If you think about it, it doesn’t make a damn bit of sense.
Nuclear bombs emit gamma radiation anyway. There’s nothing special about that.
And the gamma bomb has never been shown to function as a neutron bomb does: does not preserve infrastructure while killing people, so it can’t be that…
And anyway what good is it to have a bomb that just puts out shitloads of gamma radiation? What’s the purpose of that? How is that militarily useful?
And why oh WHY is the one-and-only “secret formula” to building a gamma bomb sitting in Banner’s residence taped to the underside of a chair or something? Atomic bomb projects in the Cold War were many things, but “solo projects” weren’t one of them…poor old Igor should not have had to ransack Banner’s place to find his big secret; he should’ve been able to find out all he needed to know just by being a top scientist on the project for a number of years, right?
And why on EARTH does Igor fail to stop the countdown when Banner goes running out onto the test grounds to save Rick Jones? Doesn’t Igor still need Banner alive, if he wants to winkle out the gamma-bomb secret? Isn’t this what Igor’s been sent there to do? For that matter, why is it possible for Igor to simply refrain from halting the countdown? Would you organize your top-secret military installation so that there’s just one button in a room with one guy that can abort the nuclear test? Where are all the other people? Why doesn’t Banner halt the countdown himself? Why doesn’t anyone freak out when they see a man running out into the test grounds? What in heaven’s name is wrong with these people?
It doesn’t really need explaining, Bloggers; it’s just comics, after all.
But here’s my take on it regardless.
We begin with Igor. You know, for a spy he’s got a pretty shit cover, wouldn’t you say? “Hi, my name’s Igor, please let me into your top-secret nuclear facility during the height of Red paranoia.” But then if you think about it for a minute or two, it seems that Igor must not be your typical “spy”, right? Assistant to Bruce Banner is a reasonably elevated position, after all…because here is a guy who apparently got snapped up by the Army straight out of college: no published papers after his Ph.D thesis, no patent applications, living on isolated bases out in the desert, with a limitless supply of money and material to be a super-genius with, but no penthouse apartments and no Nobel Prizes. Have you seen the stuff Banner started making after he became the Hulk, by the way? It’s, uh…
And there are not exactly a ton of people in white coats poring all over it. I don’t even think Ross allows tours of the Banner Archive anymore, do you? Last time he did, we got the Abomination out of it. So no wonder that the only guy he lets monkey around with the machines in there is a dude whose training is in psychiatry! It’s probably just too dangerous to let anyone with a degree in physics or engineering so much as take a look at. All Banner’s stuff does is alter human biology in a really scary and totally unpredictable way, if you use it wrong…and no one knows how to use it right. Plus, it’s all definitely 100% lock-stock-and-barrel Property of the U.S. Army…oh, what’s that, SHIELD Director, you’d like to get some Bannertech for your fancy new helicarrier? That’s nice. I hear Tony Stark’s listed in the phone book and Who’s Who. Oh! And apparently Reed Richards — you’ve heard of him — lives in the middle of Manhattan, with an address and a doorman and an appointment book and everything. You should call him up, I think you two have a lot in common. Well, ‘bye now. Have fun dealing with those wonderful ethical scientists of yours, y’hear? AND WE NEVER HAD THIS CONVERSATION, YOU’VE NEVER HEARD THE NAME “BRUCE BANNER”, IS THAT CLEAR.
Banner is still on the payroll, isn’t he? Whenever he’s not the Hulk, he goes right back to his lab, making more freaked-out body-horror machines for Uncle Sam. Hey: even after all this time, Banner’s still an Army man! They bought him, and he’s gonna stay bought!
So why would they turn his work over to other people?
When that doubtless was not the deal. Let’s think about Igor for a minute; why is he there? Does General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross seem to you like the sort of guy who would allow a Russkie onto his top-secret Cold War base? Yet Igor is with Banner, and perhaps that makes the difference: the Army has one supergenius who’s all their own, that they don’t have to share, so you can imagine they try pretty hard to keep him happy. Hmm, I wonder what Banner’s Ph.D thesis was on, you know?
I wonder where he met Igor?
Let’s say it was when he was still in school. Maybe Igor was a fellow student. Maybe he was a visiting professor. And maybe Igor saw some of Banner’s work and realized this kid was onto something potentially earthshaking. Maybe he tried to take him under his wing, or otherwise befriend him. Maybe these were his orders. And maybe he thought he was succeeding. maybe they developed a good working relationship. Maybe Igor thought he and Banner really were gradually becoming friends.
