An interesting side effect of Civil War, it seems, is this growing sense for Marvel fans of "having to pick a side." It appears to pervade the critical senses of many fans, as when they read a Marvel comic book now, their first reaction is usually about how "their side" is being portrayed. Fans who dislike Iron Man view the comic with that hatred, and fans who like Iron Man view the comic (if you'll forgive the term) with "Iron Man tinted glasses".
With that taken for granted, writer Greg Pak does an excellent job catering to both sides with this comic book, while still managing to write a strong opening act to the World War Hulk storyline.
While I enjoyed Pak's writing on the issue, the real star to me was the artwork of John Romita Jr., Klaus Janson and colorist Christina Strain. They combined to bring a gravity to the book that would have been lost with a lesser artist.
Just look at this Hulk encounter with Black Bolt early in the book...
The artwork and the coloring combine for a great dramatic effect. This type of effect occurs often throughout the book, giving a nice sense of dynamism to the proceedings.
Meanwhile, though, in a comic where there are a great many full page spreads, Romita comes through with forceful pieces that are saturated with characterization.
For instance, look at this full page spread (I'm only going to show samples that have already been previewed or don't otherwise give away plot details - the book is four bucks, I figure you want don't want to see most of it before you pay for it!)...
Look at the Hulk's face! What a great job by Romita.
By the way, there is a bit of a disconnect with Hulk fighting Black Bolt, if only because we are so accustomed to hearing Black Bolt's powers described in such high esteem, it seems like a bit of a cheat that we don't actually see HOW the Hulk manages to overcome Black Bolt's scream. I know that the Hulk is at the strongest he has ever been - but Black Bolt has beaten him before with whispering, so even if the Hulk has gotten more powerful, presumably Black Bolt could counter that, no? - so I'd have like to have seen how the Hulk survived more than a whisper. Reminds me a bit of that DC/Marvel Lobo/Wolverine fight that took place off-panel.
As to the rest of the plot of the issue after the Black Bolt fight, Pak takes an interesting approach to the story design. He lays the first issue out as though it is basically a disaster film, say an Armageddon or a Deep Impact. Earth finds out the Hulk is coming, and people basically freak out.
And then when Hulk makes an announcement to New York, the reaction by the city is handled quite well by both Pak and Romita...
Look at those reactions shots! Romita is a master with facial features.
The announcement in New York as a whole, though, is probably the weakest part of the comic, as it is fairly sloppy, in terms of exposition. Hulk proceeds to tell the world the plot of Planet Hulk, as well as actually naming each character he's traveling with. I have to think that Pak could have found a better way of working every character's name into the story. Heck, there is a recap in the beginning of the comic! It couldn't have been placed there? Just odd, as it sticks out like a bit of a sore thumb.
Once Hulk announces his presence, the pace of the book quickens and the tension is thick. Alliances are made, plans are devised - it is very nice pacing on Pak's part.
Tony Stark takes a central role in the latter half of the book, mostly, I suppose, because Hulk's thoughts are pretty simple ("Smash"), and Pak does an excellent job of humanizing Tony for those anti-Iron Man fans out there, while still showing the tendencies Stark has that grate on fans.
Finally, we get the fight we all came to see - Iron Man versus the Hulk. It is brutal, it is exciting, it is drawn beautifully (I am not going to ruin anything by showing you those pages), and it is paced just as well. Usually, when full-page spreads are used, it seems to make the comic feel almost slighter, as though you're getting less story as a result of so many full-page spreads, but Pak and Romita combine to make the fight seem a lot longer than it really is. Awhile back, when he was drawing The Incredible Hulk during Paul Jenkins' run, Romita did an "all-fight" issue between the Hulk and the Abomination. That issue was tremendous, and Romita lives up to that issue with his Iron Man/Hulk battle here.
All of this leading to a dramatic cliffhanger that works as a nice lead-up to the rest of this crossover.
Good first issue.