Immortal Hulk was very much a horror book, and fans who are worried that the new volume will leave all of that behind need not worry. There are moments in this first issue of Hulk that feel like a nightmare on the page. The inside of Banner’s mind is not a pretty place to be, and some of the exchanges he has throughout the book almost feel like they operate on a type of dream logic. There are plenty of gaps that still need to be filled in, both in regards to Banner’s plan and how he came to such a dire conclusion. The ending of this issue may leave even longtime readers feeling like they missed a middle chapter, but it’s kind of thrilling to have all of those explanations ahead of us.
There’s still a good bit of exposition at the top of the issue to get things moving, but the majority of this book is concerned with showing us possibly the most savage depiction of the title character we’ve seen yet. In both the real world and in a mental prison, Hulk cannot be stopped. Cates is toying with the idea that Banner is the real monster here, and it seems that everyone is well and truly screwed as long as Bruce is in the driver’s seat.
Parts of the issue play out like a disaster film where Hulk is the oncoming title wave, the apocalyptic storm that could spell doom for even Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, and Ryan Ottley brings that into gruesome focus on a number of occasions. The action here is nasty, embracing the kind of body horror seen in Immortal Hulk and twisting it to a more action-oriented purpose. Banner seems unconcerned by the injuries dealt to Hulk’s body, which leads to this being a very goopy fight. Without spoiling anything, the amount of damage the Hulk does in this book is basically not possible without the green giant losing a few things along the way.
Ottley brings a ferocity to the action here that is surprising, even for someone who has read plenty of Hulk adventures. At this point, fans have seen the Green Goliath throw down with Iron Man on more than one occasion, but it has never felt this visceral, this desperate. There’s always been a monster quite literally living inside of Bruce Banner, but Cates writes Banner like a man possessed, and nothing and no one will stand in the way of his goal. This is reflected in some truly haunting facial expressions from Banner — one panel of Bruce’s maddened smile near the end of the book has stuck with me since I put it down.
Frank Martin’s colors are cleverly deployed throughout. The sequences inside of Hulk’s mind — the bridge of Starship Hulk — feel markedly different from what’s happening in the outside world. It’s almost like this ship is always on red alert, which makes total sense for a vessel propelled by sheer rage.
Ultimately, Hulk #1 feels very much the very beginning of something totally new. It’s hard to tell how this first issue sets a tone for what will come, because the final pages make it seem like this is possibly a series that could reinvent itself at every turn. Make no mistake, this first issue is a lot, and it’s helpfully lamp-shaded by a certain friendly neighborhood hero admitting that even he’s a bit confused by the latest development in the saga of the Hulk. That seems to be Cates and Ottley’s way of telling readers, “Just stick with us, because this is going to be bonkers.”
Well, I’m definitely on board, especially if the series can continue this sense of momentum while still building off of what’s come before. This first issue feels like a statement of intent unlike anything I’ve read in a while, and I can’t wait to see how the Hulk’s journey continues.
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