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Subj: Having Read Mark Waid's Hulk #1...
Posted: Sun Apr 20, 2014 at 04:10:14 pm CDT (Viewed 143 times)
Reply Subj: What books are MUST READ for you tomorrow?
Posted: Tue Apr 15, 2014 at 05:38:37 am CDT (Viewed 300 times)
Alongside a surprisingly competent Sinestro #1 the relaunched (Indestructible) Hulk was this weeks success story for me. After a decidedly mixed reception to Indestructible Hulk writer Mark Waid retrenches and rethinks. While not throwing out what had already been set out in his previous work on the character Mark Waid nonetheless manages to overhaul the direction and emotional content of the series by initiating a rather shocking development with the main character, it isn't the first time Bruce Banner has been afflicted with a serious injury, but the nature and extent of this one combined with the versatile and expressive art of Mark Bagley made this an opening chapter that harked back to the successful multi-faceted emotional component that made the readership care about the two characters back in their formative decades in print, and yet set it in a very up to date context. By the issues end the plight of Bruce Banner and his other self is a very personal and affecting business, watching your hero in genuinely serious trouble and suffering is not unusual in comics, but with the Hulk it tends to have been much much harder to convince the reader of real distress in recent years. Mark's Waid and Bagley just managed to overturn that conception. Which is no mean feat.
As todays comic-book publishers turn more and more to multimedia platforms to expose their properties and generate vast incomes it might seem logical to have the comic-books themselves follow in their wake and more directly reformat themselves after what the general audience has thus become accustomed to in regards to specific characters. If the version of Iron Man the public at large is familiar with is the flippant but charmingly sardonic version seen in cinema then clearly it makes some sense to pattern the comicbook in that style. Likewise other characters, such as the Hulk.
In the wake of a calamitous run from writer Jason Aaron, which in turn came off the back of an outrageously over-the-top extended treatment from writer Greg Pak, Marvel Comics' editorial took the decision that the time was now right to daw a line under this phase of the book and relaunch it with an all new format and more importantly bring it in line with what the general audience were now familiar with from the character - which meant a rather radical shift towards the movie Avengers and Bruce Banner allying himself with the powerful security agency SHIELD. It is a move which has brought mixed results for the book. The question at this point being - Is it working?
The underlying concept behind the character of the Hulk lends itself to a number of potential treatments, but at its heart the story of the Hulk is anti-establishment. Here is a creature fuelled by rage and acting on pure guttural instinct, understandably hunted by the military and authorities this violent and unanswerable brute is the epitomy of the non-conformist. To mediate that extremism the character Bruce Banner is the essential bridge in the book, to act as both spokesman and rational anchor for the chaotic Hulk. But Banners is always a precarious position as his ability to control and manage the Hulk is brittle, not helped by the very mechanism that triggers his transformations being somewhat variable but typically hairtrigger. It is this explosive timebomb aspect which Marvel Comics expects new writer Mark Waid to marry to the set-up seen in the Avengers film and televisions Agents of Shield... and as we have seen the results have been a very mixed affair. To compound the difficulties of having the wilful Hulk being seen working for those agencies he instinctively detests Mark Waid's Indestructible Hulk also struggled with a very deliberate choice of artstyle and presentation, artists such as Matteo Scalera & Leniul Yu brought a very gritty and dark shading more suited to the world of Daredevil or Batman, the intention of the editors seems to have been to reposition the book into a very much more real-world setting than ever before and perhaps this was a response to the excesses of the Pak/Aaron runs which took the character too far into the fantastical and whimsical. Instead the decision was made to plant the Hulk and Banner into the world of counter-intelligence and national security. A format which brought with it inherant restrictions and some difficult to reconcile moral quandaries. The savage uncontrollable Hulk as agent of SHIELD being one of them.
If Waid's initial treatment for the revived title had a fault then it was that, like Geg Pak and others, he opted to sidestep the inherent friction and mutual conflict of the Banner/Hulk existence. What one likes the other rejects, why then this sudden seeming willingness to cooperate on the Hulks behalf?
When Mark Waid arrived on the series the emphasis is on accessibility and attracting a new wider audience outside of the hardcore of the characters fanbase. To facilitate this new launch Bruce Banner is introduced to us in a refreshingly intelligent and easily accessible manner, meeting with SHIELD's Maria Hill he has a proposition for her and admits to having spent time recently to completely reassess his relationship with the Hulk and come to some degree of acceptance about his situation. An epithany if you will. He now accepts that he can never be cured of his condition, never be free from his curse, therefore how best to manage it and live his life at the same time?
This admittance and acceptance of his reality is a bold means from Waid of attempting to rationalise the new format and yet also serving as the crux in what sets Bruce Banner down his current path in allying with SHIELD, and as Waid proceeds we go on to realise that despite all appearances Banner has not completely sold himself out to the suffocating embrace and demands of possibly the worlds most powerful security agency. No, rather at this stage of his life he realises it is better to hug your enemy that pick a running fight him. And yet... And yet, Mark Waid plays some sublime chess moves with this shift in Banners priorities in that while endorsing the new role of the Hulk as a government controlled weapon make sure an equal reading of the situation can be made that it is Bruce Banner who moves the pieces. It was he who made the offer to SHIELD after all, to allow them to use the Hulk for specialised missions suiting his talent as an enforcer and destructor, while supplying Bruce Banner with not just shelter but the best laboratory and research facilities to forward his desire to once more create and heal. To help people. We've seen an interesting re-exploration on Banners role as a Doctor, often taken to be purely of Physics, but over the years occasionally embracing Physician. It's an interesting side to the character Waid is once again highlighting in the series.
