Alright, I am just going to come out and say it: This book has ended up being really dumb. The struggle between genius Bruce Banner and the monstrous Hulk has been one of Marvel’s most enduring stories. There have been plenty of times when the character has teamed up with others and played as a straight super hero, but it was the rivalry between two sides of the same man that served as the core of the Hulk mythos. Originally, this was Stan Lee’s take on the Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Now, I am not sure what it is.
I suppose the closest thing it resembles is a bad B movie. And I do not mean “bad” in the “so bad it’s good” sense that often characterize B-movies. This is bad in the “it takes itself way too seriously and ends up looking foolish for it” sense. My perception has always been that Hulk has been played very seriously or almost entirely for laughs. An epic struggle between man and monster is easy to take seriously when it is done well. It is also easy to laugh at the big dumb green guy with a good heart. I think the introduction of She-Hulk, who kept the green muscles, but swapped torment for sass, was the best example of the Hulk mythos being able to poke fun at itself. She did not belong in every story and could be played straight as well, but the mere existence of this character always seemed fairly tongue-in-cheek to me, without compromising the solemnity of the Hulk’s own personal journey.
Eventually, it seemed like Marvel ran out of places for Hulk to search for peace on Earth and they shipped him into space. When he finally came back, it was as a character who did not really seem to belong with the other Marvel heroes anymore. Then Red Hulk showed up. Seemingly a parody of a parody, Hulk’s replacement in mainstream continuity was a pallette-swap of himself; the final insult being that his true identity was that of Thunderbolt Ross, the man who hunted Hulk and made him a pariah in the first place. Then Red She-Hulk showed up. Goodness gracious, who wins the prize for most perverted franchise? Granted, none of this has a great deal to do with the comic I am pretending to review. I offer this information only as context so that one might determine how exactly this series has gotten to where it is. Of course, the easy answer is simply “Poor decisions,” but what is the fun in that?
In the first pages of this book it is revealed that Hulk’s physical split from Banner was orchestrated by none other than Victor von Doom. What? Doctor Doom is the one responsible for some ridiculous magical pseudo-science that is obviously evil to everyone who is not a comic book character? Excuse me for a moment while I retrieve my jaw from the floor. Goodness gracious, the number of random books this guy arbitrarily cameos in as the master of some insidious scheme is ridiculous. You’d thinking running his own country and shaking his fist at Reed Richards would take up all his time, but no. Dude has so many irons in the fire its bananas.
Anyway, “weeks ago” Hulk went to Doom and got him to cut up his brain so that Banner and Hulk would be two separate individuals. Doom does this and clones a physical body for the Banner mind, which totally explains why they were in one body the moment before they split way back in Fear Itself. Maybe we are supposed to imagine that Hulk buried Banner’s mind deep enough that he was aware of nothing and kept it there for however long it took to talk to multiple evil scientists, undergo brain surgery, and then walk back to the exact spot in the desert they were at before any of this happened. It was all a clever trick Hulk played on Banner and readers. This is absolutely more likely than it just being lazy writing. Regardless, the take away is that when Hulk said to make him and Banner completely separate, Doom pulled a “be careful what you wish for” and put the “not a sociopathic evil scientist lobe” in Hulk. In a future issue one of two things is going to be stated in a long exposition page: Either Hulk’s “deal with the devil” will be seen as what created the completely out of character evil Banner or someone will say that nothing disingenuous was pulled and Banner really is capable of this evil at his core. Or it will turn out that evil Banner is another personality of his dissociative identity disorder. It would make this whole build up a big useless red herring, but it is pretty obvious whoever is responsible for this does not really care anymore.
The point is, whichever completely foreseeable direction the production team chooses to go, it does not matter. This character has already been botched so badly I just cannot imagine caring. Thunderbolt Ross is an Avenger and Hulk is fighting himself with a hunchback and a robot on the island of Dr. Moreau. There are plenty of other problems with this comic, of course. That mad scientist murder team that sent Hulk on this mission has pretty much fallen apart at this point. None of them were interesting to begin with, but now, especially with the ridiculous Dr. Doom cameo taking up half the book, any pages they get are really draining on the story. And all those mutant animals Banner had created and sent to fight the Hulk? Totally not a problem anymore.
Gammamals: Hulk, Banner wants us to fight you, so we will.
Hulk: Banner sucks. You don’t have to do what he says.
Gammamals: Oh. Okay then. Bye.
I am paraphrasing, of course. What actually transpires ends up far sillier than my version. Irradiated poop is involved. I could not make this up.
Honestly, it is very difficult for me to find anything positive to say about this book. The art is tolerable, but it does not fare a great deal better than the story. There is a decent close up on Hulk’s eyes one time and Doom looks pretty cool. However, far more distracting is the previously attractively-designed Amanda von Doom (No relation! Hahaha! Man, this joke is totally not getting old yet!) looking oddly sketchy and straw-haired. Bruce Banner looks like an emaciated sex offender. Apparently his evil brain is physically corrosive to that new body of his.
Incredible Hulk used to be a title that I had a lot of respect for. This, however, is just something I am not sure how to recommend. There are even better bad comics out there, if you are looking for a laugh. I sincerely hope that this character can be salvaged, but if The Incredible Hulk #5 is any indication of what is to come, I’m not holding my breath.