Mark Waid and Leinil Yu’s ‘Indestructible Hulk': The Strongest #1 There Is? [Review]
First issues are a challenge that the superhero comics industry still struggles to get right, which is weird when you consider just how many of these things they put out. It's as if a collective decision was made to misinterpret the old adage, "every issue is somebody's first," to mean that first issues should read like they're any other issues.
Through the experience of DC's New 52 and now Marvel NOW, whereby both publishers relaunched most if not all of their superhero lines from issue #1, I've been trying to understand why this might be. First issues should establish character, establish status quo, establish threat and establish change, and that too often feels like a barely remembered skill. My best theory is that the great pressure of issue #1 to justify its existence by being different and earning an audience leads makers to jettison the obvious for fear that it's too pedestrian and place all emphasis on establishing themselves. And maybe that's why Mark Waid, a writer who perhaps feels less pressure than most to prove himself, gets it so right with Indestructible Hulk #1.
Indestructible Hulk #1 is an introduction that works. It establishes character, status quo, threat and change in twenty pages, and does so in a way that also provides continuity for readers of past incarnations of the Hulk and for people who only know the character from the movies. It's always slightly unclear if anyone actually comes to comics from movies, but if they do they will have no trouble reconciling this book with the events of the Avengers movie. And in the unlikely event that you've never encountered the character at all, Waid and artist Leinil Francis Yu tell you what you need to know -- who the Hulk is, what he's capable of, and what his place is in the Marvel universe -- in basically one panel on page two.
The game-changing pitch for this series is that Hulk's alter ego, brilliant but tortured big brain scientist Bruce Banner, has decided to stop trying to cure his condition (turning into a giant green inhumanly strong rage monster) and regard it as a chronic but manageable condition instead. He'll place both of his selves at SHIELD's disposal, which will allow Banner to rededicate his genius to solving other problems rather than wrestling with his own, and will give SHIELD a Hulk. It's a smart direction for the character, a reconciliation that opens up new storytelling possibilities without reducing either Hulk or Banner. That's the change that makes this a story worth exploring.
As for the threat, the back half of this issue gives us a very apt bad guy in the form of brainiac Fantastic Four villain The Mad Thinker, who is here to let us know that this is a book about deranged science at its most brazenly bombastic.
But of course that's not the real threat in a Hulk book. Hulk is the threat in a Hulk book. That point is well made in this issue's showcase opening diner scene, which sees SHIELD director Maria Hill sit down with Banner with all the enthusiasm of a woman petting the proverbial long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. The tick of a clock serves to remind us that Banner is a ticking bomb while a series of potentially Hulk-triggering events occur around him (the best being his own explosion of jealousy at peer and rival Tony Stark).
The diner scene is a delight, not just for its pace and tension, but for the way Yu presents the hustle and crush of the ordinary world around Hill and Banner. Sure, they're the innocents that need to be protected, but they're also potential collateral damage, oblivious to the carnage that could tear through their lives at any second, and Yu has a gift for capturing the humanity and diversity of the world.
But Yu also excels in the jerky frenzy of the battle scenes. Yu can fill a page with action without losing the thread, and that's a rare pleasure. His Hulk has all the sinew and scale you expect, but Yu doesn't let him eat the frame so he can take shortcuts with the scenery. There are no shortcuts here, and the result places the reader right in the middle of the fight.
Indestructible Hulk #1 is easily one of the strongest debuts I've seen from Marvel NOW, perhaps only challenged by Jason Aaron and Esad Ribic's Thor: God of Thunder #1. The secret to its success is twofold. First, they did the job that a #1 requires. They introduced us to this world. And second, they're really very good at their jobs. That's a compelling reason to come back for #2.