I’ve been excited for most of the Marvel NOW! titles that are coming out but none more than the Indestructible Hulk by Mark Waid. With the first issue, we’re treated to a simple set up of Bruce Banner and Maria Hill working out the particulars of a new arrangement. Banner will develop technology for the world with an unlimited S.H.I.E.L.D. budget while also Hulking out for S.H.I.E.L.D. as a human WMD. Between Lenil Yu’s amazing pencils and the pitch perfect coloring of Sunny Gho this is a version of the Hulk character that I have longed for since Peter David retired from the character back in the late 90s.
Mark Waid is probably one of my favorite comicbook writers. I’m not saying this to warn of any particular bias at the front of this review. He’s certainly written comics weren’t my glass of whisky. I couldn’t get into his BOOM! Studios titles, Irredeemable and Incorruptible, and parts of his classic Flash run didn’t play perfectly for me either. So know that my opinion of his abilities is not unshakable. The fact is that Waid has an eye for superhero concepts that few modern voices in the industry can muster.
That’s not a slam against modern comics writers because we’ve seen some that are completely respectful of the genre while putting their own unique stamp on it. Matt Fraction, Jeff Parker, and Scott Snyder all immediately come to mind as examples. It’s just that Waid doesn’t approach a comic pitch as, “How would I write Captain Superhero? How do I make this character cool?” Instead he approaches it as, “Who is Captain Superhero to me? What are the most important elements of Captain Superhero and how can I make those relevant?” This has worked extremely well for him when dealing with Marvel characters over the last few years.
With Captain America and Daredevil, Waid harkened back to a simple interpretation for the motivations of both characters and then paired that interpretation with top artistic talent. With Captain America it was Ron Garney and Andy Kubert. With Daredevil it was Marcos Martin, Paolo Rivera, and currently Chris Samnee. His comics tap into the best that the superhero comic can offer up in the wake of modern day reinterpretations and “retconning” to make the character relevant. Waid never “fixes” a character and he never “revises” a character; he just takes them to the next logical step, honors the core concept and happens to shed all the dead weight along the way.
The question then becomes, how do you do something like that with the character of the Hulk? The main problem with the character of Bruce Banner has been that the simple concept of “scientist who turns into monster and is desperately trying to cure himself” has been rehashed so many times that the character seemed hopeless no matter who was writing the title. Peter David has pretty much been the sole writer to be able to consistently deliver an entertaining series of stories for the character. Yet he had to retcon and revise to get the Hulk to a point he could work with. David left us with multiple incarnations, psychological damage that manifested physically, super-personalities and revised powersets and supporting cast members. It was great reading but can’t be repeated. So here comes Mark Waid, rolling up his sleeves and going, “Allow me” and succeeding where Bruce Jones, Jason Aaron, Joe Casey and Jeph Loeb all attempted and, in my opinion, dropped the ball.
Waid’s take on Bruce Banner seems to be slightly influenced by the recent Avengers movie with Banner’s scientist side showing more than his “desperate man with anger issues” side. He’s funny, self-effacing, casually shows off his brilliance and pokes fun at his past antics. He’s also come to terms with life as the Hulk. As Banner puts it, “Being the Hulk is a chronic condition, like diabetes or cancer or M.S. The secret to living with it isn’t obsessing over a cure. It’s managing what exists.” With this one piece of dialogue Waid allows the character to move in an entirely new direction by just letting go (letting go, all caps, exclamation, exclamation) of the easy story beats of the last 40 odd years and go off in an entirely new direction.
It’s also refreshing to get back to a version of Banner that was briefly glimpsed at under the brief tenure of Greg Pak and seems to have been forgotten until now: Bruce Banner, science hero. Banner is one of the smartest minds in the Marvel Universe but seems to have had that status relegated to the sidelines of his character due to his “condition” and Marvel’s continued obsession with going to the well repeatedly to mine the Jekyll and Hyde concepts of the character. Instead of a monster movie with superheroes, we are promised a hero like Doc Savage but with the power to go big and green.
Last but not least is Waid’s usual promise to take his characters in new directions but not having them face off against their classic rogues gallery. Just like Daredevil avoided Bullseye and Kingpin under Waid’s pen, Hulk takes on the Mad Thinker in yet another “of course, why hasn’t anyone thought of that match up before” moments in a Mark Waid Marvel book.
This being a Marvel comic, we can’t get too attached to the artistic side of the book. For now, though, I’m going to love seeing Lenil Francis Yu working on a monthly book again and I’m excited to see how he’ll top the action set pieces in this first issue. Obviously, we’ll get even bigger battles down the road, but right away, we’re shown what an awesome fight scene can be when the Hulk is backed by a SWAT team and taking on a target without having to dodge Hulkbuster teams and the United States Army firing at him.
It’s much too soon to declare a title my favorite of the Marvel NOW! brand, I’m at least going to count this as one of my top 5 where I’m sure it will remain without vacillating.