Banner: By Brian Azzarello & Richard Corben.
The Hulk is very much a difficult character to get a grip on, as anyone who saw me trying to write this first paragraph will attest to (this is attempt number 23 now). This has not stopped him becoming one of the most recognisable pop culture icons on the planet though. The term “hulk out” is often used to describe people when they start having a benny over something completely ridiculous, like running out of bacon. However while The Hulk himself is a well known character, it’s often easy to forget that he has an alter ego who perpetually stands in the shadow. Here we have a story that attempts to rectify this problem.
Banner is a 4 part non canonical Hulk story. Basically as long as you start the story fully aware that Bruce Banner is a mild mannered scientist who transforms into a rampaging giant with the IQ of a burrito every time somebody cuts him up on the freeway then you’ll have no trouble understanding this story. The fact that the story is outside of continuity however gives writer Brian Azzarello the chance to tell a solemn tale about a man who really has spent far too long staring into the Abyss.He is aided in his task by Richard Corben (who also partnered up with the writer during his Hellblazer tenure). Corben’s art has always been heavily stylised, & while I am a big fan of his work, the character design in this story is a little odd to say the least. His Doc Sampson looks like the bastard son of Jennifer Aniston & a Spinal Tap roadie, Bruce Banner spookily resembles Brains from Thunderbirds, & The Hulk looks like a constipated baby. Now while this may sound like I’m talking smack about one of the true greats of the art industry, I’m not. Corben nails the introverted tone of the story perfectly. Here we have a comic book story told as a taut psychological drama & it’s hard to make that consistently interesting to read, but Corben manages it with an astonishing amount of skill. As uncanny as the art is, it is also hard to imagine anyone else being able to lend it the air of menace that prevails throughout the book as Bruce Banner tries to keep his inner demon at bay. When the Hulk does turn up & the smashing ensues it is loud angry kinetic artwork that counterbalances the stillness of the scenes involving Bruce alone with his thoughts.
So onto the writing – Being that the book is called Banner, it’s no surprise that the unjolly green giant is not the main focus of the story. We get to see the struggle that Bruce Banner has every day. The guilt he feels the morning after that really bad night before, & what would actually happen if he tried to top himself. While many people see The Hulk as an embodiment of nuclear destruction, Azzarello takes on the idea from a much more personal angle. The Hulk of this story is an unbridled green Id who personifies the rage and anger that everyone can identify with but nobody wants to talk about. Azzarello is often credited for his use of language in his stories, but the thing that really sets Banner apart is how much he is able to get across with so few words. Instead there is an intuitive sense of tension that builds throughout the story & a final page that hits a beat so subtle it almost passes you by… Till you give it a second look & the full force of it hits you like an 18 wheeler.
In conclusion, Banner is a short solitary tale that is as quiet and unassuming as its titular character. However on closer inspection its minimalist feel and sense of isolation scream as loudly as his alter ego. Those looking to get their big green rocks off could feel short changed, but don’t let this put you off. While it may seem that this book was written to appeal to the non super hero crowd – even more so through Corben & Azzarello’s involvement – it is worthy of consideration by anyone that simply enjoys good stories.