Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Mark Waid and Walt Simonson Bring on Glorious, Giddy Fan Service in Indestructible Hulk 6

Indestructible Hulk 6
By Mark Waid and Walt Simonson
New this week Marvel Comics
It goes without saying that Mark Waid does a damn fine job at crafting superhero comics. A scholar of the genre as much as he is a very well regarded craftsman, I saw his selection as the new Hulk writer several months ago as part of the Marvel NOW initiative as an inspired choice. His recent revitalizations of The Rocketeer, and especially his critically lauded Daredevil run have cemented his reputation as one of the most reliable and entertaining mainstream writers working in superhero comics.

In recent years there have been several recent rejiggerings of the Hulk concept, most recently the balls to the wall insanity of Jason Aaron's run. Waid grounded things a bit in his first arc on Indestructible Hulk, making Banner/Hulk an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. When the superspy organization needs a big gun to take care of a threat, Banner unleashes the Hulk to take care of the problem. In return, Banner the superscientist gets access to S.H.I.E.L.D.'s resources, a staff and a facility to conduct experiments to better the world, to play at the same level as Tony Stark and Reed Richards.

Naturally S.H.I.E.L.D. and his chosen team of scientists are in near constant terror that Banner will Hulk out, ruining everyone's day (and millions of dollars in equipment). Waid does an absolutely fantastic job of playing with the expectations of the characters surrounding Banner, as well as, naturally, the audience. The possibility of Bruce going green is a constant threat hanging over the proceedings, with every spilled coffee or stubbed toe meaning potential destruction. Waid manages to ring out both genuine humor and menace in the same breath, a pretty impressive feat. Banner is under constant supervision by S.H.I.E.L.D. but manages to rebel in tiny ways, one aspect being his choice of scientists for his team aiding him in his experiments. Not everything is on the up-and-up with them, and that's just how Bruce wants it.

We open the issue at hand with Dr. Banner and crew in full superscience mode, conducting experiments on a tiny sliver of uru-metal donated to S.H.I.E.L.D. by Thor. Banner opens up a dimensional portal to Jotunheim, the realm of the frost giants. He and his team are looking for the "mythical" (read: exotic but purely scientific) liquid Eiderdurm, which Banner believes, believably, to be the key to a superconducting liquid that could change the face of energy production on Earth. Like in his Daredevil issues, Waid crafts an easily accessible, logical and engaging story, perfect for new readers. This is the first part of a new story arc but reads like all the issues in his run, perfectly abiding that old Shooter adage that every comic is someone's first comic. If you haven't been reading his Indestructible Hulk, then that's OK because he gives you everything you need, exposition and characterization handled with remarkable clarity and ease.

This issue is also artist Walt Simonson's first on the book, and every panel of every page is a joy to look at, a master storyteller having fun working in the playground that Waid sets up. Simonson is best known for his Thor work, naturally, so Waid gives him plenty of Thor action to work with. Sure, this is fan service, but it is brilliant, exhilarating fan service. The story fits Simonson's unique and definitive style perfectly, 

Banner and crew end up in Jotunheim, and frost giants generally don't take kindly to humans traipsing about their territory. Thor shows up to warn them of the danger, and things are immediately a bit off. Thor is in old-school mode, all Jack Kirby outfit and Stan Lee dialogue, and has no idea who Bruce Banner is. When you're dealing with the physics of the gods, you might just be dealing with time travel and not only have Banner and crew traveled dimensions, but entire centuries. Thor questions these humans' presence in this far away land, but he is eager to protect them from the advancing frost giants, because he's quite fond of humans, and who doesn't like a good frost giant rumble, eh? The glee and energy with which Thor dives into battle and the lead-up to the frost giants appearing are wonderfully rendered by Simonson. He was born to do this stuff. And don't get me wrong, this is a Hulk story through and through, and it doesn't take long for the pissed jade giant to rear his head. Simonson's Hulk is a glorious mass of physics, anger and brute strength. The final three pages are made up of pure, giddy, distilled comic book superhero joy, eye-candy ending in a final splash page that will leave you reveling in the story implications and the shear visual feast of a master at work.

The new best comic released this week, Indestructible Hulk 6 was made to put a giant grin on your face while ending on an unexpected note to draw you back in. Waid and Simonson spoil you, because why the hell not? Sometimes you need a little bit of fluff to get through the day, and Indestructible Hulk 6 is a glorious bit of fluff, indeed.

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