[Warning: Totally Awesome Hulk #7 SPOILERS ahead.]
Between the big screen and the comic book pages, 2016 has undoubtedly been one of Marvel’s most divisive years, at least in a fictional sense, with the launch of Captain America: Civil War pitting the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s biggest heroes against one another. As a loose sequel to the Cap 3-inspired story arc, the recently launched Civil War II story arc won’t bring any more peace to the superwomen and men of Marvel’s printed page either.
Civil War II poses many interesting and difficult ethical questions to Marvel’s elite superhero forces. Yet for fans of the Incredible Hulk, one question has been prevalent: what the heck happened to Bruce Banner?
In Totally Awesome Hulk #7, fans finally get their answer (via IGN). For those a little behind the curve, the Hulk and Bruce Banner had, shall we say, a parting of ways. Last year’s All New, All Different Marvel reboot saw an end to the Secret Wars saga and the entrance of a new Hulk, that of Amadeus Cho. In the latest Hulk, we find out what actually put Cho in the driver’s seat of the mean green machine. In flashback it’s revealed that Banner/Hulk sacrifices himself to diffuse a fusion reactor meltdown, absorbing a lethal dose in the process. The near-prescient Cho drops into the scene just in time to stop the Hulk from exploding, saving Bruce Banner's life and the lives of countless innocents.
Cho has designed a set of gamma-radiation-absorbing nanites, which siphon the irate superhero’s powers into the late-teen genius, separating Banner from Hulk and saving everyone. Since then, Greg Pak and Takeshi Miyazawa’s teen genius has been on a controlled Hulk-based ‘roid-rage around the planet, cleaning up monstrous messes, meeting up with Old Man Logan, and dealing with the power trip of his new abilities (which serves as a great euphemism for the maturation process).
Bruce Banner, on the other hand, has been wrestling with his own issues. In Totally Awesome Hulk #7, we meet a man freed from the Hulk but in constant fear of a relapse. His real problem is, the less he feels the need to ratchet down his passions, the more they get the better of him. After giving in to his impulses, Dr. Banner finds himself in a heap of trouble, stranded in a desert with no way to Hulk-leap or -smash his way out. As the issue closes out, the one-time mass of green muscle dukes it out with Iron Man – not with physical fists but with emotional gut-shots. The series returns Banner to the realm of Tony Stark, in preparation for the Civil War tie-in teased by writer Greg Pak for Totally Awesome Hulk #9.
Watching a lesser-known character take the Hulk mantle has proven illuminating, though. After years of being driven by his mega-mind, Amadeus Cho is discovering that he too has teenage hormones via the big green man. Depending on how much time Pak is allotted to run with Cho-Hulk, there are a number of interesting concepts the storyline could explore, including watching Amadeus wrestle with his developing emotional core as the impending second Civil War requires his keenest tactical focus.
Having a chance to watch Banner deal with his Hulk-separation anxiety has been fascinating as well. Naturally, Dr. Banner will reclaim his emerald alter-ego before too long – as the law of conservation of classic superhero characters and decrees. But it remains to be seen how things come together for the Hulk and Bruce Banner as Civil War II splits everyone up.
Totally Awesome Hulk #7 is currently available. Totally Awesome Hulk #8 arrives on July 6 2016.