“Indestructible Hulk Annual” #1 by Jeff Parker and Mahmud Asrar is a Hulk/Iron Man teamup story set in a remote atoll in the Pacific Ocean. It many respects, it is a typical “island adventure” story, beginning with a trip into an isolated locale where an ugly secrets reside, and ending with an exit back to non-island civilization. This is “Science Bros” meets “Monster Island,” except with only one monster.
Like most island tales, Parker’s script borrows from H.G. Wells’ classic science fiction novel “The Island of Dr. Moreau.” The hero of the story goes to an island, where he witnesses atrocities committed by a brilliant but amoral scientist. The book’s nightmarish atmosphere, phantasmagoric imagery and symphonic rise and fall mixed memorably with themes of hubris and the overreach and potential amorality of the pursuit of knowledge. Both Parker and Wells depict a loss of separation between a mad scientist and his work, but Parker interprets this motif quite literally, and the pun on the sunlit “happily ever after” last panel is fitting but obvious.
Parker’s story is quite different from “The Island of Dr. Moreau” in tone and intent, however. “Indestructible Hulk Annual” #1 is sci-fi/action, not sci-fi/horror. The story ends with Hulk and Iron Man flying unscathed into a sunset, talking about going on vacation. The opening lecture scene touches on questions about the uses and abuses of science and cynicism vs. idealism, but it’s a superficial treatment of these philosophical questions, and the moral depth of Wells’ story is absent. The action proceeds along a well-worn conventional path smoothly, without creating much suspense along the way.
In place of that depth, “Indestructible Hulk Annual” #1 should offer something else. The story’s the main attraction is another reunion team-up of Stark and Banner, whose rivalry and affinity for each other were made hot again by the 2012 blockbuster “Avengers” movie. Unfortunately, Parker and Asrar cannot equal anything like the onscreen chemistry of Robert Downey Jr. and Mark Ruffalo, and the dialogue also suffers from the lack of Whedon-esque comic moments and jibes. The competitive camaraderie in the “Avengers” movie is absent here, and while flashback to their youth (and an early encounter at a science forum) is cute, it neither seriously furthers characterization nor provides much fanfiction fodder.
Asrar’s art also hinders the story. While his line has an attractive fineness and he pays attention to composition, his faces and bodies shift too much from panel to panel. The figures feel stiff, and the faces are particularly weak due to blunted facial expressions. Admittedly, “Indestructible Hulk Annual” #1 is primarily an action comic full of fight scenes, but even within these scenes, the flatness of emotion is noticeable. The physical features of Hulk and Iron Man are so different that reader confusion between the two is minimal, but still, costumes and word balloon differentiation shouldn’t be crutches.
The story format and length of annual issues can result in strong, self-contained stories or new directions, but too often they offer more length with less substance. “Indestructible Hulk Annual” #1 is a bland story of the latter type, complete with a disposable villain-of-the-week. It is innocuous, derivative and pleasant enough, but without anything that will stick in the reader’s memory or have much impact.