Publisher: Marvel Comics
Writer: Donny Cates
Artwork: Ryan Ottley, Cliff Rathburn
Colours: Frank Martin
Lettering: VC’s Cory Petit
Release Date: 20th April 2022
The first arc of Donny Cates and Ryan Ottley’s bombastic take on the Incredible one wraps up this week,
The basic premise is brilliant, albeit in a “mad genius” kind of way. Essentially, Bruce Banner has managed to split the Hulk into three separate components: the body, which has been modified into what is essentially a starship (yeah you heard me), Banner’s psyche, which pilots the “ship”, and the Hulk’s psyche whose anger provides the fuel. In a neat little wrinkle, Banner manages the thrust of Hulk’s anger by sending a variety of gradually-escalating opponents to fight him in the Danger Room-esque “Engine Room” in his mind. It’s bonkers like I said, but in the hands of Cates, stuff like this just seems to work.
Not only that, but in an effort to save the world from what he feels he’s going to become, Banner has inadvertently piloted Hulk through a wormhole into a pocket dimension where they meet a Bruce Banner who never became the Hulk, but who is helping President Ross (yes, that Ross) hunt down and dispose of “Abominations” in the wake of the deployment of a wave of planet-decimating Gamma Bombs.
There’s a little more to it than that, but suffice to say that Cates and Ottley employ something of a scattershot approach here, hurling wild ideas at the wall in quick succession and hoping that enough of them stick to make this a worthwhile read (spoiler: they definitely succeed.)
The ongoing subplot of Betty Ross serving as Banner’s conscience as he pushes things further and further was revealed to be a ruse at the shocking conclusion of issue five, with Ross ejecting Banner from the “ship” and taking the controls herself, cranking Hulk all the way up to Stage 9. As it turns out, this move takes the Hulk to a previously unseen level of power that, in the hands of Cates, Ottley, Rathburn and Martin, is nothing short of terrifying.
Speaking of Ottley, Rathburn and Martin, the trio put in perhaps their strongest shift of the series so far, embracing the carnage throughout the issue but also helping to ramp up the pace of the story as it reaches its conclusion, switching back and forth effectively between both versions of Banner as they try to overcome their adversaries. It’s a masterclass in building tension and stakes, and the brief beat of silence and calm which follows it is nothing short of perfection.
The resolution to the arc is satisfying enough, although the team doesn’t take the foot off the accelerator for too long before hurtling us headlong into the next. I’m a fan of the approach though, and while a lot of this feels like the way I used to play with my toys as a kid, smashing random configurations together for fun and imagining what would happen if I mixed and matched powers and affiliations, I wouldn’t change it for the world. Comics need to be a bit weird and out there sometimes, and this most definitely fits the bill.
Art the end of the day, this series is to the Hulk what Cates and Dylan Burnett’s Cosmic Ghost Rider was to the Spirit of Vengeance. Your individual mileage will no doubt vary, but I have to say, I absolutely loved what the entire creative team came up with here. A brash, bombastic and aggressively ambitious story with some scintillating artwork, this latest Hulk series has been an absolute rollercoaster from start to finish. And with things switching gears for the upcoming Hulk versus Thor “Banner of War” event, it’s safe to say that things are going to get a lot wilder before all’s said and done.
[PREVIEW ARTWORK – CLICK TO ENLARGE]