Where were we? Ah. Why begin Thanos vs. Hulk #1 with a Iron Man and Maria Hill first discussing Bruce Banner and then reviewing a recording of Pip the Troll kidnapping Banner? Why not directly show the kidnapping? Why filter it through Iron Man and Maria Hill? Assuming that neither character shows up again in the series, it’s a variation on many Starlin opening scenes; a variation that I’m not sure I completely understand myself. But, let’s get talking about it and maybe I’ll figure it out.
One of the most-used storytelling tricks in Starlin’s bag is beginning an issue with a character recapping what has happened already or narrating/introducing the story. Nearly every issue of Dreadstar began that way (at least while Starlin was writing and drawing it) and it’s carried over to his work in several other places. He doesn’t use it all of the time, but it does tend to pop up from time to time now, especially in first issues. He used a variation of it in last year’s Thanos Annual #1 where the events of Thanos’s conflict with Captain Mar-Vell were recapped with Thanos narrating the issue. It was more subtle than having the character directly speak to the audience using word balloons, but not far off. It’s not a technique exclusive to Starlin by any means; it’s one he favours.
If distancing the recap to caption narration overlaid atop Ron Lim’s version of what happened in Captain Marvel #33 is subtle, then removing it to two unrelated characters chancing into the events that kick off this particular story is even subtler. After all, Starlin doesn’t only use this technique to recap previous stories, he often uses it to begin the comic proper in media res when possible, skipping over the set-up bullshit as quickly as possible. Instead of showing us a full scene of Bruce Banner out riding a motorcycle and Pip kidnapping him, we get four panels along with a some explanation about how Banner came to be riding one of Captain America’s motorcycles free for Pip to teleport in and kidnap him.
There’s logic to that approach as a lot of the “How does this story even happen” is established that way. It firmly places it within a context and, given that this was originally meant to be a Savage Hulk story, it is more concerned with the Hulk side of things than the Thanos, which this fulfills. However, it still doesn’t seem like the first way a person would choose to begin a story like this. After all, does establishing how Banner came to be where he was that necessary? Is it worth four pages should Iron Man and/or Maria Hill not appear later in the series? Given that all we have to go on is this single comic, it all pretty much hinges on the assumption that at least one of those characters plays a role at a later point in the series.
Otherwise, it’s an awfully roundabout way to drop a bit of context on the readers while avoiding what many would see as an outdated storytelling technique in having Banner or Thanos or Pip address us directly to begin the story. One big advantage is that it allows for the Banner panel at the top of the page that I’ve discussed previously. It’s hard to begin in another way that involves Banner’s kidnapping while retaining that particular method of introducing Banner’s space where he goes when the Hulk takes over. You need a distance from Banner to pull that off and it works best with an objective distance than the subjective one you would get from narration/directly speaking to the audience. As effective and wonderful as that Banner slow reveal is, I’m not sure it’s reason enough for this beginning. But, I guess we’ll have to wait and see if it pays off beyond its variation on a familiar Starlin storytelling trope.