Hulk 5

Today, Spencer and Ryan M. are discussing Hulk 5, originally released April 26th, 2017. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.

Spencer: A defining trait of She-Hulk has always been control — becoming She-Hulk gave Jennifer Walters confidence, and she could fully control that form to the point where she remained Hulked-Out 24/7. Much of the tragedy of Mariko Tamaki and Nico Leon’s Hulk has been watching Jen lose that control as a result of the trauma she underwent in Civil War II, but Hulk 5 shows that Jen’s situation is actually far more circular and complicated; she didn’t just lose control because of her trauma, but her trauma hit her so hard because she lost control in the first place.

Or, maybe its less that she lost control and more that her control of her life, abilities, and entire world was ripped away from her. Hulk 5 opens on a flashback to Jen’s recovery in the hospital, where she’s greeted by a vision of her cousin, former-Hulk Bruce Banner.  Jen’s distressed by the fact that she’s in the hospital instead of out helping people; Bruce tries to reassure her by telling her that “everything’s going to be okay,” but the platitude’s of no comfort to her as the vision turns dark.

We’ve seen in previous issues that Jen’s painful new Hulk transformation is set off by fear and anxiety, but here we get a specific set of triggers: “You’re not okay. I’m not okay. No one is okay.” The Hulk appears when Jen fully loses her faith in the world she once felt so in control of, through despair and a loss of hope (the thought of Bruce’s death seems to confirm to Jen that nothing can be okay, and continues to be her most potent trigger throughout the series). Jen and Tamaki even confirm that this new Hulk is indeed gray instead of green, and imply that the change in color indicates a change in the Hulk’s function from an avatar of Jen’s confidence to an avatar of her hopelessness. Gray is a color closely associated with depression, after all.

In the present, Jen finds herself fleeing from the dark creatures summoned by Maise Brewn and the other tenants of her building, unable to transform into the Hulk. Maise and her neighbors have embraced the darkness of hopelessness; nothing will ever be okay, nobody will help them, nobody else can be trusted, so they have to take care of themselves. The exact nature and mechanics of this creature are still unexplained, but it works like gangbusters as a metaphor for those who turn to violence and cruelty as a response to a cruel world. They’re every bullied child who becomes a bully themselves, every abuse victim who becomes an abuser themselves, every nihilist who thinks the “pointlessness” of the world gives them a free pass to be cruel. Most of these people, deep down, are simply scared and traumatized like Maise Brewn, but their trauma doesn’t give them an excuse to hurt and kill people, to rob others of their safety in order to protect theirs.

Jen tries to talk Maise and her neighbors down by reminding them of how much hope there is in the world, but Maise accuses Jen of not even believing that herself, and Jen can’t exactly prove her wrong. Jen tries to psyche herself up through “soothing words of optimism,” which probably would have worked for She-Hulk, but fail at helping her become the Hulk. Jen’s epiphany comes when she remembers vision-Bruce’s words to her back at the hospital.

What triggers Jen’s transformation isn’t Bruce’s platitude, but the realization that came afterwards: “No one is okay.” In fact, the exact same words Jen spoke as she first became the Hulk back at the hospital run through her mind once again as she transforms on the final page of the issue:

Based on the above two images, though, this doesn’t appear to be as violent and painful of a transformation as the ones that came before. In the past Jen was overwhelmed, pained by the realization that “no one is okay.” Here, she accepts it, and that acceptance finally allows her to transform. I can only speculate, but this appears to be a different kind of acceptance than that of Maise and her neighbors. Theirs turned them cruel and selfish, but even while traumatized, Jen thinks of others and tries to help them. Jen is capable of accepting that maybe the confidence and control she thought she had over her world was always an illusion, but just because things won’t always be okay doesn’t mean that she should give up trying to make things better any way she can. Jen will never be the person she once was, but this certainly looks like her first step towards true recovery to me.

Nico Leon’s art continues to be a wonderful compliment to Tamaki’s story. Not only is Leon’s work capable of switching between serenity and chaos as quickly as Jen’s life is, but he imbues even the simplest scenes with the themes of the issue. Take Jen’s conversation with Captain Marvel at the hospital.

