Thus far, Jason Aaron’s “Incredible Hulk” run has been characterised by an uncomfortable tone of creeping dread and an unsure grip on characters’ sanity. Issue #6 sees Whilce Portacio providing art for the climax of the arc, which turns out to be the long-awaited slugfest between the increasingly unhinged Banner and the now cold, calculating Hulk. In that regard, it turns out pretty good.
The fight is an imaginative one making full use of both Banner’s intelligence and Hulk’s various abilities. It’s bold, original and great fun to read. As the pair slug things out comic-book-style, flashbacks fill in the details of their separation and touch on the psychology of the Hulk’s relationship with Banner, leading to a final literally explosive moment where the former tries to rid himself of the latter once and for all.
Of course, you don’t have to be a complete genius to see how this situation is likely to resolve itself (or maybe Banner will indeed be vaporised…) but that’s all part of the fun. With Banner and the Hulk’s relationship already at an all-time low, the events of this issue can only cause them to further deteriorate. Aaron’s focus in this area is the strongest element of the issue, with as much left unsaid as given voice. It takes skill in comics to imply one meaning in subtext while using the opposite in the text and Aaron and Portacio succeed admirably.
Flashbacks are also made to the past of Amanda Von Doom, who it turns out might not be “no relation” despite her initial assurances. Von Doom has been an interesting addition to the cast (and Marvel Universe in general) so it’ll be interesting to see if she sticks around. In some ways, she could fill the Thunderbolt-Ross-shaped void in this series — particularly if the Hulk and Banner are merged once more.
Although the issue is a generally entertaining conclusion to the current story arc, there’s a definite sense things aren’t quite working out how the creators think they are. At times the tone works well, but across the whole issue it sits unevenly. The moments of humor fall flat when sandwiched between violent expressions of anger and hatred, while its emotional honesty undermines its intellectual examination of the lead characters.
Six issues in, it’s fair to say that there are things in Aaron’s “Incredible Hulk” run that haven’t yet delivered on the initial promise and perhaps it’s that the story is too long. There’s one more issue to go before Aaron is joined by a more subtle and understated artist in Steve Dillon, which may have a positive affect on the writing.