Comic Picks By The Glick

Original Sin: Hulk vs. Iron Man

December 8, 2014

Reading this event series tie-in was an interesting experience for me.  Not only did it arrive before my copy of the “Original Sin” collection, but it also serves as the finale for Mark Waid and Kieron Gillen’s runs on “Hulk” and “Iron Man,” respectively, both of which I’m waiting to catch up with in paperback.  In the end, these issues didn’t prove to be that problematic in reading “Hulk vs. Iron Man.”  (Anyone who is interested in this would do well to read through vol. 3 of Gillen’s “Iron Man” run so they know who Arno Stark is.)  With “Original Sin” effectively being “Retcon:  The Crossover Event” the drive behind this miniseries is uncovering the secret role Tony Stark played in the creation of the Hulk.  For anyone with a decent understanding of superhero genre conventions, the way the answer is presented won’t come as a surprise.  Fortunately for us, Waid and Gillen are very good at what they do and make this ultimately inessential story go down as smoothly as it could be imagined to.

Before they were superheroes, Tony Stark and Bruce Banner used to work together as scientists who were friends as much as rivals.  That’s most likely down to how the former would stick the latter with most of the work while he went out for booze and sex.  While they’ve continued to work together in various forms after becoming Iron Man and the Hulk, that rivalry has always persisted to the point where you wonder if these guys aren’t better frenemies than anything else.  Their relationship becomes downright combustible when the Z-list villain known as the Orb sets off the “bomb of secrets” that is the Watcher’s Eye in the middle of New York.  While Stark gets a first-hand look at what it was like for Banner to become the Hulk, the gamma scientist finds out something more damning.  It turns out that Stark made a few tweaks to the gamma bomb that turned Banner into the Hulk before it went off.  Now, Banner has a reason to be very angry with Stark, and we all know what he’s like when he’s angry.

The origin of the Hulk hasn’t been messed with much since the character debuted over 40 years ago.  To say that everything we knew about his origin was wrong and that Stark was responsible for it is simply too much to accept given the weight of time and all of the comics that have been produced involving the characters in the meantime.  You’d also fundamentally damage the characters by making Stark effectively responsible for all of the destruction the Hulk has caused over the years and turn Bruce Banner into a victim rather than being responsible for his condition.  So even though this miniseries is teasing such a specific revelation, you know that it’s not going to pan out to be entirely true here.

Of course, if the premise of the story is one big exercise in misdirection then what’s the point if it’s only going to be revealed that Stark didn’t have a hand in creating the Hulk?  Waid and Gillen are aware of this and we get a couple of answers in the context of their story.  One is that we get a small footnote added to the Hulk’s origin regarding Stark’s involvement.  It doesn’t really change anything, but it makes for a nice ending as we find out that Banner might’ve been able to avoid his fate if he had been less like Stark.

That’s also the other thing this miniseries has to offer as we get to see just how alike the two scientists are in their arrogance.  We see them butting heads in the past at a military conference regarding the gamma bomb, and later in a hotel when Stark, as condescendingly as possible, asks Banner to let him look at the bomb and other scientist shuts him down.  Why?  Because Banner believes he’s going to be the scientist who saves the world.

It’s long-simmering issues like these that lead to superhero-sized action in the present as the Hulk takes on Stark in his city of the future.  Artists Mark Bagley and Luke Ross handle the destruction quite well, but also give the many heated conversation scenes their due too.  Still, it’s the clash of minds between Stark and Banner that is the core of this series and Waid and Gillen pull it off quite well in their respective issues.  I’m at a loss as to seeing how this miniseries acts as a fitting capstone to their runs on “Hulk” and “Iron Man,” but maybe that’ll change once I’m caught up on those series in paperback.  In any event, it’s a good story by standards of crossover-event tie-ins and fans of the characters will also find something to enjoy about how the Stark/Banner relationship is portrayed here.

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