Spencer: Our heroes’ greatest enemies are often their polar opposites: While Batman is a dark, brooding creature fighting for justice, his nemesis is a silly-looking clown obsessed with evil; while Superman is the most human alien around, Lex Luthor has foresaken his humanity to stroke his ego; while the Flash always looks forward, the Reverse Flash is caught up in his own past. In Indestructible Hulk 19 writer Mark Waid and his expansive team of artists provide the Hulk with an opposite of his own: while the Hulk is fueled by his rage, Jessup gains power from stealing other people’s anger.
Exposure to Terrigen Mist—and the fallout from Banner’s failed attempt to neutralize the Terrigen—has transformed one of Banner’s assistants, Randall Jessup, into an anger-vampire Inhuman who has sapped the Hulk of his rage, transforming him back into Banner and throwing him off a plane. Banner breaks his own finger in order to retrigger his metamorphosis, and the Hulk takes down Jessup by feeling, not anger, but pity, draining Jessup of his power and allowing him to revert to human form. Banner thinks he may have a cure for Jessup’s condition, but Jessup is suddenly carted away by a mysterious scientist, Dr. Goodrich, who literally just walks through the wall, grabs him, and leaves. The sudden attack triggers the Hulk, and another assistant, Patricia Wolman, suicidally throws herself into the Hulk’s path.
Ugh, it’s gonna be rough if Banner feels responsible for the deaths of two of his assistants. Still, Jessup himself is the most fascinating part of the issue to me. Back in Issue 16 we discovered that Jessup’s peacemaking, accompanying personality was forged after years of caring for his dysfunctional mother. At the time I was touched by how Jessup made caring for Banner his new pet project, but Banner brings up an interesting point.
What Banner—what I—like best about Jessup is still rooted in disorder, and as sweet as his behavior can be, it’s not entirely healthy. That line “in my world, those disorders too often inform mutations” is obviously meant to remind us of Banner himself, but it specifically reminds me of how Banner’s anger issues exist in the first place because of his dysfunctional relationship with his father, just another way in which Banner and Jessup are mirrors for each other.
Really though, is this the first time we’ve seen an enemy who can literally steal the Hulk’s rage like this before? It seems like it should have been used ages ago because it’s absolutely ingenious. In so many ways Banner and Jessup are alike—both have emotional issues stemming from their parents, both transform into hideous monsters without any control—but in the way they interact with rage they’re polar opposites, and that makes Jessup an exciting opponent for the Hulk to face. As much as Waid’s been teasing his death, I hope we can see both Jessup and the creature he transforms into survive long past this arc.
Hulk’s use of pity to defeat Jessup is intriguing in its own right; it seems too smart for the Hulk, right? Banner himself underestimates the Hulk in his internal narration, saying there’s no way he could know to take out Jessup’s Evil Eye despite Hulk doing just that, but there’s a big difference between that battle strategy and Hulk knowing to use pity to diffuse anger. That makes me think that Hulk’s win wasn’t a strategy, but genuine pity. The Hulk and Jessup bonded (again, in issue 16) when Jessup gave Hulk gum, and Hulk’s cooperated with Jessup several times since then. How cool is it that Hulk likely remembers that moment, could recognize Jessup once he transformed, and actually felt bad for him? What do you guys think, is this some of Banner’s humanity peeking through, or is the Hulk himself becoming smarter, or perhaps even more human?
The addition of a new enemy—in the form of Dr. Goodrich—three issues into a four issue storyline is rather jarring though; I even reread the rest of the storyline to see if there was any mention of Goodrich and came up empty. His sudden appearance is certainly appropriate, at least, considering the way he just walks through walls and takes what he wants without even introducing himself, but it doesn’t seem like the clearest storytelling.
This issue’s art duties, meanwhile, are split up amongst three teams; Joe Bennett and Ruy Jose handle three pages, Tom Grummett, Karl Kesel and Andrew Hennessy two, and Jheremy Raapack the rest. I’ve never been big on art by committee, but these various teams all have somewhat similar styles and stick to similar layout schemes, and with a single colorist, Val Staples, holding the whole issue together, it manages to look surprisingly coherent.
Raapack seems to be having the most fun, since he gets to handle the battle sequence, and I think he blows it away.
While I’m not necessarily the biggest fan of Raapack’s veiny Hulk, I love how dark and twisted his interpretation of the Jessup-Monster is. More importantly, the fighting here is not only easy to follow, but a lot of fun to follow, all leading up to that money shot of Jessup leaping through the panels and practically off the page itself; it’s dynamic stuff.
Still, it’s a little discouraging to see how often Indestructible Hulk has to use multiple pencillers to finish an issue, and how often it switches artists in general. It’s nothing against any of this issue’s artists, all of whom put in fine work, but one of Marvel NOW!’s most prominent features has been finding the definitive artist to work on each title, and I’d love to see Hulk give an artist time to make the book their own the way Waid has.
Shelby, what’s your take on this? Did you have fun learning more about Banner’s assistants? What do you think about Wolman and her latest attempt at S.B.H. (Suicide By Hulk)?
Shelby: Spencer, I really like your speculation on how Hulk can feel pity. We’ve seen Hulk be surprisingly sincere before: remember “devil man Hulk’s friend“? Hulk’s pity for Jessup here is another example of his extreme loyalty; he remembers that Jessup has helped him in the past, and he somehow has a grasp on how their two situations are similar. We know Hulk is rage incarnate, but in Waid’s hands he’s more than that. He feels base emotions, and more importantly he is pretty self-aware. I don’t know if this is an after-affect from the time travel and possible history-tampering, or maybe just Banner’s attitude about his role in the Hulk/Banner smash/build situation rubbing off on Hulk somehow, but I like it. Hulk is great for seeing unbelievable fight scenes and brutal smashings; if that same character can also be complex and somewhat nuanced, I am all for it.
I am also all for poor Jessup’s Inhuman mutation. I love the juxtaposition; he’s a horrifying monster who makes you feel good. Think about the real world implications. Want to stop a war? Drop Jessup into the middle of it; everyone will be hugging and giggling in no time.
This thing that looks like the Hulk infected by Venom (has that ever happened? Because that would be amazing), and yet it makes everyone feel more mellow than a giant bag of weed. I also love that Jessup is undone by pity. The panels of Jessup’s transformation back into himself really struck me, both for what he said and for Hulk’s reply.
There’s something about the idea of pity being painful that really stuck with me as I read this issue. I can totally understand it; even when you could maybe use some pity, someone directing it at you can…chafe, almost. You want people to care about you, but you don’t want them necessarily feeling sorry for you, and I love that that is Jessup’s weakness. I’m actually hoping Hulk will be able to feel some of that pity towards Patty. She’s basically doing what he does; she’s angry and lashing out. Will he be able to dredge up some understanding for what she’s going through? There’s also the line, “Nothing hurts the Hulk!” Despite all that I said earlier about Hulk becoming more nuanced, he’s still mostly just a rage monster. And I suppose he’s right; if rage is your defense mechanism and you strike out violently at whatever attacks you, than I guess nothing can hurt you. I never thought I’d say this, but this book wouldn’t be nearly so special without the Hulk’s understanding of the human condition. Waid must be a magician to pull that trick off.
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