Today, Shelby and Patrick are discussing Indestructible Hulk 1-3, originally released November 21st, 2012, December 19th, 2012, and January 16, 2013.
Shelby: The Hulk is not a complex character. He exists as rage incarnate, smashing his way through everything in his path, and basically unstoppable once he gets started. There’s no ulterior motive, no hidden agenda, no personality, just smashsmashsmash. He makes for some sweet action sequences, but that’s about it. The Hulk gets interesting when you consider his relationship with Bruce Banner. Because Banner can basically turn into a nuclear bomb at any moment, he doesn’t exactly get invited to a lot of backyard barbecues; his life has been spent in isolation, desperately seeking a cure for his chronic Hulk-itis. Mark Waid has decided enough is enough for sad science Banner, and is pointing both Banner and the Hulk in a whole new direction.
Banner, fed up with his lack of scientific contributions to the world, has a proposition for Maria Hill, director of S.H.I.E.L.D. If she gives him all the money and resources he needs, he will make the world a better place with awesome science. In return, when he inevitably Hulks out, S.H.I.E.L.D can use him as the indestructible force he is to help out in situations where such a force is necessary. Not only would he be balancing the destructive force of the Hulk with the creative force of his inventions, he’d also be tearing things apart in situations where it’s appropriate, instead of just wherever he happens to be. His actions draw the attention of Tony Stark, who doesn’t really believe that his plan can work. Turns out, Banner is just tired of living in the shadow of Stark’s accomplishments, so he lures him out to the Himalayas where Hulk and Iron Man can duke it out and Banner can prove he’s just as smart as Stark is. With Stark’s respect newly earned, Banner assembles himself a crack team of scientists excited enough at the prospect of working with the Bruce Banner that they are willing to overlook his habit of occasionally destroying everything. Hill adds one more member to the team: a robot called R.O.B., who will be keeping an eye on both Banner and Hulk to make sure everything goes smoothly. The sidekick/buddy antics potential between Banner and R.O.B. is very promising.
I was surprised by how much I liked this title. It’s all due to Waid’s masterful handling of proactive Bruce Banner. The logic behind Banner’s decision is so straightforward; the Hulk is not a condition to be cured, it’s a condition to be managed, so why not turn to the one organization in the U.S. best equipped to help him manage it? Instead of fighting the Hulk and making his life a living hell, Banner intends to use the Hulk to hopefully do some good in the world. He mentions his legacy, and compares himself to Stark and Reed Richards. Banner, like them, is a brilliant scientist, but unlike them will be known for destroying cities with his bare hands instead of for his scientific contributions to the world. He wants to balance the destruction he knows he will cause with creation, a motivation that is both noble and understandable.
Waid highlights the nobility of Banner’s actions by accenting how dangerous the Hulk is. When Banner first meets with Hill, they are in a diner; as is wont to happen in public spaces, someone bumps into him. Every time it happens, you feel the tension mount as Hill wonders if she’s going to have to flee for her life. It’s brilliantly executed by both Waid and artist Leinil Francis Yu.
It’s such a simple little interaction, barely even worth mentioning, but Waid uses it to remind us who we’re dealing with. Our hero can, at any moment, turn into an all-powerful, totally destructive force of nature. I’m not kidding when I say “all-powerful;” in issue 1, the Mad Thinker does some quick math to determine that the Hulk’s strength is incalculable. Issue 3 finds him fighting the giant robotic Quintronic Man, where he survives a lava bath. The real question is where will Waid go from here? I think he is being very smart with the voice he’s developed for Banner. He’s got a character who is indestructible, so instead of focusing on creating more and more powerful villains for the Hulk to face, he instead focuses on Banner’s interactions with those around him. Banner is the one driving this story, and it’s his attempts to manage his condition that make me excited to read this title every month. Plus, it’s just fun; look at these scientists enjoying themselves! Who wouldn’t want to read about hilarious puns in complex formulas?
Patrick: There’s nothing wrong with laughing at a good math joke. Hell, there’s nothing wrong with laughing at a bad math joke.
