Today, Shelby and Taylor are discussing Hulk 1, originally released April 16, 2014.
Shelby: I love online quizzes, the dumber the better. If I can answer a dozen questions and find out which sandwich I am, I rest easier at night. There’s always that one question, “If you friends could pick one word to describe you, what would that word be?” that always gives me pause. How can a person be distilled down to just one, defining thing? And how am I supposed to know what other people would say that one thing is? Comic book characters probably don’t suffer the same sort of existential crisis I feel talking personality quizzes because most of them do have that one thing that defines them. Take Bruce Banner, for instance. He’s defined by his intelligence; he’s one of the smart ones. Well, I suppose he’s also defined by his predilection towards turning into a green rage monster, but if we consider Bruce alone, the one word I’d use to describe him would be “smartypants.” So, what does it mean for the character if he loses that one thing that makes him who he is? Or who he was, anyway.
Last issue, while he was still feeling the relaxed bliss of having all his anger drained away by Jessup, Bruce was shot in the head, thus “ending” the run of Indestructible Hulk and ushering in this “new” title. Eminent brain surgeon Aaron Carpenter is called in by S.H.I.E.L.D. to operate on none other than Bruce Banner; his job is to keep Banner alive while a coterie of doctors and nurses take a whole host of samples. As Carpenter muses about Banner’s fate (apparently the two knew each other in undergrad), we find out S.H.I.E.L.D. isn’t actually running the show, and they want Carpenter to implant a device in Banner’s brain which would allow the Hulk to be triggered remotely. Carpenter hesitates: does he allow these people to weaponize the Hulk, or does his break his oaths a doctor and kill Banner to keep him and the world safe? Before he can decide, the anesthesiologist makes the decision for him, and wakes Banner up. A standard Hulk-out ensues, except that this time Hulk’s brain is hanging out of his skull. After punching some walls and saving the doctors and nurses, he bounds away, only to be found by Coulson and Hill 2 weeks later in a very unexpected state.
This is a massive step back, not only for Bruce as a character, but for this title as a whole. I loved Indestructible Hulk because of the way Mark Waid handled the character. He gave Bruce so much agency over his own life, which I suspect is something Bruce Banner has been missing ever since that first gamma blast. Waid’s Banner was determined to make the world a better place, to focus on the good he could do as both the Hulk and himself instead of focusing on the destruction Hulk causes. I’m not saying we won’t get back to that same place with Bruce; I’ve read enough comic books to know that “forever” means virtually nothing. I do think this book took a serious hit in the personality department; there’s just no sparkle to these characters. Granted, we don’t meet anyone we know until the last quarter of the book, but that’s no excuse for the flat, formulaic delivery we got here. The story suffers heavily from “what-a-coincidence” syndrome; Dr. Carpenter JUST HAPPENED to go to school with Bruce, and so could ponder his journey from unpopular nerd (unlike the popular nerds, I guess) to brilliant doctor/monster. The worst example by far has got to be the anestesiologist, who woke Hulk up because she HAPPENED to be the little girl pictured in a newspaper article about the Hulk that Carpenter HAPPENED to read and mentally comment on years before.
Come on, that’s just plain nonsense; am I really supposed to believe that the girl in that newspaper photo Carpenter read however many years ago happens to show up as the anesthesiologist assisting him as he operates on the Hulk? There is an interesting moral dilemma here as Carpenter contemplates killing Bruce to keep the Hulk out of enemy hands, but the impact of that decision is completely negated by Carpenter’s contemplating killing Bruce earlier in the book just for the sake of getting rid of the Hulk. Instead of being faced with a real decision which involves weighing his own ethical code against the safety of the world, he’s just still thinking about killing Hulk. The serious implications are rendered meaningless, and this unnamed woman who is apparently the hero of the story makes the decision in order to save Hulk, not in order to save the world.
