Writer: Bruce Jones
Artist: Leandro Fernandez
Publisher: Marvel Comics
The book opens with Banner negotiating with the police as they know that if they open fire on him he'll simply turn into the Hulk, but given they arrived to find Banner standing next to the bodies of two people with a bloodied knife in his hand, the police aren't about to simply let him walk away. We then see Creel is acting to make the situation even rougher, as he's in the body of a young girl that the police believe Banner is holding hostage, and he's eager for Banner the turn into the Hulk, as he'll then take over the Hulk, and use the creature's incredible strength to free his body from the heavily guarded government complex where it's being held. After Banner manages to work out a deal where he makes a phone call, we see he attempts to get a message to the complex to warn them about Creel's plan. However a trigger happy police officer unleashes the Hulk, and soon only Banner & the possessed girl are left standing. As they both flee the scene, we see their escape is spotted by the woman Banner befriended earlier, and she follows the two as they board a train headed for the complex. After she helps them escape the notice of an overly observant passenger who nearly recognized Banner, and was about to make an issue of it, we see the three arrive at their station, and an eager Creel prepares to use the Hulk to free his captive body.
I don't want to sound like a broken record on this point, but since it's the main stumbling block that I find I'm having when it comes to enjoying this arc, I feel I have to once again reiterate the idea that Bruce Jones looks to have inserted the Absorbing Man into a story that was originally written with another villain in mind. Now perhaps Bruce Jones went into this arc with the idea that he planned on reinventing the Absorbing Man, as he felt that fans were due a new take on the long-standing rivalry. However, the complete personality change that the Absorbing Man has undergone, not to mention the radical new powers that Creel has been given in this arc lead me to believe that Creel was pasted into the material as almost an afterthought. Now is this story a bad read? Not especially, as Bruce Jones has crafted a fairly intense scenario in which Banner isn't really allowed to draw upon the easy out that the Hulk provides, and while the new personality is a bit irksome if one was familiar with Creel before his appearance in this arc, Bruce Jones does understand how to deliver a fairly chilling mastermind villain. The only real problem is that the Absorbing Man has never been presented as a terribly smart villain. In fact he's always rated as a bit of a dim bulb, along the lines of the Rhino, so this newfound intellect displays a rather poor sense of continuity.
On the other hand I've always been of the mind that writers shouldn't allow continuity to impede a good story, and while I don't think writers should outright ignore it, they should never be slaves to it either. Now this story is an interesting battle between the Hulk/Banner, and a rather sadistic villain who is able to transfer his consciousness from mind to mind. This in turn leaves Banner with an opponent that the Hulk is very ill-suited to deal with, as in essence the villain is constantly shielding himself behind innocent civilians. It also does help matters that the villain wants Banner to change into the Hulk so he can have the ultimate powerhouse body to reside within. Now I have some serious reservations about the high degree of coincidental encounters that played out in the early going, and even in this issue the lady friend that is helping Banner seems to be able to move from one location to the next far more quickly than a person not gifted with super-speed should be able to. However, overall the story holds up fairly well and there are some genuinely exciting moments, with the opening standoff with the police making very strong use of the rather unique elements that this encounter has going for it. I also rather enjoyed the little moments where Banner has to be instructed by Creel as to how to act like a loving father.
First off I have to give full marks for this issue's cover, as if one ever wanted a visual that would grab the attention of the reader, it would have to be the shot of an enraged Hulk towering over a little girl, about to squash her like a bug. Plus, it doesn't hurt that this cover is actually giving readers a sense of the story they can expect to find inside the issue, a practice that seems to have been actively discouraged at Marvel lately. As for the interior art, the work has a nice dark edge to it that details the more sinister parts of the book quite nicely, and the little girl possessed by Creel makes for a far more effective villain visually than one would really expect, though I suspect there a whole wolf in sheep's clothing aspect to the idea of a child playing host to an evil presence that has given films like the Bad Seed & the Omen their impact. The scene where the Hulk is unleashed is also nicely done, as the art plays up the idea that the Hulk is a bit difficult to control, and the visuals conveys the creature's destructive rage very well. There's also a very solid reaction moment where Banner is recognized on the train, and the series of panels where the woman spots the fear of discovery in Banner's eyes is extremely well delivered. The final page shot also conveys a strong sense of impending doom, as the three arrive at the site where Creel is being held.
Bruce Jones relies a little to much on some rather suspect plot contrivances to move his story forward, but this issue is largely free of the random chance encounters and the lucky coincidences that left me unimpressed with the previous chapters of this crossover, so I have to say that this is easily the strongest chapter yet. Now I'm still bothered by how poorly suited Creel is to play the villain of this arc, as the story has never really explains how this new power came to exist, and the character has undergone a radical personality change that seems to suggest Bruce Jones has never read any of Creel's previous appearances. Now I like the idea of Banner being pitted against a villain who is able to leap from body to body, as it makes for a rather interesting threat that will only be made worse by his hulking out. I did find myself wondering why Creel didn't make his move when the Hulk was dealing with the police though, as it seemed like the ideal moment to take over the host body he had been looking for.
What did you think of this book?
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