But Banner doesn’t have friends.
Consider Banner the “milksop”: why does Ross put up with him? Because he has to. Why does Banner make Ross so apoplectic with rage? Because Banner is the most passive-aggressive little fucker you’ve ever met in your life, and Ross can’t win against him even one time. “A damn Russkie, on my base?!” “I’m sorry, General, but…that’s just the way I want it, you see. I have to be allowed to do my work.” Ross wants to fight, but Banner barely even sees the need to tell him he doesn’t have the time. Banner is King Shit around here, and everybody simply has to do what he says. A big control room full of people? No, General…I don’t think we’ll have that. I can handle it all just fine by myself from this console. Thanks for stopping by, I’m happy to take time away from my valuable work to keep you informed about how best to assist me. However, in the future perhaps it’d be more efficient if I just sent you a memo telling you how things are going to be? And you can even sign it, if you like.
Why does Betty Ross like Bruce Banner?
Because he can mess up her father without breaking a sweat. He can tie him in knots while cleaning his glasses, without so much as raising his voice. Ross is right about Banner, folks, you know what I mean? And his daughter’s just as right. And as for Igor…
Well, call it Stockholm Syndrome in reverse. Igor is spending all this time trying to crack Banner’s icy exterior, and nothing works. He bakes him a birthday cake. Banner leaves it on the table and says “well, it’s getting late, perhaps you’d better get your coat.” He offers help with calculations. Banner reluctantly gives him the ones an undergrad could do. He fetches coffee. He picks up dry-cleaning. He’s a world-class scientist in his own right, and he’s picking up dry-cleaning, and he’s the closest thing Banner has to a friend and he’s busting his ass trying to get close to him, and every time he thinks he’s making progress Banner says something or does something that shows he’s just a cold fucking bastard who can’t be reached. Igor’s getting so frustrated that he isn’t even following orders anymore, God help him he’s gotten to the point where he’s actually desperate for Banner to like him, and he just can’t make it happen no matter what he does. Because Banner is cold. Banner is dry. Banner isn’t human, he’s a robot or something! A robot designed only for extreme passive-aggresssive fucking-with-people. You walk into a room with that guy, and it’s like being in airless space, freezing to death. When Banner is in a room with you, there are fewer people in the room than there would be if you were there by yourself. Social relationships bend into uncomfortable shapes under the force of Banner’s antisocial gravity. No one can say anything right. Everything’s a disaster. And Banner doesn’t care.
Why didn’t Banner halt the countdown himself?
Because Igor is his flunky. Banner doesn’t push buttons; that’s what Igor is for.
So why doesn’t Igor halt the countdown?
You know, he should. He really should. His superiors would want him to; in fact they would threaten him with the most dire punishment for not doing so. And maybe tomorrow Banner will crack. Maybe he’ll ask for advice about the General’s daughter. Igor really thought maybe that was a break in the clouds, you know? Banner would be so hopeless at a romantic relationship, that for once he really would need Igor’s help…and then the shoe would be on the other foot. Igor could make Banner dependent on him, for advice about the lovely young Miss Ross. Where else, after all, could Banner go?
But it didn’t happen. Banner screwed up with Betty constantly, and the doe-eyed dimwit didn’t notice, didn’t care, why it actually seemed only to increase her ardour for this coldest of all possible cold fish. How could Banner get so lucky? Why wasn’t anything hard for him, why did he never get his comeuppance? Why didn’t he ever, not once, turn to Igor? Yet…there was always the possibility that tomorrow would see a breakthrough…some chink in Banner’s emotional armour simply had to appear eventually…and in many senses it was still an ideal set-up, Banner kept everything but everything about the gamma bomb project so compartmentalized that Igor was actually a hundred miles ahead of any other person who would possibly want to know how to build a gamma bomb, just by virtue of being almost close…
So, there was always tomorrow, wasn’t there?
For his mission?
