There’s an American superhero in Paris in Joe Keatinge and Piotr Kowalski’s “Marvel Knights: Hulk” #1, and an amnesiac one at that. It’s not The Hulk’s spotty memory that’s acting up, though, it’s Bruce Banner’s, and The Hulk is nowhere to be seen — at least not yet. In fact, since Banner doesn’t know who he is, he also doesn’t know who else he is, an intriguing idea that Keatinge plays up well enough to not only grab readers early on, but keep them engaged well before the action starts.
It’s not Keatinge who grabs them first, though; it’s Kowalski, leading off with a beautifully textured double-page spread of nighttime Paris, appropriately shaded in hues of green by colorist Nick Filardi. The beauty of this spread doesn’t keep readers from spotting the lone figure floating face down in the river, however, and once spotted prompts an eager turning of the page to find out more. From there, Keatinge takes over and interchanges this sequence with flashback scenes that explain all, or at least enough.
These scenes are nicely colored with muted sepia tones by Filardi, providing a clear contrast between what has come versus what is going on. Keatinge makes it clear enough on his own, but it’s a nice touch that gives these pages an interesting color disparity. Credit should duly be given to letterer Clayton Cowles as well, for his interesting touch of using English subtitles at the bottom of each panel to translate the French dialogue; it’s almost a surprise that such a fundamental technique isn’t used in comics more often.
This is all within the first six pages, and every creator involved has done their part to captivate. From there, Keatinge’s story rolls out at a perfect pace to both explore Banner’s predicament as well as to introduce the present-moment conflict. Kowalski’s art ranges from nice to downright gorgeous; faces and figures are lightly rendered and inked, with just enough detail to identify the characters, while his loving depictions of Paris continue with detailed architecture and backdrops.
The Hulk does actually appear in a couple of panels, although only as a mental image and not as part of the story, so Kowalski does get his chance to render a pretty intense looking Green Goliath that foreshadows what readers can look forward to in future issues. Of course, the monsters pursuing Banner that Kowalski does get to draw are no less imposing and do plenty on their own to indicate that he’s a terrific artist for this book.
The intent of the Marvel Knights books has always been to bring top talent to Marvel’s superheroes and to in turn bring something different from what’s being done in the regular titles. “Marvel Knights: Hulk” #1 succeeds at both goals, and is arguably the best of the three such titles so far.