Ruminations: The Incredible Hulk #80

(Note: Last month, I posted follow-ups to reviews of recent HULK issues at a comics review site that shall go nameless (let's just say they take their love of comics to an extreme level and leave it there). After last month's debacle, during which I had the audacity to compare the current work to writers & artists previous (as if that isn't somehow inherent in the current work--ha!), I got in a heap of trouble with the powers-that-act-like-fascists. So, I got out of said bad situation, y'know, with free speech being my bag an' all. I don't really wanna talk about it anymore; so now, without further ado, my unbiased and unedited opinion of HULK #80...)

"Tempest Fugit: Part Four (of 5)"
Writer: Peter David / Artist: Lee Weeks

After flirting with possible explanations for what the mysterious island is and what's really happening there, Bruce Banner inadvertently, finally sees the big picture...or does he?

Four issues into Peter David's second run on the title he made a tremendous success, it's apparent that it hasn't taken him long at all to get his "sea legs." In fact, if it's even possible to judge this new run in comparison with the quality of the one previous, I've got to hand it to PAD: he seems to have a clearer idea of who and what the Hulk character is, and what he represents--to the reader, to Banner, to others in the Marvel Universe. And I'm genuinely shocked to find the flavor of this storyline has mirrored the old Englehart/Thomas/Wein & Trimpe monster-fests of the 1970s (particularly in how quickly the metamorphoses seem to occur, and how infrequently Banner appears), but with a modern sensibility.

But first, let's get back to the flashbacks that introduce the Hulk as a force during Bruce's teenage years. Here, we're seeing the split between friends, as it were, where the relationship between personalities first turned antagonistic. It's fun, it's palpable, and the lead-in to what's sure to be revealed next issue is jarring and, let's make no mistake, very Columbine-esque. To the casual observer, Bruce Banner was a troubled teen. Is it really that much of a stretch to have this kind of scenario plant some real seeds of discord to mar Banner's life? It's quite inventive, and I'm finally settling into the idea of the Hulk "awakening" long before the Gamma Bomb detonated (even if I'm left scratching my head about how the Hulk really got his name).

Last issue, we got a rather unsatisfying explanation for what's happening on the island: it was a top-secret military project code-named SMASH. Eh. Here, as Wolverine attacks the Hulk, there's another, more comic-booky theory posed by a certain time-traveller who's crossed paths with the green goliath before: Kang (for those not in the know, check HULK #135 for that li'l encounter). It's clear that Bruce, good old reintellectualized Bruce, doesn't believe the line of horse-hooey Kang spews, and here I was pleasantly reminded of the strong characterization of Banner from Peter's old days on the book. Banner's no longer the spineless, average joe who slept with Nadia Blonsky and let her slip him special "vitamin" pills in the shower (under previous writer Bruce Jones). This is a Bruce Banner who knows the score in many a discipline and can outsmart nearly anybody. Bravo.

Of course, off the strange explanation of timelines in flux and a delightfully off-color insult that Bruce hurls Kang's way, another monkey wrench is thrust into the works, one that I was thinking might come into play and one that may well rile fans of the talents who scripted everything since David's last tenure. Has everything that happened to Bruce and Hulk since 1995 been a falsity, a delusion? I think not, but then again, I've been surprised before. Still, the strip is self-aware enough to give some genuine thrills and laughs, and for that, Peter gets major props.

So who's behind the Hulk's recent agonies? Well, just ask yourself: which of his villains is adept at casting illusions in the form of those the Hulk's encountered in the past, often using alien species around which to craft those illusions? I'm worried about the character as displayed in #78 as the architect of this adventure, but that aside, it looks like more fun with the Shaper of Worlds and his apprentice, Glorian. Looks like we'll see next month.

Rating: ****1/2 out of 5


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