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How Hulk And Bruce Banner Could Settle Their Differences In Avengers 4

"Hulk. We got a lot to figure out, pal." 

Bruce Banner says these words at the end of Avengers: Infinity War, right after he kills Cull Obsidian. Earlier in the film, the Hulk tried and failed to take down Thanos. After that, Hulk refused to emerge. Many fans assumed the beating Hulk suffered scared him into hiding. We suggested some alternate theories, and one of them turned out to be right: On the commentary track for the home release of Infinity War, co-director Joe Russo explained that Hulk was was tired of Banner using him to solve his problems.

The first time Hulk refuses to emerge in Infinity War is when the Black Order comes for the Time Stone. Stark asks Banner if he wants to help and Banner says he doesn't — but "when do I ever get what I want?" If that line sounds familiar, it's because he said something similar when Black Widow recruited him in Avengers. Now the Russos are asking, "What about the life that Banner denies Hulk?"

If the Hulk's going to help his friends in Avengers 4, Bruce and his greener half are going need to strike a new balance. We won't know for sure until April 2019, but in the meantime, here are some ways Hulk and Bruce Banner could settle their differences in Avengers 4.

By healing old wounds

"I'm always angry." It's a much-loved line from Avengers, but it begs a question – why is Bruce Banner always angry?

Longtime Incredible Hulk writer Bill Mantlo gave a reason for Banner's rage. In 1985's Incredible Hulk #312, Mantlo introduced readers to Bruce's abusive father Brian Banner, who beat his wife and son regularly, eventually kill Bruce's mother when she tried to leave him. Mantlo's story established the idea that it was the abuse Banner endured that created the persona of the Hulk, while the gamma bomb from 1962's Incredible Hulk #1 gave that splintered personality a physical form. Another Hulk writer, Peter David, expanded upon the story in 1991's Incredible Hulk #377, when Banner and two different Hulk personalities were merged into one by facing Banner's childhood trauma.

It could be that in Avengers 4, the Russo brothers may choose to depict something like the trauma readers saw in Mantlo's and David's stories. This could be why Thor: Ragnarok cut a scene in which Banner, talking to Thor, mentions that years before, he was too busy to attend his father's funeral. If the Russos intend to introduce an adaptation of Banner's comics origin, it wouldn't make any sense to have him expressing regret over missing his father's funeral — especially since, in the comics, it was Banner who killed his father.

By locking horns

When the comics have shown Hulk and Banner meeting on some kind of mental plane, things often begin as they tend to with Hulk — violently. In nightmares or in psychic meetings coordinated by outside forces, it's the only time Banner faces the Hulk and often his first instinct is to run. Over the years, though, Banner has started to realize that when he and the Other Guy meet inside his own noggin, those big green muscles don't really mean that much. On the mental plane, Banner can be as strong as any Hulk, and often stronger.

If Avengers 4 does give us a similar mental "face-to-face" meeting between the two, it will likely at least begin with conflict. Both harbor anger and hate, and neither hate anyone as much as they hate each other. If they do fight, Hulk is in for a challenge. Fighting inside Tony's Hulkbuster armor in Infinity War, Banner got at least a little taste of what it's like to be like the Hulk, and even managed to kill one of Thanos' Black Order. The Banner that the Hulk faces will be one with confidence — and one who knows how to swing a punch.

By asking for help

Banner sees the Hulk as a curse and a horrific burden. Throughout Avengers, Banner refuses to call him by the name "Hulk"; the one time he slipped, he reacted like he'd just said a curse word in front of a toddler. How would you feel if the person who forces you to fix all of their problems not only didn't want you to exist except to solve those problems, but once you were done, he talked about you like you were a cross he'd been nailed to?

When Paul Jenkins took over the Incredible Hulk comic in 2000, he expanded further on the story of Bruce Banner's trauma, revealing dozens of Hulk personalities locked away in Banner's psyche in a three-part story during which readers saw Banner mentally battling a massive "Guilt Hulk." Of all the personalities who came to Banner's aid, the one he needed most refused — the classic, so-called "Savage" Hulk. The more childlike persona refused to aid Banner because he felt Banner had rejected him for years. In order to gain his help, Banner had to do the last thing in the world he wanted to do: to admit to the Incredible Hulk that he needed him.

It could be that this is what the Hulk of the MCU needs — for his more human half to acknowledge that he's needed. After all, Banner may have seven Ph.D.s, but he didn't use any of those to punch that space whale out of the sky in Avengers.

Because of a common enemy

We know now that fear Hulk didn't keep Hulk out of most of Infinity War. Still, you can be sure he remembers what Thanos did to him — and that he wants payback. Unfortunately for Hulk, we've also learned that Thanos didn't bother to use the Power Stone while fighting him. Thanos is stronger than the Hulk all on his own, and he's also a much more skilled warrior. The Hulk isn't used to facing enemies he can't take out by just plowing into them.

If the Hulk wants payback, he's going to need to depend on more than his muscles to get it, and that probably means Bruce Banner's brains. Banner doesn't know any kung fu that will help out his larger self, but he's a genius who can think on his feet. When he slapped the discarded Hulkbuster gauntlet on Cull Obsidian and sent the alien flying into the Wakandan force field, that alone showed more tactical ingenuity than we've ever seen from Hulk. It may be that in order to convince Hulk to play ball, Banner will have to prove he can help Hulk make Thanos pay for that beating on the refugee ship.

