banner up with his own laboratory in order to help him cure the Hulk.
But, before we get to any of that, it’s time to follow the Joker back to his warehouse, where we finally see who, or what, has been making magical deals with the Clown Prince of Crime. And, folks, it’s a deep cut.
Okay, so what we see here is the Joker blasting a giant robotic torso with the full might of the Gamma Gun, hoping to cure it of a mysterious ailment. And, who exactly is that torso? Why, the Shaper of Worlds, of course! And, if you’re anything like me, you have no idea who the Shaper of Worlds is. But, a quick dive, mixed with him delivering a pretty truncated origin story here on the page reveals that he’s the result of the Skrulls attempts to make their own Cosmic Cube. He’s essentially a sentient Cosmic Cube, and thus is able to make anyone’s wishes reality, but usually just his own wishes. And, that’s not just a fun side-effect, it’s a legitimate compulsion, and if he’s unable to occasionally rid himself of Cosmic energy by creating things, it builds up inside of him and make him go temporarily insane.
Which, normally wouldn’t be a problem. He makes it clear that he usually travels the universe, landing on random planets and making the inhabitants wildest dreams come true, mostly for his own benefit, before carrying on to the next planet. But, while doing so he was caught up in a cosmic storm, and has seemingly lost to ability to alter reality on a large scale, just being able to pull off minor tricks like making someone’s home the Arctic or changing the location of an alley. None of which is good enough to push away his insanity, which he fears in rapidly approaching. Which is why he came to Gotham City and sought out a champion to bring him the Gamma Gun, figuring that it would be enough to cure his strange malady. And he was wrong. All while he’s monologuing to the Joker the Shaper realizes that the Gun isn’t going to be enough. So, he demands that the Joker find something better, or else he’ll have to find a new champion, which the Joker definitely doesn’t want.
Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne has set Bruce Banner up with a high tech laboratory situated onto an old container ship, just off the coast of Gotham City. Inside Banner is in charge, and rapidly working with a team to create a new version of the Gamma Gun, which is putting Banner under quite a bit of stress, much to the terror of his assistants. Which is why Bruce Wayne has left behind Alfred in order to supply Banner with a kind ear and an infinite source of calming teas, hoping to keep him from Hulking out aboard the ship.
And, while Banner is busy doing science, Wayne is out looking for the Joker. He’s suited up as Batman and he begins searching through the hideouts of small-time gangs which occasionally get work with the Joker, making quick work of the terrified goons and getting a little bit of information in the process. Information which leads him to a small bar in one of the seedier locations of Gotham, where Batman dresses up as a homeless person to infiltrate and listen to people. And, luckily, he overhears a group of criminals talking about how they heard the Joker was calling in all sorts of goons in order to pull off something crazy that night. But, before we learn what that something might be, we cut back to Banner’s laboratory ship, where something unexpected has happened.
Uh oh, it looks like Bruce Banner’s greatest foe has arrived. The United State military. They seem to have found out that Bruce Banner is aboard the ship, and since he’s a wanted fugitive they’ve arrived to arrest him and bring him back in for testing, as usual. Alfred does his best to get in the military’s way, telling them they have no jurisdiction because Banner is an invited guest of Bruce Wayne’s, which I don’t think is how international security risks are treated, but whatever, it was a good shot Alfred.
Banner just kind of self-defeats though, and tells Alfred that it’s okay, he’ll just be arrested. But, Alfred won’t calm down, and ends up getting in the face of one of the soldiers, who just cold-cocks the old man with the butt of his rifle, causing the commander to admonish him, reminding the soldier that they were told to make this look legitimate. Which, Banner overhears, and realizing that these aren’t real soldiers, he’s thrown into a rage strong enough to draw out the Hulk. He begins fighting with the soldiers, but nothing they have is able to put a dent into the Hulk. Which eventually causes the commander to flee and hide, wishing that they had something even bigger and stronger than the Hulk to defeat the monster. And, just on cue, something bigger and stronger shows up.
Well, that was unexpected. Some sort of giant blob monster has suddenly appeared aboard the ship, towering over the Hulk and made from some strange dough material. No one really knows what’s going on, but the Hulk decides that there’s no way this thing is friendly, and starts attacking it. Unfortunately, it doesn’t accomplish much. The thing is stronger than him, is able to deflect any thrown missiles, and just generally seems unbeatable. Which doesn’t stop the Hulk from trying. He throws himself at the blob monster, pummeling its soft flesh, while the creature begins enveloping the Hulk, eventually swallowing him whole and place the Hulk in some sort of little cage within it’s belly.
The Blob monster and the fake soldiers then depart with the Hulk, leaving behind a battered Alfred and a bunch of confused scientists. The Gotham City police are called, and Commissioner Gordon makes a special appearance, all before Batman arrives, pretty confused by the situation. But, after they make a quick call to General Thunderbolt Ross to confirm that his Anti-Hulk taskforce hadn’t been involved in the incident that night, they realize that it wasn’t actually the military that captured the Hulk. Nope, it was the Joker, who has brought the Hulk back to the Shaper’s headquarters, hoping that Bruce Banner will be able to make modifications to the Gamme Gun to cure the Shaper. And, weirdly enough, he is able to help. But, not Banner. It’s the Hulk who seems to be the key to helping the Shaper.
