Another year, another Hulk relaunch. It seems that the Jade Giant just can't catch a break.
For over a decade both Marvel and readers alike knew that Bruce Banner and his alter ego were safe in the hands of Peter David. Sadly though, after that the character languished until Bruce Jones did some wonderful stuff in a run that was annoyingly cut short when Jones signed an exclusive contract with DC. Peter David returned for less than a year, leaving again due to his own high workload. Then came Greg Pak with Planet Hulk, possibly the finest Hulk story ever crafted - a science fiction opus with oppressive regimes, gladiatorial games and rebellions that owed a debt to Messrs Ridley Scott and George Lucas, yet was greater than the sum of its parts.
Unfortunately the subsequent World War Hulk was akin to watching students trying and failing to recapture the magic of an unexpectedly awesome house party. Even as a publishing event, Marvel branded it as a '"sorbet to cleanse your palate" rather than the hearty dining experience of Civil War. And then once again, Hulk and the good Doctor caught the yips, being sidelined by Jeph Loeb's Red Hulk nonsense.
I know Red Hulk was well received by many, but the publishing delays and the mystery behind his identity were badly handled. I'm still convinced the ultimate identity reveal was fudged and altered after internet speculation hit on the originally intended alter ego (*cough* Talbot *cough*). Seriously, his moustache disappears when Ross becomes the Hulk? WHAT? Red Hulk was a great idea from Mark Millar's original Civil War outline, that would have made a great self-contained story like Planet Hulk or Millar's own Old Man Logan, but Loeb and the powers-that-be at Marvel made it into a shambolic mess.
Soon after we ended up with both a (Red) Hulk comic and an Incredible Hulks comic, the latter featuring Banner and his half-alien son. I kid you not. It was frustrating. Iron Man may be my favourite Avenger, but Hulk is the close second and it's hard to see Bruce Banner treated so poorly when he's such a great analogy for young men struggling with their own rage, power and intelligence. A modern day Jekyll and Hyde, with a soupçon of something more.
Then came news of possible salvation in the shape of Jason Aaron and Marc Silvestri. Incredible Hulk relaunched last year under these two celebrated creators. I was excited.
It was crap.
The Hulk and Banner had been separated after the events of Fear Itself. Hulk was the reluctant hero. Banner was the monster - a mad man consumed with mad science. It was miles away from what made Hulk special; a terrible misstep by Jason Aaron (whose Thor God Of Thunder #1 released last week is a testament to how good he can be!). Even Silvestri left after five issues. The two subsequent story arcs ultimately put the toys back in the box - reuniting Banner and Hulk - albeit with a brief diversion to essentially rip-off the Crank movies. Badly.
So here we are, just over a year on and the Incredible Hulk has been cancelled and replaced by the Indestructible Hulk. The new writer Mark Waid is a man you can often trust to deliver a fresh take and some solid quality. He was the only writer other than Ed Brubaker to make the mainstream Captain America readable for me. Both Irredeemable and Incorruptible are a fantastic look at the superhero genre taken to an extreme, without resorting to hyper-violence and harsh language. Not to mention the seminal Kingdom Come and the acclaimed new run on Daredevil. And I'm relieved to say he's done it again.
This first issue of Indestructible Hulk is a masterclass in comic writing, as it both delivers an entertaining self-contained story, whilst also setting up the premise for this new run.
It's a short time after AvX and SHIELD has lost all trace of Banner/Hulk, much to the chagrin of Director Maria Hill. It turns out the man has been off thinking: weighing up his options, reflecting on his mistakes and consulting with his inner monster. In short, he's had a bit of a breakthrough. The Hulk isn't something he can cure, but it is something he can live with - managing the transformations - taking inspiration from the thousands of people who deal with diabetes or MS. With that, the world is his oyster once more. Rather than treating Hulk like a ticking bomb, he's a cannon to be aimed at a problem when the time comes.
So he's come to SHIELD for funding and support. When he's Banner, they get one of the brightest minds in the Marvel Universe, finally free of the self-imposed shackles of guilt and responsibility, ready to contribute and help - determined to leave a positive legacy like his peers. When he's the Hulk, he's a weapon - the strongest SHIELD agent they've ever had. He's even approached Hill on the day of a dangerous op, planning to save lives and audition for his new role in one grand swoop.
It's a bold new beginning and exactly what I've been waiting for. Leinil Yu's intricate pencils bring the whole thing to life and have a feel that reminds me of his lovely work on Secret Invasion (rather than his slightly underwhelming New Avengers art), though I'm reminded that Yu's art needs a good inker to give his fine lines some definition where appropriate. Thankfully he has one here, though I'm not sure whether that's down to Yu himself or colourist Sunny Cho. The colouring occasionally wanders off piste - most notable when Hill briefly looks like she's come down with a bad case of the Red Hulks - but for the most part it's a good effort.
So Hulk in comics seems to have followed a path similar to Hulk in film and TV adaptations. After a long running, much loved TV series, the Ang Lee film was a horrid travesty. And whilst the Ed Norton penned Incredible Hulk film was pretty good, it wasn't great, and it was no great shock when Marvel passed on a sequel to focus on other characters. Then came the Avengers, where Mark Ruffalo's Hulk was arguably the breakout star. Like Ruffalo's interpretation, Waid's Indestructible Hulk similarly feels like a fresh twist that somehow still embodies the heart of the classic character.
The Hulk has a bright future ahead I feel. If you also felt burnt by the promise of last year's Incredible Hulk, rest assured that Indestructible Hulk does deliver.
Ben Fardon eagerly awaits issue #2.