Marvel's range of "Season One" graphic novels have maintained a fairly consistent level of quality with accessible writing, clear storytelling and enjoyable visuals. "Hulk Season One" is the first to break that pattern. It's not just good -- it may well rank as one of the best interpretations of the Hulk's origin ever.
As with all "Season One" books, the story is set around the Hulk's origin, rather than a retelling of it. That said, it takes a few liberties with the source material, repositioning Betty Ross as an army brat-turned-military police officer and more specificity about the testing of the Gamma Bomb and its surrounding circumstances.
The Hulk story has taken on a number of expansions and clarifications since its original telling, and Van Lente attempts to incorporate these into the early days without openly violating the spirit of the earliest stories. While playing with the psychological aspects of the Hulk and Banner's parental issues, Van Lente also incorporates his own creation, Monica Rappaccini. It's an addition that could come across as egotistical, but it works brilliantly in context, giving Banner an interesting foil and intellectual equal despite her moral failings.
The Hulk's classic villains are a little thinner on the ground. There's mercifully little of the Hulk smashing up tanks (an image any Hulk fan has surely seen enough of) but a sub-plot involving the Gargoyle feels like an odd choice, especially given how it dovetails with Rick Jones' reasons for trespassing onto Gamma Base. The use of AIM makes far more sense, and new villain Biocide is well-developed and introduced, even if the design is a little crazy.
Speaking of design, it's impossible to get through this book without taking time to marvel at Tom Fowler's artwork. There's more than a hint of Fabio Moon/Gabriel Ba about his expressive yet minimalist pencils, but every character exudes attitude -- not just from their faces, but from their posture, gestures and fashion. His Hulk is (excuse the pun) incredible, and the redesign of AIM's vehicles and technology as something slightly more organic brings a brilliant visual identity to the organization that it'd be nice to see retained elsewhere.
In short, this is a fantastic book that any Hulk fan should buy without a second thought. Accessible, interesting and technically accomplished, it's easily the "Season One" title I'd most love to read a sequel to. Indeed, just getting this team on the main "Hulk" title would be enough to get me interested. Highly recommended.