The first issue of the Jason Aaron and Marc Silvestri “Incredible Hulk” relaunch spent the majority of its time with the now-reclusive Hulk and his new Moloid friends, before he was set upon by Amanda Von Doom (no relation). The second issue inverts its focus, putting the bulk of its energy into exploring Banner’s new status quo as, quite literally, a mad scientist.
It’s an interesting direction for Banner, and although it’s entirely at odds with his recent depictions -- where he tended to be an impossibly calm strategist -- Aaron provides more than enough explanation for his change in attitude. The tone of the book is self-consciously black, delivering part-shocks, part-comedy, and showing us a side of Banner that by necessity we rarely get to see: his angry, desperate, out-of-control side.
The question of how much of this is him and how much is a result of his experiments is left for us to answer, but it’s clear the Hulk isn’t the monster here, but Bruce Banner. Hulk, as ever, just wants to be left alone. He seems to realize that because he’s indestructible, when people come for him it’s those around him who’ll pay the price. His resigned acceptance of that is perhaps the bleakest part of an already bleak book.
Silvestri’s art (and I’ll refer to it as such in the interests of brevity, despite the visuals being the product of 11 people) has obvious strengths and obvious weaknesses. The conversational scenes look stiff and unnatural -- who stands at right angles to one another when they’re talking? -- and the technology of Von Doom’s hit squad is sketchy and under-designed, its alien look more distracting than impressive. There’s at least one two-panel sequence near the end where the storytelling breaks down entirely, and it took me several attempts to decipher what was actually happening.
In contrast, the action scenes are hugely dramatic: panels have cinematic depth, and Silvestri chooses interesting viewpoints to maximize the visual impact. He handles multiple figures far better in motion than at rest. It’s not until the Hulk is on the page, though, that you understand why Silvestri is the perfect artist for the character, as he imbues the green goliath with a calm yet threatening posture and an unmatched sense of scale and power.
After years of finding the Hulk mythos near-impenetrable. Aaron’s clean-slate approach is working for me, though fans of the “old” order will no doubt be pleased to see it getting a nod or two in this issue. Aaron’s approach seems to actively seek new ground for its star pair rather than emulating past successes, and for the most part, it’s working. There are creases to iron out (not least with the artwork, although Silvestri’s health troubles may be the cause of some of the problems) but with the promise of a new supporting cast, a fundamentally altered relationship between the Hulk and Banner, and at least one central mystery to chase down, there’s enough going on to bring readers back issue after issue.