Does Marvel Universe Have Room for a Fan-Favorite Character?
Over the course of 11 years, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has introduced a wide array of comic book characters to the big and small screens, from staples like Captain America, Iron Man and Spider-Man to those fans never imagined seeing onscreen like Rocket Raccoon, Quake and Mantis. But as we near the end of Book One of the MCU with Avengers: Endgame, there’s one character who stands out in his absence, especially considering that he was once the key to uniting the Marvel Universe in the publishing company’s early days. Ahead of the major changes ahead for the MCU, we have to ask, where in the world is Rick Jones?
If that name isn’t familiar to you, he should be. Introduced by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in the pages of The Incredible Hulk No. 1 (1962), Rick Jones led to Bruce Banner’s transformation into the Hulk. A foolish teenager, Jones drives out to a bomb testing site on a dare, a dare that turns deadly when it becomes clear the site is a testing zone for the gamma bomb. Banner, fearing for the teen’s life, and risking his own, runs out onto the site and pushes Jones into a trench while he is caught in the gamma blast. For a long time, Jones is the only one aware that the Hulk and Bruce Banner are one and the same, and his guilt over the incident leads to him sticking close to Banner and trying to keep the Hulk out of the hands of the military. He becomes something of a sidekick to the Hulk but lacks a costume and code name, in line with the comic's place as more monster tale than superhero story.
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Despite the Hulk’s numerous live-action appearances, going back to 1978 television series The Incredible Hulk, Jones has been absent from the non-comics story. This was in part because of the shift away from nuclear testing and its associated fears that dominated the '60s, and the changes to the Hulk’s origin story as a result. But it seems odd that through the long-running show, and its travelogue approach, Banner never encountered Jones.
Jones was originally set to appear in Ang Lee’s Hulk (2003) but was replaced by the non-comics character Harper. Again he was set to appear in the MCU's second film, The Incredible Hulk (2008), but was written out. Curiously though, his name does appear on one of the dossiers featured in the film’s opening credits, suggesting he still might be out there somewhere — or not, considering how little The Incredible Hulk has come to impact the rest of the MCU.
Rick Jones has fared much better on TV, most notably in the 1996 animated series The Incredible Hulk, where he was voiced by Luke Perry and becomes his own teenaged version of the Hulk for a little while.
Beyond the character’s close association with the Hulk, Rick Jones is also responsible for bringing the Avengers together for the first time when Loki uses the Hulk as a means to take down his brother, Thor. Unable to reach the Fantastic Four, Jones rounds up Iron Man, Ant-Man, the Wasp and Thor. Jones eventually becomes an honorary Avenger, and later Captain America’s sidekick — the second Bucky. In the MCU, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) brings the Avengers together, which makes more sense than a teenager with a long-range radio. And Captain America (Steve Rogers) takes on the Falcon (Anthony Mackie) as his partner, while Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) has returned, removing the need for another. So if the Hulk, Captain America and the Avengers are already set without Rick Jones, perhaps there’s room for the character on the cosmic side of the MCU?
Rick Jones and Captain America’s partnership doesn't go smoothly, and the fallout between the two forces Rick to leave the Avengers. Afterward, he joins up with Captain Marvel (Mar-Vell, not Carol Danvers) through the Nega-Bands in a fashion so that only one can appear in Earth’s dimension at a time. This puts a hamper on Jones’ growing musical ambitions and leads to a contentious relationship between the two. For much of the first decade of Jones’ existence he served as a counterpoint to the adult heroes, and represented the teenage readerships, complete with a deluge of slang terms that never came together quite as harmoniously as the writers imagined. Jones’ relationship with Captain Marvel leads to him playing a key role in 1971’s The Kree-Skrull War. During that conflict the Supreme Intelligence releases in Jones a latent ability that exists in all humans — the Destiny Force — which allows Jones to conjure illusions and make them a reality, along with other abilities that manifested later such as teleportation, energy manipulation and molecular reconstruction.
Jones’ relationship with the Marvel Universe only became stranger from there. He finds his way back to the Hulk’s supporting cast and writes a book about his experiences called “Sidekick.” He marries a woman named Marlo Chandler, who is killed by a serial killer, Jackie Shorr, who may be Rick’s mother. He subsequently attempts to resurrect Marlo, succeeds, and brings Mephisto and Death to their doorstep. He becomes a talk show host along with his wife, “Keeping Up With the Joneses,” but his career is cut short when he's paralyzed by an out-of-control Hulk. He is later healed by way of the Destiny Force and joins with Mar-Vell’s son, Genis-Vell.
While there was no hint of Rick Jones in Captain Marvel, that franchise seems as likely a place for him to show up as any. While there will surely be no dimension-swapping between him and Carol Danvers (Brie Larson), he may add something to her world, especially should the Supreme Intelligence (Annette Bening) take interest in him.
More recently, Rick Jones became a new, heroic version of the Abomination called A-Bomb. Abomination (Tim Roth) and the Leader (Tim Blake Nelson) are a couple of the loose ends the MCU has yet to tie up. Perhaps, if the Hulk should die in Endgame, or at least be taken off Earth, maybe Jones could find himself as part of an experiment to create a new Hulk. Or, going more recent still, perhaps the MCU could introduce Jones as an Agent of SHIELD, a role he had recently come into at the end of the 2016 storyline Avengers: Standoff! before he was executed by firing squad on bequest of an evil Steve Rogers in the controversial 2017 crossover Secret Empire. His final words were “Avengers assemble.” Deceased in the comics and a no-show from the movies, I can’t imagine a character as frequently utilized as Rick Jones to remain absent forever.
Few characters lacking the distinction of superhero or romantic interest have been as integral to the Marvel Universe as Rick Jones. And while he’s not an incredibly recognizable figure to non-comic readers, he’s played a major effort in shaping some of the most beloved characters and storylines within Marvel Comics. Jones has long played the role of avatar to Marvel’s audience, grounding the readership in stories of alien invasions, evil gods and alternate dimensions. And, in those early years especially, it always felt like there was a considerable amount of Stan Lee in the character. While the Marvel Cinematic Universe doesn’t need an audience avatar, the character’s rich history could certainly serve another purpose within the ever-growing MCU, perhaps as a reflection of how 11 years of these stories have inspired a new generation to take up their own form of heroism and activism. At his best, Rick Jones is a storyteller and a chronicler — a contemporary Homer spinning myth into history. As the MCU becomes more complex we could certainly use a figure like Rick Jones to keep track of this ever-growing universe and earn a cinematic legacy befitting his comic book history.
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