Written by: Grek Pak
Art by: Frank Cho
Totally Awesome Hulk is like the sort of friend you had in school who was a bit of a jerk, but could usually make you laugh. Every time you felt like it got to breaking point though, they’d reveal something about themselves that made you view them in a new light and want to give them another chance. Wait where am I going with this? I dunno, but this is a good comic, that’s what I’m trying to get across here.
Following hot on the heels of Pak’s shakeup of the Superman books, Pak returns to kick the fanboy beehive by massively changing up another major superhero book. Once more though, Pak proves that he is more than just shock tactics by delivering a comic that is completely off the wall and hilarious, but that also offers a surprising amount of depth and character work under the surface. Readers just need to know where to look.
So if you didn’t already know, TAH sees Amadeus Cho, a breakout supporting character from Pak’s previous Hulk run, take the mantle of the green goliath for himself. Unlike Banner though, Pak retains his intelligence and has an absolute blast, thinking that being the Hulk is, everyone say it together, Totally Awesome. This spin allows for a lot of cheesy dumb fun as Cho battles huge monsters while simultaneously trying to woo the ladies. This is a lot more humorous take on the character than we’re used to, even compared to the MCU films, and for a lot of fans this will be off putting. Amadeus has a very smug, self assured feeling to him this time around. In a lot of ways he reminded me of SpOck from Superior Spider-Man, a type of character I’ve really missed. He is noticeably a lot more simplified and in many regards dumbed down for the 8th smartest person in the Marvel Universe. The book can at times lean more towards the obnoxious side with it’s comedy and smug tone, but really this is exactly the point. Greg is one of the best character writers on the planet, but here’s Amadeus acting like a smug, one dimensional idiot. What gives? That, is where the genius lies in this comic.
By this point, readers are used to the inner turmoil of Banner and the Hulk, it’s the very well told Jekyll and Hyde “man and the monster” type thing. Pak and the team have been clear that Amadeus doesn’t have this sort of struggle and instead he just loves being the hulk and can control the transformation at will. However, while I don’t want to give the game away, Amadeus does have internal struggles with the Hulk, struggles noticeably different than Banners. Again, I don’t want to spoil it, but it ties in very strongly to the over the top tone and Amadeus’ new found characterization. It takes what seems like a boring “irrational brother and straight laced sister” dynamic between our main cast and flips it on its head, adding creases and folds to what seems like a predictable comic. This all dovetails nicely into a question a lot of readers are probably asking, what actually happened to Banner? While we don’t get all the answers here, we do get a good idea, and it looks to be a bigger part of the story going forward. This act of cutting straight into Amadeus as Hulk but flashing back to Banner’s fate works well, it gets that fast paced feeling the other relaunched books have, but doesn’t feel like it’s missing something, like a lot of the other post-secret wars books. All these little additions to the comics reveal what a great writer Pak is. The comic on the surface seems deceptively stupid and silly, exactly the kind of books fanboys feared, yet if you dig a little deeper, those so much going on under the surface that looks to be building to something big for Hulk fans. It adds a new found freshness to the Hulk mythos, something I thought impossible.
When it comes to art, Frank Cho (no relation) ends up being the perfect choice. He has a real knack for drawing giant monsters, making their designs look nicely streamlined while capturing all their power and energy. The opening action scene sets the mood perfectly and contains a lot of fun humor that Cho pulls of perfectly with his use of highly expressive body language. He also works well in capturing the more interesting tones Pak is going for. Amadeus’ world feels very superficial and almost too upbeat and happy. The colors of Sonia Oback too have a very sickly sweet look to them in the Amadeus sections. She proves she can go darker in the Banner flashback sequences, but they only prove that there’s something suspiciously wrong with the overly happy tone in Amadeus’ world. It’s a style that works perfectly, capturing the humor of the comic perfectly and giving the suggestion of some of the heavier themes to come. If this issue proved anything, it’s that the art team is ready to tackle anything Pak throws at them.
Overall, Totally Awesome Hulk was a huge surprise to me. I was expecting to like this book seeing as Pak has proven his skills with the Hulk time and time again, but the way the comic subverts your expectations of it is really clever. If you’re set out to hate this book, well I don’t know if this will change your mind. The overly obnoxious humor will be too much to some and turn them right off. If you’re on the fence however or unsure, I’d really recommend trying it out. Yes there is overly obnoxious humor, but it’s completely deliberate and essential to the kind of story Pak is telling. Pak has found a way to breath new life into the Hulk franchise, if you’re open minded enough to check it out, you may be pleasantly surprised by what you find.