Friday, June 21, 2024

There’s a New Monster in Town in Hulk

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Last month Hulk saw the start of a new arc, with Jennifer Walters slowly coming to terms with her new Hulk persona. Avoiding superhero activities for the moment, Jen watched one of her favorite cooking webshow hosts being drugged and transforming into a monstrous creature on air. In Hulk #8 we see the aftermath of this event.

Oliver smash!

The video documenting the transformation goes viral, but several users question its authenticity. Jen herself doesn’t; she has every reason to believe in people turning into green monsters. Warren, boyfriend of the host-turned-monster Oliver, manages to get him out of the studio.

Warren and Oliver in Hulk #8

As Jen says herself, she’s conditioned to see all monsters as real and her responsibility. She contacts her assistant Bradley and they try to locate Oliver’s studio. She visits the place early next morning, and the studio is “beaten to shreds” and covered in monster goo.

Marla, a sound technician trying to recover whatever’s left of her equipment, tells Jen what happened the night before. Jen correctly deduces that the cake Oliver ate must have been modified somehow.

Meanwhile, Oliver refuses to be taken to a hospital because he doesn’t want people seeing him like that. Warren takes him to a retired motel, where he receives a call from Steve saying Oliver is gonna be fine. Last issue Steve mentioned the effects of the drug would last three minutes, but that clearly isn’t the case. Oliver has another outburst of rage and breaks the door, leaving behind a wounded Warren.

Researching the case, Brad tells Jen that Marla is clean, but Steve has a record with drugs. Jen recalls a few cases last year of people selling a mutation drug, nicknamed ‘monster juice’. They send the cake sample to a lab to confirm this possibility.

Marla is still trying to clean monster juice from her equipment, but apparently the substance doesn’t have to be eaten to monsterfy people. Uh-oh!

Marla in Hulk #8

Steve and Ray are in a coffeehouse, discussing their next moves. They’re charging money for Oliver’s video, confident that they ‘broke the internet’ and everyone will pay to see it. They want to do it again, but their plans are frustrated by monster-Oliver. He grabs them both, demanding answers. We don’t see what happens to the duo, but monster-Oliver goes after the drug dealer, desperate for a cure.

Tests show that Oliver’s change was indeed caused by the monster juice drug. Jen tells Brad that this drug is unstable and anything could make Oliver worse. They realize this must be Steve and Ray’s work, but Warren calls them before they can act.

Jen’s inner monologue has been quiet during this issue, so before going after Oliver she has an honest talk with herself. She admits that she can’t stop monster-Oliver as Jennifer Walters, so that means hulking out. And hulking out in this case means doing the superhero thing again, which she said she wouldn’t. She questions if she’s doing this for Bruce, and if everything is about Bruce now, or maybe just Hulk things. I wish this could be explored further, but I’m sure there will be time for that. Now Jen has a monster to stop. Another monster, that is.

A background issue

While I’m gradually getting used to the new art style, I still have mixed opinions about it. On one hand, we have panels that successfully aid the visual storytelling, like Jennifer juxtaposing her hand to Oliver’s handprint:

Jennifer Walters' hand in Hulk #8

On the other hand, we also have several panels with no background:

Panels from Hulk #8

Lack of scenery on its own is not a bad thing; it can make a panel look cleaner or emphasize foreground elements. In Hulk #8, however, this resource was a bit overused and the effect wasn’t always interesting.

I still miss Jen’s monstrous Hulk self from Hulk #6, but this new design is growing on me. It feels more bestial than classic She-Hulk design, but less than our first introduction to the new gray form. In a way, it reflects how Jen’s regaining some control over it, but still not enough.

Hulk new design in Hulk #8
And don’t you love outfits that only rip in censorship-approved places?

Oliver’s design is interesting too, drawing obvious parallels with a hulk. It’s a visual way of conveying that once more, the monster Jennifer is facing is a version of her own monster too.

Oliver in Hulk #8Closing thoughts

The first arc of the new Hulk series was mostly an internal journey, with a slow pace that reflected Jen’s struggles. This new arc is different, with a larger team of supporting characters, and a faster and more external action. Picking up after the ending of Hulk #7 leaves us with less room for Jennifer’s musings, but I’m glad they weren’t entirely forgotten. 

I like how Jen keeps facing antagonists who aren’t exactly bad people, like Maise Brewn in the previous arc and Oliver now. It’s more nuanced and compelling than purely evil villains, and allows an interesting exploration of Jen’s own conflicts and feelings. That’s why Steve and Ray feel so disappointing as antagonists. They’re not exactly evil, but they’re stupid and mean. Motivated by money and fame, they’re cardboards compared to the other characters.

I’ve been avoiding commenting on Bradley’s characterization because I feel it isn’t my place to judge gay representation, but I do feel it needs improvement. Sometimes his sexuality is referenced in a way that feels artificial. Granted, Have I Mentioned I am Gay? is still better than Ambiguously Gay, because at least this way audiences can’t pretend he’s straight. 

Overall, I’m not entirely on board with this arc yet, but I see a lot of potential in it. Marla foreshadowed that the monster problem won’t be restricted to Oliver, so I’m curious to see how Jen will handle that. I think she can easily take Oliver, but an army of hulk-esque monsters? The supporting cast is gaining more space in this new arc, so maybe this could be a good opportunity for them to shine as well. 

Given Jen’s resistance to superhero activities at the moment, I kinda wish she could explore other alternatives that didn’t involve hulking out. But being the Hulk is such an integral part of her personality that I don’t think this could work for too long. Considering how she stands between “smashing things is good” and “being a monster is complicated”, this plot could be meaningful in terms of character development but also fun in terms of action.

Final score: 7/10

All images courtesy of Marvel Comics

Hulk (2016) #8 Credits

Writer: Mariko Tamaki

Artist: Georges Duarte

Colors: Matt Milla

Letters: VC’s Cory Petit

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