In Symbiote Spider-Man: Crossroads #3, the classic web-head encounters one of the most frightening versions of Bruce Banner’s Hulk.
The Incredible Hulk’s numerous mental health struggles have been the subject of many compelling and emotionally resonant stories for years. Bruce Banner’s traumatic childhood poses a bigger threat to the hero’s well-being than any amount of gamma radiation or supervillain ever could. In Symbiote Spider-Man: Crossroads #3 (by Peter David Greg Land, Jay Leisten, Frank D’armata and VC’s Joe Sabino), Hulk and Spider-Man encounter the physical manifestation of Banner’s trauma: the frightening Guilt Hulk.
After being banished to the crossroads dimension by the Asgardian sorceress Karnilla, Spider-Man is surprised to find himself face to face with an angry Hulk. The two fight, but luckily the web slinger’s strength is augmented by the power of the magical Norn Stone and he is able to get the upper hand on the angry green giant. However, the dynamic of their fight changes drastically when they fall through a portal into the Valley of the Flame and the Norn stone transfers itself over to the Hulk.
The stone seeks to amplify the power of the beings it bonds with, so when it arrives at the Hulk, it tries to harness Banner’s intellect and reverts him from the Hulk back to his human form. Sadly, this less imposing version of Banner is easy prey for a roaming band of “Killer Folk” who kidnaps him to sacrifice to a gigantic spider named long legs. Finding himself in imminent danger, Banner’s subconscious kicks into survival mode and summons a personality who introduces himself as Brian, named after Bruce’s violent father. Brian tells Banner “You need to let me out. The true Source of your power.” And, for better or worse, Banner does just that allowing Guilt Hulk to take over his body, becoming a monstrous and powerful figure in the process.
Guilt Hulk leaps into action, tearing the giant spider in half before lunging at the Killer Folk. When Spider-Man and Devil Dinosaur arrive on the scene, the Hulk attacks them as well, and neither Peter Parker nor the T-Rex stands a chance against the terrifying beast they encounter.
Guilt Hulk’s appearance in Symbiote Spider-Man: Crossroads #3 is the first time the beastly character has manifested itself in the real world, but he has plagued Bruce Banner’s subconscious for years. In 1991’s Incredible Hulk #377 (by David, Dale Keown, Bob McLeod, Joe Rosen and Glynis Oliver) Doc Samson takes a journey into Banner’s subconscious in an attempt to help him merge his multiple personalities. While exploring Bruce’s childhood, his emotionally and physically abusive father is represented by the Guilt Hulk, who attempts to take over Bruce’s mind. Luckily Banner, Hulk and Grey Hulk are able to subdue the monster. Years later, when Hulk was on the verge of dying of ALS, Guilt Hulk made another attempt to come to the surface, but Banner was once again able to push him back into the depths of his mind. But even when he is simply a figment of Banner’s imagination, Guilt Hulk gives the rest of Banner’s personalities a run for their money.
Fueled by trauma and the power of the Norn stone, Guilt Hulk is unlikely to retire to the back of Banner’s mind without a fight. Fortunately for Bruce, Spider-Man, Doctor Strange and Karnilla all have a vested interest in taking the stone from him, which could be the key to returning this terrifying creature back to Banner’s psyche.