The final events in the previous series proved that The Hulk wasn’t so indestructible after all, so the relaunched and now-adjectiveless “Hulk” #1 deals with the aftermath. Truth in product labeling is the biggest apparent reason for the restart, as things kick off in the wake of a cliffhanger, and Mark Waid remains onboard as writer, although Mark Bagley joins him as the new series artist. Jerome Opena and Dean White’s cover asks the question, “Who Shot Bruce Banner?,” although the story arc is actually titled “Who Shot The Hulk,” neither of which are terribly sympathetic to those who might have missed the final issue of “Indestructible Hulk.” Either way, both serve as an extremely simple recap to immediately bring readers up to date before consuming this issue.
It’s not a terribly accurate name, though, as this introductory issue mainly focuses on the attempt to save Banner’s life, and not so much on who tried to take it. The real focus is actually on brain surgeon Aaron Carpenter, the doctor coerced into saving Banner, and along the way it’s revealed that this heretofore unseen character has a past connection to a Banner back in his pre-Hulk days. It’s a connection that Waid has to keep forcing throughout, though, by way of a contrived backstory, disruptive flashbacks and off-sounding and repetitious third person narration that reads like it was lifted from the deleted scenes of a direct-to-DVD movie. Carpenter was a college classmate of Banner who looked upon him with disdain from afar, but had no real interaction with him. It’s such a non-descript association that it doesn’t justify all the time spent on it; if there’s any real relevance, it’s not apparent in this issue, resulting in an underlying feeling of “who cares” that dominates the first dozen pages or so.
Carpenter is introduced to readers on the very first page, and then (re)introduced to Banner next. All of the backstory unfolds after this, though, so Bagley’s two-page spread that follows doesn’t really shock anybody; readers already know Banner was shot, but they don’t know the connection between the two yet, so this spread doesn’t have the impact that it’s intended to. Bagley doesn’t really get to flex his own muscle until The Hulk does, and when this happens the issue finally delivers the kind of excitement that readers of Waid’s Hulk have gotten used to. This is when the story finally advances, and deals with the impact of Banner’s injuries.
Despite stumbling out of the gate, and for the first part of the race, Waid delivers an accessible storyline that sets up a new status quo for The Hulk. “Hulk” #1 is a misplaced and misguided relaunch, but it manages to right itself in time to sell readers on issue #2.