Weirdly, and not explained, the Hulk’s presence around the Shaper seems to have a strange effect on both of them. They both suddenly seem much calmer, and the Hulk’s strange gamma signature seems to be enough to pacify the Shaper, temporarily removing his insanity and helping him with this power block. The Shaper finds himself in a state of momentary bliss, and in that moment the Hulk makes his move and flees from the building. The Shaper is furious about this, and tells the Joker that he and his men need to head back out and re-capture the Hulk, figuring that he’ll just use the beast as some sort of anti-psychotic totem.
The Joker agrees, but quickly realizes that he has no way to stop the Hulk. So, he decides to do something insane. He goes to the Gotham City Police Department and sets off the Bat Signal, drawing his archnemisis towards him. Batman arrives and of course is ready for a fight, but the Joker ends up convincing him that they shouldn’t be enemies this night, and be allies instead. The Joker makes the case that he feels bad for letting the Hulk loose, and wants to help Batman track he beast down. And, apparently not seeing through that horseshit, Batman agrees. So, Batman and the Joker had teamed up, and they begin wandering the streets of Gotham, looking for the Hulk. Which, doesn’t prove overly difficult.
Batman and the Joker end up finding the Hulk while he’s beating up some random robbers, and the two attempt to calm him down. But, Hulk has no interest in listening to either of these pains in his ass, even the Joker. So, he rudely walks right past Batman and the Joker, and begins leaping up into the air, ready to use his terrific leg muscles to rocket around the city. But, thinking fast, Batman is able to launch a grappling hook onto the Hulk’s leg, snaring the monster and letting Batman be dragged along behind the Hulk as he begins launching himself into the air. The Joker meanwhile decides he’ll just take a car.
Batman holds on for dear life while the Hulk flies around town, eventually ending up in some parking garage. And, while the Hulk temporarily lands to decide his next step, he’s suddenly accosted by Batman. The two begin fighting, with Batman attempting the whole knock-out gas trick again. But, the Hulk has learned from his mistakes, and is able to blow the gas away, giving Batman no choice but to head back into a fist to fist combat with the Hulk. Which, obviously, goes quite poorly. The Hulk keeps lumbering around, eventually getting so brazen hat he throws an entire car at Batman, which results in Batman doing the coolest thing in the goddamn world and throwing himself through the oncoming car’s windows.
Fucking rad. But, despite how awesome that maneuver was, it doesn’t really do anything to stop the Hulk. He continues to storm around, eventually getting so mad that he begins pulling at some of the support beams of the paring garage. Batman does everything he can to stop the Hulk, but after too much trauma the entire garage ends up collapsing, leaving Batman trapped beneath some rubble so that the Hulk can wander back off into the night. But, before anything terrible can happen to Batman, the Joker ends up arriving, and saves the Dark Knight, pulling him from the rubble. Which is when they decide they need to figure out an alternative plan to just beating the Hulk up.
And boy do they come up with a weird plan. We next see the Hulk walking down the streets of Gotham City, where he encounters an old man, also out late. The Hulk is pretty irritated by the sheer existence of this other human, and starts to be rude to him, until the Hulk realizes that the old man is blind. And, for some reason, this is enough to make the Hulk trust the man. He sits down and starts telling the man of all of his woes, calming down a bit while the old blind man offers the Hulk some words of wisdom, telling him he needs to trust people more often. And, just on time, the Joker comes strolling down the street, acting like he and the Hulk were old friends who had been separated. So, going along with the old man’s advice, the Hulk decides to follow Joker again, while he learn that the old man was actually Batman the whole time, and this entire insane scene was a plan the two cooked up together.
The Joker then leads the Hulk back to the warehouse of the Shaper, ready to turn the monster over to the strange alien being in exchange for his reward. But, when they get close to the warehouse a strange blast of energy knocks the Joker flat, while the Hulk just continues lumbering towards it. Batman admonishes the Joker for letting the Hulk get away, but the Joker promises he doesn’t want to go inside that warehouse for the time being, refusing to go along with Batman.
So, Batman just leaves the villain behind, and races to catch up with the Hulk, who no longer seems infuriated by his presence. Hulk seems fine with this partnership, which is good because at that moment the Shaper uses his abilities to create six villains to stop Batman and the Hulk, including Two-Face, Killer Moth, Scarecrow, the Leader, the Rhino, and the Abomination. A massive brawl then begins with Batman and the Hulk fighting their greatest foes and the Killer Moth, until they weirdly start falling apart, exploding like pinatas full of butterflies and giant clay statues.
Well, that’s odd. The Hulk and Batman don’t really stop to question just what in the hell happened to them, and they go storming onward, approaching the warehouse. And, when they get there, the Hulk just starts battering the walls down, racing inside. Which, is exactly what the Shaper wanted. He was lying in wait, and as soon as he has eyes on the Hulk he drains the giant’s gamma energy into himself, leaving the Hulk a sleeping mass of Banner, and giving the Shaper the control he wanted. The Shaper is now cured, or as cured as he’s going to be, which means he no longer has any interest in this planet.
