by Jason Aaron (writer), Whilce Portacio (art), Allen Martinez (inks), Arif Prianto, Sakti Yuwono & Mashuri (colors), and Chris Eliopoulos (letters)

The Story: Hulk and Banner finally come to blows as Amanda von Doom sets the timer.

The Review: Jason Aaron’s Incredible Hulk has been a bit of an oddity thus far.  I can’t say that it’s a bad book, only that it’s one that, every month, glimmers with huge potential that it doesn’t quite meet.  Month in and month out, Jason Aaron’s script shows  possibilities for greatness, but while all the components are there, it never quite comes together entirely.

With this issue, it’s another case of a couple steps forward and, while perhaps not a few steps back, a lot of standing around in place after that.  The two steps forward that I’m speaking of is Jason Aaron’s portrayal of the relationship between Banner and Hulk.  Bar none, this was the best element of the issue and the strongest portion of Aaron’s script.  It has the proper balance of nuance and captures the paradox of Hulk’s feelings perfectly.  He hates Banner absolutely, he wants him gone, and yet…there’s this strange, protective urge for “puny Banner.”  I especially loved how this latter point in their relationship is never actually openly expressed by Hulk and is one he refuses to acknowledge; it’s all only present in Hulk’s actions and facial expressions.  Considering the pure hatred and animosity in their extended fight sequence this month, it’s a very interesting twist that adds depth.   Putting this note of conflict in Hulk also does a lot to make Aaron’s Hulk a more interesting character as well, who had been, up to this point, a bit one-note and bland.  There’s a lot of emotion in the green guy this month, a lot of hatred, a lot of anger, and that repressed affection that he won’t acknowledge.

That said, the major problem with this comic is that it’s still struggling to find its proper tone.  On the one hand, Aaron seems to want to make this an over-the-top, balls to the wall action comic.  He invents ridiculous weapons to blast stuff with, fills it with ginormous action, and there are beasties aplenty.  The emotional gravitas doesn’t really mesh with the slapstick insanity and, while the latter is fun to an extent, I can’t help but feel that the former is really the stronger, more compelling comic and that, right now, it’s taking a backseat.  It reminds me of some of the early issues of Aaron’s run on PunisherMAX in this regard and I hope that, as in that comic, Aaron eventually finds his voice here.

The MAD Squad, while a great concept, has also been underachieving  in execution.  Amanda remains a two-dimensional “tough chick” straight out of the 90s and the Squad itself has been effectively been reduced to Amanda and Mr. Gor.  Oh, and a bunch of random robots we never see.  In other words, it’s not much of a squad at all.  Aaron provides some teasers to Amanda’s backstory in order to try to make the character a little more interesting, but even that backstory, as it is now, isn’t as unique or interesting as might be hoped.

Whilce Portacio’s art leaves me with mixed feelings.  On the one hand, it’s great that the book has achieved artistic stability, at long last.  On the other hand, Portacio’s messy, rough, “scratchy” style isn’t the most aesthetically pleasing.  It performs well when capturing the frantic chaos and energy of an issue like this one, but it does give me worries for the future when he has to draw restrained, emotion-heavy dialogue scenes.  Thankfully though, there’s none of that this month.

As a minor, positive note, however, I will say that between last issue and this issue, it appears that Aaron has figured out how to write Dr. Doom’s voice.

Conclusion: Another glimmer of potential that I’m still waiting to be capitalized upon.

Grade: C+

-Alex Evans