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Review time! with Hulk: Season One

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!

11 Comments

This was one of the best Season One books, only surpassed by Doctor Strange, IMO. Still, I can’t help but be saddened by the exclusion of the Hulk’s grey period, although it was present in attitude. Nevertheless, an excellent entry.

But Greg, does Hulk “Smash”! And is he grey at any point? I get why they might not include the “grayness” but really the confused nature of the Hulk’s characterisatiin in the early days (he’s Archie Bunker, he’s gray, he’s green, he’s an asshole, he’s fighting uh “commies”, he wants to destrot the human race, he’s EEEVIIIL!, he wants to be alone (Garbo!), he*s a HERO!) and concept is one of the things that the Greatest Evet Hulk Writer tm Peter David was able to use as the basis for a lot of fine work. Of course they often want to boil it down to make it accessible but they lose more than they gain. Years of storytelling doesn’t have to be a burden, it often creates richness. Gee, when I was 9, 10, 11 the complexity of comic book past was exciting, as long as the stories are well-written, there is NO problem. These observations aren’t to do with Hulk Season One just with the cop out that “continuity is to blame”, what a lot of Bollocks! As my countrypeople say. But “Biocide? Really? Reminds me of urk “Spidercide”. Give me the Gremlin and the Leader, any day :-).
One other thing : “Season One”?! Why do berks at comics companies *do* that? If they have such an inferiority complex about comic books *being* comic books how can they expect to be taken seriously? Ridiculous. It isn’t even q fricking “season”… It pisses me off to no good end that they are so asinine. Fie on them, I say. This book does sound quite good I should say, it should work in the way that various Incredible Hulk adaptations in other media do, though I like the silliness and scattetshot approach of the early source material tjat later writers such as David and Steve Gerber much improved upon (I’m not just talking about Hulk here). I don’t quite understand the perceived need for cleaned-up origins, surely they can just concentrate on good modern stories with the characters as they did in the eighties. Perhaps the problem lies with unimaginative members of the audience too, requiring everything to be like today’s material. Shame I say. Hulk not happy!

Stephane: I’ll probably read Dr. Strange this weekend, so I can compare and contrast!

Hal: He’s not gray at all. He’s also intelligent the whole time, although occasionally his anger makes him seem animalistic. It’s not quite the “Hulk Smash” thing, but it’s clever how van Lente makes us think he’s just a force of nature before revealing that he can think quite well.

I hate the Season One crap. I agree – I don’t know why they do it either.

Greg Burgas:”Van Lente introduces an A.I.M.-like organization called “Them” (why aren’t they A.I.M.?) that pisses the Hulk off,”

AIM was originally introduced as part of THEM; THEM was an umbrella organization that oversaw AIM, the Secret Empire, and HYDRA. Since this is SEASON 1 Hulk, I assume that it is a continuity nod on his part.

trajan23: Thanks! Very cool to know.

Plus, after Van Morrison went on his solo career, the rest of the guys in THEM decided to go into world domination schemes. You can’t cover “Gloria” for your entire life, man.

I agree with you regarding Incredible Hulk #1, but trust me, it got much,much better after that first story arc.

Travis: Well played, sir.

Pedro: It had nowhere to go but up! :)

Travis Pelkie:”Plus, after Van Morrison went on his solo career, the rest of the guys in THEM decided to go into world domination schemes. You can’t cover “Gloria” for your entire life, man.”

I agree, very nicely played.

It is interesting to note the closeness of the dates: THEM (the band) debuted in April, 1964 (at least, that’s what WIKIPEDIA says). THEM (the evil MARVEL organization) was first mentioned in STRANGE TALES 142 (March, 1966), and was first depicted in June of 1966 in TALES OF SUSPENSE (the members shown in that issue wore AIM “bee-keeper” outfits). AIM, as a separate organization, first appeared in STRANGE TALES 146 (July, 1966).

RE: Monica Rappaccini,

I can’t wait for Roger Chillingworth to make his MARVEL debut.

When I see the name Tom Fowler, I always think of the bassist in Frank Zappa’s superb 1973-74 era funk-tastic band!

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