But as we learn this is no unconditional trust of the authorities on Banners part, ever the realist and cynic Banner knows better than to trust any agency implicitly. Especially SHIELD.
A shrewd and sensible chessmove, Bruce Banner knows from long experience that authorities are not to be trusted, whether it be Thunderbolt Ross' long vendetta against him or the more recent events of Civil War informing his actions here the fact is he has suffered more betrayal in his lifetime than just about any Marvel hero. This makes him that bit more heroic as he refuses to dwell in bitterness about it, but it also makes him pragmatic and sensible enough to now take precautions and counter-measures against the worst that could happen...
Handed a format from his editors that comes with inherent limitations and problems built into it this is all very well crafted a motivation from Mark Waid, we now understand some of the reasoning and complexity behind Banner's change in direction, and we see that he is quite aware that his situation is subject to change at any moment, ultimately aas always he has no one he can trust but himself. And whether it is by coincidence or design Waid is actually harking back to familiar territory for the longtime reader - we have been in very similar territory before. Courtesy of Bill Mantlo.
Few writers get second chances, but perhaps recognising the unfairness of some of the choices made in the quite radical reformatting in the launch of Indestructible Hulk Marvel Comics have opted for 'Take-Two', and so to Hulk #1 out this week just gone. With this second attempt Mark Waid starts the series with two important assets on his side, one in the form of the expressive art of Mark Bagley, and the other being the distressing fate of Bruce Banner, and by relation the Hulk. By the end of Hulk #1 the reader is served a 'whodunit?', Someone has shot Bruce Banner twice in the back of the head. And in doing so left our lead character in one of the most critical and dire straits he has ever been in. It isn't the all encompassing mystery aspect to the plot that the readers attention is drawn to however, rather it is the emotional impact of seeing what is without a doubt a very mortal trauma being played out on the page, as Bruce Banner sustains an injury that can only described as devastating, life changing in fact.
Almost thirty years ago to the month Mark Waid's predecessor on the title was treading very similar waters. Having worked on The Incredible Hulk for a solid five years Mantlo's contribution and lasting legacy to the character mythos came into focus in its final two years, involving covert SHIELD surveillance and a slowly deteriorating Bruce Banner, Mantlo's final word on Bruce Banner's alternating bouts of optimism/pessimism was as disturbing a development as the one which Mark Waid has just inflicted on the man, as faced with a choice between living life with the Hulk once again or oblivion he opts for what can only be construed as Suicide... coming after five years working on the book Bill Mantlo's final assessment, of the inevitability of a sad ending for Bruce Banner being the only logical outcome of a sad life. It was his defining moment as the series' writer; As no matter how unpalatable this bleak outcome may be it is a theme that had been evident since the very dawn of the characters conception, and it has been carried on by writers ever since Mantlo broached it so directly. In hindsight it is remarkable that that even in those pre-internet days this issue (#299) did not generate more attention, it contains some of the most powerful final moments in mainstream comics, for me at least. But on the other hand, and all things considered, Mantlo was without a doubt blessed by not having such instant and feedback available... it left his work to be judged on a month-by-month basis and able to develop without these distracting external pressures.
It may be just chance symmetry that Mark Waids run parallels the broad strokes of Mantlo's work of thirty years ago, but while Banner's descent into the abyss back then was self inflicted Waid's treatment is external, albeit both have ironically switched outcomes. The results do look encouraging though, with Banner now helpless Waid offers the promise that despite Banners injury the Hulk may yet offer him a lifeline, as we watch the Hulk suffer and share in his other self's suffering he at least seems lucid and spits comfortingly familiar dialogue. Still sparing a moment to help the helpless around him, and still capable of some rational thought... things just got very interesting in the Hulks life, and with a shift artstyle the book finally offers character with genuine and broad emotion.
Mark Bagley's arrival on the title is a deliverance. Saddled with lifeless art Waid's Indestructible Hulk was a title operating with a crutch from the very start, despite being technically very good artists neither Leniul Yu or Matteo Scalera proved capable of character work of any great expression, not on this book. It gradually lent the series an air of indifference and artificiality to its characters. What Bagley offers though is a return to more conventional storytelling and a wide range of facial emotion by which to bring Waids scripts to life. For all its debt to the cinema and modern media The Hulk's is a series that is looking to be a return to quite a traditional take on the character, and owing a noticeable debt to the era in which Bill Mantlo managed the characters adventures and character traits...
Despite the sheer absurdity of two figures from Banner/the Hulk's past being simultaneously present in the shady operating theatre of Banners captors to help him recover and escape I forgive this issue. That his work thus far has been received with hostility in some Internet forum quarters is irrelevant in the broader scheme, this is a book not aimed at pleasing a static diehard fanbase, as Marvel has them onboard already no matter what. Instead Marvel have very deliberately made sure the book is in fact being aimed at a wider and less obsessive audience who may be coerced into reading the book by what they have seen in the films and television. Streamlined and simplified The Hulk makes up for the occasional missteps by delivering a read that is engaging on an emotional level and thanks to a 'Whodunnit' twist now compulsive, you could hand this book to a non-comics reader and know they can understand and enjoy it on its own terms.
I rarely give marks, but I would classify this first issues success by offering an 8/10. Tapping into the more disturbing aspects of the characters horror roots Mark's Waid & Bagley deliver a fine opening chapter to the series with an excellent story 'hook' to keep people coming back.
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