What If Rick Jones had become the Hulk?
Okay, I was fully expecting to hate this one. First because, goddamnit, I was promised a tale of Conan walking the earth in the 1970s and that sounds fucking awesome. Secondly, because seriously fuck Rick Jones. My dislike of this character has been fully documented in a couple of these things so I basically went into What If 12 with a bug up my ass, ready to hate it. Luckily, this turned out to be one of the better issues I’ve read so far.
We’ve seen this opening before, way back in Incredible Hulk 1 or possibly less way back in Forbidden to Interfere 2. This time around, Doc Bruce Banner drives out to save shitty teenage Archie stand-in Rick Jones only to have the little shit save him instead. Rick knocks Bruce into safety of the gamma radiation proof five foot deep concrete trench and is bathed with green radiation. He seems fine so Bruce drives him back to the military base to see how much of Rick’s body is now pure cancer.
Turns out to be none. None cancer. In fact, Rick seems fine until the sun goes down, at which point Rick turns into the Hulk. Specifically swinging sixties this-is-what-Stan-and-Jack-thought-teenagers-sound-like Hulk. It’s hilarious.
Seriously, I had to fight hard to not just have every picture in this thing be shots of Rick Hulk calling Banner a square.
Anyway, Rick Hulk escapes into the night and Bruce gives chase. The Rick is spotted by General Thunderbolt Ross but he sneaks away using all the stealth power of a giant green greaser and hides in the desert. Banner eventually finds him but Ross never does. He’s eventually shipped back to Washington to fill out paperwork, dreams of wasting taxpayer money throwing tanks at the Hulk washed away.
Meanwhile, the Rick is about to smash the holy hell out of puny square Banner when the sun comes up. Bruce takes Rick to a secret underwater base out in the desert(?) where he can keep Rick stashed during the night while Bruce works on a cure during the day. It would actually be a pretty good plan if not for the fact that Loki decides that the best way to get revenge on Thor is to free the Hulk and then get him to blow up a bridge. Apparently Loki tricking the Hulk into blowing up a bridge is pretty standard across the multiverse.
Anyway, long story short. Hulk joins Avengers, beats up Loki, beats up Space Phantom, quits Avengers. At exactly that moment of Avengers quitting, Banner shows up and zaps Rick Hulk with his new cure laser. It turns Hulk back into Rick permanently. That done, Bruce ditches Rick to return to the exciting field of comic book science.
We jump forward a couple of months to Rick randomly wandering around New York when he happens to come across Captain America getting his ass whipped by Hydra* Agents. But while these mighty foes may be a threat to the Living Legend of World War II, they’re no match for a whiny harmonica player. Rick helps Cap defeat them and in return Cap agrees to train Rick to be the new Bucky. This seems like it’d be an important twist in the story but don’t be fooled. On a mission to fight more random Hydra guys, Rick Hulks out again and runs away. The fact that this issue of What If does not feature the Hulk dressed as Bucky is a huge missed opportunity.
So Rick runs away again and we jump forward another couple of months (Does Captain America come looking for his new sidekick? No, he does not.) to more random wandering. Say what you will about this issue, it certainly keeps alive the tradition of sad Hulk wandering. Suddenly, an image of Captain America appears guiding Rick to some strange bracelets. He puts them on because this is a superhero comic and is instantly contacted by Kree hero Captain Marvel. Marvel tells Rick that he must bang the bracelets together and when he does, Rick is transported to the Negative Zone. Which is basically space but you can breathe there. Which is lucky because Rick needs to breathe.** Marvel goes on to explain that Rick will only have to stay in the Negative Zone for three hours before he is swapped back and that he will be safe in the Negative Zone. Which is an outright lie because then Rick is attacked by giant metal bug monster Annihilus.
Huh. Really? Annihilus is in my googledocs spell checker? Alright then.
So Rick is getting his ass whipped by Annihilus when he suddenly blasts the ugly sonnuvabitch with new mind powers and is then rescued by a hideous giant green head. It’s the Supreme Intelligence! Ruler of the Kree Empire and gross thing! The Supreme Intelligence needs Rick’s special brain to stop a war with the Skrulls! Which happens off panel and ends with Rick bushed out on the ground. Rick finally returns to Earth and hooks up with a foxy lady named Lou Anne. He also tells Captain Marvel where to stick it because he’s frankly tired of always having to go to space. And frankly I don’t blame him. Kid’s been having a weird year.
Eventually Captain Marvel is forced to return when Rick is attacked at the lab of Professor Savannah (No, not the one you’re thinking of. Different Captain Marvel.) by a large gold man. He too is defeated off panel and Rick returns to the Negative Zone. This time, Lou Anne visits with Dr Banner and the two of them go to get help from Reed Richards, the only guy who knows anything about the Negative Zone. Bruce brings his giant Hulk shooting laser again.
Back in the Negative Zone, Rick has ended up in another fight with Annihilus, who is clearly stalking the little bastard. Rick turns into the Hulk again and he and Annihilus beat on each other for a while. Eventually, Bruce and Reed are able to zap Rick with the Hulk Laser, this time seperating Rick and Hulk into two people. While Rick is rescued by Reed and his gross stretchy arm, Hulk uses the martial arts he learned from Captain America to kick Annihilus into an asteroid where he explodes to death.
Rick returns to Earth, freed of the Hulk, Captain Marvel, Captain America, the Fantastic Four and various other Marvel super heroes and is able to freely date his attractive lady-friend, while playing the harmonica in places a harmonica ought not be played. In the Negative Zone, Hulk is worshipped as a hero and gets to jump around on flying rocks. A solid win for everybody!
*Hydra does not stand for anything.
**Rick’s needed to breathe oxygen since his first apparence in Irritating Baby Comics #1, True Believers! -Marvelous Matt