Standing astride the pathway at the interdimensional intersection known as the Crossroads, Dr Bruce Banner is wearing only purple briefs and he hugs himself as the darkness and strange objects surround him, while a bizarre tree has branches literally pointing in every direction along the Crossroads. Dr Banner was once upon a time a famous physicist - inventor of the Gamma Bomb. The radiation released by the detonation of that device transformed Banner into the brute behemoth men called the Incredible Hulk, and, after years of anguish, Banner chose to die in order to be free of that curse. But “death”, it seemed, was somewhat less than permanent. Now, rather than go on sharing his existence with a monster, Banner intends to try to end his life once again - if he can.
Unknown to Banner, his plight was observed only moments ago by he who is from Beyond. The Beyonder quickly vanished, but not before altering the trajectory of a strange energy probe he sensed coming from Earth. The probe initially missed its target - but, with the Beyonder’s help, it is not on its way back to the Crossroads, where it will dramatically affect the lives of Bruce Banner and the Hulk.
‘Courage! I must have courage!’ Bruce tells himself, before wondering why, as he died once before. He recalls how, on that day, when all his hopes of finally being able to control the monster within him were shattered - the day when Nightmare released the savage Hulk from his subconscious. Bruce remembers begging Dr Strange to set him free, and Strange did - leaving him to surrender himself completely over to the Hulk to seek revenge on Nightmare - and so Bruce Banner chose to die, or so Bruce thought.
Bruce crouches down and peers over the side of the path, deciding that it appears life and death are not quite the concrete concepts, the immutable states of being he always supposed them to be. ‘In other words, even though I believed that I was finally blessedly dead, that I was at last free of the curse of becoming the Hulk - I was wrong!’ Bruce tells himself that some insane instinct of self-preservation kept him dormant, but alive so deep inside the Hulk’s brute brain that his reason was incapable of moderating the monster’s rage. ‘Well, not quite! Apparently, even then some aspect of my persona emerged to guide the Hulk, keeping him alive in order to keep me alive’. Bruce decides that the Hulk needed help -he was hunted and hounded by soldiers and super-heroes - no being as savage as he could be allowed to remain on Earth.
Bruce imagines that it was Dr Strange, who, in the end, made the choice between executing the Hulk and exiling him to some other dimension. ‘Or to the many other dimensions accessible from this…this Crossroads!’ Bruce decides. He tells himself that the Hulk was exiled - banished off Earth so that he could never wreak havoc again. ‘Only nobody counted on Bruce Banner still being alive, on my coming back!’ Bruce tells himself as he stands up. ‘But, then…how could they have? I said to Dr Strange that I’d rather be dead than be the Hulk! Yet Strange couldn’t - wouldn’t kill me’ Bruce thinks to himself.
Bruce wonders if he was wrong to ever have asked others to do a job he would have been better off doing himself. Without giving himself time to reconsider, Bruce hurls himself headlong off the pathway on which he stands - and plummets directionlessly through the abstract ether that constitutes the realty at the Crossroads. For what does he hope? To dash himself against some unyielding surface? There is no such surface here as the ether changes around him. To drown himself, perhaps beneath some inestimably deep ocean? Of that fate, too, he is cheated.
For it is with good reason that this place is called the Crossroads. It is a place where many pathways intersect, where many roads cross, and yet a traveler taking any route stretching on forever before him will nonetheless soon find himself back precisely at the same point from which he set forth. ‘I can’t even kill myself! I can’t even die!’ Banner shouts. ‘I’m cursed, I’m doomed, and I can’t ever be free!’ With the realization of his helplessness, Bruce Banner’s rage begins to build - and the howling horror that assumes his place evinces no desire to die at all!
‘GRRAARRR!’ booms the Hulk as he waves his arms about, continuing to fall through the ether that surrounds the Crossroads. ‘Hulk is…falling? No! Hulk sees there is no up here! No down!’ he remarks, adding that he does not understand. Hulk declares that he does not want to understand, he just wants to get out. A handhold in a substantial energy field ends the Hulk’s floating freefall, as he holds onto the side of what looks like a whirlpool. But holding firm, that just leaves the Hulk with his next problem - ‘Where is out?’ he asks. Not knowing, not able to know, the Hulk snarls and sweeps comprehension aside. After all, the Hulk’s credo has ever been, when in doubt…act! Hulk announces that he will climb and find his way out of this place. ‘Hulk will do what Hulk always does! Hulk will live! Hulk will always survive!’ he booms as he begins to climb.
