25th Nov2021

‘Hulk #1’ Review

by Dean Fuller

Written by Donny Cates | Art by Ryan Ottley | Published by Marvel Comics

Bad news is, no more Immortal Hulk. That book was consistently at the top of my must read list. It took a very familiar mythology, twisted it around a little, and made it seem new and fresh. The good news is, Donny Cates has promised to do the same thing, and has been given a brand new first issue to emphasise this is his book. I believe him, as the Hulk is a character more than any other who has always been much more than just another superhero book. The Hulk has been both anti-hero and villain, Bruce Banner has been both hero and victim. Hulk has been both smart and savage, Banner both top tier intellect and mentally ill down and out. One thing Banner has never been is a bad guy. Is he just good by nature, or have we just missed something below the surface. Cates and Ottley seem to be taking us there.

‘Smashtronaut’ (what a great title by the way) from the beginning asks the question, ‘what if we’ve misunderstood The Hulk all this time?’. What if he was not the brutal manifestation of Banner’s trauma as a child, but a deliberate attempt to shackle Banner himself, a way to distract Banner from doing things that may not be in humanity’s best interest. Bruce Banner the scientist is symbolically killed in the opening pages, as the lab coat and glasses are discarded, leaving us in no doubt this is not your father’s Bruce Banner. This Bruce is angry. Angry that he’s always second fiddle to Hulk, angry that he’s not appreciated, angry that while the Hulk is immortal, he is not. After recent events his own mortality has come into sharp focus, and he wants to push all the boundaries he can, while he can. If it all goes wrong, so be it. That’s how it all started after all. New horizons await.

Clearly Bruce is not thinking straight, and after recent events that’s fair enough. His friends recognise that too. Dr. Strange has called a meeting of the great and good who know Bruce, and has made it clear just how bad all this is. Bruce has somehow managed to deliberately fracture his mind into parts, which is how the Hulk persona is once again sealed away, and has turned The Hulk’s physical body into a, um, starship. Yep. One that is currently beating the crap out of Hulkbuster Iron Man. Banner has ‘upgraded’ The Hulk’s physical body, with surgically implanted A.I.M tech, and has created a mind palace within, with himself in sole control. Even worse, he has placed The Hulk persona in a sort of VR reality where he can manipulate the level of rage he needs at any given time. The fact he nearly kills Tony Stark, and does so by ripping off his own hand, tells you everything. This Banner is not controlled by rage anymore. He’s fuelled by it.

Cates and Ottley weren’t kidding when they said they planned to put yet another fresh take on The Hulk. Donny Cates wrote a script that almost read like a horror story, the repercussions of which are going to be far reaching. That said, with the ending of this first issue I did detect echoes of the old 1980’s Bill Mantlo/ Sal Buscema run when Hulk was ultimately banished to a nexus of alternate dimensions. This time he jumped rather than being pushed. Cates here, though, writes an exciting, exhilarating, and horrifying script, and Ryan Ottley’s visuals are at times incredibly visceral. The opening sequence and the fight with Iron Man has the sheer power of the Hulk, the violence, just jumping off the page. The writing and art really do, pardon the pun, pack a real punch.

So now we have Banner in full control of the Hulk’s physical body and the Hulk’s psyche, and prepared to fully utilise both to the max.

You would have thought virtually all possibilities with both characters had been pretty much covered by now, but clearly when told this Donny Cates just smiled and said… ‘Hold my beer’.

**** 5/5

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