The new Hulk #1 by writer Donny Cates and artist Ryan Ottley reveals just what the bandied-about new description for the Hulk, 'Smashtronaut,' means and explains what a 'Starship Hulk' is - and well, they're quite the doozies.
Spoilers ahead for Hulk #1
For decades, the big problem has been the Hulk side of Bruce Banner. One of his earliest rampages led to the formation of the Avengers, and his continued uncontrolled rampages have led to increasingly dark decisions from the Avengers (his friends) that included blasting him into outer space and even later, killing him. But now, the Avengers have a new problem.
A Bruce Banner problem.
That's not to diminish the Hulk problem. In the debut issue, Doctor Strange refers to a seemingly recent rampage in El Paso which left many dead. But in investigating what's going on, Doctor Strange (apparently before he was killed in Death of Doctor Strange #1) discovered something even more problematic going on in the Hulk's mind.
The Hulk mind palace
"He's... fractured his mind into parts. Rebuilt it into... well ... I believe he's turned the Hulk into a starship," Strange explains. "He's split his psyche into three distinct parts."
A mind palace is a theoretical construct in which your thoughts are organized, compartmentalized, and orchestrated in a way that allows immense recall and control by the personality in control.
And in the case of Hulk #1, it's Bruce Banner who has created a 'mind palace' inside the body of the Hulk, and then trapped the Hulk persona inside it, acting as an involuntary engine of anger for the Hulk body - the 'Starship Hulk' - itself.
"He's modified and upgraded the external frame with tech that he very... violently stole from AIM and then somehow surgically implanted into his, well, into the Hulk's own body."
In the mind palace that is Starship Hulk, Bruce Banner sits like a captain on a Star Trek-ish bridge, making commands that are acted out by the Hulk body. A version of Banner's ex-wife Betty Ross appears briefly in the mind palace; presumably not Betty herself, but possibly the unnamed third part of Banner's psyche that Doctor Strange mentioned.
Why is Bruce Banner doing this?
Why is Bruce Banner doing this? In a battle with Iron Man, Banner explains that he's no longer mad - he's "angry," and tired of dealing with others - including and especially the Hulk persona - and is trying to get away from it all to become the version of himself he wants to be.
How? Well, he has invaded a Stark Industries facility (that's how he comes to fight Iron Man), to take advantage of a unique Iron Man armor that debuted during King of Black (also written by Cates). It's the armor of a dead Celestial, co-opted by Iron Man into an armor he has dubbed Project ARK. Since King in Black, Stark has upgraded it to have the ability to open a wormhole in case an "event-level attack" on Earth requires him to evacuate humanity somewhere else.
Banner aims (and succeeds) in using it to leave Earth (and this entire dimension, seemingly) and to let him grow to become what he wants to be.
In a narrative caption intended to be a message left for others, Banner describes his intent.
"I'm leaving, not because I hate you, not because I'm scared of you," Banner says. "I'm leaving because none of you will know how to deal with what I'm going to become."
Banner explains that whereas before they (presumably the Avengers) were fighting the Hulk, now they're fighting Banner.
"And I promise... you have no plan... for me," says Banner. "Because I am not controlled by my rage anymore. I am fueled by it."
The story continues on December 15 in Hulk #2.
While you wait, make sure you've read all of the best Hulk stories of all time.