One of the great things about having characters as shared creative commodities — as they are in the Marvel Universe — is that every so often, a writer will come along pick up a well-worn gem you’ve gazed at a thousand times, turn it so it catches the light just the right way . . .
. . . and you’ll see glittering facets that were always there, but hidden, just waiting to be discovered.
Such was the case with writer Jason Aaron’s all-too-short run on Indestructible‘s immediate predecessor, Incredible Hulk.
Aaron’s central conceit was to split the Hulk and Bruce Banner into two separate, independent living beings. No big deal — that’s been done before, at least once that I can recall, and I’m only a very casual Hulk fan.
The difference, though, was the motivation behind it, and how that might have altered your core perception of the character — or in this case, characters, plural.
It wasn’t some attempt of Banner’s to finally ‘cure’ himself, nor the direct machinations of some villain . . . well, okay, it technically WAS Doctor Doom, but Victor only did it because the Hulk asked him to.
More on that in a minute.
As readers, we root for the Hulk. He’s the good guy — most of the time, anyway. And we’re supposed to feel sorry for poor Bruce Banner, who has this nuclear-powered ‘curse’ that he can’t escape.
He hasn’t been in control of his life since the day he threw Rick Jones into the trench, saving him from direct exposure to the gamma bomb blast — the WMD that, granted, Bruce did help design.
And on top of that, we learned that Bruce suffered an extremely traumatic childhood at the hands of an abusive, alcoholic father. That’s why the Hulk is such a ‘monster’: he’s all the negative, repressed emotions Bruce tried to bury, made big and green and full of uncontrollable tank-smashing rage.
In the end, though, Banner created the Hulk. He was a brilliant scientist who used his intellect to create a devastating weapon. The gamma blast that changed his life wouldn’t have existed if he stopped and said, “Maybe that’s not the best use of my time, or this particular energy source.”
And the Hulk essentially went through life with a huge handicap — anger management issues that clouded an already reduced intellect. Not that Bruce was to blame for that, but he has no one else to point the finger at when it comes to who really ‘cursed’ him.
Until Aaron’s run on Incredible, I never considered that point before, that the Hulk was the real victim here. And on top of that, Banner spent all his time chasing a ‘cure’ — a cure which would have essentially killed the Hulk if he had found a successful one.
Which made Hulk’s solution all the more elegant: he simply wanted to separate the two halves so that he could go his way, and Banner could live his life, Hulk-free.
Problem is . . . if Bruce isn’t the Hulk, who is he, really? He’s a brilliant scientist that builds nuclear weapons. Without the Hulk to help him vent off that internal pressure, is it conceivable meek geek Bruce Banner might have become a mad scientist type?
Jason Aaron’s answer to that question was a resounding “hell, yes”.
While the Hulk was just fine after Doc Doom did a little brain surgery on Hulk (with AN ADAMANTIUM CHAINSAW, no less), removing the chunks of Greenskin’s cerebral cortex that ‘housed’ Banner and then cloned Banner a new body to implant said brain tissue in — it’s comic book science, folks, so don’t roll your eyes — Banner most assuredly was NOT.
Bruce felt like a part of him was missing, and eventually set about to restore it, trying to dose himself with gamma rays, but IRONY: he was immune to them now, and nothing he seemed to try would make him the Hulk again.
Banner went off the deep end, creating an entire tropical Island of Dr. Moreau of gamma-transformed evolved human / animal hybrids in trying to unlock his inner Hulk again, but to no avail.
And the Hulk? He was finally at peace, chillin’ deep under the Earth as de facto king of a tribe of the Mole Man’s yellow plasticine Moloids.
Banner eventually manipulated the Hulk into a confrontation with him, which ended with a ground zero gamma bomb blast that obliterated Bruce Banner but felt like a warm summer breeze to the Hulk.
And then the Hulk realized, to his horror, that Banner was part of him again. Not only part of him, but extremely ticked off and in a perfect position to exact revenge against the Hulk: because Hulk has no memory of what happens to him when he calms down enough to revert back to Bruce, he’s got to hope that ‘puny Banner’ manages to keep them both alive until the next time he gets angry or excited, the adrenaline flows, and he Hulks out.
What happens when your alter-ego goes bat @#$% crazy and half-suicidal and you wake up in strange places, usually with people (or Mexican mutant canine druglords, cybernetically enhanced Soviet grizzly bears, Atlantean hillbillies, a whole lost city full of Bigfoots and Sasquashes) trying to kill you, with no idea how you got there?
Well, that’s the second half of Aaron’s Incredible run, and I won’t spoil that for anyone. I will just say it’s awesome, and well-worth reading.
Let’s just say when the dust cleared by the final issue of that volume of Incredible Hulk, Bruce and the Hulk had made a truce with one another, and we saw a very different Bruce Banner start to evolve.
Which is exactly where Indestructible Hulk #1 picks up, as writer extraordinaire Mark Waid tags into the ring to pick up the keyboard and joystick to guide Bruce and the Hulk into a new era of adventures.
I would’ve been already interested to keep following up on Hulk, even though I’ve never been that big of a fan of the character, but when I heard Mark was on board I was sold then and there. His ongoing Daredevil run has been nothing but brilliant, completely revitalizing a character that had . . . well, let’s say got the messy end of a lot of bad creative decisions over the past several years.
The initial foray in this next phase in the Hulk’s life begins quite low-key: Bruce pops up unexpectedly to meet with SHIELD Acting Director Maria Hill, who just so happens to be going through a minor bout of OCD that after the events of Avengers vs. X-Men, the Hulk has been MIA.