Leon frames poor Jen, confined to a bed, in tight shots and close-ups, showing how constrained she feels, while we always see Carol from a distance, showing the figurative distance between the two women. In fact, throughout this entire three-page sequence Leon never puts Carol and Jen in a panel together; even in the same room, they’re separated by the trauma Jen’s undergone. It’s smart, intuitive, subtle work.

Ryan, what did you get out of this one? I find this to be a smart and thoughtful title, but occasionally the slow pace gets to me; how do you think it’s moving along?

Ryan M.: I agree about the speed of this story. In this issue, I was surprised when I got to that “To Be Continued” panel; I thought that there had to be more story contained in the issue. There are really only two scenes in the issue: Jen in the hospital and the fight at the apartment complex. While there is certainly enough complexity in those situations to garner pages of interest, this issue doesn’t feel full.

Given how we’ve seen Jen behave when she’s alone, especially in her apartment, her reflections in the hospital bed don’t play as discoveries. Perhaps they aren’t supposed to, as Jen’s internal monologue chides the reader for expecting anything profound. Tamaki does makes some interesting connections here with the idea that “No One is Okay.” As Jen runs through the apartment building trying to evade the monster, she reflects on a co-worker’s use of tracking steps to maintain metal health. The book seems to be saying that everyone is trying to keep it together. It’s the flip-side of the idea that hope remains eternal. You only need hope if things are shaky in the first place. Jen cannot help herself from wanting to help people and it’s no longer natural for her to do that in her old way. Now, she has to tap into the universal pain in order to help heal it. This aligns very well with the scenes throughout the series of Jen surrounded on the streets and the subway by the people of NYC, each with their own bubble of drama. She has been disconnected from the world thus far, only reaching out cautiously, like a turtle poking its head from the safety of its shell. By the time she confronts the residents and their monster in this issue, Jen is bolder and more present than we’ve seen before.

Leon makes sure that the reader doesn’t miss that dynamic when Jen first sees everyone on the roof. The angle of the panel is slanted, making it seem like gravity may play a role in the hunched-shouldered horde closing in on Jen as she stands defenseless in her lawyer clothes.

Leon gives us a diverse group on that roof. Each of them has found the world too cruel. There is a sense of hopelessness in each of their expressions. Even the graffiti on the roof reinforces that despair. Depictions of a man with his head in his hands and a boy with a lit cigarette in his mouth loom large behind the residents as they confront Jen. They make a somewhat convincing case for staying with the monster, but Jen can’t let the monster win.

No matter what she has lost, she has not lost her sense of right. Jen has been soothing herself, working to keep it together as she builds her life again. Tamaki offers Jen’s internal monologue as a way for us to monitor her self-treatment even as her emotions are opaque to the outside. In this issue, we see both that she has healed enough to be able to use her gray side and that part of her is still as lost as she was in the hospital bed.

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?

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6 comments on “Hulk 5

  1. Got to say, I was disappointed with this issue. The character work is always strong, but I felt the pace was lacking. As Ryan said, I was surprised to reach that last page and see ‘To Be Continued’ (I think part of the reason is that 7 pages is too much for a flashback that doesn’t actually add anywhere near enough new story content, especially as it is disconnected from the plot). As always, the character work was strong. And they have done a great job with the monster throughout this arc, making it distinct from the Hulk even as it is similar. The fact that the monster is connected to everyone, not just Maise just makes this villain even better. But it really felt like the ending of this issue should be the final, horrifying reveal of the new Hulk. The end of the transformation, not the start.

    Which is to say, I disagree with you, Spencer, on the idea that this is a less violent transformation. THe transformation is going to be violent, but it has just begun. Firstly, the image of the eye is intense, with energy leaking out. To me, it felt like the textbook example of overwhelming – so overwhelming that she literally cannot hold all the gamma energy inside her and it leaks out. Combine that with the fact that the sequence is one of rapid increasing of intensity, with Jen being overwhelmed, screaming ‘No’ and, in the panel just before the transformation starts, being scared. Looking at the transformation from the perspective of the events, there is no sign of control in this circumstance. And, when you place the narration in context with the events, I would argue against the narration being a statement of acceptance, but of despair. This is her darkest moment in the arc. Because hulking out is going to be a dark thing in this story (later, she’ll be able to reconcile with the Hulk better, but honestly, we need at least one moment showing off the true terror of the Hulk before we can start the healing. Jen can’t start healing before we understand the disease). She’ll save the day, but this is the worst possible way to do it.

