Friday, April 11, 2014
Indestructible Hulk: Agent of SHIELD (comic)
Artist: Lenil Yu
Collects: Indestructible Hulk #1-5
In a reversal of my last review, this was a book I was actually prepared to like. Mark Waid's a rock solid writer who's penned a few runs many consider to be among the all time greats. Even on a bad day he usually manages something that's a decent read. Should be a safe bet.
Unfortunately, I felt that Indestructible Hulks first volume whiffed. There are a few reasons why, not all of them the fault of the creative team. Regardless, they add up to something of a letdown.
We start off harmlessly enough. Shield is looking for the Hulk in the wake of Avengers vs X-Men. We don't get a lot of specifics, but they aren't really necessary; the Hulk is an engine of destruction on a good day, so it's not hard to see why Shield might be after him. Banner finds Maria Hill - probably the most utilitarian character in Marvel by now - and runs a proposition by her; they give him all the resources he wants to invent and he'll let them use the Hulk as they see fit.
Fair enough for the first issue, but by the second we've run into some problems.
The Shield thing I don't mind. The Hulk is a very basic concept at its heart - the Jekyll and Hyde dynamic multiplied tenfold - and has often required some spice to keep it interesting. By the time of Marvel Now, Hulk has been an inter-dimensional traveler, hero to a microscopic kingdom or two, been shot into space, ruled a planet, had a couple ridiculous fever dreams, got his own rainbow corps of Hulks and battled with MPD, his many personalities including a super smart fusion of Banner and Hulk, a straight up evil Devil Hulk and a grey version that enjoys making like an old fashioned mobster. As far as basic concepts go, throwing in with Shield in an effort to try and channel the destruction in a positive way is probably the sanest direction Marvel's gone with in a while.
No, the thing that gave me the most trouble is the one this creative team isn't necessarily responsible for. For a few years now - starting, I believe, with Greg Paks second run on Hulk - Marvel's pushed hard on a "Bruce Banner's kind of a genius" track. Still, Waid and Yu take is the furthest it's gone to date. Bruce Banner is now in the upper tier of Marvel geniuses; not quite a Reed Richards but above the likes of a Tony Stark.
You may think I'm kidding about that last part, but I'm not. Issue number two has Iron Man as a guest star. It's also the issue where they lost me.
See, issue two is entirely devoted to telling us Bruce Banner is smarter than Tony Stark. Not entirely unreasonable that they'd put him over Iron Man - this is Hulks book, so he's going to get the rub - but it reaches a point where Bruce Banner looks like one of the most awful human beings walking. The first issue had a sense of smug self importance about the character - some of his dialogue with Maria Hill rubbed me the wrong way - but it wasn't bad enough to make me stop reading and wonder what the hell was going on with him. Not so with issue two.
Let's do a quick rundown of everything that happened. First, Iron Man shows up, understandably concerned that Shield just recruited the friggin Hulk, a guy known for toppling buildings if he so much as sneezes. He greets Bruce, understandably skeptical, and everyone decides to get in a little condescension before breakfast. Banner then dangles a carrot in front of Tony o he'll volunteer as wingman for a trip out to the Arctic to safely test a new, safer method of fracking. Tony fiddles with it in an attempt to make the process go faster. Banner flips his lid and it's at this point that we find out that this was his plan all along. He deliberately lured Iron Man out to the Artic so he could transform into the Hulk and beat the daylights out of him. The stated reason is because Banner felt Stark always looked down on him. This is apparently enough to justify turning into a demi-god of rage and blitzing a dude in a metal suit. A futuristic, high tech one, but a metal suit nonetheless.
Whatever the case, Iron Man attempts to fend Hulk off so he can get back to the device, which he didn't finish calibrating. It's now set to blow thanks to Hulks reckless attack, because Banner clearly thought this plan out in great detail. The explosion nearly kills Iron Man, which I guess is okay because Hulk saved him from being torched. I guess cleaning up a mess you made negates that whole "near death" thing. They go back and have a laugh, Banner condescends some more and Tony has to brush it off, go to the bathroom, look in the mirror and tell himself he's still rich. He's that shaken by Banner's clearly superior intellect.
Anybody else see the problem here?
There's the obvious issue in that, by this point, Bruce Banner has become entirely unlikable. Iron Man is very nearly killed amidst a brawl Banner lured him to a secluded spot with every intention of starting. He's now the smartest person in any room that doesn't include Reed Richards and he knows it, leading to an off-putting sense of sheer smug that makes you want to see someone deck him. Worse still, he doesn't have any of the charm or likable qualities that keep a character like Tony Stark interesting despite his many screw-ups. This is made even more striking by a character throwing out the notion that what Bruce really wants to be is Tony Stark; the issue tries to refute this a bit in the most "nuh-uh, Banner's better" way possible, with Banner himself basically laughing the implication off about an hour after he nearly killed the guy and Stark musing that Banner would have to aim lower to be him, but it really does feel like Stark is the type of character they're trying to mold Banner into now. The results are mixed, to be kind.
A problem that isn't as immediately obvious is what this intellect upgrade might end up doing to the character. There's a decent chance it might ruin him. We're not talking scientist level smarts anymore. He literally builds a new, world altering invention each week. The kind that solve problems like food and energy shortages. Obviously, this is glossed over and the effects this would have on society aren't shown. There's no downside either, aside from the obvious question of how he can make this stuff yet still find himself magically unable to find a cure. In conjunction with the Shield concept, the Hulk isn't even a counter anymore; his destruction is now, thus far, contained and used to take out threats to the US.
How is this character not a Mary Sue at this point? I do realize this could be going somewhere. Trouble is, do I even care anymore? I'm not sure.
The following three issues didn't do much to change my mind. Hulk basically goes off to fight quasi-Atlanteans or some junk. There's one sorta-Atlantean girl who wants to ride the Hulk, but hates Banner - if that sounds familiar, you've read some Hulk comics - whom Banner later kisses in hopes she'd deck him and he'd transform. Aside from the minor sexual assault, it's fine, but after that second issue, I needed something to pull me back. Those three issues did not fit the bill.
On the upside, the art is quite good. I've been a bit negative regarding Yu's art in the past, partly due to how scratchy it could get. There's little of that here. I'm not sure what else can be said about it. You'll never hear me claim to be a good art critic, because I'm really not. I know what I like, can tell you about what I don't and that's pretty much it.
I hate to be this hard on Indestructible Hulk - I've enjoyed Waids work in the past and went into this wanting to like it - but it just didn't work for me. I may read the second volume if the library has it in the future - I'm at least somewhat curious as to whether the aforementioned problems are leading to something or if it's just how the character is in this book - but I'm not going out of my way for it. As always, I note that you may get more out of it than I did; my opinion is far from absolute.
My Opinion: Skip It