The Hulk’s adventure in the time-stream comes to an end in a way that certainly is confusing, but because it’s time-travel, it’s confusing in a good way, and in a way that allows Mark Waid to set up some interesting seeds for the future, as well as keep the focus on Bruce Banner as a character. I really feel that Waid, more than any other recent Hulk writer, really has a great handle on who Banner is. That’s not meant as a slight on other writers, I mean, during Aaron’s run, Banner was a crazy villain, but it is good that the focus of this title is now back on the man, and not the monster.
The story kicks off right where the last issue finished, back in the Hulk’s origin, with Banner having avoided being Gamma-Bombed and instead the time-travelling Hulk getting a double-dose. In this issue, Waid refers to this as either UberHulk or Hulk-Squared, but I prefer Double-Hulk, so I’m going to use that. Double-Hulk is obviously incredibly powerful, running a train on the army and just generally wrecking shit up. Banner is shocked at what he’s seeing, and after explaining the wonky time-travel that’s going on, and how he’s a future-Banner in the past’s body to Rick Jones, he gets into a conflict with Thunderbolt Ross, who wants to know what the heck is going on. This is a fantastic scene, as Banner gets incredibly worked up at Ross, getting angry to the point where he’d usually become the Hulk, but in this case… he stays the same. This must be the first time in a very long time that Banner has actually been able to get angry, and I loved how Waid played this quite subtly, and didn’t call attention to it too much. It’s rare for a Hulk comic to have any subtlety at all, and really, it’s not what you actually want, but somehow, Waid manages it.
Banner realises that he’s free, and decides that Hulk is not his problem any more, he can just live his life, marry Betty and raise a family. Only… Betty has been erased from the time-stream. It’s a cruel irony that if Bruce wants to save Betty, he’ll have to become the Hulk once again, but it was great to see him choose to make that sacrifice, especially after a surprisingly selfish moment. Banner drives off to face the Chronarchist, and he discovers that he’s been played by Zarrko, and what Zarrko’s plan is. At this point in history, Zarrko was just beginning his imprisonment, and the only thing that can break him free is the Double-Hulk. The Chronarchist and he will manipulate Double-Hulk into freeing Zarrko and then they can rule all of time.
Banner leaps at the Chronarchist, turning on his suit, and then all kinds of crazy time-travel shit happens that, as I said, is a bit confusing. I’m not sure how Banner at first wasn’t able to become Hulk again but then was, and I’m not sure why he was able to punch through Zarrko’s time-TV, but it’s time-travel, it’s not really meant to make sense. In the end, Zarrko and the Chronarchist are defeated, as the weird, ethereal hands of their ‘masters’ reach out of the time-stream and grab them. Hulk is about to be sucked into the time-stream too, but he is rescued by Betty as the Red She-Hulk, who is back in existence, and in the end, everything works out fine.
Or did it? Apparently all of the paradoxes have been erased, but Banner has a nagging suspicion in his head, and he’s right, something about his past has changed, and it seems to be in a notebook that’s been stolen from his lab. I have no idea what could have been changed, my closest guess is that the Banner consciousness that was inside ROB stuck around in the past Banner’s body somehow, but I don’t know how that would work. We shall see.
This was a very enjoyable storyline, even if the technicalities of the time-travel were at times a bit messy, but that’s a small thing, any issues are resolved by the awesomeness of Hulk fighting Dinosaurs and Cowboys and the glory that is Double-Hulk and the small character moments that Banner had in this issue.
Kim Jacinto’s artwork was the best I’ve seen it in this issue, reminding me of Rafa Sandoval, which is a fine comparison. I think any problems I had with Jacinto’s work before were because he (or she? I don’t know) was completing an issue someone else had started, and so it was rushed, but here, it’s the whole issue, and it looked great.