Sunday, April 14, 2024

Hulk Struggles with Pacing but Develops its Characters

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With Hulk (2016) #9, we’ve hit the third issue of the current story arc. By now, we have a better idea where the story is going and we can pinpoint what’s working and what isn’t. So let’s look at what we got.

Looking for a monster

We open this issue with Warren alone in the apartment he shares with Oliver, watching his boyfriend’s old cooking videos. There’s a sense of intimacy in the way the couple teases each other on camera, contrasting with their current situation. The art does a neat job here too, revealing a dark and empty apartment.

It’s a small but touching scene to establish that Warren loves and misses Oli, but can do very little about his transformation. The latter is now a complete Hulk-esque monster, hiding behind dumpsters in Queens and literally scaring little children.

Children running from monster Oliver in Hulk #9.
It’s heartbreaking, honestly.

Jennifer and Bradley visit Warren, telling him that Oliver attacked a drug dealer two hours earlier, probably trying to find an antidote for his condition. Jen asks them to look for Oliver, while she has a “house call” to make.

Warren knows Jennifer Walters is the former superhero She-Hulk, so he wonders how it must feel to become “something like that”. I really like Bradley’s answer, which shows respect for Jennifer’s personal space:

Bradley and Warren in the car in Hulk #9.

Jen calls Hellcat, who’s at the crime scene. Hellcat says Oliver “tore up the place” but left no casualties, meaning he’s still himself in some way. Hellcat is worried that this won’t last much longer, since the drug he was given is highly unstable. She’s also worried about Jen and how the whole superhero stuff is working for her, but Jen avoids the matter saying she just wants to help Oliver.

Jennifer Walters and Hellcat in Hulk #9

There’s more to it, of course. In one of the few appearances of her inner monologue during this issue, Jennifer ponders how it feels strange to reach out to this monster she doesn’t completely understand, and in order to save another monster. 

Speaking of that other monster, Oliver is now at the “second most disgusting bathroom in New York state” with some pills he believes to be the cure.

Steve and Ray are still profiting from the video of his transformation and plan to use that profit to run away to Mexico. As per usual, Ray is having second thoughts about what they did and Steve isn’t. They’re surprised by an angry Hulk, intimidating the duo and ordering them to take down Oliver’s video. Jen then asks Brad and Warren to pick her up, but before they do Oliver calls Warren. 

Oliver is thrilled that the medicine is working and he can see his face coming back to normal again. Whatever the pills did, they… uh-oh.

Oliver starts losing his teeth in Hulk #9
Oh no.

I’m not gonna lie, I wasn’t especially fond of Oliver. Sure, being drugged against your will and turning into a monster while simultaneously obliterating the career you worked so hard to build is terrible and elicits compassion and pity. But other than that, I didn’t particularly care about him. This changed over the course of this issue, especially during the bathroom scene.

I could feel the despair in his search for a cure, his happiness when he thinks he found it, and his despair back with a vengeance when he realizes the medicine he took probably made things worse. The teeth. The teeth were a low blow, but you can’t deny it was effective.

Bradley and Warren meet Jen and the trio wants to find Oliver again. Warren noticed the change in his voice before he hung up, so now they’re worried about him. And with good reason…

A monstrous Oliver smashes a car in Hulk #9


We had another change in the team, with Julian Lopez and Francesco Gaston replacing Georges Duarte. Duarte is scheduled to return in Hulk (2016) #11, so the replacement is temporary. Overall I like their style; it’s more detailed and “realistic”, but still coherent with previous artists.

My biggest complaint is that I can tell this issue was drawn by two different artists. Not just that, I think I can point to the moment we switch art styles. Compare those two:

Different art styles in Hulk #9

Or those two:

Oliver in different art styles in Hulk #9

I know it’s a temporary replacement, but it still bothers me that we had four different art styles over the last four issues. I wish there was more consistency, though this is possibly a personal nitpick.

Another complaint is that some characters had weird discolorations on their skin (look at Jennifer’s face in the scene with Hellcat above). I usually love Matt Milla’s coloring, so I’ll let that one slide.

More of the same, but better

The previous arc of Hulk centered on Jennifer’s PTSD, with a strong focus on her internal arc. In the current arc, Jen’s personal conflicts take a backseat. It’s understandable: the cast is larger and there’s more action going on, so that necessarily eats some of Jen’s page space. It still feels weird, though.

Fear of what her new Hulk persona could do was a big deal for Jen, but she’s been hulking out a lot lately and we barely see the emotional effects this has on her. The pain involved in Oliver’s transformation is much more palpable.

To be fair, Tamaki never drops the issue entirely. Jen seems to be suppressing her own feelings on the matter, so it’s a smart choice to use Hellcast to voice some of her struggles. Patsy doesn’t have a lot of page time in Hulk, but she’s well employed. She’s a constant presence in Jennifer’s life and we can see her importance, both as a friend and as a reminder of the superhero life. Not for nothing is she always wearing her costume when she shows up.

Deconstructed wasn’t just an internal arc, it was also a lonely one. Other people were there and everything, but they weren’t really there; it was all about Jennifer (and Maise Brewn. Don’t forget Maise, since the story apparently has). The current arc has a larger cast and multiple subplots. The downside is that it takes page space from Jen (see the lack of inner monologues), so to compensate this we need the supporting cast to be interesting.

For the most part, it is. Thanks to this issue, Oliver and Bradley are growing on me, to join Hellcat and Warren in the team of characters I care about. Then we also have Steve and Ray, two characters that still don’t work. I can barely tell which one is Steve and which one is Ray. They are both pathetic, yet monstrous in their disregard for other people’s lives. This is an interesting concept, but the execution is bland and Steve in particular feels more like a stereotype than a real person.

I have mixed feelings on the pacing as well. Deconstructed was a slow arc, but with a solid progression, and its speed was tied to Jen’s struggles. The current arc is more action-oriented, yet the plot hasn’t advanced as much as one would expect. We had good characters bits in Hulk (2016) #9, but barely any new information. Aside from Oliver and his failed attempt to find a cure, the characters are in a similar place as they were last month.

On the other hand, I’m in a different place with some of those characters and generally more open to the story, so we can’t say it was all in vain.

Final score: 8/10

All images courtesy of Marvel Comics

Hulk (2016) #9 Credits

Writer: Mariko Tamaki

Artist: Julian Lopez & Francesco Gaston

Colors: Matt Milla

Letters: VC’s Cory Petit

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