    Still, that’s the good character work. But the problems. As Ryan said, this issue doesn’t feel full. Feels like there needs to be more. But there are other problems. Primarily, the art. I’ve generally had a problem with the art, mostly with how it does faces etc, and it gets worse here. What the hell happened to Bruce’s eyes? Because that first page of Bruce looks like some sort of monster, the way the eyes are done.
    And there are other problems. That first page you showed, SPencer, is terribly set up. They way the page is designed actually makes it easy to miss the memory of Bruce getting shot. Our natural method of reading means that, without guidance, we naturally begin the panel at the left, but the page then indicates that we should go down, not across, and miss the silhouette of Bruce flying through the air. Between the lack of lettering on the right, and the way the bottom panel draws attention to itself by creeping much closer to the second panel than the other panel means our eyes are drawn downwards, not across. Too easy to miss Bruce. Either the silhouette needed to be closer, so that there wasn’t a big black wall between it and Jen or the lettering needed to be further to the right. As it is, the page doesn’t do a good enough job controlling our eyelines. And then there is the fact that the third panel looks so awkward. Bruce’s body is posed in a way that looks silly, and really undercuts Jen’s horror.

    This is still a good series, but a disappointing issue. The art issues are at their worst, and the issue itself felt slight. It is that issue that comes along every so often that it so focused on setting up a finale that it doesn’t work by itself. Still, I can’t wait for next issue. That should be fantastic

    • I had the same issues with the art and the pace that you did, Matt. I was baffled by the page you referenced and wondered why Bruce was hanging upside down in the air. I also struggled to believe that the issue was over when it ended. I agree that the next issues should be great, but comics early in a series shouldn’t promise great things, they should be great things. I’ve been burned too many times waiting for next issue and eventually I realize next issue isn’t coming.

      That said, I can’t wait for next issue.

      • The difference here is that the previous issues have been strong, and weak penultimate issues are a consistent problem. Hulk isn’t the first comic to struggle with the penultimate issue, and this is a problem with many more books. It is something that needs to be fixed, but it is such a problem industry wide that I am willing to forgive it, knowing that the rest of the comic has been so strong.

        But damn, this book needs a better artist. The sensational colourwork, especially with the transformation scenes, helps solve most of the problems. But the consistent issues with faces, and the physical performance problems, are too much of a problem in a comic so focused on physical ‘acting’. No Marvel comic since the Vision is so reliant on being able to depict performance, and I’d love a book where the art truly pulls that off

    • As a general rule, I prefer using a character’s real name, instead of their title, so that everything I write is rooted in the character’s identity as a person, not their title (interestingly, I discovered that the screenwriters of the Captain America movies do the exact same thing for the exact same reason). And I think this is especially important for Hulks, where the monster is an extension of the character. Green or Grey, the Hulk we meet next issue is ultimately Jen.

      But if you want a name, I would recommend Hulk. Makes clear that this grey version is distinctly different to the green She Hulk, and how this version is much closer to the traditional, uncontrollable version of the Hulk

  2. The story has the right elements, the pacing is too slow and the art is fine, but the scenes don’t speak enough. This issue could have utilized the majority of the Deconstructed arc’s rising climax; condense the flashback conversation between Carol and Jen, emphasize more on Bruce’s death and Jen’s loss of control with a looming shadow of the Hulk ready to take her by storm. Masie’s fellow neighbors and their monsters could have summarized the existence of their world in act ii before the demon in their control begins its onslaught upon Walters. Lastly, the final five pages could have been spent with Jen’s transformation into the beast. It should capture the attention of all with her roaring into the atmosphere filled with anger and despair as she emerges from the rubble for the final issue. Sounds cliche, but in all honesty, that’s the type of climax I was expecting.

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