[27 March 2013]
When I read World War Hulk, it occurred to me that the Hulk was the world’s first superhero.
Watching Hulk rip through Marvel’s good guys while dressed in ancient gladiator fare inspired the thought that the Hulk is the only modern superhero who is closer to heroes of myth and legend–like Samson and Herakles–than he is to his contemporaries; including, yes, heroes more overtly inspired by myth like Marvel’s Thor and Hercules. The Hulk can be a force for good, but that isn’t what drives him. He’ll save the world, sure, but only because that’s what Marvel heroes do. He doesn’t share the morality of the web-slingers and time-lost soldiers of the Marvel Universe. The Hulk’s war isn’t one waged against crime or injustice, but fought for his own freedom. And that’s why even though, obviously, calling Hulk the world’s first superhero is chronologically ridiculous, the fact that his moral compass has little or nothing to do with his choices renders him more like a hero of Ancient Greece than one of Avengers Tower.
Hence, why it proves difficult for me to warm up to Indestructible Hulk. I’m a lifelong Hulk fan, and his spike in popularity since the Avengers film is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it’s gratifying to see that Marvel clearly wants the green goliath in the spotlight. On the other, bringing Hulk back to the Avengers and the Marvel mainstream seems to necessitate stripping away what makes him unique. There is something wrong about watching a raging powerhouse who, until recently, spent most of his time fighting the US military suddenly taking orders from a guy wearing a flag. Likewise, making Hulk an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. doesn’t feel any more natural.
But that’s only the beginning of what I don’t like about Hulk’s new home title. Mark Waid’s focus is clearly the Hulk’s paler half, and unfortunately Waid’s Bruce Banner is arrogant, sarcastic to the point where it just gets boring, and overall seems little more than an unlikeable echo of Tony Stark. Inventing world-changing gizmos every week stretches believability even for a comicbook scientist. And all the supposed new things Waid brings to the table aren’t new at all. The “revelation” that the Hulk is a condition to be managed rather than cured was the norm for over a decade. There’s an exception or two, but Peter David flushed Banner’s endless attempts to cure himself back in the late eighties, and most of the writers who followed did the same.
Worse, the stories are unsatisfying and formulaic. Bruce Banner makes a lot of wise-ass comments, he’s sent to beat up bad guys, the bad guy says something like, “Ha! We’ve won! The Hulk couldn’t possibly—oh no! He’s doing that thing he couldn’t possibly do!” And you’ve got yourself an issue of Indestructible Hulk.
If this were another character, or perhaps another writer, I would’ve already stopped reading. But the Hulk’s my guy, and Mark Waid’s body of work earns him some benefit-of-the-doubt. Indestructible Hulk #5 is the second half of the first two-parter in the series, so I thought it might be a good chance to see if Mark Waid could surprise me.
I’m happy to say that while Waid hasn’t completely sold me yet, I’m curious and intrigued enough to stay on board for a little while longer.
In the previous issue Maria Hill sent Banner to deal with Namor’s regular pain-in-the-ass, Attuma. Sea monsters were surfacing and killing people, and S.H.I.E.L.D. learned Attuma, with the Lemurian military at his back, was behind the attacks. With the Chinese navy’s help, the Hulk smashed a few Lemurians, but failed to stop Attuma before a sea monster dragged him into a crevice. In Indestructible Hulk #5, Banner is rescued by Lemurian rebels. They take him to an ancient scroll which, among other things, reveals Attuma’s plans of world domination. With the Hulk’s help, the Lemurian rebels assault Attuma’s base, there’s some smashing involved, and Banner eventually leaves with a mysterious reward in his possession.
Waid enjoys more room to breathe with this two-parter, and it shows. We get a bit more of a conflict between Attuma and the Hulk. The Hulk’s previous battles with the Mad Thinker and the Quintronic Man respectively seemed to last a few seconds, and didn’t give us quite enough fisticuffs. The fights were over before you had a chance to even pretend you thought the hero was in trouble. But with the end of the previous issue, Attuma proves himself a worthy adversary.
Also, while Banner’s new sarcastic demeanor grew stale for me quickly, there are some genuinely funny moments in Indestructible Hulk #5, mostly surrounding Mara, a Lemurian warrior woman enamored with Hulk’s “massive form” while disgusted with the puny “pinkling” Banner.
More than anything about Indestructible Hulk #5, my curiosity was piqued by the mysterious reward Banner swims away clutching. It raises the suspicion that maybe Banner’s up to something more devious in his dealings with S.H.I.E.L.D.
That may just be hopeful speculation, unfortunately, and that would be a shame. Because of his often limited vocabulary and his savage, myopic nature, there is a misconception that the Hulk has nothing substantial to offer the evolution of superhero comics. He gives good violence and comic relief and that’s about it. On the contrary, I’d argue that when it comes to the major players of Marvel and DC, no superhero offers a truer sense of moral ambiguity than the Hulk. He does not conform to the normal formula. He has no satellite or mansion. The commissioner doesn’t have his number and if he did, he wouldn’t want it. The Hulk isn’t Superman. The Hulk isn’t here to save us. He’s here to save himself. Trying to change that isn’t just a mistake because it’s shoving a square peg into a round hole; it’s a mistake because if you take that away then what you’re left with really is just good for fisticuffs and comic relief.