And, somewhere trapped once again inside the green gargantuan’s subconscious mind, the essence of the man that is Bruce Banner senses the Hulk’s thoughts, knows the Hulk is right…and weeps.
A change has come over this Hulk. No longer is he the screaming, mindless monster whom Dr Strange banished to the Crossroads. No, with the rebirth of Bruce Banner, the status quo that Nightmare had disrupted when he freed the Hulk’s savagery from Banner’s rational restraints has been partially re-established. Hulk walks across a sand-like platform, before trudging through a watery platform. He is as he was when the long nightmare began - when a powerful burst of gamma rays gave monstrous form to the rage that had always seethed beneath Bruce Banner’s outwardly implacable surface - thus, we have once again a still savage, but also somewhat sentient Hulk.
A Hulk whose power increases in proportion to his anger…but also a Hulk who, in those moments when he rests from his raging…will allow the mind and body of Bruce Banner to emerge and take control once more. So it was at the beginning, so shall it ever be, a curse without end. Reaching the pathway that twists and turns through the ether of the Crossroads, Hulk climbs onto it and gazes around, realizing that he knows this place. ‘Hulk’s friend - Magician - sent Hulk here. But Hulk doesn’t remember why!’ the Hulk declares, before realizing that he knows it is not a good place, and recalls that he has known both hurt and hunger here. Looking at the tree that points in every direction, the Hulk booms that he wants to go home. His howl echoes the length and infinite breadth of the Crossroads…as the Beyonder’s intervention is, at last, about to affect the green behemoth!
As the energy strikes the Hulk, he lurches backwards and shouts in pain - the Hulk gets the impression that he has been injected with a thousand live electrically-charged needles. Desperately, he tries to pull the offending energy-line from his back, but the spot where it struck him and adhered lies just beyond his reach. The Hulk has been “hooked” - just as the behemoth Klaatu was hooked by the laser-harpoon of Xeron, the Star-Slayer. Just as the energy-eater sought to release the Star-Slayer’s hook by fleeing through the dimensional portals opening onto the Crossroads - so too does the Hulk instinctively attempt to escape his torment by running through portals to other worlds.
‘Hulk must escape! Hulk must be free!’ the behemoth booms as he lands on the first world - where he finds himself in a robotic realm. Several robots gather around, and one of them declares ‘Observation! An organic life form has appeared - origin unknown’. Its automaton inhabitants instantly decipher the Hulk’s speech, and analyze his situation. One of the robots states that the organic acts irrationally, while another analyses fear and anger that predominate. A third robot makes a preliminary conclusion - that the cause of fear is the energy line, and adds that removal of the energy line may alleviate fear.
Another robot queries as to whether the energy line can be removed, while one of the earlier robots states that for recordation purposes, it is putting the query to a test. But as the robot tugs at the energy line, it announces ‘Negative response to query: energy line cannot be severed’. The robot offers its conclusion - that the organic is beyond their help. The Hulk howls - and vanishes through another portal in the Crossroads. ‘Observation: Curioser and curioser!’ the robot states.
Dr Strange did not banish the Hulk from Earth to punish the green goliath. No, the mystic master hoped that, somewhere amidst the cornucopia of world’s accessible from the Crossroads, the Hulk would find one world where his savagery would neither cause harm to others, nor cause harm to be done to the Hulk. Wanting to give the Hulk the power to choose a home where he could find whatever it is a monster experiences as happiness…Strange implanted a failsafe spell deep in the brute beast’s brain - a spell that would carry the Hulk back to the Crossroads from any world where he found himself disconnected, thus allowing him to choose again - and again - and again.
He passes from a realm with strange frog-like creatures, to one with jellyfish-like beings floating across a barren landscape, before landing in another world, where yellow-skinned creatures run from him in fear. ‘No matter where Hulk goes - no matter how many strange doors Hulk passes though - Hulk cannot get free from line!’ Hulk booms as he throws a cart into the air, while the line wraps around him.