In his heart, Igor knew that tomorrow would be the same as today, which was already the same as yesterday only worse. As all these days were. Knowing the man, one knew that there was no imaginable tomorrow on which Banner would suddenly become a person it was possible to make progress with, or even around. How many times had Igor dreamed of just running away in the night, leaving Banner behind him forever, getting revenge by having a good life, enjoying the treasure of simple daily experience that Banner valued so little it seemed he couldn’t even perceive it? Igor could go somewhere tropical and luxuriate by the sea. Get drunk with new friends, gamble and win at the roulette wheel to their excited cheers, so much backslapping that the space between his shoulderblades became sore with it. He could meet a girl, too: spend long languid evenings on the beach with her, talking of the stars in the sky. She would look at him with those same stars reflected in a deep, black, peaceful gaze…he could tell her of the work he once did, the life he once had, and she would understand. As porpoises leapt in the darkness beyond the reef, he would move closer to her, their two shadows becoming one on the silver moonlit sands…and he would send Banner a picture from their wedding, with no note.
He would not push the button.
Banner would not have told him to push the button. Better: Banner would have told him most definitely not to push the button. Everybody knew what Banner was like.
Banner was the only reason he was here. Anyone else, Ross would’ve overridden: “a Russkie, on my base?” And quite rightly, too: Igor might as well have showed up at the gates wearing a T-shirt saying “Hello My Name Is Russian Spy.” Banner was the only reason, he was the only reason, that Igor was here. And Banner was the reason, the only reason…
…That he couldn’t get away.
And so the button doesn’t get pushed. And Banner stops living. And Igor is free.
That isn’t what happens.
That isn’t what happens at all. Somehow Banner survives. For the love of all that’s holy, why does nothing ever happen to this man? Well, Igor will have a lot of time in Leavenworth to think about it, I guess…but from our more exalted perspective, we can see that he’s actually missed something important. Because somehow Banner does crack on that day, doesn’t he? Out onto the test grounds he runs, to rescue Rick Jones. Why does he do it?
What’s changed in him?
We’ll probably never know; one second later, the surface of the Sun touches down on the flats, and he’s changed again, and can never go back. Igor should’ve waited. But Igor just couldn’t wait anymore, don’t you see? And at least…at least…
The Americans don’t have the gamma bomb.
Whatever a “gamma bomb” is, and maybe only Igor could have told us, for years upon years. Banner, of course, never touched the Bomb again…perhaps he received an insight, on that day, that told him there was more to his research than anyone had yet imagined? Today in the Marvel Universe, apparently the U.S. Government stockpiles gamma bombs in tiny little towns in the Unfortunate States…but you know, I find it a bit hard to believe this. I don’t believe this. Because no one has yet managed to explain to me just what a gamma bomb is…
So let me tell you what I think it is.
It’s a nuclear bomb, that doesn’t require nuclear fuel.
A strange idea, eh?
But it fits the facts well enough, I think…and it goes a long way to supplying a rationale for Banner’s employment by the Army. Well, would anyone else look on a theory of nuclear reactions without nuclear fuel — not even hydrogen! — as anything other than a big hole in the ocean to pour money into? But to the U.S. Army, at the height of the Cold War, even the chance of making a bomb without uranium would be worth any investment. I must confess that Warren Ellis’ Planetary comes to mind, here…the bomb, you see, isn’t really a “bomb” at all. More like a lattice: an array. A bunch of copper and platinum, twisted in a way just so, that when the right thing is done to it at the right time something happens to spacetime. Perhaps it gets “pinched”, or “squeezed”? I read someplace that the word “zillion” is just a generic term for “any number greater than a centillion” — which is pretty cool, isn’t it? — and “gamma” is the same sort of thing, really: “any frequency higher than that of an X-ray”. So there’s no real “top” to the range of “gamma”, unless it is one set by the structure of spacetime itself…
And there probably is such a “top” to that range, actually, but this is comics so why don’t we say that the gamma bomb exceeds that energetic limit anyway? Yes: a pulse of gamma radiation — just gamma radiation, just light! — so intense that it runs over its own physical limits and creates an actual physical shockwave. Creates heat, creates sound, creates a mushroom cloud, creates all these waste products we associate with an uncontrolled fission or fusion reaction! But there’s really nothing “nuclear” about it, at least not in the primary stage: it’s just an electromagnetic event.
So…you know what the Army likes about this?
