Ah, the self-contained retrospective story where self-knowledge is gained and we gain a greater appreciation of a character. These types of issues are always good to win over critics and fans alike as a writer really sinks his or her teeth into the inner workings of a character and deliver an equal measure of entertainment and insight. Oh, if only that were the case here, as Jeph Loeb and Whilce Portacio delve deep into the mind of Samson (no longer Doc) to reveal… daddy issues and a self-loathing related to his intelligence? Hulk comics are often lacking characters with those particular hang-ups, of course.
The issue is told via a therapy session between Samson and an unseen, shadowy therapist whose identity is sure to surprise no one when it’s finally revealed. The two go through the character’s history and point out how despite his great intelligence, all Samson really wants to be is big and strong. So, he becomes big and strong, but no one cares because the Hulk is bigger and stronger and being big and strong is all that matters, right? That Samson’s most recent appearance prior to Loeb’s “Hulk” run in “Thunderbolts” featured the character strong, confident, and totally secure in himself and his abilities is not mentioned, ignored in favor of playing up his never being asked to join the Avengers.
I can’t help but look at Samson’s self-loathing, his turning his back on his intelligence in favor of brute strength as somewhat representative of this series as a whole where ‘big’ and ‘dumb’ seem to be the catchwords. Issues are filled with fights lacking any sense of internal logic, preferring to have ‘cool’ moments like the Red Hulk punching out the Watcher. After all, this is a comic where the ‘next issue’ page features the quote, “The strongest there is IS the smartest there is.” And Doc Samson turning his back on everything that makes the character unique and interesting just sums it all up somehow.
That this issue is supposed to be meaningful and insightful isn’t helped by having While Portacio drawing it, since subtlety and nuance of emotion and character aren’t his strong points. Characters posing with awkward looks on their haphazardly-rendered faces is more the standard here as you wonder if Samson is angry or requiring the use of the bathroom with the odd grimaces he constantly displays.
It’s hard to do insightful when the message of the book is forget intelligence and embrace big stupid fighting and your artist is known for pin-ups not storytelling. Perhaps if there were a stronger case presented here for why Samson takes this ill-advised turn, this issue would be more tolerable, but it comes across as undoing much of the work done by previous writers and striping the character of the elements that make him interesting. Then again, if “Hulk” was lacking anything, it was angry, stupid guys who just want to fight.