Hulk’s had a difficult time of late. He’s been betrayed by his friends and shipped off across the universe where he was forced to play Russell Crowe in Ridley Scott’s epic Gladiator. Then he came back to Earth with a gang of friends to take part in Gangs of New York before, this Summer, being possessed in The Exorcist and went about hitting people with a hammer. He even ended up in a side project as Van Helsing in Coppola’s Dracula. And on top of that he’s been franchised – by Walt Disney, no doubt – into a spectrum of different colours that rival the range of Care Bears. No wonder he’s more than angry… he’s well-and-truly fed up and has dumped Bruce Banner (literally, out of his head at one of the many ends of Fear Itself #7) before going off and growing a beard. A beard? you ask. Yes a rather stylish 60s beat-like shaggy beard. He’s also gone for a Mad Max III-outfit sporting some nifty-looking necklaces. After all, he’s Hulk and he can do what the hell he likes.
Hulk’s a difficult character to sell. He’s a giant green monster who, well… smashes things. There’s only so much a writer can do to before the trope of monster-with-a-heart-who-is-misunderstood-and-smashes-things reasserts itself and the title becomes tired again. Jeph Loeb’s had some reasonable success with his multicolured War of the Hulks recently but arguably that success was down to the novelty factor and Loeb’s skills as a writer rather than anything inherent in Hulk as a character. Personally, the only Hulk I can remember enjoying was the strange black and white Rampaging Hulk title from the 1970s when I was a kid and first reading comics. (I’d warrant that hiring Jeff Lemire and Scott Snyder to co-write Rampaging Hulk today as a mature horror comic with black and white art by Emma Rio would sell truckloads). I’ve not read Greg Pak’s run on Hulk but lots of people rate it highly. However, in this year of re-boots and re-launches, Marvel have decided that Hulk needs a makeover so Red Hulk goes off to fight in the Middle East and Green Hulk grows a beard and goes all “deep” and sagacious.
So leaping in and smashing its way onto the stands first is the new The Incredible Hulk #1 written by “Marvel Architect” Jason Aaron (who does a neat side-business in designing house extensions) and pencils by “Legendary Artist” Marc Silvestri (who is currently repainting the Sistene Chapel) and Michael Broussard (who plays Mini-Me-Silvestri over at Top Cow). It has an awesome cover with a seriously veiny Hulk standing with his hands dripping in blood. For a moment I thought I was looking at a Swamp Thing cover but – no – this is coldly angry Hulk who looks tremendously pissed. And then we’re into a savage fight between Hulk and a giant teethy eel in a volcano. Then a fight with a giant teethy crab in a volcano. Then a fight with a giant teethy octopus in a volcano. (Can you see the pattern here? It’s all in the smiles!) While Hulk is fighting he’s meditating on his usual existential angst but seems to have found peace in living as part of a hippy commune of hitherto undiscovered primitive yellow goblins. Obviously – being a Hulk comic – our hero isn’t going to get any peace and he is attacked by sophisticated robots. (Can you see the obvious contrast here? It’s all in the Von Doom teched-out femme fatale with a scar.) Hulk’s being recruited by the US Government for… well… buy the goddamn comic and find out (but I can reveal it involved giant green pigs and two sacks of animals!).
Strangely, I liked Silvestri’s and Broussard’s art. It’s pretty detailed and dynamic (though I’m no fan of the awful Photoshop blurring that gets used). Hulk himself is leaner and meaner and actually looks a little like a pumped-up, bearded Brad Pitt. There’s the typical Silvestri “lining-it-to-death” artwork but I think that it gives the comic a sharper, more intense feel that suits Hulk more than Ed McGuinness’ flatter, cartoony work recently on the main Hulk title. Giving this comic its due, I’m hooked enough to be on for this storyline if it’s as good as this. The Hulk’s beard and The Island of Doctor Moreau “twist” at the end is certainly enough to keep me buying this. Recommended.