It’s a funny track record Mark Waid has set for himself in the last couple years working at Marvel: take a well-known, but incredibly mopey character, and allow him to be happy. It worked with Daredevil and it basically works here. Now, 20-some issues into Daredevil, the cracks are showing in Matt Murdock’s carefully crafted façade. Which is inconvenient for Daredevil — occasionally downright dangerous. But man, oh man: the consequences of Banner losing his cool are exponentially more severe.
That’s not to suggest that this is a retread of Waid’s work on Daredevil, but there’s is a similar emphasis on the utility of the non-costumed man. The kinds of inventions that Banner is developing for S.H.E.I.L.D. would be huge for the world. There’s something interesting about the fact that he seems to address real-world problems as Banner, but comic-book problems as the Hulk. Dr. Banner is working to prevent cancer or find sources of renewable energy or create clean drinking water. We are supposed to want this character to exist in our world. And he doubles as such a nice guy, so we usually do.
That leaves us with Hulk as our comic book hero. So far, that’s been a little under-explored. Shelby, you say that the Hulk in an uncomplicated idea – rage incarnate. That feels a little bit too easy, doesn’t it? Dramatically, it seems like Banner’s got the Hulk thing figured out – even going so far as to find a useful way to apply the motherfucker. What if the division between Banner and Hulk isn’t so clear?
Waid leaves these little clues around to suggest that not only is there a little Hulk in Bruce Banner, but a little bit of Bruce Banner in Hulk. Toward the end of issue 2, Hulk rescues Iron Man – straight-up. It’s not that Iron Man is saved as a by-product of Hulk’s raging, but there’s some part of that creature that wanted to protect his friend. The dialogue following the rescue is minimal, but masterful.
Stark picked up on it – note the way he restates the “you” in that sentence. As if to deflect that idea that Bruce Banner is in the driver seat of Hulk, Banner asks “what’d I miss?” Then Tony makes a joke about the machine eating a mountain and Banner replies “I could eat a mountain.” Maybe that’s just hyperbole, but it reads like he knows Hulk could eat a mountain, and he’s not drawing a distinction between the two. I don’t know what it means for the future of the series, or even the psychology of Banner in the moment, but I do know that I can’t wait to see how this dynamic plays out.
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Waid’s taking a very episodic look at The New Hulk here, isn’t he? Neither of us pointed it out, but each one of these issues very neatly presents its own problem and solves it within the pages of that issue. Most of the other big NOW! titles seem to be more strictly serialized (Captain America and Thor spring instantly to mind).
Agreed. I feel like Waid may be just now getting into a more serialized story, with the introduction of Banner’s new research team and all their “secrets.” It makes sense; this is a pretty big departure from the standard characterization of Bruce Banner, right? Why wouldn’t he want to ease us into it with a couple cut and dry Hulk Smash episodes?
Waid is particularly good at delivering satisfying issues that you only later realize are part of a bigger whole. His Daredevil has featured longer arcs as it’s continued, but many of the conflicts (say, his battle with Spider-Man this month) are wrapped up by the end of the issue. That leaves his personal life to really be the serialized element, which has worked great for that series.
I have a friend who has a subscription to this series, and I’ve been reading his copies. When he first told me about the premise, I thought “Hulk: Agent of SHIELD” sounded like a really dumb idea, but Mark Waid proved me wrong. Its actually one of those premises where I have to wonder “why didn’t anyone think of this sooner?”
The moment with Mad Thinker in issue one was one of the most gasp out loud moments I’ve had with a comic in quite some time. “His power is incalculable!” was just so awesome; I was grinning from ear to ear.
This has nothing to do with anything, but issue 1 takes place in Manchester Alabama, which is quite familiar to Mark Waid fans: its the town where Impulse lived back when Mark Waid was writing his series in the mid 90s. That’s one of my favorite series, so it really made me smile.
Hulk has been atrocious since 2002, so I’m not surprised they called a top writer to raise its quality. Pretty much the same situation of Green Arrow and Lemire, but with a much longer pain for the fans of the character. Lemire is the Night Nurse ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Night_Nurse_(comics)) of DC Comics, and Waid is the same for Marvel.
My favorite moment? “You’re still rich.”
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