Friday, February 6, 2015

Hulk #5-10 "The Omega Hulk"

"The Hulk" has been having a weird time lately at Marvel. Following a successful run featuring the "Planet Hulk" storyline, the character had a sustained period of growth during the previous decade, bringing the company to expanding the franchise into several sister books. Despite the efforts of the editorial, the last few years have seen a bevy of takes and relaunches, with the acclaimed writer Mark ("Daredevil") Waid leaving the series shortly after the launch of his second successive take on the character.

Following the crossover with "Iron Man", capitalizing on the two characters' appearance in "The Avengers" movie, the company had decided to allow Gerry ("Deadpool") Duggan to take over as the writer, while Mark ("Ultimate Spider-Man") Bagley stayed on as the penciller. The new writer debuted with a clear statement of intent, albeit one that harkens back to a previous era in superhero storytelling.

Using Waid's set-up involving a bullet wound in the brain of the Hulk's alter ego Bruce Banner, and Iron Man's subsequent cure, the creative team have paved the way for Doc Green. Debuting as a supremely confident mad genius in the mold of Doc Savage, this Hulk has gotten ready to cut a swathe through the Marvel universe, effectively undoing a series of creative decisions made in the last ten years. The character's immediate plan seems to consist of depowering various other characters that have been imbued with Hulk-like abilities. Considering that most of the book's original cast has recently been remade into monsters, the decision has to do with the character bringing back his status as unique in the Marvel universe. On the dramatic level, Doc Green's confrontations with close friends and family members carry the additional charge requisite to making the scenes interesting.

Yet, most interestingly, the book itself seems transported back into yet another superhero era, that of the post "Authority" mature take on superhero power fantasies. Following Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch's groundbreaking superhero epic, a number of then-current mainstream books have tried to embrace the darker elements and the more nuanced portrayal. Most pertinently, Dan Jurgen's "Thor" was transformed from a modern day Kirby pastiche into a graphic novel detailing the character's descent into megalomania.

What makes "Omega Hulk" a call back to different era starts with the titular character's personality makeup. Presented as a calculating super genius, the character nevertheless maintains a sharp focus that coupled with a dark sense of humor makes reading his adventures interesting. Just like the unrepentant protagonists of books like "Planetary" and "Wildcats v3", Doc Green acts above the ordinary tropes of superhero comics, to enact his own mark on the world. The book truly feels like anything could happen in it, leaving the reader at the mercy of the Machiavellian monster that has taken over the body of the Marvel universe mainstay.

Doc Green feels no obligation to rationalize his actions to anybody, with the character's strength allowing him to simply go where his pleases and let his intelligence take control of the situation. In the most direct nod to "The Authority", the character even uses the same teleporting technology of the Ellis/Hitch superhero team, which is at one point identified by name by one of the supporting characters. Mirroring the Wildstorm flagship's debut, Duggan's story begins with the character's retaliation against a North Korea stand in. Yet, for the remainder of this opening arc, the Hulk seems poised to clean his own corner of the Marvel universe, before returning to take an active role in the Earth's politics.

All this is realized by Mark Bagley's clear and energetic layouts which bring a welcome sense of consistency that is rarely seen in superhero books of today. In a book filled with a large cast of characters meant to emulate the Hulk, there is never a sense of confusion when it comes to the inevitable fights. Following Duggan's debut, the creators structure each issue to have a strong fight sequence with a different member of the extended Hulk family. Aided by the inks of Andy Hennessy, the penciller manages to instill a sense of danger in each of these sequences, while never relying on gore or shock tactics. At this point in his career, the veteran artist is a consummate professional managing to bring a strong sense of storytelling to his pages and except for some Doc Green's attire, succeeds in realizing the story.

The reader is lead to see the awe in bystanders' reactions to the mohawk-wearing protagonist, but by the end of the first of the promised two storylines, the reader is lead to discover that even the haircut foreshadows future events. Redefining the invulnerable anti-hero as the "smartest one there is" has brought back a measured approach that makes the conflicts in the book that much more interesting. Doc Green engages all the other characters as inferior and delights in cruel taunts, but his central conflict is that with himself. Following Waid's cue, this Hulk's relationship with Bruce Banner is another of the many reversals that the readers have been treated to previously, much like the character's previous smarter incarnations the writers have made him exhibit.

Yet, with the upcoming "Secret Wars" wholesale redefinition of the Marvel Universe, the creative team genuinely seems to have their hands free to produce a year's worth of stories that are free to severely alter the status quo. At this point, it doesn't matter in what way the company will reconfigure one of their perennial favorites following the event, as long as they leave Duggan and Bagley to complete their story on their own terms. On the face of it, "The Omega Hulk" seems to be yet another in a long line of divergent takes on the character, but with the adequate follow through, the creative team could well leave the readers with the story on par with "Planet Hulk", but with a sophistication and charm all of its own.

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