Indestructible Hulk: Agent Of SHIELD graphic novel review

Mark Waid and Leinil Francis Yu’s Indestructible Hulk #1 to #5 are collected 6 May 2013

Synergy may be the name of the game at less sophisticated media conglomerates  but Marvel give every impression of every limb in their creative body just lining up coincidentally for maximum effect.

Clearly informed by everyone’s post-Avengers Assemble hunger for a Bruce Banner they can enjoy reading about as much as his smashy green alter ego, the first volume of Marvel NOW!‘s Indestructible Hulk reteams Superman: Birthright‘s power duo for another subtle reinvention, one that slots neatly between everything that came before, and everything that the core audience what to see.

More than that, it’s the best treatment for a third Hulk movie there is going.

Written by the reliably fantastic Mark Waid (Kingdom Come, Incorruptable) and drawn/inked by the dynamic, hyper-realistic Leinil Francis Yu (Superior, Wolverine), the first five issues of Indestructible Hulk see Bruce Banner, exhibiting more self-control that he’s generally known for, hand himself over to SHIELD to be used as a one-man think tank, and when the mood strikes him, a one-man tank-tank.

His initial approach to tense Maria Hill in a smalltown diner, similar in tone and tension to Black Widow’s approach to Banner in the movie, while there’s a hint of Mark Ruffalo’s Zen physicist in his response – later pretending to lose his temper to see if anyone soils themselves – he remains at his core the morally ambigious, coldly calculating Bruce familiar to fans of the Jason Aaron/Marc Silvestri run.

It’s going to take a lot of graft to subvert the paradigm of the previous decade – in which the Hulk has been increasingly positioned as a pure reaction, hungry for a simpler way of life, while Banner is the real monster – an unlikable, neurotic, petty cockbag – but they set down the foundations briskly enough.

Banner stills rails against the the self-aggrandising Tony Stark, remembered for his creations while Banner is remembered for his construction (“Hulk destroys, Banner builds,” is his mantra to his new misfit team of scientific acolytes . But where once this resentment would have bubbled over into a big-ass set-to over a couple of issues with battle porn splash pages, their token face-off results in Hulk saving Iron Man when it really gets down to it.

Indestructible Hulk Agent of SHIELD trade paperback review

It’s contrived, but most hero-on-hero conflicts have a whiff of WWE smack-talk about them, and it helps gently push Banner back from being his own antagonist/supporting character (which is pretty embarrassing, to a sympathetic central protagonist in his own right.

With SHIELD at his back, much of this first art is a series of standalone romps – wrestling with the Quintronic Man in a pool of lava, and smacking around Atlantean warlord Attuma around before locking lips with a Lemurian warrior princess – while an intriguing meta-plot comes together in the background, as Banner assembles a team of assorted scientists in a bunker under a Cold War nuclear testing range (aka Bannertown, USA).

Basically, it’s fun in a way Hulk books haven’t really been for years.

They’ve been good, sure, but with a character packing this much punch, it’s hard to bring him in without it suddenly being a mega-event – what it took all the Marvel heroes to do in Civil War and Fear Itself, he pretty much did himself in World War Hulk.

Moreover, it’s a basic set-up that you could easily see rolled out across Marvel Phase 3…