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Marvel Comics reveals Earth's first gay super-couple

In one of the most recent issues of Avengers, comic readers got to meet the earliest same-sex couple in Marvel's long history.

In Avengers #26, which hit shelves on November 20, 2019, we meet Vnn and Brrkk — two cavemen who leave their respective tribes because they know they're different in ways their prehistoric brethren won't understand. The smaller and brainier of the two, Vnn, receives some kind of psychic call to a lush Eden-like garden where he and Brrkk briefly share an idyllic existence. Unfortunately, the lovers' peace is disturbed by marauding Deviants — the monstrous, evil answer to Marvel's more heroic Eternals

Initially repelled by the brawny warrior Brrkk, the Deviants soon renew their assault from underground with a drilling machine. The attack kills Brrkk and unearths the corpse of a T-Rex, which was revealed earlier in Avengers #26 to be Earth's first wielder of the Star Brand, a brand that gifts its bearer power limited only by their own mind. Vnn scrambles into the pit in hopes of saving his lover, but instead finds Brrkk lifeless. He's subsequently infused with the Star Brand power from the dinosaur's corpse. While the hero name given to him after his transformation is Starbrand, he bears a striking resemblance to another Marvel hero: the Incredible Hulk. (More on that in a bit.)

Who is Starbrand?

Written by Jason Aaron, Avengers #26 is part of a story that's been brewing ever since Marvel's 2017-2018 line-wide relaunch Marvel Legacy. During Legacy, we learn that Thor's father Odin was once at the head of a prehistoric team of Avengers that included the Phoenix Force, a Ghost Rider who rode a Woolly Mammoth instead of a motorcycle, Earth's first Sorcerer Supreme Agamotto, the first Iron Fist, Wakanda's earliest Black Panther, and Starband. Intermittently throughout the current run of Avengers, the narrative takes a break from the present to tell us an origin story of one of the prehistoric heroes. In Avengers #26, Starbrand has his time to shine, with the issue's synopsis promising the story tells "the secret, savage origin of the biggest, nastiest, most cosmically-powered caveman who ever lived."

The name "Starbrand" hails from Marvel's short-lived mid-80s "New Universe" imprint. The Star Brand was a hero gifted with seemingly limitless power, with the only cut-off point being the boundaries of his imagination. The comic Star Brand took place outside Marvel's prime continuity, but during the Avengers volume that began in 2013, Jonathan Hickman brought the concept to Earth-616.  Earth's most recent Starbrand hero was killed in the 2018 one-shot Marvel Legacy #1, but future Avengers solicitations point to a new Strarbrand-centered storyline called "Starbrand Reborn." 

Is Starbrand a Hulk?

Now, let's be clear: the hero Vnn transforms into is never referred to by name as "Hulk." Once he transforms, his fellow B.C. Avengers know him only as "Starbrand." But there are some compelling reasons to think he might be connected to more green-skinned (and sometimes gray- or red-skinned) giants.

Firstly, Vnn-as-Starbrand is drawn in a way that resembles the Incredible Hulk — just with different-colored skin and features that skew a bit more closely to the Red Hulk than the Jade Giant. This makes sense given that the guest artist on Avengers #26 is Dale Keown, whose work on early '90s issues of Incredible Hulk remain fan favorites. 

There are also dialogue signals within Avengers #26 that feel like they connect Vnn to the Hulk. As soon as he's transformed, Vnn tells us he's sure his dead lover Brrkk was meant to get the Star Brand power because he "would've saved the world," whereas Vnn "just wanted to destroy it." Ever since the 2006 Planet Hulk storyline, Hulk has often been referred to as the "World Breaker" — and in the current Immortal Hulk series, his stated goal is to "destroy the human world." 

If that isn't enough, Odin mentions the Hulk's favorite hobby within the issue as well. Toward the end of Avengers #26, we learn Starbrand rarely speaks to his companions. As the other Avengers discuss the hero, Odin says, "From what I can tell, the Starbrand doesn't approve of much of anything. Except for smashing." Which Marvel Comics character is known for smashing? Yep, that's right: the Hulk. 

Everything considered, though, Starbrand is a completely different superhero than the Hulk. They may share some similarities, but they are indeed two separate dudes.