Hank McCoy (Before the Fur)

If there’s one thing I love about the Marvel Universe, it’s the intricacy of the shared setting of every comic. I mean, I know a lot of that continuity use to be just that- continuity that the writers jammed in to provide the illusion of a planned universe, when really they were just retroactively tying plot points together to give the comics that shared feel. Ultimately, every comic works best on its own. In Fantastic Four, super science is kind of the driving force in the world, in Iron Man, technology is what’s truly miraculous, in Dr. Strange it’s magic…and so on, to even more outlandish books. While a blatant Swamp Thing rip off, I was a big Man-thing fan. It was just so whacked out. Demons, reality nexuses, supernatural creatures…I don’t even know.

Still, the continuity gimmick has taken a life of its own. Nowadays, characters are designed with the greater continuity of the entire Marvel framework in mind, I think. How their powers work, for example, is a big deal- are they a mutant? are they supernatural? Were they a human who was altered by science, in some way? Are they an alien? A Norse god with big, weird, alien goats and a chariot?

I mean, this was always a big deal and part of what made Marvel comics great. The idea that the Norse God of Thunder’s powers are going to work differently than just any old mutant off the street. So such and such character might be able to create such and such effect- BUT, you never know quite how it’s going to interact with so and so given that their powers are from wherever.

Point in fact- for some reason, Hulk can see astral forms.

Seriously. This is from WAY back. If Dr. Strange decides to spy on the Hulk (which he has a habit of doing- Strange has been one of Banner’s closest friends, but Hulk’s recent one-way trip via the Illuminati actually wasn’t Stephen’s first attempt to banish his friend. At one point the good Doctor sent a near mindless Hulk into a dimensional crossroads, hoping he’d find peace elsewhere.), Hulk will see his form clear as day.

Now, this has never officially been explained (at least, not to my knowledge). But I like to think it makes sense, in this way:

There’s a lot of back and forth about whether Hulk is truly a separate entity from Banner or not (Hulk: The End, a comic I HIGHLY recommend to Hulk fans, puts a few interesting twists on this question, I think). I’d like to think that on some level, however, Hulk represents Banner’s bare psyche- his inner child, his id, whatever you want to call it. In a way, Banner might be more himself as Hulk than he is as Banner. NOW, I know this is an exercise in over-analysis, but follow me through on this one-

If Hulk is Banner’s innermost unconscious made flesh, maybe Hulk can see astral forms because on some level EVERYONE can see/feel the astral plane. No one’s aware of it except for guys like Strange and a host of psionically gifted mutants. But everyone’s got an astral form of some sort and the astral plane is sort of like this connecting force between all living things- sort of like the collective energy of all consciousness. After all, powerful mutants and Earth’s Sorcerer Supreme can bring people with no psychic or magical powers into the Astral Plane- meaning it's gotta touch everybody, in some way.

Different X-Men writers put different spins on this, but occasionally, the more lenient creative teams imply that almost anyone can be trained psychically. Not everybody is Charles Xavier or Jean Grey but actually, even Magneto has been tutored by his former colleague to at least be sensitive to and use psychic energy (to a very minimal degree). The bond that telepaths tend to share with lovers and close friends tends to get more and more two-way over time.

I’d like to think that mutant psychics just sort of naturally manipulate this energy- telepathy is kind of like taking a short cut through the Astral Plane to communicate or know reality in some way (yes, I think about these things. Late, late at night.)

SO, long story short- the astral plane is kind of universal. It’s everywhere and everyone has at least some limited access to it.

So, maybe as people grow towards adulthood and get accustomed to reality they get socialized to ignore the little hints of the astral plane- bad feelings you can’t explain, something you catch in the corner of your eye, etc. (er, still talking about the FICTIONAL Marvel Universe, here. Not starting a cult or anything).

But Hulk- Hulk is raw id. No inhibitions, no real socialization. Raw unconscious. All those other things that people suppress, Hulk sees. Because he doesn’t have some superego telling him to. Hell, if we want to get all Freudian, Hulk doesn’t even have much of an ego to worry about making sense of reality. So, that’s why Hulk sees Strange and others, whether they’re ready to reveal themselves or not. There’s no unconscious for Hulk to push the perception down into- he IS the unconscious.

Interesting theory, right? I mean, I suspect I’m not telling Hulk fans anything new- you guys probably already thought this through yourself. But the Marvel Universe is loaded with stuff like this stuff that you can rationalize if you think hard enough about it (even though, at the end of the day, all you will have is your own theories on how the Marvel U. works and a fat lot of no-prizes. You guys should know what a no-prize is.). Don’t get me started on ‘Darkforce energy’ or anything remotely related to Cloak and Dagger, because God, I’ll be up all night.

But there’s a theory for you. How about that, for retroactive continuity?