Today, Shelby and Patrick are discussing Indestructible Hulk 11, originally released July 31st, 2013.
Shelby: I recently saw Pacific Rim, and I absolutely loved it. Plot-wise, it was nothing special; case in point, it was the same as every other world-ending, hail-Mary-play sci-fi action flick I’ve ever seen. But that didn’t matter in the least because it was just so much fun to watch. The sheer joy I felt at watching giant robots punch those deep sea monsters is what made the movie so great. It’s simple, well-executed, and a ton of fun. This month’s issue of Indestructible Hulk sets us up for the same sort of situation. It’s probably not going to be quite so simple (time travel never is), but it promises time travel shenanigans in a messed up version of history with a surprising team-up, so I expect a lot of wacky, fun adventure to ensue.
Unsprisingly, S.H.I.E.L.D. has a super-secret division: Temporal Irregularity Management and Eradication. T.I.M.E., do you get it?! Anyway, they’ve called in Bruce to help them figure out why time appears to be broken everywhere. Since Hulk was on a mission earlier that day where an airport disappeared and a plane missing 75 years appeared out of thin air, he’s intrigued. They’ve been getting help from Zarrko, Man of Tomorrow, and he’s got some distressing news. Time is, in fact, broken, thanks to those idiot Avengers and some paradox-generating X-Men from the past, and a shadowy group known as the Chronarchists are taking advantage of it. Because time is so fragile right now, they are strong enough to basically remold it as they see fit, modifying the past to create a present that suits them best. The Hulk is the only creature strong enough to survive a trip in the timestream, but to quote Banner the timestream requires “a scalpel, and Hulk is a chainsaw.” The solution is to download a copy of Banner’s consciousness into a R.O.B. robot, so Bruce can “team-up” with Hulk, and the two of them can fix all of time together. So, Banner becomes a robot, suits up, hulks out, and the boys head to 1873 Arizona, where they are met with a surprise.
I mentioned this over in my Guardians of the Galaxy write-up, but I love, love, love seeing the ripples from Age of Ultron spread through the rest of the Marvel galaxy. Unlike Guardians, where the characters simply have to deal with the consequences of broken time, Bruce and Hulk are in a position to actually do something about it. They have the knowledge and (thanks to Zarrko) the technology to potentially stabilize time before things get out of control. The very concept of broken time is a confusing one, but Matteo Scalera gives us some really clever visual solutions for dealing with it. I love the way Zarrko just exudes some sort of temporal energy that washes over Hill and Banner as they talk with him.
I love the idea of the past literally just “rolling over you.” Every panel the two of them appear to be from a different era without batting an eyelash. It’s visually interesting, and a great representation of what’s happening to time itself in the Marvel universe right now. When they talk to Zarrko, they have zero control over what time they are from. For them, it’s limited to their appearance, but with the breaks in time and the Chronarchists at work, that sort of thing can happen for real, altering people’s pasts or eliminating them altogether.
The most exciting thing in this issue is the Hulk/Banner team-up. Mark Waid has done a great job in this title of developing both Hulk and Bruce into interesting characters. Bruce has become more proactive, Hulk has become less a force of nature and more an individual with feelings and personality, and now we get to see them side-by-side. Long-time Marvel readers out there, has there ever been an opportunity for Hulk and Bruce to work together on something, or is this the first time? It’s the ultimate pair, really: the strongest and the smartest people in the Marvel universe working together. It’s also got to be a strange experience for Banner, to experience Hulk as himself. It would be like Dr. Jekyll sitting down to have a heart-to-heart with Mr. Hyde.
Even though we are dealing with some pretty complicated time-travel paradoxes, the potential dumb fun quotient of Banner and Hulk lost in time is quite high. I mean, next issue’s cover shows the Hulk and some cowboys riding a god-damn dinosaur; that is the dumbest, awesomest thing I have ever heard. That’s what I like so much about this book, Waid is giving us solid character development and story-lines with some complex plot elements without sacrificing that basic awesome factor that makes this such a fun read. Patrick, what do you think? Which is more exciting, the Hulk working with Banner, or the Hulk riding a dinosaur?
Patrick: Easy: Hulk riding a dinosaur. Or Hulk fighting a dinosaur. Shit, now we have a new riddle on our hands.
I love seeing questions that we’ve been mulling over in our posts answered in the comics themselves months later. We’ve mentioned on a couple of occasions that it’s not totally clear how much cognitive faculty Hulk possesses, but I think we all basically saw it as a pointless exercise: a fun (if ultimately shitty) critical observation about something as ludicrous as “The Hulk” wasn’t adhering to a strictly determined set of rules. But Waid seems to have those same questions on the brain, and his answer is that Hulk is also something that’s in flux, so his fundamental nature changes with the alterations to history. I know that’s a narrative cop-out, but there’s something thrilling about Waid grabbing said cop-out by the horns and wrestling it to the ground with giant green fists.
I’m also just shocked by how brutal Waid has made the effects of time travel. There’s that story about the plane that had been missing for 75, but suddenly turned up during a Sons of the Serpent heist – that’s pretty standard time travel stuff, and it’s plenty upsetting in its own right. But S.H.I.E.L.D. glosses over the most grotesque detail: the flight crew had been reduced to skeletons. Like, the flesh rotted off their bones. I was reminded of that WWII zombie story from Heavy Metal.
And if that’s not gross enough for you, there’s the horrifying opening sequence wherein agent Goddard is physically twisted to death by the time stream – parts of him aging and parts of him de-aging until he barely resembles himself anymore. Hill and Banner may have experienced the Disney version of this effect by appearing in neat-o costumes from different eras throughout history, but there’s a much more sinister side to this thing. And Matteo Scarlera is more than happy to oblige when Waid requests a little horror.
You know, it’s almost like Waid has a list of Effects of Time Travel and he’s using this Hulk/Banner team-up as an excuse to explore them all. Naturally, they range from silly from mortifying. That may be the point: I like seeing backwards writing and Hulk fighting dinosaurs in the 1800s as much as the next guy, but there are supposed to be consequences for all this reckless time travel. One such consequence: Bruce can’t quite remember Betty Ross, and Maria Hill has no knowledge of Red She-Hulk at all. I had picked up the first couple issues of RSH at the NOW relaunch, but the character was a little too much of a deep cut for me at the time, so I haven’t been following, but I’d be curious to know if this is manifesting itself at all in that series. A cursory glance at the summarizes for recent issues of Red She-Hulk suggest that she might also be battling her way through realities at the moment – anyone reading that series care to illuminate what’s going on there?
So, yeah; Hulk may be a chainsaw solution when a scalpel might have made us all more comfortable, but this is serious shit S.H.I.E.L.D. is dealing with here. I mean, that’s sort of been the theme of the whole series: Hulk may essentially be an atom bomb, but he’s a damn-useful atom bomb. Bombs away.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?