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The Incredible Hulk Review

-by Andrew Goletz

Rating: 9 of 10

Over the last couple of years the Hulk has seen as many changes creatively as it has within the storylines themselves. Peter David ended one of the longest and most popular runs in comics with the emotional death of Bruce Banner’s wife, Betty and then a retrospective tale from the future. David’s run was like pizza: even if there was a bad issue it was still good, you know?

In comes John Byrne. The title is renumbered and Byrne begins his run with the now adjective-less Hulk in a story reminiscent of the old Hulk television show. Bruce would travel from issue to issue, meeting new people along the way while trying to keep the inner rage of the Hulk in check. Byrne’s Hulk was not met with much enthusiasm. Whether it was the fact that the old, dumb ‘Hulk Smash’ version of the monster was back or the removal of the entire supporting cast something didn’t sit right with the fans.

Exit Byrne. Enter Paul Jenkins. Jenkins became familiar to fans after a run on ‘Hellblazer’ (following Garth Ennis), a highly acclaimed stint on ‘Webspinners’ and some work at Top Cow. Partnered with Ron Garney on the art chores (who stayed on after the Byrne run), Jenkins had the daunting task of keeping the David fans happy and setting the book back on course after the Byrne run.

Paul Jenkins put ‘The Incredible’ back into the Hulk in more ways than one. In his first issue as writer, we discover that Bruce has Lou Gehrig’s disease. We’re also introduced to a woman from his past, Angela who he seeks out to help him through this. One of Jenkin’s strong suits as a writer is the way he’s able to use flashbacks in a story. He does it in a way where the reader learns something new about a character, but not in a way that feels contrived or unfaithful to the previous material.

Immediately, Jenkins lets the reader know where he’s going with the story. In discussing his disease with Angela, Bruce reveals to her that he can feel the Hulk within him, trying to take over. The Hulk won’t allow the disease to claim Bruce’s life. It will take over his body before the disease ever has a chance to claim Bruce. Angela helps Bruce undergo a process where they can go inside his mind and into the realm of his psyche where the various personas of the Hulk exist. Bruce confronts the various Hulks who are scared of something, something he is not aware of. A Hulk of pure evil, the devil itself is one of the manifestations, and it wants out.

That’s just Jenkins’ first issue. Aside from redefining the different versions of the Hulk as various incarnations of Bruce’s own psyche, Jenkins gives us an adversary in General Ryker that is worthy of the Hulk’s attention. Similar in the way General Ross was the Hulk’s foil early on in the classic run of the series, Ryker isn’t a super-villain or mutated monster out to battle the Hulk with fisticuffs. General Ryker is just a very bad man in a position of power who’s able to do whatever he wants, and will stop at nothing to achieve his goals.

The 7 part ‘Dogs of War’ storyline showed how Ryker was able to strike at Bruce and his closest friends, Angela and Doc Samson, as well as almost breaking the Hulk. It was one of the most compelling, dramatic stories featuring the Hulk in quite some time. The power plays, twists and mind games played throughout kept the fans turning the page at breakneck pace. The conclusion of this long arc was satisfying in that there were lines drawn between the two sides, as well as a large gray area for further inspection down the road. Jenkins didn’t let the readers down with this story and his ending leaves enough tantalizing questions to keep them coming back for more.

For most of Jenkins’ run Ron Garney has been supplying the pencils for the book. Currently Kyle Hotz is doing a short arc before giving way to another fan favorite, John Romita Jr. Needless to say, it’s a great help to the title to have some of the industry’s best pencil the stories of one of its hot new talents.

For the better part of a year, ‘The Incredible Hulk’ has been steadily improving, adding new characters and elements to an already classic character. After the obligatory Maximum Security cross-over, Jenkins and company should have a clear road ahead. It looks as if the Hulk is finally returning the quality it had during Peter David’s classic stories and it will only get better from here.

The Incredible Hulk is available monthly from Marvel Comics.

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