Ever since Betty Ross came back to life as the Red She-Hulk, this is what we've been waiting for… almost. Yes, we wanted the resolution of her relationship with Bruce Banner, but not quite like what Greg Pak gives us in Incredible Hulks #629.
We all know the general Marvel line that happy marriages somehow hamper a character's relatability, hence Spider-Man's marriage to Mary Jane being sold to Satan so he can bang cute roller derby chicks. Does that say more about the average reader's ability to maintain a relationship or more about Marvel Editorial's issues? Sure, there's a lot of dramatic tropes that can circle around single folk, but married people have their trials as well. If life automatically becomes boring and lame after marriage, why do so many people strive for that? Maybe there's a flawed assumption here. A marriage between two Hulks would be even more fascinating.
However, Pak doesn't give us that fix. Old-school Hulk fans (and general saps) like me might find it hard to swallow, but we can at least understand the dramatic reasons behind it. Some of it, at least. If Thunderbolt Ross's Red Hulkination can get him his own series, maybe we can hope that Betty will step out of the Hulk's shadow as well and get her own adventures. Now that she's ditched the love of her life.
This arc started out as a light-hearted James Bond style adventure, and wound up with heartbreak for Bruce and the Hulk. Tyrannus has taken power from the Knights of Rome and is trying to take over his old stomping grounds with a giant magic floating fortress-turned-robosuit. The Hulk has to stop him, and that's his undoing. Betty Ross' life has been dominated by men who put duty over love. Her father Thaddeus Ross did it for God and Country, her first husband Glenn Talbot did the same, and her second husband Bruce Banner does it for Guilt and Conscience. It seems she's reached her breaking point.
There's a moment here where Bruce and Betty finally put aside the Hulky attitudes and just connect again, but it's all too brief. It's been constantly drummed into our heads that she's having wildly fluctuating gamma issues that may trap her in the RSH form forever, but she's able to shift back to normal to give Bruce one more chance to just run away with her somewhere… but Bruce is unable to just forget the fact that one of his oldest enemies is trying to conquer Italy at the moment.
Now, there's the temptation to say 'come on, Betty is not that selfish and she understands responsibility, why the hell would she put that kind of awful ultimatum on Bruce? That's just miserable.' The thing is, though, that she is that selfish. Everyone is that selfish. We just repress that selfishness in order to do what's right – just like Bruce repressed his rage all those years. That's what being a Hulk does – takes that thing you're keeping locked down tight and gives it a powerful humanoid form. That's what's under her skin right now. She's made sacrifice after sacrifice after sacrifice throughout her old life for the sake of the greater good, and in this new life, with this new power she's been completely drunk on for the last few months, she just can't keep it repressed anymore.
There's a moment where Pandora's Urn is opened by Tyrannus and a being of "pure hope" emerges and connects with Betty. But it's corrupted. "Trapped in a bottle. Betrayed. Abandoned. Alone. Feeding on herself for millennia. So she narrows her focus until all she hopes for is revenge and destruction." It's completely an allegory for what Betty has been through. In a literal sense, she was locked away in a cryogenic chamber for years in a pseudo-dead state while her father waited for a way to bring her back, but there's more to it than that. How often did Betty have to sit alone, holding onto hope, while the Hulk was off doing some high-risk Hulk stuff? Hope that he'd come back alive. Hope that Bruce would eventually find a cure and they could have some kind of normal life. Hope that someday she wouldn't have to be torn between her father and her husband so often. But the Hulk is always there, eating hope and killing it, just like he does to this gaseous creature of the same name.
"This will never, ever change," Betty says as she realizes that she's tapped out her reserves. "Hope? No. Hell." So she retreats back into the Red She-Hulk form for what's apparently the last time. Now she will never, ever change, either.
Unless you count whatever's going on between them during the Fear Itself book, but we probably shouldn't. It's an event book, after all, and they don't tend to care too much for continuity.
So after my initial reaction of "Come on, man! They belong together!" – the standard reaction of any disappointed "shipper," one supposes – I had to dig deeper into what Pak has laid out here. Betty's got her own journey now, to figure out how to find balance in her life between her unleashed penchant for hedonism and her lifelong notions of responsibility, or maybe to break her addiction to the power, if she ever realizes that's what it is. She certainly needs to learn to dump Tyrannus, her obvious rebound guy. Maybe she'll come back one day, since he love is still plainly there. But it's possible she's moved on for good, like most people do.
Either way, the Hulk has been left alone… which is what he's always said is all he ever wanted. But we all know that's not true anymore.