This is the third "Season One" graphic novel I've bought. Will it be ... the best????
Fred van Lente writes it. Tom Fowler draws it. Jordie Bellaire colors it. Chris Eliopoulos and Joe Sabino letter it. Marvel publishes it. You pay no more than $24.99 (American) for it! Everybody wins!
I've been mildly impressed with the "Season One" graphic novels I've read - Jamie McKelvie's art on the X-Men one was very good but the story was just okay, and Antony Johnston and Wellinton Alves' Daredevil one was okay. I'm more impressed that Marvel is publishing them, frankly. But van Lente and Fowler's take on the Hulk is really, really good. Yay, Marvel!
Van Lente doesn't do too much different with the story - he introduces a new villain, sure, but the origin hews close to what we've seen before. We get the explosion out of the way quickly, and then van Lente delves into Bruce's efforts to hide his new identity and the trouble that causes. What van Lente does differently is try to explain several anomalies in the Hulk's origin story - I imagine some writers have addressed these over the years, but I'm not a big Hulk reader, so prior to Peter David writing the character, I know very little about how - or if - writers tried to explain things. So van Lente explains why Bruce survived the bomb's explosion and became the Hulk. He explains why the Hulk only comes out at night early on and then, later, why he comes out when Bruce experiences extreme emotions. He works in Bruce's backstory as an abused child and gives us a storyline that fits into that, explaining why the Hulk would want to be a "hero" as opposed to a villain. He also includes a somewhat obligatory scene where Bruce faces off against the Hulk. Perhaps the biggest change he makes is that Rick seems a bit more of a douchebag than in the original story, but when you read between the lines of the 1960s, Rick can be seen as a tremendous dick back then, too ... it's just that writers were more unlikely to state things so baldly.
Van Lente introduces an A.I.M.-like organization called "Them" (why aren't they A.I.M.?) that pisses the Hulk off, and his main villain is, like other villains over the years, variations on our hero that goes horribly wrong.
He also, unfortunately, follows Pop Culture Rule #1, but that's just the way it is, I suppose. The one thing I don't understand is why, after the Hulk gets out of the vault in which Banner locks him every night, he - the Hulk, that is - goes back into the vault. Why would he do that? I guess if he leaves Bruce out in the desert somewhere, Bruce might die, but if I were the Hulk, I'd destroy the vault and leave Bruce somewhere else so he couldn't figure out how to lock me - the Hulk - in the vault again.
Despite the pretty good story, what elevates Hulk: Season One is Fowler's superb art. His cartoony line helps with the big action scenes, which look looser and more frenetic than many such scenes from the Big Two these days, while his details help make the silliest things - like "Them"'s headquarters, which looks like something out of Barbarella - believable. Fowler's style has always been good for exaggerated facial expressions, when you're dealing with the Hulk (not to mention Thunderbolt Ross), that's a good thing. But Fowler is also good at more subtle moments, and when Bruce and the Hulk face off, he nails it. His design for "Biocide" - as the new villain is called (yes, really) - is wonderful, horrific and creepy but still completely over-the-top, as befits a Hulk villain. I don't know how much of this is by design, but Fowler makes Betty Ross fairly plain, perhaps to counter the sexiness of Monica Rappaccini. Bruce is a geek, of course, and it's clever that Fowler subverts the "superhero standard" of women, showing Betty as an extremely competent soldier who, presumably, has no time for make-up and fancy boots. She's not ugly by any means, but she's plain. It's a bold choice! Jordie Bellaire, meanwhile, continues to get better and better, as she uses Pepto-bismol pink at the "Them" HQ, which helps make what they're doing more nauseating and also clashes nicely with the Hulk's dark green. Obviously, she uses green to good effect, but she also pairs it well with blue to deepen Bruce's torment.
Once again, the confrontation between the Hulk and Bruce is a highlight, as she uses different shades of green and also makes Bruce's eyes shine with radiated anger and resolve. Fowler does a wonderful job with the pencil work, and Bellaire complements his work beautifully. Finally, she turns Biocide a sickly yellow and gives him glowing pustules all over his body, which makes him even more horrific. Fowler and Bellaire do marvelous work together, and it's good to see them on a high-profile project like this.
Obviously, these "Season One" books aren't going to divert too far from accepted canon, and there's only so much a writer can do with the topic. Van Lente does what he can, and it's a pretty entertaining story. The artwork, however, really makes it a book to check out. I'd probably mildly recommend this based on van Lente's story, but combined with the art, this is definitely Recommended. Plus, you can read the absolutely godawful Incredible Hulk #1, which is reprinted in the back! Man, Jason Aaron is a good writer, but this is just dumb, and Marc Silvestri's art is always better the less he thinks about it. He must have thought A LOT about this, because it's terrible. The less said about that issue, the better! The actual graphic novel is quite good, though!