Comic Review: Hulk vol. 1 Smashtronaut! (Issues 1-6)

Hulk: Smashtronaut!

by Donny Cates (writer), Ryan Ottley (Artist), Cliff Rathburn (Inker), Frank Martin (Color Artist), Federico Blee (Color Artist), Cory Petit (Letterer)

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Okay… so… this was a surprise to me as a series.
Firstly, I was stunned that coming hot off of Venom, not only was Donny Cates writing Thor, but also Hulk! Secondly, it was a daunting prospect I’d say because this was stepping into the shoes of Al Ewing who had just wrapped up what is in this reviewers humble opinion, one of the most iconic and brilliantly redefining runs on a comic/character – specifically this character.

Thirdly, let’s be aware that the amount of awe I was in reading Immortal Hulk and my love for it is going to colour my views on this new direction BUT I think I don’t want to be totally impartial here because for many Hulk readers (new and old) that last run was an award winning fan-favourite and we will all be comparing mentally at some level.

The series follows the “mystery box” pattern of telling a story that is quite popular and personally I’m not a huge fan of – it was most popularised by J.J.Abrams and has since become endemic to most mediums, including comics. In this case, we start our story with a BANG as the Hulk, equipped with what looks like a super-heavy-duty VR headset and back-pack/tech-pack is on a bit of a rampage – one that starts off on Earth and then carries over crossing the barrier between realities.

What we also learn is that this Hulk is not conscious per-se, i.e, the Bruce Banner persona is now inside the Hulk form’s body and riding it like the captain of a gargantuan, destructive behemoth-y space ship and frankly, seems to be having a blast doing it. Meanwhile, we’ve got the Hulk persona locked in this virtual ship-scape inside what is pretty much the X-Mens Danger Room and the Holo-Deck from Star Trek rolled into one, except this room is all about Bruce throwing things at Hulk to make him fight and depending on who/what he is fighting, his rage and energy are more or less intense and it’s like a gear-throttle for how much power output the body is using. There’s a phantom Betty Ross also in the mind-ship and stuff is just… a bit bonkers.
And to top that craziness all off, we have the amazing Ryan Ottley on art duties. He is best known of course, for his mind-bogglingly long run on Invincible, but he has drawn many comics since and he really is quite amazing.

To start with, there’s a lot to unpack here.
We had Bruce and ALL his Hulk persona’s having pretty much literally gone to hell and back, faced their past and its fallouts and survived brutal and near-endless horrors and then having survived it with a new perspective… a new life and a new world ahead of them. The “Devil-Hulk” had never been so much at an understanding with any of the personalities with which he shared a head-space.
Things were dark but looking up.
Now we get thrown headlong into mad-action as we enter the story face-to-face with Hulk on overdrive, sporting techno headgear and he… Is.. Rampaging! I mean not like destroying the world, but big-green is clearly on a mission that only he knows and no one who gets in his way has a chance of even slowing him down, not even Dr. Strange assembling all those Avengers. As he threatens them, this time they’re facing Bruce, not the Hulk – and he steps off into a dimensional portal. To me it was a good start, it was crazy, chaotic and definitely established a whole new direction; it told me that I was not here to read the comic I had been reading, this was something new.


Thereafter we get the Starship Hulk between realities and he annihilates a Linear-Men-like-interwhatever-superteam. It’s actually hilarious. But nothing innovative beyond showing me a bit more about the inner-ship that Bruce has built to keep Hulk controlled, his Betty delusions continue and we have lots of violence. We end up seeing the U.S.S Hulkterprise landing/getting pulled into a reality with a whole new Bruce Banner of a different sort than the one we know and his world and the Marvel heroes and characters are… shall we say different than what we know? Hulk of course more or less tears through it all + we get to see that there’s more to Bruce’s phantom-Betty-in-his-head than meets the eye and there’s a BIG reveal at the end of the story-arc that… well frankly that big reveal was one of the dumbest things I’ve seen since Marvel did stories like “World War Hulks” which was about every second Marvel character turning into a Hulk… Without total spoilers getting thrown out, it was the first step in my mind to basically turning Hulk into a Matryoshka doll and I’m going to leave it at that. It’s a cool idea, but far more in a “I’m a 15 year old comic fan way”. It did not work for me and in fact made me roll my eyes so hard it almost hurt.

Literally the one BIG constant over the course of these issues/this arc that kept me coming back more than anything was the amazing artwork by Ryan Ottley and crew. The action, the emotion on the Hulk, the rage of the Hulkterprise and the madness that is the inner engine-room of the whole endeavour – these guys draw the living crap out of it, I mean they take what is a bonkers concept and embrace it WHILE they hit the ground running from the very first page, right til the last.
As for the story, all I can say is that six issues in: I still barely understood what the whole deal was that kicked all this off as a choice for Bruce after the events of Immortal Hulk; I do not know how he managed to rig up this whole Hulkterprise thing; the end-game is totally unclear; the deal with phantom-Betty-thing is as good as not changed at all – basically apart from the bombastic action and one entertaining but otherwise uninteresting adventure in an alternate reality aside, I don’t know what is worth mentioning or caring about here.

The art is glorious and 110% worthy of a wonderfully bombastic Hulk action romp and this comic IS that at least.
BUT, in the end, it feels like a bold new direction that would have perhaps fit in at a different time/place in the Hulks life-in-comics. It feels like it could have been a fantastic alternate reality Hulk that Hulk-616 and Banner-616 could have had to face and deal with, but as a story of the main-reality green-genes… it felt… odd, to say the least.
I foresee this book doing well, I see a lot of folks enjoying its over the top crazy action and I daresay the end result mystery that they’re drawing out might end up being a good one, but it doesn’t gel with my expectations and it feels like an illogical swerve for Bruce after where he was just before this story + I am a bit sick and tired of these dangling mysteries to keep readers/viewers engaged. Even Immortal Hulk had a long-thread to unravel, but the ongoing story had meat and bones and emotion and was a raw, striking adventure that hit us all like a Hulk-punch out of nowhere. This, not so much.
The truth is, I was bored by it and I’m only reading the following issues to complete the Banner War crossover with Cates’ other title, Thor which I reviewed recently.

It’s worth a try, you might be the target audience, I was not I think.

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