By: Mark Waid (Writer), Mark Bagley (Penciller), Andrew Hennessy (Inker), Jason Keith (Color Artist), VC’s Cory Petit (Letterer)

The Story: In this corner, weighing in at 980 pounds, the Abomination. In this corner, Hulk. Somewhere in the middle? Maria Hill and S.H.I.E.L.D.

The Review: I was cautiously optimistic after reading the previous issue, as I noticed a certain trope of suspense/horror genre was being used to a good effect: namely, the sidelining of the “monster” to focus on the *effect* of the monster on characters and setting. By the second issue, this sidelining of the monster remains, but gone is the effect. And without it, there is no explicit tone of mystery to maintain a level of distinction for this book.

To be clear, there is still a mystery as the core plot of the book, but there is no overt tone/atmosphere to it. S.H.I.E.L.D. is protecting (and to some extent coddling) a brain damaged Bruce Banner/Hulk, even though the Mysterious Organization of Mystery has found him and sends a newly-reconstituted Abomination after him. However, the cliffhanger suggests the M.O.M. really has it out for S.H.I.E.L.D. instead.

Other things are missing from last issue as well, including the woman who was a key player for the villains. Also? There’s not much time to really explore things– you certainly can’t call this comic “decompressed.” Before the fight with Abomination, we learn it took S.H.I.E.L.D. a month to infiltrate a town pretty extensively, we see some token the affection for Bruce by his new caretakers, some foreshadowing of Bruce’s transformation, and Maria Hill’s arrival and reveal. I am all for non-decompressed stories, but we’re missing out on some big implications. I don’t necessarily care for Bruce’s caretakers or really much for the town in general, and I don’t know why these characters, like Maria Hill, are doing what they’re doing. Sure, it’s S.H.I.E.L.D. and all, and they are protecting and serving, I guess, but there’s no sense that they really care about Bruce as a *person.* I feel that Maria Hill cares more about success at her job than truly ensuring peace for Bruce or protection for the town. Maybe it’s there in one panel as she apologizes for instigating the Hulk’s transformation, but this issue seems to care more for a breakneck pace of plot to the detriment of character, setting, tone.

One thing that’s not missing is the storytelling skills of Bagley and the art of Hennessy and Keith. Bagley’s Hulk, and Abomination for that matter, is as visceral and solid-looking as ever, and he brings a sense of power to the characters; the battle is genuinely fun to watch. There are some more attempts of verisimilitude in characters’ expressions, but this remains a bit of a weakness as Bagley usually portrays the characters in “grim” mode more than anything. Camera angles are deliberate, although some opportunities for more atmospheric drama are missed, such as when the Reverend gets his mysterious phone call in the beginning– this is a key plot point that could have been emphasized in the illustration. Also, I’m not a fan of Bagley’s depiction of Bruce, as the sharp cross-hatching creates a gaunt and weathered look even though it “reads” like it wants to be presented as something soft and rounded.

I do like the coloring, too, with some nice gradients and textures where appropriate, and the colors are often vibrant. And there are some good storytelling elements to the colors. For one, take a look at how the establishing shots and background/foreground elements are “lit” in such a way to help read the scene. For another, the characters are all very distinguishable by color.

The Bottom Line: There is a deliberate choice to once again keep the Hulk marginalized as a key player to this story, but in this issue it works to a decidedly less extent than the previous. Many of the benchmarks to a good comic are on display, but personally it fails to click with me, in particular because I feel like there’s an absence of some genuine emotions that should be driving the characters through this very plot-driven story arc.

The Grade: C

by Danny Wall

Other Tidbits:
— I appreciate the Abomination being fixed and returned to the toybox. Good villains that make good archenemies and that also have a good visual are a must in this medium, so why do writers keep removing them?
— It looks like the Gremlin was on display as a possible suspect, according to S.H.I.E.L.D.’s computer screens. Isn’t he dead? They also had Sandman in a costume he hadn’t worn since the 60s, so maybe their files need updated.
— Are we supposed to think the Mysterious Organization of Mystery is an established villain in the Marvel universe, or is it supposed to be entirely new?