THE INCREDIBLE HULK #610
Writer: "Gregarious" Greg Pak
Artists: "Princely" Paul Pelletier & "Dandy" Danny Miki
Colorist: "Fun-lovin'" Frank D'Armata
Letterer: "Simple" Simon Bowland
Cover: "Jazzy" John Romita, Jr., "Kinky" Klaus Janson & "Daring" Dean White
Assistant Editor: "Jiltin'" Jordan D. White
Associate Editor: "Naughty" Nathan Cosby
Editor: Mark "Enough of these nicknames" Paniccia
***SPOILERS*** inside if you go further!
Wow, is that cover ever one big misnomer. I know practically every reader of the Hulk, myself included, predicted last month that it was Bruce's understandable anger over his son's near-slaying of Betty Ross Talbot Banner (say that name five times fast!) that would serve as catalyst for the return of the one, true Hulk, who would kick ass and take names while chewing no bubble gum as we headed toward the conclusion of "World War Hulks." It even looks that way on the cover. Doesn't it seem like Skaar and Red She-Hulk are looking on in horror as the change occurs right before them? So, my first admission is that I'm glad I was wrong. Greg Pak did not take the easy way out in this story. What could have in lesser hands been a farce instead wound up being a tense, packed-to-the-gills page-turner--and a strong contender for best single issue of this series, post-"Planet Hulk." Considering the stellar issues that came right after the reversion to the old numbering scheme, that's saying something.
At the beginning of this issue, Bruce tries in vain to help Betty heal from the battle wounds inflicted by Skaar. I have to guess that the "Sakaarian Oldforge Blade" Skaar used had some mystical properties that triggered the change from Red She-Hulk to plain ol' Betty, otherwise last issue's conclusion only makes sense to establish the identity revelation and then to propel the (brief) origin story that's presented in all of two pages herein. Most of the story we've guessed already: after nearly dying from gamma poisoning (here referred to as "cancer" which was only brought up in Bruce Jones' run, hmm), Betty ended up frozen by her father, then thawed by the Leader and M.O.D.O.K., who brought her back from the brink of death, cured her illness, then brainwashed her and turned her into the Red She-Hulk. The only truly new detail we get from the "origin" is that Betty's another confirmed split personality case in her gamma identity, which stirs echoes of her time as the Harpy. (It's worth questioning whether the gamma/cosmic ray mix brought about the split personality, or if Betty only developed the split personality based on some subconscious belief that irradiation makes you develop a split personality. Then again, our Betty has never been an especially well girl, psychologically speaking.)
Breaking up a fight between Red She-Hulk and Samson is the Hulked-Out Amadeus Cho. He's not hulked-out in the same way as the military men or heroes who the Intel exposed to the lethal cosmic/gamma ray cocktail, the radiation instead affecting his mind. (Can we call him Cho-D.O.K.? Or just Red Leader?) He and the rescued smartest men come up with their new plan, when the Leader and M.O.D.O.K. show up! But they're not alone...
Oh yes! What would a Leader storyline be without his awesome artificial creations, the Humanoids? It looks as if they've been "Hulked-Out" a bit, themselves. It doesn't matter, however, because Cho takes care of them in short order with the power of his mind!
This sequence also firms up the identities of the eight smartest men in the Marvel Universe--that is, if you count who the Leader considers the smartest. Of course, he considers himself above all, but the others (in his mind) were, in no particular order: Doom, Richards, Banner, Stark, Pym, McCoy, and T'Challa. Banner counters that Cho was "always" one of the smartest, and that his brain power has been further boosted by the cosmic/gamma rays, with the Leader's downfall to follow as result of his not having considered Cho a threat. Eventually, after a thrilling tete-a-tete with Banner, the Leader survives to scheme another day. (Or does he? Check out HULK #23 next week!) M.O.D.O.K. isn't quite so lucky. And Samson throws his lot in with the good guys again.
It's intriguing how the rest of the puzzle pieces fit together from here on in. How best to solve the puzzle of de-Hulking the heroes and the soldiers storming Washington? You have to find a receptacle for all that radiation so nothing goes kaboom, of course! And who absorbs massive amounts of radiation better than anybody else? Remember how a certain someone taunted Victor Von Doom some months back? "Say my name!"
Thinking about the final set piece of this issue, where Bruce Banner absorbs the radiation from the Hulked-Out Heroes and Soldiers, it became apparent to me that the scenes just before the big explosion, where Banner stands in poses reminiscent of his first gamma exposure in INCREDIBLE HULK #1, serve a larger purpose beyond just visually mirroring that important first story. Conceptually, it mirrors the origin of the Hulk as well! Consider that in the original story, Bruce Banner went out onto the test site to save one young boy he didn't even know from (as far as he knew) death, insodoing releasing the raging spirit that dwelled within him. Here in INCREDIBLE HULK #610 we have a play on that scenario: Bruce Banner, knowing full well that his actions will cause the rebirth of that same raging spirit, freely sacrifices his "cure" to save several of his friends in the superheroic community as well as two hundred A.I.Marines he doesn't even know. In one fell swoop, Greg Pak states unequivocally that Bruce Banner is and always has been a selfless man, a hero. Was there any doubt?
Also, it seems Banner isn't the only one who's into heroic sacrifices, as Leonard "Doc" Samson lays down his life so that the Cathexis Ray's effects may be reversed, the gamma removed from his body for the first time since INCREDIBLE HULK #193. Is it a "final" death? Probably not, but his sacrifice does redeem the character, even if the plot-logic of sending him off at the drop of a hat is ludicrous, with how his body even fixes anything a wonder. Ah, well. All in service to the larger narrative, right?
Speaking of larger narratives, I've got your "building for three years" one right here:
In the completion of the arc that began during World War Hulk, Bruce Banner again transforms into the epitome of anger--as shown by the massive energy output around him, this is the "World Breaker" incarnation of the Hulk first seen in WWH #5 and last seen, however briefly, in Skaar: Son of Hulk #12. This incarnation is also known to many as the "Green Scar," and his presence marks the thematic conclusion of nearly everything that's happened since that epochal storyline. Next issue, we'll see Father vs. Son, Hulk vs. Skaar. Somehow, I get the feeling that Banner isn't planning on Skaar killing the Hulk. (Not that it would happen. Whose book is this, anyway?)
We're coming on the perfect moment for the evolved "Green Scar" to thrive! I'm feeling the intense character growth the Hulk has undergone under Greg Pak's pen, and nothing would further the growth of the character, and evolve the dynamic of father and son, like the Hulk being able to apologize to his son, to be better than his own father was to him. Isn't that really what the Hulk is all about? Making it so that the sins of the father are not visited upon the son? He can make peace with Queen Caiera's memory and they can move forward together. After a damn good fight, of course!
So, maybe this wasn't so much a review as a deep analysis. I said before that this issue ranks among the best since restoring the old numbering, and perhaps it will stand as one of Greg Pak's best, period. Or maybe it's just leading toward next issue's conclusion, which stands to be pretty incredible as well. Paul Pelletier and Danny Miki did nothing short of excellent work this issue, as usual, and that two-page spread of the Hulk at the end is a treat, as is that final page. The colors of Frank D'Armata bring the whole shebang to life.
It's one great day to be a Hulk fan.
Rating: * * * * 1/2 (out of 5 stars)
(Next: HULK #23!)