Because of a common love

There were rumors that Liv Tyler would finally be reprising her role as Betty Ross, Bruce Banner's former lover, in Avengers: Infinity War. That didn't happen, but now that we know Banner will need to find some resolution with the Hulk — and that Avengers 4 marks the final chapter in the MCU's Hulk trilogy — it's a perfect time for Betty's return.

In both the comics and 2008's Incredible Hulk, Betty is a touchstone for Banner and Hulk. It was never clear in the film if Hulk understood exactly who she was, but his actions showed he knew she was important and that he felt something like love for her. He risked everything to protect her from danger, and after the final battle, it was only her words that stopped him from killing Abomination.

Maybe there will be no deep, emotionally powerful revelations on any mental planes. If the Russo brothers wanted to take a shorter route, they could just have Thanos hurt Betty. If that happens, Hulk will come out — and a few minutes later we'll see a Thanos-shaped crater. On the moon.

With Bruce in charge

Bill Mantlo wrote a version of the Hulk who has since been named the "Banner Hulk." The era of the Banner Hulk was one in which Bruce Banner not only controlled his signature transformation, but kept control of the Hulk's body when he changed. The shift brought much needed stability to his life: He was given a presidential pardon for the Hulk's rampages, and for the first time in years, he was asked to rejoin the Avengers. Eventually, of course, things went sideways and the savage Hulk returned, but in the meantime, Incredible Hulk readers were served a more diverse dialogue palette and got to see the Hulk with neatly combed hair and fancy lab suits (complete with purple pants, because if it ain't broke...?).

It may prove impossible for Banner and Hulk to make peace. Banner may need to suppress the Hulk entirely and take complete control. If that happens, he could find himself with a new problem. The Banner Hulk of the comics eventually realized that his emotional rigidity didn't allow him to express the kind of rage of which the childlike Hulk was capable. Without that savagery, Banner Hulk couldn't handle enemies like Abomination, whose strength rivaled the Hulk's. If your strength comes from anger and you don't ever let yourself get angry, then you're like Hawkeye when he's out of arrows — useless.

With Hulk in charge

Bruce Banner isn't the only one who knows how to suppress. The Hulk probably can't spell "suppress," but he can still do it.

Some of the most well-remembered Hulk stories are those in which Hulk locked Banner away. In 2006's Giant Size Hulk #1, Banner's absence during the Planet Hulk storyline was explained by a mental struggle between Hulk and Banner which the Hulk won. It was this same version of the Hulk who returned to Earth in World War Hulk for vengeance. And it was that Hulk who – when Rick Jones told him "you are Banner" — corrected his old sidekick with the simple but powerful "No. Banner is me." And between the "No" and the "Banner," he punched Doctor Strange in the face. Which was great.

In a much bleaker example, Peter David and Dale Keown's classic Hulk: The End showed us a Bruce Banner who was literally the last person on Earth. A floating alien orb followed him and the Hulk around to record them for posterity. The Hulk fought almost daily battles against a swarm of super insects that would rip him to pieces. Banner occasionally tried to commit suicide, but Hulk would emerge to save them. The story ends when Banner, suffering a heart attack, pleads with Hulk to let them die. Instead, Hulk emerges and permanently suppresses Banner, and in doing so, the monster finally realizes how horribly alone he is.

With a merging

When Peter David revisited Bruce Banner's childhood trauma in 1991's Incredible Hulk #377; the issue ended with the personalities of Bruce Banner, the savage Hulk, and the grey Hulk merging into one new being. At the time he was known as the Merged Hulk, but he has since become better known as the Professor. He had the green Hulk's strength, the intellect of Bruce Banner, and the craftiness of the grey Hulk. Unlike the Banner Hulk of the '80s, the Professor wasn't hampered by any emotional barriers. Also, The Professor didn't change back and forth between Banner and Hulk. He was big and green all the time and physically more powerful than any other version of the Hulk.

We may see something closer to the Merged or Professor Hulk in Avengers 4. The reportedly leaked concept art showing, among other things, the Hulk in a new suit and with a very un-Hulk-like facial expression certainly points in the direction of a more merged version of the character. If that's the case, then the next question would be whether the films will follow the comics' example and have Banner permanently in Hulk form. If so, he'd save a lot on all the ripped pants.

With war on his mind

On the surface, the notion of Hulk and Banner working out their differences sounds like a good thing, but that isn't always the case. The Merged Hulk of Peter David's run on Incredible Hulk was not a picture of sanity. Sure, Banner's intellect stopped him from going on wild rampages, but that pairing also gave birth to a superhuman ego. With Banner's remarkable intellect looking at the world from a body that could level mountains, the man who was once scared of being noticed was sometimes convinced he was superior to any human. In 1992's dystopian miniseries Hulk: Future Imperfect, the Merged Hulk learned his ego would one day turn him into the Maestro — a futuristic, evil version of the Hulk who ruled over the last of humanity.

If the Maestro, or something like him, were to emerge as a result of Bruce and Hulk mending fences, it could mean a future Avengers sequel might bring us the big-screen adaptation of World War Hulk — the line-wide Marvel event in which Hulk got back at the heroes who exiled him to space in Planet Hulk. The situation would be different, since Hulk's stay on Sakaar in Thor: Ragnarok was very different from the comics, but as long as it featured Hulk beating up a bunch of other superheroes, it would be hard to complain.