This issue is so good it got reprinted as “True Believers #1.” Why is it so good? Because it’s a classic “very special” issue, in which Peter David adds a whole bunch of flesh to Bill Mantlo’s skeletal framework of young Banner being abused by a child.
The issue starts off with a therapy session that finally defines the various green/gray/Bruce aspects of Banner’s psyche. (With the help of Ringmaster’s hypnosis power to really put Bruce under.) The session is designed to marry the repressed memories/rage from the abused child elements introduced by Bill Mantlo with Mr. Fixit’s attempt to be a “cool dude” and raging Green Hulk’s desire to destroy everything.
You have to really read this comic. It may Peter David’s best work. But this panel is a good example of what he does:
All three Hulks spin in fear at the memory of the sound of Bruce Banner’s father’s voice.
And they collectively remember dad as a giant demon who killed their mother while they looked on, impassive, and helpless, as a child.
Samson helps them come to terms with the memory, shrinking dad from demon to old man.
To help with the deep hypnosis, Samson recruits Ringmaster.
With everything he’s done, why is anyone trusting him with his hypno-disc again? Well, turns out he just helps and goes back to prison.
At the end of the issue, Hulk is back.
It’s a great use of psychology in comics, but also an unusual one. Most of the time, psychotherapy in comics is a one-and-done issue in which a character offers a big reveal while lying on the couch. PAD’s Hulk, which explores the idea of subconconsience quite a bit, posits the idea that Banner’s daddy issues affected the way that the gamma power manifested in him, creating a literal split personality of which the two personalities cannot coexist. One is a mad, purely emotional beast. The other is an uptight scientist who can’t succeed despite his own brilliance because his inner child’s rage is constantly blocking him.
It’s one of the best single-issue stories of all time, according to this objectively accurate list.
Also: This cover got a tribute!