But, before he leaves, he needs to deal with his end of a bargain. Because, as we’ve been alluding to the entire time, the Joker wasn’t involved in this plot out of the goodness of his heart. The Shaper looked for someone with the will to save him, and offered the Joker a modicum of his power in return, meaning that the Joker now has the ability to warp reality, and make whatever he wants come true. So, while Batman is dealing with the strange events of seeing the Hulk get absorbed by a giant robot monster, the Joker is getting endowed with an insane amount of power, which he immediately uses to give himself a makeover.
So, the Joker has become borderline omnipotent, and he immediately races away from Batman on a flying carpet to go spread some chaos as soon as possible. Which, Batman isn’t going to abide. He races out of the warehouse, ready to track down the Joker while Bruce Banner begins yelling at the Shaper, scolding him for giving someone like the Joker all of that power. But, the Shaper doesn’t give a shit about Earth, or Bruce’s complaints. And, that arrogance is enough to infuriate Bruce to the point of turning back into the Hulk, ready to beat the Shaper up. But, now that his powers are in full control, the Shaper just teleports the Hulk away so he won’t be a nuisance.
Meanwhile, Batman has followed Joker to a more populated area of Gotham City where the Joker has begun to use his powers to transform the city into a giant castle, and the citizens into an army of clowns. Batman attempts to stop the psychotic villain, but ends up getting turned into a Batman/clown hybrid for his troubles. And Clown Batman isn’t really going to be able to stop the Joker. Thankfully though, it turns out that the Shaper has sent the Hulk to this exact spot, so the jade giant launches himself at the Joker, ready to smash him. Unfortunately, he too catches a case of the clowns.
Yeah, the Hulk has been turned into a giant ineffectual clown baby. So, it seems like there’s going to be nothing our heroes can do to stop the Joker. That is until Batman decides to give up the physical fight, and engage in a mental one. He starts mocking the Joker, essentially calling out this whole scenario as lame. He reminds the Joker that he has the ability to make reality into whatever he wants, and he’s wasting it turning everyone into clowns. He tells Joker that he expected better from him, and in retaliation the Joker decides to shift things a bit and transform Gotham City into some Alice in Wonderland pastiche with Batman and the Hulk as Tweedledee and Tweedledum.
But, Batman keeps goading the villain on, telling him that his time it’s too childish. So, Joker decides to be a little classier and starts making the world seem more like surreal paintings, specifically the Persistence of Memory and an M.C. Escher painting. But, Batman keeps mocking his choices, forcing the Joker to become more and more esoteric, shooting right past a cubism phase into some insane Hieronymus Bosch nightmare. And, all of that strain becomes too much for the Joker, who is unused to this amount of power, causing him to pass out from the pressure. And, as soon as the Joker loses consciousness, the Shaper decides that their bargain is complete, revokes the Joker’s powers, and blasts off into space, leaving the Earth behind. So, the Joker is arrested, and we end on Commissioner Gordon asking Batman whatever became of that wanted fugitive Bruce Banner, who we see slipping out of Gotham and back on his never-ending quest to cure himself.
Last August I talked about two different cross-over stories involving Batman, and they were both pretty lackluster. One was far superior to the other, but neither one really became what I wanted from it, both getting stuck in 1990s grim and gritty nonsense, ending up becoming more embarrassing than fun. So, I was a little nervous about picking up another cross-over story featuring Batman. Obviously this book was from much earlier, from a time when Batman and the comics industry in general weren’t as obnoxious as they’d become in the 1990’s, but it was still kind of a gamble. And folks, it paid off. Because this story is a goddamn delight. I still have no idea why they chose to pair Batman and the Incredible Hulk other than the fact that it would annoy people like me who attempted to keep the two Bruce’s straight when describing the plot, but it weirdly worked pretty fantastically. The idea of dropping someone as insanely powerful as the Hulk into Gotham City was a fun idea, and it ended up playing out basically as I’d want it to, especially with all that nonsense involving the Joker befriending the Hulk. Really my only complaint was the fact that the Hulk just doesn’t have as interesting a bench of villains, resulting in the story revolving around a character that I, someone who spends an inordinate amount of time reading and talking about comics, was completely unfamiliar with. The Shapers powers ended up being key to the plot, but it still feels like maybe the story could have been a little stronger if it featured a second villain I cared about. But, putting that quibble aside, this story is a hoot, full of fun comic book action, insane ideas, and characters who should never interact do so in a way that made perfect sense for all of them. This is what cross-over stories are all about folks, and this one knocked it out of the park. But, just you wait, I have something even weirder in store for our final entry this month.
“The Monster and the Madman” was written by Len Wein, penciled by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, inked by Dick Giordano, colored by Glynis Oliver, lettered by John Costanza, and edited by Dick Giordano, Dave Manak, Al Milgram, and Jim Shooter, 1981.
Categories: Marvel Madness