Writer: Peter David
Artist: Pat Olliffe (p), Sal Buscema (i)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
The Plot: Instead of Bruce Banner, General Ross rushes onto the gamma bomb testing range to remove Rick Jones. Quite predictably, the bomb detonates, turning Ross into a gray-skinned Hulk. Retaining his mental capacity but unable to speak, Ross frightens his daughter and runs afoul of the military. Tragedy strikes and the shock reverts Ross back into human form, with Banner waiting in the wings for a final confrontation.
Comments: Every instance Peter David writes a Hulk story is an excellent reason to spend hard-earned money on that issue. Once again, David proves he understands the Hulk’s core characters better than anybody in the business. His understanding of these characters makes up for a rather straight forward and uneventful What If? story. The best What If? stories mix the plausible with the fantastic (and frequently the fantastic involves the subjugation/destruction of America/Earth). David captures the plausibility, but the fantastic is lacking.
All the characters act and sound as they should, creating plausible motivations for their actions. Banner is hesitant about the bomb. General Ross is a blustering hard head, who rushes out onto the testing range to stop one of the “townies” from interrupting the test. Betty is attracted to Banner and horrified by the Hulk. David does his best by slightly altering the Hulk’s motivation. The Hulk isn’t mindless but still violent. Keeping the Watcher as the third person omniscient narrator allows the reader a perspective into the Hulk’s thoughts without cluttering thought balloons and clunky exposition.
The tone and flavor of this issue takes inspiration from the 1960’s. The morality of building the gamma bomb is debated and its strongest proponent is horribly altered by it. Banner faces Ross in a final showdown where their philosophies are not exactly switched, but Banner now has a different perspective. The horror of unintended consequences – another staple of the 1960’s – falls rather heavily on Betty Ross. The twist was unseen, if a little unbelievable.
For one moment, it looks as if the issue will veer into the fantastic as Ross realizes the incredible tactical benefits of his new body. That almost sets up a “good intentions go bad” moment where Ross ends up conquering America to save it, or some such Twilight Zone moment. That, combined with the lack of an ambiguous ending, makes this a weaker What If? than traditional.
Olliffe turns in a quality effort on the art front. There’s a cinematic flair to the art, particularly in the facial expressions. The shock on Ross’s face is nicely contrasted two panels later by the horror on Rick Jones’s face, just before his unfortunate squishing. The action and destruction was sufficiently loud and expansive befitting an issue with the Hulk.
The Final Word: Solid art, good action and a sense of motion result in a good Hulk issue. As a What If? – much like the Brian Michael Bendis issues of this fifth week event – it’s lacking the fantastic elements and ambiguous ending. A good effort but ultimately a little weak.
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