Another world, with prehistoric-like creatures, Hulk flails about in a lake, struggling to reach for the line, he shouts that on world after world, the story is always the same. ‘Either Hulk can’t reach energy-line - is kept too busy to try - or can’t break line when Hulk finally gets his hands on it!’ the Hulk shouts as he struggles to fight off a tentacled creature on one world, and manages to grab hold of the line on another world, as strange flying fish-like creatures hover around him.
Another ancient world, ‘Energy-line is making Hulk mad, and when Hulk gets mad - Hulk smashes!’ the behemoth booms as he indeed smashes over an ancient pillar. Unoffending worlds bear the brunt of the Hulk’s rage, and he thus attracts the attention of those who try to aid him, if only to so that he will leave those world’s intact, including a large blue-skinned, horned being, who attempts to cut the line.
But to no avail, and the Hulk moves on to another world. For no matter who tries, or what manner of science or sorcerery is bought to bear…the energy-line will not be severed and the Hulk’s anger goes unappeased. More robotic creatures surround him on one world, before the Hulk grabs the line, and shouts ‘Who has done this to Hulk? Hulk wants to know! Hulk wants to KNOW! WHO!’ he booms ever so loudly that it resonates across the Crossroads, as he stands by the pointing tree.
At that moment, something light and ethereal, and strangely, frighteningly human in appearance, comes flashing along the length of the energy line…to cause an almost unbearable instant of agony to both the monster - and the man trapped within him ‘What is happening to me?’ Bruce wonders as the energy form collides with the Hulk. There is a ZAP, and an instant later, Bruce’s spirit hovers in the ether of the Crossroads, staring down at the Hulk, the line still attached. ‘Good Lord! I - I’m floating apart from the Hulk! But if I’m free of my green-skinned alter-ego, then does that mean that the apparition I saw before it happened is trapped within the Hulk?’ Bruce exclaims].
‘Trapped, Dr Banner?’ the Hulk asks, examining his form. ‘I don’t know if that’s quite the right word to describe the current state…of a very grateful Walter Langkowski!’ Bruce’s spirit form looks shocked: ‘Walter Lang…? I once roomed with you back at the university, years before I became the Hulk and you became the super-hero known as -’ he begins, recalling their time together, ‘Sasquatch!’ Walter, still inside the Hulk’s form, replies, before revealing that is where all his troubles began. Walter explains to Bruce that he was trying to duplicate his research with Gamma rays in order to turn himself into a second Hulk. He thought he had succeeded, but it was a all a trick, as there were ancient forces in the world - legendary Great Beasts, long imprisoned, who seized on Walter’s experiments to make him a vessel for their accursed power.
Walter continues, explaining that Sasquatch was born, and for a while, he was perhaps the mightiest member of Alpha Flight - but the Great Beasts took control, and his teammates were forced to kill him. ‘To kill my body, that is’ he explains, revealing that they managed to find a repository for his soul inside the robotic Box armor. ‘I guess I could’ve stayed there, but instead of a man I felt like a ‘57 Buick!’ Walter remarks. Walter reveals that there is a woman on Earth - Aurora - and that he longed to hold her again with arms capable of feeling, and to kiss her with lips able to taste her love. ‘For both our sakes, I wanted to be human again…or as close to human as I could get’ Walter declares.
Walter informs Bruce that to help him, Alpha Flight went fishing - ‘You heard me right!’ he adds, before telling Bruce that since his Sasquatch form really belonged to a being from another dimension, they theorized that they might be able to find a suitable replacement body from a similar source. ‘And your search led you to…the Crossroads!’ Bruce exclaims. Walt explains that Roger Bochs, Alpha Flight’s resident genius, cast his net wide, but yet, their search for a mindless body into which he might merge his soul led them here. Bruce replies that he understands, and tells Walter that until just a little while ago, the Hulk was mindless, but now he is doomed to share his existence with the howling green horror all over again.
‘Doomed? I’m the one that’s doomed!’ Walter snaps, declaring that taking over this body was his only hope of living again. He explains that they never got a clear image of the body they detected at the Crossroads - they never knew it was the Hulk whom they cast their energy-line towards. ‘And now that I know - I wish I had never tried!’ Walter declares. Bruce asks Walter why, and tells him that there is no reason to despair, that he can keep the Hulk’s body. ‘Displace my mind inside the behemoth! Maybe in that way I can at last be free!’ Bruce exclaims. ‘Maybe in that way I can finally…die’.