This whole issue just feels really dated to me. The coincedences I’m supposed to be dumb enough to believe, the shadow-y villains who reveal their hand and disappear when everything goes belly up, the ANNOYING AS HELL third-person narrator: even artist Mark Bagley’s work, while fine enough in its own right, fits in with this dated comic book feel. I love the idea of Bruce Banner having severe brain damage; we’ve basically got two Hulks now, one of them is just a lot less … well, everything. I would love to see Bruce work his way through this and come out the other side. I just wish the execution on this new arc hadn’t been so clumsy. Taylor, what did you think of this new view of the Hulk? I forget, had you been reading Indestructible Hulk?
Taylor: I haven’t been reading Indestructible Hulk so I’m new to Hulk-Fest. Of course I’ve seen our jolly green giant tramping around other titles, but never have I read a story where he’s our number one guy. That being said, I can’t say I share all of your pessimism about the future of this title, though it definitely has some glaring problems.
Like you, Shelby, I found the plot of this issue to be a little too rudimentary for my liking. While there always needs to be a little deus ex machina in our fictional narratives to make them go, too much of it can make a story seem sloppy. I too found the coincidence of the anesthesiologist girl a bit hard to believe. It would have made for a better story if Carpenter had caused the Hulk to wake up. After all, we follow Carpenter around for the entire issue, so he’s basically the hero of the story. That being so, why wasn’t he slotted into the role of Hulk-saver? Heck, it would have been a bold move to make the entire issue center around the anesthesiologist and her quest to repay the Hulk someone. What we get instead is just unsatisfactory story telling. Why did we care at all about Carpenter? How did his character deepen our understanding of Bruce or the Hulk? Sadly, it seems the answer is he didn’t.
Aside from those glaring miscues in the narrative, there are other aspects of this issue which make it hard to enjoy. Once the Hulk starts his rampage, the evil agents gas the chamber where the Hulk’s surgery was taking place. In response the Hulk, as he is wont to do, smashes.
One the agents notes that the Hulk just smashed though “Negative Zone” glass which for some reason should have sent the Hulk to another dimension. How or why the glass would work in this way isn’t really explained and Waid seems to be saying it just doesn’t matter. The apparent reason for this little bit of information being included is that it shows us just how bad-ass the Hulk is. However, without knowing how bad-ass this Negative Zone glass is, how do you we know what the Hulk just did is all that amazing? Waid has fallen into the trap of telling his readers how they should be feeling instead of showing it to them. A demonstration of the glass’ toughness earlier in the issue (some poor soul being Negative Zoned) would have set the entire situation up much better.
Ultimately though, do we need yet another demonstration of the Hulk’s strength? As you mentioned Shelby, this issue is so stereotypical in it’s presentation it’s somewhat tedious. The action seems to thrown into this issue if for no other reason than someone felt like there had to be some. But why not take a chance and set up the story with a solid issue of exposition?
Yet while I agree with you about the narrative problems this issue has, I couldn’t disagree with you more about the major development presented at the end of the issue. Yes, Bruce Banner, genius, is now brain damaged and with it his signature characteristic. Whereas you see this as step back for the series, I see it as a step to the side, breaking all expectations of what we expected to happen. I was recently talking to my brother about about an interview he heard with Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin. Apparently when conceiving plots for his famous books, Martin likes to take away the things his characters love most (i.e. Sansa’s family, Tyrion’s power, Jaime’s hand). Then, he likes to see how these characters cope with their loss. With that in mind, it’s interesting to see Waid effectively do the same thing to Bruce. He takes away what makes Bruce amazing and the very thing he’s worked so hard to achieve. That is, he’s made Bruce an idiot. I, for one, am excited to see where this takes our hero and how it will effect the Hulk. If Bruce becomes dumber, does the Hulk become smarter?
Oh and Bagley’s art. While not entirely his fault I found that this issue seemed like we were watching an episode of [insert relevant hospital drama]. Seriously, half of the issue looks like this:
It’s not exactly enthralling to be watching a bunch of doctors standing around. Bagley needs to do more to make us feel the tension in the operating room. As it stands in the issue, it’s just dull and lifeless.
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