Few characters are as iconic as the Incredible Hulk... or so malleable. Over the years, the Hulk's been a thug, a genius, a cynical lump of cruelty; but he's best known as being the slow-witted brute. And now it appears he's changing things up again. Spoilers below on Hulk and Indestructible Hulk.
Mark Waid's series, Indestructible Hulk, was a new take on the classic character: Bruce Banner turned himself in to SHIELD, and in exchange for a super lab where he could work undisturbed, SHIELD had the services of the not-so-jolly green giant whenever they wanted. So... what happened?
The Hulk kept changing. Some days he was thoughtful and smart, other days he was thuggish as he's ever been. Time Travel was blamed. (Always blame time travel, btw. Always blame time travel.) The Hulk's mentality was all over the place, while Bruce Banner's lid on the beast was almost absolute. He had his transformations down to a science. It was impressive, but... also ultimately kind of boring. When you've learned to control a giant walking metaphor for loss of control, it's bound to get stale.
Which brings us to Hulk. In what has to be one of the strangest episodes of the character's existence, an assassin was hired by mysterious forces to shoot Banner in the head. Twice. Apparently there are not one, but two spots on the back of the skull where it's okay to shoot someone, that won't kill them.
Okay, I guess? It makes some sense; the comic points out how damned-near-impossible it is to incapacitate Banner before he hulks out. Bullets to the back of the head seem like overkill, but I'm no brain surgeon. (Nor a rocket scientist, for the record.) So the bad guys du jour have taken all kinds of blood samples, gland bits, and tissue thingies from Banner while they've waited for the surgeon to arrive. Dr. Backstory, er, Carpenter!
Dr. Carpenter went to college with Banner. He knew him, but they weren't close. It changes nothing; he still does what anyone who's taken a Hippocratic oath would do in the situation. Whether or not he ever shows up again is unclear, nor does it feel that important.
Banner's head bullets are a plot coupon. I think Waid wanted to justify taking Banner back to a place where he wasn't so in control. Which is fine. If heroes get what they want, their story ends. You can refresh the story by taking away what they have— in this case, Banner's ability to remain calm.
The inevitable happens, Banner wakes up after Dr. Carpenter's removed the coupons. He hulks out, and proceeds to smash.
It's just kinda gross. Banner was in the middle of brain surgery, so his skull is literally hanging open. Hulk bounds away, just in time to pass out from the extreme trauma of having one's skull hanging open. (Maybe invest in a helmet for a while. Yech.)
Two weeks later, Maria Hill and Phil Coulson (Hi Phil! Hi!) find Banner in a hospital, where he's almost a complete vegetable. Yet another doctor claims he's had "irreversible brain damage" and that Banner "will never be smart again".
This is the last panel of the comic, which is a shame. The next panel might have been a shot of Coulson and Hill giving this 'doctor' the skepticalest of skeptical looks. I prefer to take my medical diagnoses from characters with names, thank you very much.
I mean, c'mon. It's no secret that one of the Hulk's greatest advantages is the ridiculous speed with which he heals. If the narrative needed Banner's genius back, Reed Richards could zap him with his patented IQTron. Dr. Strange could grab his wand and chant "Accio Genius!" like he does. The Beast could time travel back to a time before Banner got shot in the head and, y'know, warn him not to do that. (Seriously, McCoy is super-reliable with time travel stuff.)
It just feels like kind of a mess. Which is okay. Before we have tasty omelets, we have a gooey mess in a brainpan— er, bowl. The entire purpose of this issue was to transition Banner from one state to another. It did that. It just didn't do much else besides.
The artwork is fine, Mark Bagley's work is tasteful, without lingering or drawing attention to the icky brain stuff. Jason Keith's colors are good— and now we know that even Hulk's brains are green. So that's something.
I really, really do want to know where Bruce Banner's going to go from here. Re-learning to put on his purple pants one leg at a time, I guess.
What do you think?