The Incredible Hulks #617
"Dark Son, Conclusion: Fratricide"
Writer: Greg Pak
Artists: Barry Kitson, Scott Hanna, Jay Leisten, Victor Drujiniu & Sandu Florea
Colorists: Matt Milla & Aron Lusen
Letterers: Simon Bowland
Production: Irene Lee
Assistant Editor: Jordan D. White
Editor: Mark Paniccia
Publisher: Marvel Comics
With the final part of the "Dark Son" storyline having been titled "Fratricide," referring to the act of killing one's brother--coincidentally, the first type of murder committed in human history according to the Bible and Qur'an--you might think you know exactly what to expect from this story. You might be right to an extent, although Greg Pak smartly throws in a host of surprises along the way. One thing's sure, my doubts about the first half of this saga have largely disappeared, giving way to even more enthusiasm for the future.
Over the last few issues, the book now named for a team of Hulk has gained a modest degree of balance, involving She-Hulk, Korg, and A-Bomb in the action more than in the storyline's first half. However, make no mistake, the "power triad" of Hulk, his ex-wife Red She-Hulk, and his son Skaar dominate this issue, and that's just the way it should be for the finale of a storyline that chiefly concerns the Hulk's other son, Hiro-Kala.
So, where have we been? Banner and Hulk have forged an uneasy alliance over their sons, and they're counting on the group's unique perspective as Hulks to allow them to accomplish what they feel the heroes of Earth can't. Their antagonism is barely contained, as shown in a terrific scene in #615 wherein a holo-image of Banner demands the Hulk let him out. (One wonders just what Banner has planned if, just once, the Hulk refuses Banner's request.) After the Hulk's meeting with Skaar in #611, finding him to be a decent sort, he meets Hiro-Kala in #616 and finds him to be the opposite of his brother. Hiro is, simply put, the monster Brian Banner always thought his son Bruce was, and that's the thrust of the story. However, Hiro has committed deeds far beyond Brian's imaginings, I'm sure, a fact which raises the stakes all the higher.
The psychology of Hiro-Kala is fitting, as Pak reaches back into Paul Jenkins' original Son of Hulk storyline (now available in the Son of Hulk: Dark Son Rising trade paperback) for a moment of continuity that makes sense, and connects with some comments made by the K'ai Worldmind a few issues earlier. I've always doubted the moment from Jenkins' script, and it's nice to see it exploited here.
Greg Pak's smart script offers a thrilling conclusion that relies increasingly less on fisticuffs and more on the psychologies of all the players. His Banner is complex as he solves the narrative, and you can see he does what needs to be done while his Hulk suffers. The character with arguably the most pivotal role here is Betty/Red She-Hulk, with a strong moment in the middle of the story with Banner, and another, equally strong moment with the Hulk at the finale. Betty's presence throughout ably fulfills Pak's teases that "nobody can save you from your anger like members of your family, but also nobody can drive you crazier." Truly this tale marks her as this team's wild card.
The weakest element of this issue, sadly, is on the art. As is often the case, with an accelerated schedule, cracks appear. Barry Kitson's layouts have been strong throughout, and the strongest art has come when he's been able to give his all, but it's in the finished art by Jay Leisten and Scott Hanna that the book suffers. Hanna just isn't more than a competent artist, and nothing exposes his flaws like having to carry the load on the last few issues.
The issue is rounded out by an incidental story involving the Hulk, Amadeus Cho, and some giant centaurs. New comer Victor Drujiniu provides the artwork, which isn't bad, and Pak's smart script (there's that word again!) illuminates some more of the Hulk's complex psychology when the green goliath talks about his "family" with Cho.
So, one arc into the new status quo of The Incredible Hulks, and where are we? Definitely somewhere I never thought we'd be. It's been a wild ride so far, filled with compelling characters and thrilling situations. While I didn't think Hiro-Kala & the K'ai story was the best place to start, I can't argue the results and the position Banner and the Hulk are in at the end of this arc. The Hulk and Banner always work best when they're emotionally tortured, and there's enough pathos to go around in "Dark Son." The upcoming "Chaos War" crossover only threatens to provide even more heightened emotions (along with the return of fan-favorite Paul Pelletier on art duties). If you're not reading The Incredible Hulks, you're missing one of Marvel's smartest efforts.