There’s no denying Hulk is a great character – a meek scientist who transforms into a giant green man who smashes stuff? It’s Robert Louis Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde turned up to 11! But like other great comic book characters – Iron Man, Superman – Hulk is a difficult character to get right for his solo books. I’ve read various great writers’ takes on Hulk – Jason Aaron, Warren Ellis, Greg Pak – and though they’ve been decent, none have been outstanding. That is until I read Mark Waid’s Indestructible Hulk which is definitely the best Hulk book I’ve ever read and is among the best, if not the best, of the Marvel NOW! titles.
Waid’s approach to Bruce Banner and Hulk is refreshingly pragmatic and forward-thinking which is what makes it stand out from the other books. In this book, Banner has resigned himself to a life with Hulk – no more storylines spent trying to cure himself of the Big Green Monster, he is stuck with him for life. So instead of searching for a cure that simply doesn’t exist, he decides the best approach to Hulk is managing him like you would a terminal illness. There’s Hulk time where smashing and destruction occur, and there’s Banner time which can be used more constructively helping people, rebuilding, and giving back to the world after taking so much as Hulk.
The impetus of the decision is Banner’s jealousy at seeing Reed Richards and Tony Stark using their intellect to improve and save the world while he will always be remembered as the Hulk. Banner wants to change that and begin helping the world with his genius intellect as much as Richards/Stark while establishing his own identity separate from Hulk. And in re-framing Banner, Waid re-frames Hulk by thinking of him less as a bomb and more of a cannon – point him in the direction you need him to do the most damage, and fire (which literally happens in #4 where Banner is shot out of a torpedo tube!).
Re-thinking the two characters and their relationship completely changes the tone of the book and makes it seem more focused and re-energised while also feeling smart – yes, a smart Hulk book! Just from this approach alone, Waid has done an enormous amount of good for the characters but he also gives them some excellent adventures to go on too. Reaching back to the Silver Age, Waid brings back a series of mechanised challenges for Hulk to fight: the Mad Thinker (who builds super-powerful robots), the Quintronic Man (a super-powerful robot), and Iron Man (a super-powerful robot suit), before sending him underwater to fight the Atlantean Warlord Attuma in a battle to save the world, in a two-part story that closes this volume.
Leinil Francis Yu’s artwork is, as usual, utterly gorgeous and helps make this series the success it is. Yu is one of the best artists in the world to do big blockbuster action so he’s the natural choice for a Hulk series and he doesn’t disappoint. From the Himalayan fight scene between Hulk and Iron Man, to the super-robot action, and the bombastic underwater sequences, Yu knocks out page after page of stunning art. He’s so good, he even makes the cafe scene that opens this book seem dynamic in his use of framing and layouts of panels.
Waid works his magic on Hulk like he did with Daredevil, rejuvenating a character with a new perspective, new purpose, and a new tone. There’s a scene where Banner and Stark are actually laughing together at a pun Banner made! When was the last time you saw Banner laughing at a joke? It may be a small change but it’s representative of a larger one. Banner and Hulk used to be thought of as a tragic story but now their conflict is resolved after decades of overwrought dramatics and the series feels like it’s moving forward in an exciting new direction. This Hulk series is really fun and enjoyable which it really should be for such a brilliant character – Hulk finally has his own great book in Mark Waid and Leinil Francis Yu’s Indestructible Hulk.
Indestructible Hulk, Volume 1: Agent of SHIELD (collecting Indestructible Hulk #1-5) by Mark Waid and Leinil Francis Yu is out now
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