By: Mark Waid (Writer), Mark Bagley (Pencils), Andrew Hennessy (Inks), Jason Keith (Colors), VC’s Cory Petit (Letters), Jerome Opena w/ Dean White (Cover Artists)

The Story: Banner hurt. Shadowy People in Shadows make Doctor Guy poke Banner’s brain. Hulk smash! Now Banner dumb. Dumb Banner.

The Review: It’s always interesting when a Hulk-story doesn’t necessarily feature the Hulk (and/or Bruce Banner, if we need to differentiate.) The story instead must rely on its supporting cast, its antagonists, or other elements of its world-building. And really, when that happens it makes these kinds of Hulk-stories essentially monster-stories– in any given monster-story, the monster itself does not have to be the protagonist; only its implicit presence and horror need be felt to impact the characters, plot, tone, etc.

Mark Waid gives us this kind of monster-type story, with Banner/the Hulk essentially in the background for the majority of the issue. In the beginning, the narration boxes even suggest some things about “story” in the abstract, while setting up a surgeon who is only tangentially related to Banner’s past but is now caught up in the existential horror having the Hulk’s life in his hands. The boxes shift very dramatically to remind us that “this isn’t his story,” at which point the comic brings the Hulk more actively into the story. Even still, Banner/the Hulk is merely the object of the story, not its subject– as it’s Agents Hill and Coulson who arrive to track Banner down for the last-page cliffhanger. However, perhaps this page suggests that we will return very specifically to Banner-driven drama in subsequent issues. It’s equally likely that he will remain a kind of background character, and that would create a unique tone, actually, and would make me intrigued to continue reading the series if it does.

Even with the Hulk in the background, he is still a force on the story, especially the characterization. Some time is given to recap the Hulk’s origin and the fearsome danger he brings, with just an indication of his capacity for heroics. The use of narration boxes here is interesting, as Waid presents a detached, omniscient voice– a literary approach rather than relying only on dialogue that might force awkward expositions (and which effectively hides a surprise for the readers when someone helps Banner unexpectedly.) And let’s give credit where it’s due– this is a pretty tightly-plotted script, sprinkled with little things like nuances of character, hints to our mystery villains, and name-dropping high-tech gadgets like it’s no big thing.

Bagley’s use of a variety of panel shapes, close-ups, and camera angles also help emphasize the tension in the first half of the story, which culminates in a nice up-shot while the scalpel bears down on the viewer. In all those ways, he remains one of Marvel’s most capable artists, and I always liked the sense of solid-ness his style lends to bruiser characters like the Hulk.

However, other artistic choices are only passable, particularly with our “Shadowy People in Shadows,” the true villains of the piece. It’s obvious that there is a mystery story at play here; I mean, the title this story arc is “Who Shot the Hulk?” after all. So of course Bagley places our villains where shadows will always be obscuring their features, but as much as Hennessy is a great inker, the large areas of black still come off as too flat. A more moody or expressive art team could have helped emphasize this monster/mystery tone that seems such a strong feature of the writing.

The Bottom Line: As a first issue, Waid sets up a new status quo for the Hulk, less than two years from his previous new status quo. It’s helped by taking deliberate choices of tone and plot, blending together those of classic monster stories, whodunnit mysteries, and conspiracy theories. The artistic choices are solid, but the opportunity for equally deliberate artistic choices may have been missed.

The Grade: B

-Danny Wall