Walter, still in the Hulk’s form, looks puzzled, and asks ‘You mean…you’d give me this body? You’d die - let your astral form dissipate - that I might become the Hulk? That I might live…I’d be a monster - but would I ever be a man again?’ Walter drops to the pathway, and slumped over, ‘Does it matter? There would be no Walter Langkowski to revert to in moments of calm - that body was destroyed. But at least I’d have the power needed for me to stay in Alpha Flight - and the physicality to keep Aurora happy!’ Walter decides, before realizing what he is saying: ‘Good Lord, listen to me! I must be insane! I was there when the world declared the Hulk to be a hero!’
Walter tells Bruce that he is a hero, to self-sacrificingly offer his life for Walter’s happiness. Walter informs Bruce that he has tried to emulate him his whole life, that he is going to do it one more time. ‘Now I’ve got to be the hero I always pretended to be - and face my fate without asking you to give up your future!’ Walter exclaims. Walter reminds Bruce that he has gotten control over the Hulk before, and he knows he can do it again. ‘Thank you, Bruce Banner, for showing me - how a hero dies!’ Walter declares as his soul leaves the Hulk’s form. ‘Langkowski!’ Bruce shouts out. ‘For the love of Heaven, man, didn’t you understand me? It wasn’t an altruistic offer I was making! I don’t want to live if it means sharing my life with the horror men call Hulk!’ Bruce explains.
Bruce watches as Walter’s soul continues to slide from the Hulk, and Bruce remarks that the Hulk’s personality is actually his rage personified. ‘Should you become the Hulk, you’d have full control over his monstrous power! Use if for good and…’ Bruce’s voice trails off, as the soul of Walter Langkowski ,not native to this body, has already removed itself from Banner’s alter-ego. Now, no longer extending a conscious will to hold his astral form together, and deaf to Banner’s cries, Walter allows himself to dissipate. And with his departure from the body of the Hulk, a vacuum is created - one the native soul-force to this body cannot resist. Bruce Banner once again finds himself locked in a desperate struggle to prevent his being merged with the monster again.
‘No! I don’t want to be the Hulk! I want to be free!’ Bruce exclaims, and screams as his soul is sucked back inside the Hulk’s body. The reunion of man and monster has been consummated - and in that cataclysmic commingling, Bruce Banner’s life once again becomes a curse. The shock to both man and monster is great - for a moment the body of the Hulk stands motionless, paralyzed by the warring minds within it. And in that moment, when the Hulk is least able to exert any of his prodigious power to resist - there comes a mighty tug on the energy line - and the Hulk is hauled from the Crossroads by whatever is pulling him. Now, the interdimensional intersection’s only inhabitant is the dissipating astral form of Walter Langkowski, who watches as the Hulk is pulled away.
The Hulk cries out as he is tugged through the Crossroads. ‘Again energy-line pulls at Hulk! Pulls Hulk away! Pulls Hulk - where?’ the behemoth wonders. An instant later, he finds himself back on Earth - and in the laboratory belonging to Roger Bochs, who, as Box, holds an interdimensional fishing rod, its energy line attached to the Hulk. Most of Alpha Flight is present - Northstar, Aurora, Shaman and Puck, as well as team leader Heather McNeil Hudson and Alpha Flight’s associate, Madison Jeffries. ‘Sapriste!’ gasps Northstar. ‘Good Heavens!’ Heather exclaims as they see the Hulk before them. Aurora asks Box if he is sure that this is her Walter, to which Box replies that Walter sent his life-force out along the energy-line that he cast across the dimensions.
‘If that’s not Langkowski, then who can it be?’ Madison asks. ‘A beast as great as Sasquatch himself’ Shaman replies, adding that it is a creature whose body would have been a perfect host for their teammate’s mind. But Puck points out that from the way the monster is growling, he thinks that perhaps Alpha Flight has made a mistake. ‘We may have cast out our line with Walter Langkowski as bait - but I feat that all we have caught is the Incredible Hulk!’ and with that, the Hulk sneers and growls at Alpha Flight….