As a bound Bruce Banner is pushed off a plank and into a pit by Owen Candler, he thinks to himself that he is not precisely sure when things went wrong. He has dim memories of his bruiting alter-ego arriving in characteristic fashion in the middle of this unspoiled wilderness. He remembers an enemy (the Man-Thing) and a flight from captivity. And he remembers an infinite weariness of body and soul. He remembers a dreamlike sensation of being lifted and carried. He remembers the shock of finding his dead wife not only alive, but apparently whole and happy in this unfamiliar place.
He also remembers meeting Owen Candler, the man who led this peaceful band of happy souls. And he remembers making the discovery that turned Candler’s supposed paradise inside out. The discovery that all of Candler’s seemingly human followers were really constructs formed out of living plant matter. And as all these memories flash in an instant through Bruce Banner’s mind, he finds himself facing the harsh reality of the present and the rather effective way Candler has of dealing with those who uncover his secret. Effective, that is, unless there is sudden and dramatic intervention.
Just then, the Vision appears and tells Doctor Banner not to be afraid. The moment of his death is not yet at hand. When Banner calls out the Vision’s name, Vision replies that he is the same. Catching Banner before he falls into the pit, Vision asks that it is fortunate, is it not, that the unique radiation signature of the Hulk’s body led them to within a few miles of there. Banner says “lucky” is only half a word. Seeing what has transpired, Owen Candler angrily asks by what authority they are intruding.
Arriving on the scene, Iron Man tells him only the very highest, the Avengers. Carrying the Scarlet Witch in his arms, Wonder Man adds a reasonable representation, at least. Scarlet Witch warns her teammates to be careful. She senses something, a force which permeates this place. Iron Man informs her that he hears her all right and tells Candler to start explaining and to start with the thing in the pit.
Standing at the end of the wooden plank, Candler tells Iron Man it is no “thing.” It is a wondrous work of nature, the ultimate salvation of the human race. Banner exclaims “I don’t think so Candler.” Iron Man asks Candler? Owen Candler? He knows the name, but isn’t he dead? Banner indicates that by every right, he should be. But he found a way to cheat death and to create this camp and these people. Wonder Man asks that he created these people? Banner replies yes and points out one of the ladies present and asks the Avengers if they know who she is. Scarlet Witch exclaims Betty Ross Banner. But, as Iron man believed of this man, Owen Candler, Mrs. Banner is...
Candler cuts her off and says dead. As he has already told Dr. Banner, these perfect people are formed from the images he holds of them in his mind. He took their names and faces from newspaper and magazine reports of recent deaths, and here gave them new life and new hope. Banner states that there’s somehow more to it than that. This isn’t just a physical copy of his late wife. She acts like Betty, she seems even to think like Betty. And, more than that, she’s the Betty he wants her to be, needs her to be.
Pushing some controls on his wrist sensor, Iron Man mentions that it’s just as he suspected. The whole area is alive with some kind of low-level psychic energy. Nothing his sensors can properly identify but it seems to be in everything. Scarlet Witch adds that must be what she sensed upon arrival. Vision remarks that he too senses a subtle disturbance in the energy fields of the whole area. Wonder Man asks if they suppose that’s what’s causing the weird tingle he has at the back of his neck. Iron Man replies that it makes sense. That means they have to be on alert, in case this energy is more than just benign background noise.
Punching Iron Man and destroying his arm sensor, Candler calls them fools and exclaims that they are as bad as Banner. He shows them the path to paradise but they are too full of fear to see it. Iron Man says to Candler that’s quite an arm he has there. No normal man would have been able to snap off his sensor like that. Candler exclaims that his strength is as the strength of ten because his cause is just. Banner tells him that he doesn’t think so and holds up Candler’s arm. He then says that he thinks they may have discovered his little secret. “Betty,”in shock, says that Bruce said was true. They’re not human, they’re all plants. Candler tells his followers not to believe it, they must not...
Having had enough, Iron Man pushes a control on the breast plate of his armor and says that he doesn’t pretend to even begin to understand what’s going on around there but his onboard computers have finished analyzing the psychic radiations and he thinks he can generate a neutralizing wavelength. Let them find out, shall they? Just then, Candler’s followers, as Wonder Man points out, begin to dissolve. Vision says more precisely, they are reverting. As “Betty” falls back into Bruce’s arms and dissolves into a pile of plants, Bruce is distraught. If it can be said there is no worse fate than for a man to face the death of his beloved wife, then what can be said of the effect on the mind and soul of a man who has now been made to witness this tragedy twice in the space of a year?
Turning towards Candler, Bruce angrily calls him a maniac. He did this, him and his insane scheming. Candler orders Banner to stay back. Injured he may be, but he can still crush him like a bug. Iron Man interjects only if they let him. Wonder Man then notices that something is happening with Banner. At that moment, Bruce Banner begins to transform into the monstrous Hulk. As he does, he mentions that Candler said it was plant spores and pollen that had infiltrated his system and were retarding the change. But it wasn’t, it was the psychic energy of the plants. Now that’s gone and now Hulk is here.
