Jason Aaron's take on Bruce Banner in The Incredible Hulk #2 appears to be "What if Dr. Jekyll was also Dr. Moreau?"
So far, it ain't quite workin'.
Granted, I am a big Hulk nerd and I've spent the last five years enjoying the heck out of Greg Pak's run with the Hulk, which really ramped up and drove home the idea that Bruce Banner and the Hulk, despite all their posturing to the contrary, are really just the same person – a notion that they came to accept at the end of Pak's Heart of the Monster run. So this sudden 'back to basics' swerve that Aaron is running with feels really jarring and frustrating, where they've actually been physically separated through unknown means – although apparently the Hulk knows, and it's going to be this big mystery to build up to. At least Banner still considers the Hulk a part of himself that's been taken away, but it's leading in directions that feel inorganic and designed to serve Aaron's 'what if the Hulk was good and Bruce was bad' idea he wants to run with.
Not that getting back to the Banner vs. Hulk war of wills wouldn't be welcome under any circumstances. Far from it. In fact, it's kind of inevitable, seeing as how the Jekyll & Hyde thing is core to the origin of the character and there's an Avengers movie coming out next year that will require the Hulk to be at his most familiar. We also know that Betty Ross has to be written out of his life so she can go screw around with Matt Fraction's Defenders. Perhaps it's simply the knowledge of these editorial necessities that makes the events of this new run of Incredible Hulk feel so forced.
But there are other things that are hard to swallow. Like Betty and Bruce both agreeing that the only thing Bruce has ever accomplished was the gamma bomb and creating the Hulk. Not only is that insulting and ridiculous to claim that Banner's entire existence amounted nothing else, but it also continues to brush aside Pak's run, including the period of time after World War Hulk where Banner was in complete control and accomplishing some pretty amazing things. Bruce sounding hollow, insincere and condescending when he talks about his love for Betty, and Betty implying that she might like the Hulk better after all. Bruce being so obsessed with recreating the Hulk that he's made a horde of gamma-monsters-animals on his deserted island. None of it feels right.
Of course, Aaron has been thoughtful enough to give us some outs. Bruce has given himself a brain tumor, so that can explain how far out of character he's acting… partially. It still doesn't explain why a supergenius would be idiot enough to give himself a damn brain tumor, but whatever. That, and whatever other mysterious means the Hulk used to separate himself from Bruce could be used to rationalize away anything that's not so palatable once Aaron's finished his story. Maybe it'll come to pass that whatever means of separation they had also let the Hulk have some of Banner's intellect along with the anger – or at least the rationality, which wouldn't make much sense, but again… whatever.
There's a rudimentary amount of logic forming a very thin string that could hold this all together and prove my misgivings unfounded, but it's very precarious, and depends a lot on stuff we don't know yet. It's possible that Aaron will turn out to be just like Pak, in that he'd take the characters in directions that seemed off, but would then bring it all back around to make sense in the long run. Aaron's Hulk is still pretty solidly the Hulk so far, and he gets a pretty cool moment at the end, telling off the woman who's interrupted his peace in his inimitable 'f-you' style.
What won't work is the cloying attempt at cute that is "Amanda Von Doom, no relation." Ostensibly, a secret government team called the Mad Squad assigned to murder mad scientists complete with a a horde of killer robots, a weird floating brain monster and a hunchbacked tux-wearing ex-henchman Igor guy should be kind of fun in an Intelligentsia sort of way. But Amanda Von Doom No Relation, the cocky team leader who wants to bang the Hulk, is really on the wrong side of that line between clever and "clever." Another thing that feels forced – this time, a joke.
The art in this issue has been subject to some discussion as well. Marc Silvestri still seems to get the main credit, but he's among a trio of people credited with penciling, then two more with pencil assists, then another with finishes, then five different inkers. It's a strangely huge group effort. Despite some odd spots here and there, it still pretty much feels like a Silvestri book for the most part, so decent job on that massive team still managing a reasonably cohesive feel.
Overall, this book is likely to be off-putting to people who like the character of Bruce Banner, but possibly inviting to those who just like to see the Hulk being a badass. He does beat up gamma sharks… but we know people have a low tolerance for gamma-animals, if the hostile response to Ang Lee's Hulk (or John Frankenheimer's awful The Island of Dr. Moreau, for that matter) is any indication. The fact that Aaron is basing his whole premise around them is a dubious portent of things to come.
CRAVE ONLINE RATING: 5/10