Sunday, 24 November 2013

The Incredible Hulk, Volume 2 Review (Jason Aaron, Steve Dillon)

One of the big discoveries I made about reading Jason Aaron’s Marvel stuff is realising how funny he is. It’s not immediately apparent when you read his debut, The Other Side, which deals with the Vietnam War and its aftermath, or the equally serious - but no less brilliant - Vertigo series, Scalped, because both titles are dramas and Aaron gives them their due.

But when Aaron made the transfer over to mainstream comics with his Marvel work, it immediately became apparent this dude could write funny stories for some of Marvel’s biggest and brightest stars, and write them really well. Readers of his Wolverine and the X-Men series can attest to this and if you’re looking for more whacky Aaron, look no further than Incredible Hulk, Volume 2.

Reading Volume 2 of Aaron’s short-lived Hulk run was a really pleasant surprise because Volume 1 was played so deadpan and dull that it was exactly that to read. I don’t know if this was always the plan but it’s like Aaron said “fuck it” and just went nuts in this book, throwing in every crazy bit of imaginative awesomeness onto the page. And I’m so glad he did because this book was so much fun to read!

So in the first volume Hulk somehow separates himself from Banner which led to the question, who is Banner without Hulk? Well, a crazy mad scientist it turns out, and, after the events of that first volume, Hulk and Banner are fused together once again after Hulk tries to kill Banner by holding him in front of a gamma bomb explosion.

This book puts Hulk through the wringer. Almost as if he’s apologising to Hulk for this, Aaron gives Hulk a holiday in the prologue: Hulk swims with whales, has a relaxing spa day in a volcano, eats some fresh reindeer, rides a triceratops, and drinks a lot of beer. To top it off he has two hours of intense sex with Betty Ross/Red She-Hulk - so intense, they fall asleep on a pile of burning wreckage in the middle of a destroyed street!

Now Banner has a plan and he’s going to manipulate Hulk into achieving it: finding a cure for the Hulk. We never see Banner in each of the following issues until the final act of the book, with each issue told from Hulk’s perspective where he “wakes up” without realising what’s happened and each time discovers he’s in danger. This is a genius move because it maintains the mystery, puts us straight into the thick of the drama without the boring pseudo-science stuff and it’s also an amazing cat and mouse game, like Jack and Tyler in Fight Club, where the antagonist and protagonist are in the same body!

Remember me telling you Jason Aaron can write comedy? These issues are where he had me genuinely laughing out loud as I read this. Who else but Steve Motherfucking Dillon could Aaron get to draw the Punisher issue? Hulk and Frank are down in Juarez taking on a team of drug-trafficking man-dogs - the name literally evoking the person. I can’t tell you how funny the visual is but it had me cracking up, especially the poodles in the backseat. And the way Hulk maintains Hulk instead of turning back into Banner is to remain really angry so he asks Frank to shoot him in the face, which of course Frank unquestioningly does, and the visual Dillon gives of Hulk with a face full of bullets is too much, it’s too perfect!

There’s no way I’m going to be able to describe every scene I loved in this book without making this review even longer than it is so here are the broad strokes: Atlantean hillbillies drinking Atlantean moonshine; cyborg Cold War bears in space; the secret land of the Sasquatches; and a fight in Hulk/Banner’s mind between a mental assassin called the Vegetable who Banner fights using Hulk hands (the kind you can buy in real life!). It’s all gold. It’s so entertaining, clever, and funny, and there’s no way the reader can predict the story’s trajectory, that it all adds up to enormously fun comics from a master.

I wasn’t crazy about all that Dr Doom stuff, or the fight between Hulk, Thing and Wolverine, which is just your usual Marvel bullshit to get covers and whatnot, plus the whole stated aim of getting rid of Hulk and Banner - well, we all knew that would never happen, right? As if Marvel would get rid of one of their most iconic and popular characters! These were the only predictable moments in the story.

Otherwise, this might be the best Hulk comic I’ve ever read. Aaron is on fire in nearly every chapter in this book, bringing you the best of what you love about Hulk - the action, the lunacy, the unpredictability - with the best of what you love about the Marvel Universe - the fantastic, colourful, barmy and amazing things that can happen within it. The writing and plotting is top notch and Aaron is joined by a roster of terrific comics talent - Jefte Palo, Tom Raney, and Carlos Pacheco to name a few. Honestly, there are far, far too many scenes in this book that I loved and haven’t mentioned that you should discover for yourselves. This is how every Hulk book should be!

Check it out guys, this one is hilarious, creative, and highly enjoyable - Jason Aaron writes his funniest and most entertaining Marvel book yet.

Incredible Hulk by Jason Aaron - Volume 2

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