Monday, July 08, 2013

Review: Indestructible Hulk Vol. 1: Agent of SHIELD

You've got to give it to Mark Waid—the guy certainly knows how to relaunch a tired, stale, stuck-in-a-rut franchise in a new, fresh and immediately appealing way.

He did just that with Daredevil by simply breaking with the last few decades of characterization of the title character as a brooding, doomed super-ninja whose loved ones were always getting murdered and who was always in an understandably foul mood (and he did so there without rebooting or retconning the character or his history, but simply by building a recognition of a need for change in outlook directly into the character's understanding of himself). (It didn't hurt that Waid was working with some of the best drawers of superhero comics in the industry on Daredevil, with Marcos Martin, Paolo Rivera and Chris Samnee drawing a lot of those comics).

When Marvel announced their "NOW!" initiative, in which they were putting all-new creative teams on all of their books, relaunching them with new #1s and giving them new, easy-jumping-on-point directions, Waid got the Hulk, a character who has been more than a little unmoored for much of the past decade (They shot him into space for a while, had him come back as the end boss in a line-wide crossover event story, they paired Bruce Banner with The Hulk's son, they replaced Banner and the green Hulk with a Red Hulk and, in the last Hulk comics I read, they had Hulk and Banner surgically and magically separated into two distinct beings).

So here's what Waid came up with: Bruce Banner is a brilliant scientist with some issues who occasionally turns into a semi-mindless, indestructible engine of unfettered destruction (as per usual), only Waid has his Banner come to terms with this fate as a more-or-less eternal and inevitable state of affairs. Realizing that there just isn't a "cure" for The Hulk, that The Hulk is truly "indestructible" (hence the new I-word adjective replacing the more traditional "Incredible"), he needs to quit wasting his time trying to rid himself of The Hulk and wasting his life (and considerable brain power) on running from, hiding from and fighting against the military.

So he offers SHIELD Commander Maria Hill, who after her one-note introduction in Mark Millar's Civil War has become quite a fun supporting character thanks to folks like Matt Fraction in Invincible Iron Man, a deal: Give him the resources he needs to devote himself to making incredible inventions to benefit mankind a la Tony Stark and Reed Richards while he's himself and, when he's The Hulk, use him to smash stuff for SHIELD ("Stop thinking of Hulk as a bomb," Banner tells her, "Think of him as a cannon. On those occasions when I do go green, it will be SHEILDS's job to point Hulk in a suitable direction.")

Waid also gives Banner a new mission statement/mantra: Hulk destroys, Banner builds.

The first volume contains the first five issues of the new series, and as inspired and refreshing as Waid's new take is, and as efficiently as he presents it, he spends pretty much the entire first issue laying it out in a maybe over-obvious, telling-more-than-showing sort of way (although Waid has Banner arrange it so that he meets Hill and makes his offer just before she's about to initiate a SHIELD raid where having the Hulk go in first would prove immensely helpful—this, then, is a far cry from the old Bruce Jones version of the title. We've got a Hulk by page 12, and he sticks around for a six-page fight scene).

The bulk of the script-side of this volume is set-up of sorts, as Banner and The Hulk have their job interview with SHIELD in the first issue, and then we see Banner slowly set up a lab, recruit a staff, be given a new, rather ironic new home, meet with and try to convince Tony Stark that he's a no longer the sort of threat that should be shot off of Earth against his will, and then face an underwater army commanded by Attuma (sadly, there's no Namor guest-appearance). While it does seem like the book is still settling in to its premise by the last page, it's hardly decompressed: There are new villains, conflicts fights in just about every single issue (or two, in the case of Indestructible Hulk #4 and #5).

For an artist, Waid is teamed with penciler Leinil Francis Yu (inked by Gerry Alanguilan and colored by Sunny Gho), and while I like Yu's art quite a bit, he's lacks the clean, smooth style of most of Waid's Daredevil co-creators, and their superior story-telling skills. He draws nice, twisted, highly emotive faces, science-fiction stuff (functional and smashed into junk) and big, gnarled Hulk muscles—He's a good choice for the title, really, but perhaps not the ideal choice.

All in all, this is very good superhero comics, and it's the sort of comics I'd happily read serially were Marvel charging $2.99 a pop for it, but this is one of the $3.99 books, or part of their You'd Be A Fool To Buy This Monthly Instead of Waiting Six Months To Read the Trade For Free From the Library line.

One thing I wasn't sold on was the Hulk's new "costume." When Marvel first announced their "NOW!" initiative, in the wake of DC's "New 52" reboot and branding initiative, they did so with a Joe Quesada-drawn image of a bunch of their characters, many of them given change-for-change's sake design tweaks. For example, Iron Man was drawn in yellow and black armor instead of his standard yellow and red, Thor was wearing a couple of swords on his back and the Hulk was wearing shiny metal pants and some armor which, on the face of it, seems as silly as, say, giving Superman armor (You know, like Jime Lee and DC did with their New 52 redesign of Superman).
I've heard Waid say on Twitter (I think it was) that the armor isn't there to protect the Hulk, but to protect Banner. In these first five issues, I've seen little evidence of the armor serving any real practical function, save for in the last two issues (the ones dealing with Hulk's fight against Attuma), in which it apparently generates some kind of breathable air for The Hulk and Banner. After reading the first volume, it seems that the armor was thought up by someone else—perhaps Chief Creative Officer and occasional variant cover artist Joe Quesada—as simply something different for something different's sake, a big, obvious, in-your-face clue that something was different now.

If that is the case, they need hardly bothered. It's clear something is different now. The Hulk's main comic stars the original green Hulk again, in a premise that hews close to the original conception while also being something new and a logical evolution of that original premise and, most importantly, it's really rather good.

And those are the best sorts of differences of all.


Anonymous said...

Sorry, I didn't last the whole arc. Super genius Banner using his incredible brain to invent cool things and help the world? Pak did that already AND he didn't have Banner's motivation be jealousy of Tony Stark. Pak's Banner did it because it was the right thing and to save loved ones and the world. The worse part of Waid's book was the Hulk being a mindless non-character. There are umpteen varieties of Hulk with a personality and Waid chose none of the above. A selfish jealous Banner and a mindless rampaging plot device Hulk is not my idea of a good time...

Sean said...

IMHO, the WORST thing about Waid's Hulk book is that it's $3.99/issue when it should be $2.99 and that the trade clocks in at a whopping $4.99/issue, guaranteeing that I'll never read these stories. Marvel has pretty much lost me as a reader.