Today, Patrick and Drew are discussing Indestructible Hulk 6, originally released April 3rd, 2013.
Patrick: Last month, Drew asked the question of whether Indestructible Hulk scribe Mark Waid was attempting to satirize DC’s recent Aquaman-centric Throne of Atlantis event with his own silly Atlantis story. This issue finds Bruce Banner away from one set of otherworldly adventures and embracing another. But as the worlds change beneath his feet, the questions of the issue are “who?” rather than “where?”
Banner assembles his team of scientists-with-secret-pasts to travel into Jotunheim, the realm of the frost giants, in search of the metal ore Eiderdürm. Shortly after discovering a whole river of the stuff (the cold makes the metal liquid?), they’re set-upon by an old fashioned-lookin’ Thor. Retro-Thor doesn’t seem to know who Bruce Banner is, even through you know they totally signed each others’ Avengers Yearbooks. They don’t really have an opportunity to work this out though, as frost giants attack! He may not remember Banner, but Thor’s always game for a fight and he jumps to his friend’s defense. The giants disarm Thor (and send him flying) and Banner predictably transforms into the Hulk. Not-so-predictably, Hulk lifts Mjölnir and declares himself worthy of the legendary hammer.
Interestingly, the title of the next issue is teased right there: “Whosoever.” Basically no one is who they appear to be in this issue, and neither the characters nor the readers get any clues as to why this is. Let’s take the big obvious one: Retro-Thor. Why’s he looking like he stumbled out of a Silver Age comic book?
I sigh to myself as I type this: The logical explanation here is that Bruce Banner and his gang of scientists traveled back in time to a period before Thor and Hulk were besties. But that just raises a pair of twin “why” questions: “Why would the Uru from Thor’s hammer send them back in time?” and “Why is it necessary for this narrative that they encounter a young version of Thor?” I don’t have an answer for either of these questions, even if it does lead us to another interesting question: Why can Hulk use lift that hammer?
Actually, now that I’m assembling this list of curious details, it makes me doubt whether they’re actually in Jotunheim at all. These aren’t just piddly little details that aren’t quite right, they’re big attention-seeking details. There are more of these kinds of details very early on in the issue too — before we ever leave Earth. Banner’s narration mentions that each one of his scientists has a secret history, but what exactly that means is a mystery. Melinda casually mentions that she is a Supercriminal on parole. A SUPERCRIMINAL. That’s no white-collar crime, she’s a SUPER criminal. And that’s the most we get about any of their secret pasts. The rest of the team is essentially unreadable. I have absolutely no idea what to make of the significance Banner seems to find in this interaction with Patty:
I can’t help but feel like the Banner, and by extension the series, is keeping me at arm’s length, refusing to be straightforward about what’s going on with it. Just as we’re being introduced to all these crazy new people, the readers are also introduced to a new artist. As you can see from any of the panels I posted above, Walter Simonson’s style is quite a bit cartoonier than Leinil Francis Yu’s in the previous issues. Everything seems a little bit more kinetic and lively, and his drawings of the Hulk, in particular, seem to be more focused the joy of being a giant green rage-beast. I mean, look how happy he is to be raising that hammer above his head! What a cutie. That, in it self, is a bit of a recharacterization, as Banner has comes to terms with using Hulk as a cold, calculating weapon — the idea of Hulk having fun doesn’t totally jive with what we’ve seen before in this series.
Drew, what do you make of the running narrative here that Banner seems to be collecting supplies from magical worlds for use in his experiments? Is it just part of the “Banner makes” mantra as it would make itself manifest in the Marvel Universe? I’m reminded of Reed Richard’s quest to find a cure for the disease that’s killing him by traveling to alien worlds. I’m starting to feel like there’s something a little more purposeful about Banner’s search for magical substances than he’s letting on. It’s only appropriate, then, that he’s surrounded himself with people who’s motivations we can’t even begin to guess.
Drew: You’re right about all of the magical supply collecting — I feel like at this point, the mantra is better summarized as “Banner takes.” I suppose he’s just gathering enough resources to do whatever building he needs (and yes, it took everything I had to not make some lame Settlers of Catan reference there), and since fieldwork is decidedly more exciting than anything that could happen in the lab, I’m perfectly comfortable with these far-flung adventures.
If I may, Patrick, I’d like to argue that the “where” of this issue is central. You were quick to boredom with the notion of this simply being the Jotunheim of the past, and while I ultimately think that that is what’s going on here, I think the “whys” might be both simpler and messier than you suggest. I may be way off base here, but I kind of think the reason Waid chose to set this story in Thor’s past is that Simonson draws a mean silver age Thor.
Having old-fashioned characters appear in the story is an easy way to play to Simonson’s strengths, but it sets up some sticky relationships between style and substance. If we understand this to be Thor’s past because of the style, what do we make of the fact that everything else is also drawn in that style? Could this be some Pleasantville-esque world that imposes its own subjectivity on everyone, even those who come from a different time and place? The oddness is exacerbated by the fact that Simonson is filling in here — I don’t think I would even consider the subjectivity of the art if this issue was pencilled by Yu. Then again, maybe these odd details are meant to draw attention away from the rather jarring difference between Simonson and Yu — or rather, by drawing attention to it. Waid has always had a way of hanging a lantern on whatever might otherwise trip an audience up, which always lends a slickness to his writing.
But, as you mention, Patrick, that slickness may make it hard to get a grip on this series. Banner is cypher, and I’m still struggling to learn his assistants’ names. I’m not entirely sure what to make of that interaction with Patty, but I do have a couple theories, both of which hinge on the opening flashback.
The two pieces of information I glean from this sequence are 1) that Patty is obsessed with the Hulk, and 2) she is about to kill herself. The email from Maria Hill (which presumably invited her to be on Banner’s team) stays her hand, but it’s not clear if her obsession and her suicidal tendencies are related. To that end, her intentionally baiting Bruce to Hulk-out (whoa, I’ve never used that literally before) can be read as either morbid curiosity or just plain morbid, as she attempts suicide by giant green fists.
Either way, this is the most interested I’ve been in any of Bruce’s colleagues since they were introduced, so I’d say the intrigue gambit is working. Sure, it may also draw our attention to the fact that we don’t know anything about any of these people, but like I said, Waid has a gift for turning those weaknesses into strengths. We’re slowly learning who these people are. If it takes me actually wanting to know the characters’ backstories in order to get them, so be it.
I think my favorite thing about this series is how brazen it is about being totally silly. Whether it’s punching a helper robot or making time with curvaceous Atlanteans, this series doesn’t take itself too seriously, which I think is appropriate for a hero who basically turns into a superman-frankenstein-toddler hybrid every single issue. Waid’s always had a great sense of humor, but this title really gives him an opportunity to totally cut loose. For me, it makes all the smashing worthwhile.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?