Peter David spent over a decade writing The Incredible Hulk and various tie-in comic. During that time he worked with some of the best artists in the industry -- including Dale Keown with whom he has reunited for The Incredible Hulk: Last Call #1 -- to explore every facet of Bruce Banner. Banner's splintered personality was explored as both the Hulk's most underrated strength and his greatest weakness. Diving into the mania and depression coming from living with a giant green (or gray) rage monster transformed The Incredible Hulk from a comic no one wanted to work on or read into one of the best on the newsstand.
So why doesn't The Incredible Hulk: Last Call #1 have the same gusto as what came before? Well, it's mostly a case of Hulk comics and Bruce Banner being in a different place now than they were in the late '80s. This comic feels like a relic of a bygone, though beloved, era. While it might be a nice nostalgia trip down memory lane for some, The Incredible Hulk: Last Call #1 ultimately feels out of place in the current Marvel Comics oeuvre.
So it Last Call bad? No, but it does feel a bit tone-deaf. The plot centers around Bruce Banner calling into a suicide prevention hotline and confessing his guilt for the death of Betty Ross. Hulk comics have never shied away from this sort of subject matter. There's even a line in The Avengers where Banner recalls "eating a bullet" only to have "the other guy spit it out." This sort of thing illustrates how debilitating Banner's dilemma is. Being an unbreakable (and often uncontrollable) rage monster does eliminate the notion of free will in some regard, and it's a topic always worth exploring. But here, it feels a bit haphazard. We've been down this road before and how Bruce is handling the situation feel a bit insensitive at times, especially to those who deal with mental health issues. Surely, it's not intentional, but it sure is there.
The big stand out in this issue is Dale Keown's artwork. Keown has a classic style that ages wonderfully. His line work is sharp and clean and his attention to background details is superb. He spent a few years being David's go-to Hulk artist and their collaborative rapport is on full display in The Incredible Hulk: Last Call #1. The action sequences, which are a bit few and far between, are rendered gorgeously and hearken back to simpler time in comics. However, the negative trappings (excessive hash marks, strange costumes and so on) of many popular artist from the early '90s are nowhere to be seen.
Last Call #1 is a must read for Hulk fans, especially those who fell in love with the character during Peter David's The Incredible Hulk run. However, for fans who may not be entirely familiar with that era, they may have trouble taking this story seriously. It's a bit diluted compared to some of the better works of these two creators. The Immortal Hulk -- which has yet again redefined the character -- is a far cry from what is represented here, despite how The Incredible Hulk: Last Call #1 helps contextualize how and why things have gotten so bad for Bruce Banner. And while we'd love to see more Hulk story by David and Keown, this one feels far too lax on plotting and real emotional resonance to make it a must-have addition to your pull.