By: Mark Waid (Writer), Mark Bagley (Penciller), Andrew Hennessy (Inker), Jason Keith (Color Artist), VC’s Cory Petit (Letterer), Jerome Opena & Dean White (Cover Artists)

The Story:
For a visual summary, simply replace the Hulk on the cover with the Abomination.

The Review: Continuing from the last issue, the Hulk battles the Abomination, and the Avengers join in, allowing for Bagley to draw an extended, and very visceral and physical, fight scene. Nearly every panel of the fight is staged and rendered to provide POWER, and I use the all-caps very purposefully. One key moment– leaving one page with a 3/4-page panel of the Hulk leaping and rearing back with an oversized “SMASH!” balloon, then flipping (swiping?) to receive a full-page splash with the Abomination’s fist/arm full-on in the center. A visual escalation of the narrative of the battle.

Bodies twist, fists are balled, and everything is depicted as solid and massive, as appropriate. Unfortunately, the non-fight scene battles are often confusing and less effective. The shadowy agents of mystery supposedly disappear through the floor, but the figures are nearly completely seen, with no coloring or other visual clues to what’s going on. Moreover, Agent Hill’s eyes (and thus the readers’) are cast away from the page in the previous panel, failing to set us up for this “surprising” revelation. There’s also a few panels when the anatomy gets confusing, or misdrawn.

The story is just as much Maria Hill’s as it is Bruce Banner/Hulk’s. I never really get into too much plot summary when making a review, but I’ll indulge myself– Hill escapes capture thanks to magic, I mean, SHIELD technology that lets you do whatever you need to do at the moment. Apparently, Felix and his Bag of Tricks works with SHIELD R&D. The character representing the voice of reason last issue is told to run along, so Hill can provide exposition to something called “Base” that we never see, and she earns a glowing bracelet as a pickup. The Avengers show up, since it’s been, maybe, a minute or two since the Abomination started the battle, and they notice the Abomination has unconscious-looking eyes that mean someone is controlling him. We learn some hints about the Big Bad who “faced the Hulk on the very day he was born” so some continuity buff somewhere can make a connection unless this is yet another character to be retconned in to sunny New Mexico in 1962. Hill won’t answer Captain America about the Hulk, thereby giving him an answer unspoken, but does explain that somehow Hulk’s healing factor is both healing Banner’s brain and also preventing it from healing. The Abomination is also radiating radiation, so that Captain Marvel, who is supposedly in space right now, wonders what it’s doing to her. And Banner decides to sacrifice his healing brain, as diagnosed by the medical expertise of Maria Hill, and plunge again into battle as the Hulk. After all, he “never give[s] up,” but does, it seems, borrow other people’s shields when he needs them.

It’s a given, of course, that the mystery of “Who shot the Hulk?” would be just a story arc, but since it caused such an abrupt shift in status quo and yet provided an intriguing first issue, I was expecting the mystery to be a bit more distinctive in tone and theme. Instead, we get a pretty generic superhero story arc, while also being one that many Hulk fans on the internet seem dissatisfied with. It may take a while for the momentum of the book to shift again toward something more satisfying.

The Bottom Line:
Once again, the extended fight scene is brilliantly rendered and can be a good reason to pick up the book. Unfortunately, the heightened role of SHIELD/Maria Hill and the slow burn of the antagonist suffers in comparison, failing to elicit the same resonance as a reader, and giving a good reason to gloss over it.

The Grade: C

-Danny Wall