While well aware the Hulk isn’t a ‘bad guy’, per se, Hill’s still got a job to do, and losing track of a being with an long-established record of wanton destruction on a mass scale does tend to keep one up at night, I suppose — especially if you’re going to be held responsible for not preventing said wanton destruction if it happens.
Banner makes her a simple offer: he wants access to the scientific resources SHIELD can offer in order to not just atone for some of the chaos the Hulk has caused over the years, but to live a fulfilling life: this is what Bruce Banner does, he creates things.
In return, SHIELD gets a huge, green guided missile to point at whatever would-be world-beater raises their ugly head that week. Banner knows Hulking out is inevitable, and after recent events, that there is no possibility of a cure.
However, there’s a nice twist to it, as Bruce tips off that he also wants to step out of his alter-ego’s brutish shadow and like Tony Stark and Reed Richards, be lauded for his intellectual prowess while in his lab coat, off the front lines while not pounding super-criminals into spandex-flavored jelly.
And Bruce is none too modest in professing that he deserves to be part of the ‘Big Brain Collective’ and very jealous of someone who already is:
So Bruce isn’t completely altruistic, and he’s also not stupid: SHIELD doesn’t exactly have a reputation for playing fair or nice, especially with the temptation to just end the threat of the Hulk once and for all in some secret location where no one, not even his fellow Avengers, might be the wiser.
Banner is in possession of a highly incriminating file full of sensitive material that from Maria Hill’s reaction, SHIELD would rather not have be made public. Bruce also lets it be known that he’s got a mysterious benefactor that he needs to check in with from time to time to make sure he’s being treated well.
(I’m going to guess that shadowy mystery man is none other than Nick Fury, but that might also be too obvious of a choice . . . )
So just to recap: meek, mild-mannered Bruce Banner is threatening to blackmail the world’s largest black ops operation.
Someone’s got a rather large set of cajones in their purple slacks, regardless of what color that someone’s skin happens to be.
This presents an interesting stalemate and no end to dramatic tension going forward: neither party can fully trust the other, and who knows what other contingency plans Bruce might have rigged up in case the deal goes bad and Hill or SHIELD decides to terminate the relationship, whether the prejudice is extreme and lethal or not.
Bruce himself is constantly going to have to be looking over his shoulder and hope that SHIELD doesn’t try to play a fast one on him while he’s the Hulk and much less likely to catch an overture of betrayal.
It’s an absolutely great set up that has an amazing amount of tension to milk and potential for ANY writer, but when you put a deep and long-term thinker like Waid at the controls, you’re practically guaranteed some fantastic results.
The fact that Leinil Yu is doing art duties on the book is like getting a cake iced with fifty dollar bills. I was already sold with Mark’s involvement, Yu just makes the proposition that much more awesome.
Leinil has a real knack for bringing a dynamic sense of layout to even mundane, non-action scenes — like the bulk of this very issue, which amounts mostly to a conversation in a rural Alabama diner between Hill and Banner.
And when the Hulk does finally let loose . . . Hulk smash pretty.
Yu even finds a way to personalize the Hulk –no minor feat given that there isn’t a lot of leeway on how to draw him — by giving Bruce and Hulk matching, stylish new hairdos. With the core concept of the book likely to have Bruce and Hulk bouncing all around the Marvel Universe, it’s going to be a fun ride visually to see Leinil be able to draw vastly different characters and settings from issue to issue.
The entire creative team, in fact, including colorist Sunny Gho and letterer Chris Eliopoulos, hits the ground running hard. This is a well-oiled comics-making machine that makes their first issue seem like they’ve been at it for a dozen issues or more, and yet another standout grouping in the Marvel Now! initiative.
So, we’re off to a great start. Indestructible Hulk #1 was excellent in terms of setting up the ground rules of the new status quo while still leaving plenty of room for mystery and intrigue. The Hulk himself doesn’t speak a single word of dialogue in the entire issue, so it’s impossible to tell exactly how he feels about the situation, or what’s in it for him in exchange for SHIELD having him on a short leash.
Banner, on the other hand, comes off with a Tony Stark swagger that’s almost off-putting, but I like that — it doesn’t contradict or brush off the events of the previous storyline in Incredible and Bruce going off the deep end.
I’m still very much at this point rooting for the Hulk, and Waid is doing a fantastic job of making Banner a petulant, spoiled rock star brat who is going to realize that just because he can match Tony and Reed on IQ tests doesn’t mean he’s going to get the same respect. There’s almost a brilliant meta-level commentary here on the idea of the haughty nerds who now that they’re not the downtrodden outcasts, feel it’s okay to look down their noses because their own social stature has been elevated a little.
Awesome package, another one in the win column for Marvel Now!, as far as I’m concerned.
Michael Allan Leonard: writer; nerd. Searching for a way to tap into the degree of wakefulness that all non-sleep deprived humans have. Then an accidental overdose of Green Mountain Dark Magic coffee alters his body chemistry.
And now when Michael Leonard grows startled or outraged, a startling metamorphosis occurs. The creature is driven by anxiety and the frequent need to pee.
“ Mr. McGee, don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry. I *will* unfriend you on Facebook. “
The creature is wanted for posts he has not written, until he can find a way to control his She-Hulk fetish.
(I’m not kidding. C’mon, Joss. Avengers 2 needs more girls. And not Wasp, either, that doesn’t count unless you’re handing out magnifying 3D glasses. Tigra? Okay, that’s more like it.)