With that, Hulk knocks Candler across the swamp with a mighty punch. Once he does so, Wonder Man says “uh oh.” Iron Man proceeds to tell his fellow Avengers to do it by the number – subdue and contain. Punching the Hulk, Wonder Man says that it’s just like old times. Recovering quickly, Hulk smacks Wonder Man away and tells him that he knows him; he has tried to hurt Hulk before. Vision points out that brute force is of little use against a creature who is pure brute force and flows through the Hulk’s chest from behind. Noticing that his attack produced little effect, Vision is surprised that his spectral form does not seem to have the same numbing effect on him as on other mortals. Taking a swipe at Vision, Hulk exclaims that he cannot hurt Hulk, no one can hurt Hulk. Vision replies perhaps, but neither can he hurt what he cannot touch.
As Vision, Scarlet Witch, and Iron Man unleash their blasts upon the Hulk, the tranquility of the swamp is shattered in what seems to be less than a heartbeat. These are four of the most powerful humans on Earth and the monster called Hulk has the potential to match and exceed even their combined power. In his hands, everything is a weapon. Clapping his hands knocks the heroes away. Wonder Man reenters the fray and drops a boulder on the Hulk. The Hulk is able to easily shake it off and rips up the ground beneath him, causing debris to fall from the sky.
Before the Hulk’s power, however, nothing is an obstacle. Power that can shatter mountains meets force that can level cities. And though the destruction is terrible to behold, in the end it is pointless. Iron Man says to his fellow Avengers that this is getting them nowhere fast. He’s just getting madder and they all know what that means. Summoning her power, Scarlet Witch agrees with Iron Man. The madder the Hulk gets, the stronger the Hulk gets. But strength is no use against her hex power.
At that moment, Wonder Man points out that the ground is splitting open under the Hulk and asks Wanda if that is what she meant to happen. When a number of giant vines emerge from the ground, Iron Man informs Simon that he doesn’t think Wanda did that. Saving Wanda from being ensnared by the vines, Vision asks her if Iron Man is correct. Is this not what she expected of her hex? Wanda replies that she supposes she might have caused the bad timing. Awesome and terrifying as the great plant creature might have seemed, nestled deep in its steep, walled pit, nothing has prepared these onlookers for the full scope of the thing.
The ground bucks and buckles for acres around. The full extent of the monster’s root system may well stretch miles into the surrounding swamp. And at that precise moment when it seems things can get no worse, they do when the gigantic plant emerges from the ground and makes its way across the swamp floor. Battling the vines, Iron Man tells his teammates to do what they can without doing too much damage. These things many not be human, but they seem to be intelligent. Wonder Man adds that they don’t want to start killing things until they know what they are. He’s with Iron Man on that page. Wrapped up by the vines, Hulk exclaims that plants attack, people attack, everyone always attacks! Why won’t they leave Hulk alone!?
As the Hulk asks this all-too-familiar question, others who have interest in the Hulk press on with their own concerns. Watching on a monitor, one of Tyrannus’ Tyrannoid followers informs him that they have found the Hulk. Tyrannus replies that he can see that, fool. He can also see that the Avengers have involved themselves in this matter. Good! He then orders his followers to prepare the manipulator. His plan may have gone somewhat off course, but this situation presents a perfect opportunity to correct that fault. One of his followers asks if he’s sure, he is not yet fully recovered from...
Punching him away, Tyrannus says to him that he has not asked for an opinion. For his plan to work, the world must fear the Hulk as they never have before. He then orders them to hurry. In the rage of battle, the Hulk’s meager mind will be sufficiently distracted that he will not be able to resist him as before. His followers do as they are instructed but implore him to allow them to at least be prepared to break the contact, should it be necessary. Enraged, Tyrannus asks them has he not taught them well enough never to question his commands. Thinking for a moment, Tyrannus concedes that they are right. Prepare an emergency cut-off switch but do it as he prepares to take control of the Hulk once more. On his command, the manipulator helmet is lowered on Tyrannus’ head.
Many miles away, on the surface, the strange alliance of the Avengers and their quarry, the Hulk, continues as their common foe, a gigantic plant, grows stronger and stronger with each passing moment. But as the green menace grows more powerful, so too does one who shares its color. As the Scarlet Witch has so accurately observed, the Hulk’s great strength is inextricably linked with his rage. And the madder he gets, the stronger he gets. But the rage that gives him greater and greater strength also darkens and clouds his intellect. So much so that there comes a time when almost nothing remains of the brilliant mind of scientist Bruce Banner and all that controls and drives the Hulk is the fury and instinct of the most primordial beast.
