I grew up with Peter David’s “Incredible Hulk” run. I was upset and really angry a lot back then, so I identified with Banner’s struggles over who he was and the demons he had inside him — as much, I suppose, as a teenager can identify with a depressed adult man with violent mood swings struggling to keep any type of family around him while threatening to tear himself apart. As I read the final issue of his run, “The Lone and Level Sands,” and David said goodbye over some of the best art Adam Kubert has ever put on paper, I teared up. There have been good runs since then, but no Hulk story come close to that moment for me. Now that “Totally Awesome Hulk” is here, we could miss Bruce Banner, but I don’t think he’s needed in the Marvel Universe anymore.
Over the course of an almost flawless first issue, Greg Pak, Frank Cho and Sonia Oback create a new direction for the character, full of fun, hope, action and some of the most gorgeous art any “Hulk” series has had since Dale Keown put down his pencil (please come back Dale, you rule).
Pak, the co-creator of Amadeus Cho, delivers character-driven, all-ages action as Cho — now sporting Gamma powers that he can turn on and off seemingly at will — swaggers through the story, establishing his power, his family and his place in the greater Marvel Universe, before ending with a softball of a setup for his artist to knock out of the park in issue two. The confidence of character in the Korean-American genius is a 180 from the grim interior struggles Banner suffered throughout his time as the main Hulk. Fans looking for Banner’s introspective, lonely nature may bristle at the massive change in the title’s focus, but Pak delivers a fresh perspective on the concept of a Hulk. As smart as he is, Cho is still a cocksure teenage dummy who will surely have a penchant for getting himself in trouble, as evidenced by a metaphorical page by Frank Cho that may make you question just how in-control the seventh smartest man on the planet is.
The script is tailor-made for Frank Cho; he came to play. He cuts loose on page designs, creating sick splash pages like the double-page skull smash in the opening of the book or the other at the other end of the issue. Every panel is packed with detail. The compositions and use of negative space are phenomenal and the flow of the narrative never feels like it bogs down, even as the panel count ticks up on the page.
Oback’s colors, though. Everyone needs to high five her at a convention for this issue. It’s the best compliment to Cho’s art in a Marvel book. Prior to this issue, the character would either be colored too flat or too shiny for my tastes. Oback makes the color feel like an extension of the drawings, adding depth and hue that makes it all feel three-dimensional.
This is a big swing for the fences from Marvel. It’s clear they sunk some time and money into this opening arc, enough that I put the issue down and wondered if this is going to be the next Hulk in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The issue is an excellent introductory book with a version of the Hulk that won’t scare kids. Because it wasn’t the Hulk that was scary — it was the way he tortured himself and raged, and that was all driven by the pale skinny guy. Kids will always want to be the Hulk, but no kid has ever wanted to be Bruce Banner. Amadeus Cho is a better role model character and I’m excited by the potential this new direction can bring.
The book is fun, engaging, an almost Flawless Victory.
Yes, I’ll say it — Totally Awesome Hulk is Totally Awesome.