Friday, March 25, 2016

Disparately Seeking Redemption

Given the nice selection of Incredible Hulk covers from 2002-2003 which featured the artwork of Kaare Andrews, it's difficult to settle on just one of those issues to sate one's curiosity as to how the quirky cover image could possibly relate to the story within, as they're all intriguing in that respect. Nevertheless, these were issues I made a decision to pass on while giving this reboot of the Hulk title a try, perhaps because they failed to make me curious about any developments of Bruce Banner and the Hulk that might be taking place in the story; indeed, a few covers even seemed to be mocking the tragic aspect of the title character, if still relating to the story's events in some fashion. However creative these covers were (and few could disagree with that), they arguably may not have been as successful at selling a reader on a Hulk story in the way that a more conventional cover might have been.

Case in point:

You would only nominally be able to apply the events of the story to such a farcical representation of certain elements of it; yet if you were to take a leap of faith and assume that the book's writer, artists, and editor(s) were still hard at work within at charting the course of the green goliath--as well as that of Bruce Banner--you would find quite a riveting story, one we've walked into the middle of with this issue. Banner, having arrived incognito in the town of Miser, Colorado, is caught in a hostage situation when "Harry," a laid-off worker at the end of his rope, decides to hold up a convenience store that Banner has stopped into--and the situation quickly escalates when Harry fires on and drops a police officer who has been an early responder.

The quality of story and art on this issue is nothing short of excellent, with writer Bruce Jones dealing in a number of characters in order to extend our interest beyond the normal focal point of Banner. There's Harry, of course, who has simply snapped and set the chain of events into motion; also, Lt. Sally Riker, an officer with S.W.A.T. experience who responds to this emergency but is unable to shake off the blame she carries from a botched assignment involving hostages at a bank robbery in Denver that resulted in the death of a young girl; soon to be joined by Special Agent Pratt, claiming to head up an F.B.I. task force that responds to the scene, but focused on his own agenda; and there's Banner, struggling to keep a low profile and, more importantly, struggling to keep the Hulk from emerging as a result of the chaos now erupting around him. Artists Lee Weeks and Tom Palmer, with their attention to detail, have brought all of these characters and scenery to life in a way that engages us in these unfolding events--and, thanks to Jones and the unhurried and steady way he paces the story, making us just as uncertain as everyone else as to whether or not the situation will end without bloodshed.

With so many law enforcement officers present, presumably covering all the bases and actively working toward the situation's resolution, we could normally be reasonably confident that things would be brought under control. But Pratt, it seems, has an interest in Banner--and we learn he's at the scene for an altogether different reason than the release of the hostages.

To backstep a bit, Riker arrived on the scene some time before Pratt, taking a position as negotiator and communicating with Harry by way of the man who has by circumstance become the unofficial liaison with the police, someone in the store named "Mr. Smith" (a name created from thin air by Banner, for obvious reasons). Riker had made minimal progress when Pratt arrived and assumed command of the operation--though with his first communication with the store surprised "Smith" by calling him by his real name. Banner now realizes that the stakes have become higher, since he knows Pratt doesn't care about the fate of those innocents inside the store to anywhere near the degree he cares about arranging for the return of the Hulk, for reasons we have yet to discover.

Banner, knowing what Pratt is after (or in his case, "who"), wisely keeps clear of the store's windows to avoid giving Pratt's men a clear shot at him. With the situation at a standstill, Pratt decides to inject Riker into the scene at her urging, in the hope that things will develop the way he wants them to. Riker makes for a particularly compliant tool for Pratt, given that he's fully aware of the baggage she carries from her failure in Denver--once she's properly motivated in regard to the agency's concern for capturing "Mr. Smith."

Inside, Riker names to Harry (and successfully secures) Pratt's terms:  Mr. Smith's release, in exchange for the Feds pulling out. It's something of an oversight on Jones's part that Harry, who has such a firm grasp on this situation and who keeps tabs on and questions every development, doesn't raise one word of curiosity on why the Feds want Smith, or what makes Smith so valuable over the lives of innocent children, or why the F.B.I. would abandon their involvement with the case once they have him. Instead, he snaps at the offer without a single doubt or any hesitation, which is completely out of character for someone as savvy as he's proven to be.

Banner, on the other hand, realizes precisely what Pratt's motive is, and is equally adept at changing the rules in order to shake things up with the opposition. Only then does Harry reassert himself and act to make sure he's fully informed of just what's going on here.

Noticing how familiar Riker appears to be from newscasts, Harry then turns his attention to her--and she gives the details of how things went south for the hostages in Denver she was attempting to save. That, as well as Banner's own situation with the boy he's trying to find, serve to change his mind about what he's doing, and he decides to cooperate by pairing up with Banner and Riker.

It's another step that Jones seems to have hastily taken us through without forethought. Riker, despite her confession, perhaps has reason to sympathize with Harry, but otherwise has no justification to simply let him walk, particularly with his pulling a gun on and shooting a police officer on sight. She's also taking Banner's word that he is who he says he is, when it could just as well be "Mr. Smith" who is lying and not Pratt. If Riker is seeking redemption with the police force, she has a strange way of going about it--going on the lam with the suspect?

Unfortunately, what no one in the store realizes is that Pratt has arranged to monitor what is said between these people--and with this new development, he decides to shake things up once again. This time, lethally.

With Harry dead, all hell breaks loose, with Riker falling back on her instincts and no doubt recalling Pratt's words to her regarding Smith. Pratt's hopes, it seems, have panned out with Riker on the scene, and her actions eventually give Pratt the opening he was looking for. (And no doubt we can say the same for our sniper, Sid.)

We can safely assume how things immediately progress from here; but having not been able to resist going on to read this tale to its conclusion (a four-issue arc in all), I can tell you that its climax is more involved and holds more interest than the Hulk simply making his appearance and thus playing into Pratt's hands (though I should give props to the action scenes as depicted by Weeks and Palmer, which are truly staggering). You're definitely encouraged to read this story in its entirety--after which you may agree that at times we can indeed afford not to judge a book by a Kaare Andrews cover.  ;)

Incredible Hulk #41

Script: Bruce Jones
Pencils: Lee Weeks
Inks: Tom Palmer
Letterers: Richard Starkings, Wes Abbott

1 comment:

Warren JB said...

I actually quite liked Kaare Andrews' covers! Truth be told, I liked them better than Bruce Jones' writing between the covers. This story might be an exception, though.

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