You could mass-produce it. Out of a few tons of copper and platinum. No uranium mines, no Livermore lab required! You wouldn’t even need radiation suits to work on it! All you’d need is a blueprint. And it isn’t just about bombs, or at least the device’s potential is greater than bombs, because think of all the things we use radioactive materials for in our world, that we could make easier and cheaper with a Bannertech substitute! Though naturally there are national security issues here: if all you needed to make a bomb was a blueprint, then one thing you could never do is let people get their hands on that blueprint…
But of course, there isn’t a blueprint. What Banner was doing is something no one understood at the time: building a giant thing the size of an apartment building according to some really specific plan he extracted from a technical elaboration of a theory he never revealed to anyone. In his Ph.D thesis, what the Army and Igor both noticed, there’s a purely theoretical sketch of the wringing of “nuclear” power from empty space…but that’s all there is, and all there ought to ever have been. Behind the locked doors of the Banner Archive at Hulkbuster Base, watched over by Thunderbolt Ross on direct Presidential authority, there’s everything Banner made with the blueprint, but the blueprint’s now forever only in his head, and the stuff he’s making isn’t just “medical instrumentation that doesn’t require isotopes”, it’s a wholly new application of radiative emissions to tissues…and, I think it’s fair to say that none of it is finished? But no new gamma bombs are even started, in there, so as much as mass-produced “gamma bombs” could’ve enabled them to win the arms race at a canter, it’s hard to see how the Army could’ve made any…I mean, if they didn’t have a blueprint, they would at least had to’ve had a model…a prototype?
There is one of those, actually. Though where it is I couldn’t tell you…but I know who it was made by. For there was another interested reader of the famous Ph.D thesis named Eliot Franklin, who went on to earn both his Ph.D and his nickname (“the black Bruce Banner”) by showing how to take Banner’s by-now-known-of apartment-block-sized gamma bomb array, and reduce it to the size of a canteloupe. But clever Dr. Franklin, reconstructing the gamma bomb without the aid of any blueprint and without even access to Banner’s own developed theory — just what was in the thesis! — is not an Army man, and he damn well was going to have the penthouse and the patents…
Though it must be said: he was probably taking his life in his hands by trying it. Dude, really, you’re going to patent the design for a handheld nuclear bomb anyone can make with parts from Radio Shack? Do you really want the Patent Office having that kind of geopolitical power? Somewhere a particularly shady branch of the CIA was coming up with rather messy contingency plans, before Dr. Franklin had so much as adjusted his tassel…
But it didn’t happen, because Richmond Enterprises stepped in, and we could theorize to an interesting extent about just what was going on there exactly…but we won’t, because all I really mean to show is that: if the gamma bomb uses nuclear material, then Dr. Franklin’s miniaturization of it doesn’t really make any sense, and boy oh boy would it be dangerous to handle if it did. So, perhaps this speaks to the plausibility of my little theory about it?
But I still don’t believe that the U.S. government mass-produced gamma bombs, even if they did get their hands on Franklin’s prototype (or what was left of it once Bruce Banner got done messing with it)…and you know why?
Because Franklin’s prototype came fifteen years too late (forty years, if you believe the Sliding Timescale) — by the time they had it in hand, the Arms Race could no longer be won, you see? If it ever could have been in the first place. Mass-produced bombs, well that’s just dandy, but once you have enough bombs to kill everyone on Earth ten times over, you might think of making new bombs but would there be much point in making hundreds of thousands of them?
At that point, the absurdity approaches Catch-22 levels. How could you even maintain your commitment to the arms race at all, if your next logical step is to increase the number of nuclear bombs by a thousandfold, like in a single calendar year? You couldn’t. That’d be crazy. Even the Army’s not that crazy! So you wouldn’t do it. You just wouldn’t.
…Although, if you did, and obviously you wouldn’t but if you did, and if before someone stopped you and tore the lettuce off your epaulets you had made, I dunno, like a run of twenty thousand bombs or something…then the logical thing to do would be to smash them all, but if they’d cost money to make, then the money would need accounting for, so…
…Maybe the Army would be crazy enough to save them?
So I take it back: I guess I do believe there’s some stockpiling that went on.
But hopefully all those bombs are nice and exploded now. Well, if you think about it…
I guess the Leader doesn’t want anybody going hog-wild with Bannertech either?
So he and Ross are on the same page on that one, probably.
And now if you will excuse me, Bloggers, for some reason I am suddenly keenly conscious of the fact that I may have mislaid my life around here somewhere. Oh, for Christ’s sake where is it…
I am always putting it down and then forgetting where I left it!
Maybe I left it outside…
Yes, I’ll check there.