After the Hulk has ripped apart a large portion of the plant in his rage, Wonder Man points out to Iron Man that it looks like mean green has reduced their options. That notion of his to hold off killing anything... Iron Man finishes his thought – just went out the window. He then wonders what in the blazes that sound is. On the ground, Scarlet Witch says she hears it too. It is coming from the other side of this mass of vegetation. Using her hex power, she opens up a passage that will let them see what...
The Witch does not complete her thought. Mere words are stricken from her mind by the sight of Owen Candler that greets her eyes and by the sound that assails her ears. In all the long history of life on this planet we call Earth; the great mass of the plant kingdom has been denied one gift shared by almost all the other kingdoms. Throughout the billions of years since life appeared there, the plants have been universally mute – until today. Now it is as if all the silent rage of the plants is released in a single, terrifying sound. Now it is as if all the suffering of plants at the hands and claws and teeth of animals is unleashed through this one vessel. The effect upon those mammals present to bear witness is as of ten thousand fingernails scraped across ten thousand blackboards.
Seeing what is transpiring before them, Scarlet Witch inquires what is happening to Candler. Vision states that it would appear he is disassembling himself. Wonder Man asks if there any thoughts on how they get him to stop. Candler yells out NOOOOO! There is nothing they can do. There is nothing anyone can do. He was wrong, he was so very, very wrong. The plants did not save his life, they consumed his life. He is no longer Owen Candler, he is only a thing that remembers being Owen Candler.
Wonder Man informs him that he has some small experience in that department. Let them help him and maybe they can... Candler tells him no, there is nothing he can do. There is nothing anyone can do. How many times must he say it? It’s all over, it’s all over. Owen Candler is dead and now everything will die. The plants will do what he commanded them to do, they will consume everything. As Candler runs off, Iron Man calls out to him to come back. Vision states that he can apprehend him easily but Iron Man tells him first things first. They finish this thing, the gigantic plant, and then they go after Candler. He won’t get far in the swamp.
Not far at all. The living mass that once thought itself a man named Owen Candler has managed to push and slog his way no more than a hundred yards into the dense under-growth of the swamp. But he is oblivious to his surroundings, oblivious to the hulking shape which now seems almost to form itself out of the living swamp. Madness has consumed that little which might have been called the mind of Owen Candler. Fear is the engine that now drives his thoughts and limbs. And as those who have had the misfortune to encounter this sudden apparition know whatsoever knows fear burns at the Man-Thing’s touch.
It does not take long for Candler to burn to a crisp at the touch of Man-Thing. A few seconds and a lie that has lasted a lifetime is ended. And if the Man-Thing himself has any notion of what has here transpired this day, it is a thought that lives no more than the span of a human heartbeat within the mass of knotted roots and tendrils that form his brain.
Unaware of the brief, small drama unfolding but a few hundred feet of their location, Iron Man and the Avengers witness that the plants around them are dying. Iron Man informs his fellow Avengers that his sensors read an enormous loss of energy; the whole ecosystem is virtually evaporating. As Owen Candler told Bruce Banner, nothing of the real swamp remained, only the constructs he had shaped in his mind. With that mind now gone, so too are gone the things which were dependent upon it. Including, it now seems, the very thing which has brought about this sudden ending – Man-Thing.
We have wondered if this was truly the creature called the Man-Thing or perhaps, only some memory of him, held within the slow, green thoughts of the living swamp. Once that which remembers dissolves into nothingness, so too must come an ending of the memory. Once most of the vegetation in the swamp is gone, Wonder Man asks what the heck happened there. Iron Man replies he has no idea and he has a sneaking hunch he never will. But he has another question – where in blazes is the Hulk?
The answer is several hundred miles away. Frustrated by his battle with the seemingly unconquerable plant monster, the Hulk simply left. Now, his awesome leaps having carried him far from the battle, he lands in a wooded area far from the swamp. The place is peaceful, the sound and fury of battle is nowhere to be found. The rage passes from the Hulk’s mind as quickly as it came. He allows the tranquility to soothe him, this great green monster who, in the end, has asked no more of the world than that it leave him alone. He drops his guard and fails to notice the strange craft that parallels his path through the woods.
Up in the aircraft, the pilot informs its passenger that the target has been acquired and to move out before it takes off again. The passenger tells him not to give him orders bub. He’s there because he wants to be, not because they own him. With that, he leaps out of the aircraft and into the woods below.
On the ground, Hulk sees something fell from the small airplane and makes his way over towards where it landed. As he does, he asks that someone else came to attack Hulk, someone stupid enough to attack Hulk? He then calls out to the stupid one and tells them that if they have come to fight him, Hulk is ready for him. For a moment, only the silence of the forest responds. The Hulk picks up the strange empty husk and wonders what it is. Emerging from a nearby cave, Wolverine replies yeah, he’s there for a fight greenie. And this time, it’s gonna be the last fight for the Hulk anyway. They go back a long way, they’ve danced this dance before. And now it’s over!