Pick of the Week
What did the
Art by Matteo Scalera
Colors by Val Staples
Cover by Mukesh Singh & Mike Del Mundo
Size: 22 pages
With tonight’s review, I’ll have written about three issues of Indestructible Hulk, each the first chapter in a new arc. Each time, I’ve come away with a greater appreciation for what remains a very simple character. But as it turns out, there are many, many shades of green, and Mark Waid and his artists are leaving no swatch unturned. With Yu, Simonson and now Scalera, Waid is continually spitballing Hulk concepts at the wall, not in an effort to see what sticks, but to see what smashes right on through to new realms of possibility. They must have those drywall guys on retainer, because each month I’m sputtering plaster.
Banner has often been cast as slave to the Hulk, but here the dynamic has shifted, though not in Banner’s favor. Now both labor at the mercy of S.H.I.E.L.D. with Hulk as a bargaining chip for Banner’s humanitarian efforts. It’s proved far more than a change of venue or even allegiance. Now Banner isn’t simply duking it out with his inner demons and the monster of the week, but with a seemingly virtuous government agency that could well disappear him should he go rogue. That he has to routinely place calls to Matt Murdock as a failsafe against potential treachery wrought by his own colleagues offers both political intrigue and a more complex playing field from issue to issue. The Hulk is newly vulnerable because Banner has leveraged both of them in a dangerous game.
The murkiness of the deal has only surged in recent issues, and Matteo Scalera renders the lower bowels of S.H.I.E.L.D. HQ with a splotchy, brackish finish. As Banner and Hill meet with the imprisoned Zarrko the “Tomorrow Man”, the artist trades his omnipresent speed lines for scattered stippling, a spotty filter to mirror the characters’ unease and faltering memories. The creepiness of this encounter with the corpulent temporal terrorist isn’t entirely offset by his surreal POV, the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents flickering in and out of period costume. Seeing Maria Hill decked out in geisha garb or pantaloons is amusing, but the concept that these people are losing grip on their memories of lovers and allies, then stoically denying their forgetfulness, succeeded in truly unnerving me. If it doesn’t clench into your own deep-seated fears of marble loss, it should at least proffer some weight to this particular time travel story, hopefully setting it apart from the many that have come before.
There’s no escaping it, the heroes of the Marvel Universe tamper with the past like it’s going out of style. We’re looking at three eras of mutants converging at one point. Ultron’s dead but the Galactus is missing, and there’s a McFarlane action figure flying around space. Everything’s all wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey. Nice going, guys.
This chapter, with its fading memories and disappearing White Houses, feels like a bit of meta-commentary on how fleeting superhero continuity can be, without dropping anchor on the story.
In the final pages of this issue, the doctor agrees to upload a copy of his consciousness to a R.O.B. unit in order to accompany the Hulk on an expedition into the time stream, promising a unique Hulk/Banner team-up adventure. The cliffhanger pits the two against a rampaging dinosaur in the old west. I’m thrilled for the opportunity to write a paragraph like that. Excited for the next issue? I’m ready to commit some of my own trespasses against the laws of physics.
I recently had the opportunity to interview Waid about an upcoming arc in the series, an Inhumanity tie-in drawn by former Supergirl artist Mahmud Asrar. Asked to identify the constants and variables each new artist brought to the book, the writer said weight and potential energy have always been pivotal in the depiction of the Hulk. “He should always look like a force of nature ready to explode.” As for Scalera, Waid praised his ability to lend the Hulk an incredible sense of forward motion. Over the past three issues, you’ll be hard pressed to find images of the character at rest, unless the moment explicitly demands such repose. The Hulk is a dynamo. Though he does cold-cock a plane, Hulk takes a back seat to Banner in this issue. Still, whenever he does appear, the Hulk always arrives with intense velocity, lips pulled back in the rictus grin of a roller coaster snapshot. This knack for conveying motion and force also makes the artist a perfect fit for this arc, an exploration of the temporal distortions brought about by all this meddling. Scalera finds thoughtful ways of visualizing all this, whether through atmospheric touches like those splotches or through actual distortion of forms. Tasked with drawing one poor field agent horribly disfigured by, let’s call it chronocontamination, Scalera goes on to illustrate one of the unseen victims of the transporter accident from Star Trek: The Motion Picture. “Enterprise, What we got back didn’t live long. Fortunately.”
I’m also struck by Waid’s knack for adhering to the current status quo of the larger Marvel Universe with its predominant themes and toolkit, but also his willingness to even do so. So often, we cite the self-contained outliers as the strongest narratives during line-wide events. With this story — and the Inhumanity story line to come — Waid eagerly nudges Banner onto the carousel, inevitably nabbing the brass ring — the most compelling element of the overall communal story — for his continuing saga. Age of Ultron might not have done it for me, but Waid uses it as a springboard here for a truly promising Hulk romp, a time travel story with discernible gravity. It works perfectly fine on its own, divorced of the Ultron story and the All New X-Men concept, but it also feels like coolly cognizant for readers who are immersing themselves in the Marvel NOW!. It’s one of those rare instances when shared continuity actually does augment the overall experience. Because it’s lucid. Because it’s insightful.
Many Hulk stories purport to offer an equal focus on Banner as well as the big guy. This series truly delivers on that, with smarts and smashing in equal measure. Waid and company found the balance, loading up on brain food to earn the just desserts. That’s all derived from a concentration on character so singular and focused that it amounts to limitless potential.
Likes the idea of watches, but has never committed to one for longer than its first battery.