5 out of 5 stars
Story – Mark Waid
Art – Leinil Yu
I have been looking forward to Indestructible Hulk for months now. There are some books in the Marvel Now! revolution that I felt may not be entirely necessary or need the facelift. But Hulk is one of those (along with X-Men) that I felt really needed this treatment. I’m one of those people who has always been fascinated by the Hulk and Bruce Banner as characters (and they really are different characters), but I have little experience with them in comic books. I unfortunately saw Ang Lee’s Hulk, which was a terrific mess, and I also watched the reboot The Incredible Hulk with Ed Norton twice in theaters. I thought Norton’s Hulk was very fun and totally underappreciated in the Marvel Studios canon. And of course there was Mark Ruffalo’s perfect interpretation of the character in The Avengers as a quiet, introverted brilliant scientist who only wants to be helpful but is so clearly plagued by the guilt of his “condition.” Ruffalo really brought the character back into my cultural awareness. He was the most well-rounded and lovable character in that movie. Iron Man was the funniest and most charming, and Thor was the most peculiar (in a great way), but Bruce Banner had me wrapped around his huge green finger right away. The Hulk I saw in The Avengers is the Hulk I wanted to read in a comic book. After reading this first issue of Indestructible Hulk, I am doubtful that will be the case exactly, but I am still very happy with the portrayal of Bruce Banner and the Hulk that we’re given in this first issue. It wasn’t quite what I was expecting, but that ultimately didn’t matter.
Indestructible Hulk is written by Mark Waid, who is also currently writing the wonderful Eisner Award winning Daredevil series. It seems that Waid has made it his mission to take characters that have historically been tortured souls and breathe a new vitality into them. For both Daredevil and this new Hulk, no longer are they dark, brooding loners searching for redemption. Instead, when we first meet Bruce Banner as he casually sits down in an Alabama diner with an unsuspecting Maria Hill, we get a Banner who has, as he puts it, “had an epiphany.” The epiphany being that his “condition” is incurable, and that he needs to reprioritize his life. We’re then treated to some fantastically written banter that Banner has complete control over. His argument that he has just as much to offer to the world and the scientific community as Tony Stark and Reed Richards is 100% true, and almost comes off as a kind of meta-indictment of the character’s treatment throughout his history by both writers and even fans. He’s taking a stand against his history and wants to prove to the world (his world and the readers’) that he is valuable and not just a monster. He wants to prove himself, meeting with Maria Hill in the hopes that she’ll set up a lab for him to work and make something of himself and give something positive to the world (along with a second goal, which we’ll come to in a moment.) It’s clear that Mark Waid understands this character in a complex, human way. He wants to make this a well-rounded, full, complete, living individual, not just a plot device. I fully trust Mark Waid with Banner after reading that diner scene. Though I wasn’t expecting a confident, witty, casual Banner, I was happy Waid took that turn.
But does Waid understand the Hulk? As I parenthetically pointed out earlier, they really are separate characters. Bruce Banner even refers to him as a separate entity throughout the comic. And I’m happy to say, absolutely. I first understood this in that stellar diner scene. Throughout the scene, we get these moments of high tension, such as a waiter bumping into Banner, or another waiter dropping some dishes right behind Banner. And then we get this tense moment that is perfectly rendered by artist Leinil Yu. Everything freezes. The clock ticks. It’s almost deafening. In one panel, we see Maria Hill’s face, frozen, terrified, wondering if that brief little shock is enough to turn this mild-mannered scientist before her into a weapon of mass destruction, tearing everyone and everything in its path to pieces. She looks genuinely scared. That is actually an aspect of the Hulk that I found very appealing in The Avengers that is replicated here to great effect and my own satisfation. Bruce Banner is right to say that his mind is just as valuable and fantastic as Stark and Richards, but the Hulk is still there, lurking in the shadows, and that makes him volatile in a way that truly scares the shit out of people. I love that about him.
When we are finally treated to a Hulk-out in the last several pages, it’s a scene that exists just to show off the Hulk, but what a scene it is! Banner’s second piece of his bargain with Hill is to “audition” for her, saying the Hulk could be used like a cannon rather than a bomb (point him in the right direction). S.H.I.E.L.D. is in Alabama that day to take down a villain who is suspected of building a WMD. This villain, The Thinker, engages the Hulk in a robotic suit that calibrates its own strength and speed according to the opponent. So when the Hulk gets madder and attacks with greater strength, the suit recalibrates to match him. I won’t give away how that fight ends because you truly must read it to fully appreciate it, and in the last two memorable panels of the fight scene, you will find yourself internally (or perhaps externally) cheering for the Hulk. It is such a triumphant vision of the character, in a way that I haven’t experienced before. I had read things like World War Hulk, but even in something like that, though he’s ostensibly the “hero,” he is still used in the ways of tragedy and unintended consequences. Here, though, Bruce Banner and the Hulk have found a way to live together, even work together, for some greater good. I see such exciting promise for this comic book and this character. Mark Waid, pardon me, truly has his shit together here. And if Banner’s promises are any indication, and if Marvel does the right thing and makes what happens here in Indestructible Hulk resonate throughout the Marvel Universe in meaningful ways (and they really, really should), then Bruce Banner may very well become a formidable and central figure in the Universe, in a way he never has before. Look out for this one, people. Hulk may just become far more crucial than we ever expected before.
There was only one single thing about the issue I thought could have been improved, but it’s a minor quibble: the first panel we see Banner his pants are brown, but when we see his pants again, both as Banner and Hulk, he’s wearing his classic purple trousers. But I didn’t even notice it until I consciously checked for it because I’m weird like that. I’d wager that 99% of readers won’t even notice. And it’s functionally irrelevant, because the rest of this issue, from Waid’s thrilling storytelling to Yu’s gorgeous art and kinetic, brutal fight scene, and that delightfully tense diner scene, the comic on the whole is beyond satisfying; it’s positively ecstatic. I’m so excited to see where Waid takes us in this book. He gets this character. He knows how to tell this story. He should take a bow for this one, and then get back to writing. We need more SMASH!