By far one of the saddest comics I’ve ever read is the Marvel spinoff story “Hulk: The End”, or as I like to call it, The Last Days of the Hulk.
This story begins on an alternate Earth, whereas you may guess, something very terrible has occurred. Nuclear war has rendered Earth barren almost uninhabitable. Every hero, from Avenger to X-Men, is long dead. No more villains exist either. All but two significant beings have kicked the bucket at this point.
And the Other Guy.
Now ancient by human standards, Banner is just a lonely old wanderer. Scrounging meager subsistence and reminiscing on his past, Banner is the last man standing, his connection to the Hulk protecting him from fallout and the effects of nuclear war. All his friends, family and enemies are dust. His last remaining foe is unworthy vermin. Earth’s only remaining predator. Radiation mutated cockroaches.
Many times Banner is set upon by these creatures and just as it seems they’re about to kill and eat him, the Hulk comes out and drives them off (or just lets them eat their fill until they fly off). With his unmatched healing factor, Hulk is able to keep himself and Banner functioning. But this is just a stopgap.
In the comics, the Hulk is unstoppable, able to survive any injury and is in essence, immortal. He’s also a lot more angry and bitter with humanity and embraces his anger to keep driving himself forward. The Hulk can fight forever in this dead, radioactive world.
But Banner can’t.
Slowly but surely, Banner is succumbing to old age. His body is on its last legs and it’s only the Hulk that has kept him going thus far. There’s no one left to fight and he’s far too afraid to take his own life. So all he can do is wait for his heart to stop. Banner notes that his punishment mirrors that of the Greek God Prometheus. Condemned to an inescapable existence, devoured again and again by carrion.
In opposite, Hulk seems to gloat about his existence. All the people who wanted to hurt him, all the “puny humans” are dead, leaving him as “the strongest one there is”. Just like he always wanted. In Hulk’s eyes, Banner is the last obstacle/weakness that must be purged. And soon the opportunity presents itself.
After several days of chest pain, Banner finally realizes he’s having a prolonged heart failure. As the final seconds tick down, Banner even hallucinates all his dead friends and loved ones in the afterlife. Patiently waiting and calling him to join them. At last, his suffering is done and he can move on from his tortured existence.
But the Hulk can’t.
Sensing Banner’s impending death will take him down as well, the Hulk fights to be set free, to change and save himself from death. If the Hulk dies, it means everyone who has tried to kill him will win, even though they are long dead. And if they win, Hulk will no longer be the strongest one there is. Hulk refuses to die because if he does, it means he loses. And the Hulk doesn’t lose.
In an internal monologue, Banner begs to the Hulk to allow the two of them to die together. To finally let go of all his anger and bitterness and rest in PEACE. But the Hulk is defiant. He doesn’t want peace, or to be with his friends. He screeches a final, rage-filled denial at Banner’s conviction, capturing all his sentiment in a beautiful page.
The scene then cuts to the Hulk by himself, muttering about how he “took care” of Banner and is now in complete control. He vows to continue on and survive. Because he is finally alone and needs no one, he will never be weak again. He is now finally the strongest one there is. And that’s when the truth strikes him like a bomb.
In holding onto all his anger and rage and confidence in himself, the Hulk has finally achieved what he always wanted. He is now completely, utterly alone. In victory, in refusing to move on from his rage, he has won nothing and lost everything, leaving the reader with these final words as the comic ends.
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