Hulk has been an uneven trip so far, but let’s see how the third issue fares. Is it good?
Hulk #3 (Marvel Comics)
Hulk is a book where you see the covers and you expect something exciting, action-packed, or maybe even intense. However, three issues in and it has been anything but. Mariko Tamaki has been crafting a very slow moving character drama about Jennifer Walters slowly trying to recover from losing her cousin and having her friends, Hawkeye and Captain Marvel, betray her trust and friendship. It’s really unlike any Hulk book out there and its approach to storytelling is to show how difficult things are for Jen. One false move and she fears she’ll snap and wreck everything, both figuratively and REALLY literally. There’s a lot to respect about this approach and its careful handling of a character with PTSD, whether you fully believe that a long-established character would be suffering from it or not given their history. In a way, Tamaki is also telling two characters’ stories in a superhero universe who suffer from the same issue, but are handling it in different ways–Jen and Maise Brewn. It shows that an issue like this is very complicated and not every person suffers or acts the same way. It’s very well thought out in that regard.
That being said, the price to pay for this thoughtful, slow narrative is that the writer sacrifices the pacing and content. The story is too slow for its own good, really dragging out scenes to make a point, reiterates things that we already know, and focuses on characters that don’t amount to much (see the police detectives for this issue). We end up with a new revelation regarding Brewn and how she got to where she is, but in the end, that’s pretty much it. With not even the threat of hulking out in the issue, the plot is now starting to wear thin and drag its feet. Something big needs to happen, because the slow approach and the amount that actually happens per issue is not justifying its value. This storytelling might work better in a weekly or bi-monthly format where we can get a stream of information. Or better yet, a big graphic (or even standard) novel where a writer can take whatever approach they want to storytelling, because currently the story doesn’t feel as good when we only get a fragment month to month.
My reflection mocks me.
As for the rest of the issue, the writing isn’t all that bad, but it can become a hindrance in areas. We get more insight into Brewn as a character, or at least the former version of herself. It paints an interesting contrast of who she used to be and where she is now that gives her an air of tragedy and mystery. This issue formally reintroduces Patsy Walker, Hellcat, into the series beyond just a simple text message. She has a rather interesting and touching scene with Jen that’s very nice. However, it’s also incredibly awkward to read with how much Patsy is making the situation worse (also, she reveals this is the first time she’s meeting Jen in person, which makes her look awful and saying she never bothered helping Jen after she woke up from her coma), but that’s probably the point: that people sometimes just have difficulty talking with others after they experience a tragedy. However, the awkwardness and sometimes stiltedness of the dialogue extends to other characters and scenes, making the entire comic feel rather off to read as a whole. This problem particularly comes up when the comic focuses on the police detectives for instance. Combined with the pacing, the comic just comes across as difficult to really get into at times.
The artwork is handled completely by Nico Lean this time around thankfully and it is quite solid. The layouts are well strung together, the characters are drawn pretty well and show a decent range of expression (though it often looks like almost everyone is squinting their way through the comic), and you can often get a good sense of motion as the story flows from panel to panel. However, despite the comic’s art being good, it feels like the weakest issue art wise due to how little there is to actually draw and how overly decompressed this 20-page comic is. There’s nothing that really jumps out visually about the story, unlike the previous two issues, and not much happens in general either. It feels like the story is almost wasting the artwork by not taking advantage of Lean’s talents and would almost be better suited as a novel. If anything, this reminds me of reading manga adaptations of light novels.
Is It Good?
Hulk #3 feels like it’s being told in the wrong format. While its story and characters are well thought out, its pacing and lack of forward momentum really hurts the story. Being dished out on a monthly basis does this comic no good at all. This is a story that would benefit more in a large graphic novel or regular prose book form where you get to read a lot of it all at once. As such, by itself and as a monthly feature, Hulk is not really worth your time. Unless things kick it up a notch next time, you are better off waiting for a trade collection.