For months now, a Korean-American teenager named Amadeus Cho has been wielding the power of the Hulk. Nobody's seen or heard from Bruce Banner during this time. This week, we see what one of the smartest men in the world gets up to when he doesn't have a raging leviathan inside of him.
The Hulk has always been a superhero creature that operates off of strong emotions. His transformations were triggered by rage, grief or stress. His strength increased whenever he got angrier and there was seemingly no limit to how angry he could get. The Green Goliath always screamed that he wanted to be left alone but some of his most memorable storylines — Planet Hulk chief amongst them — centred around the Hulk finding love and belonging away from puny humans. And, yes, there have been times when the man was in control of the monster's strength. But being calm and keeping things on an even keel was never a status quo that lasted too long for Bruce Banner.
However, in the current version of the Marvel Universe, Bruce Banner can't get green and hella swole anymore. He lost the identity of the Hulk months ago after heroically absorbing radiation from a fusion reactor meltdown that would have killed millions.
Tony Stark, T'Challa and other geniuses raced to try and save him from exploding but Banner's actions appeared to doom him to death or exile. Amadeus Cho surprised everyone by teleporting in, siphoning off the hybrid gamma energy and becoming a new, less-angry version of the Hulk.
Written by Greg Pak with art by Alan Davis, Mark Farmer, Chris Sotomayor and Cory Petit, Totally Awesome Hulk #7 turns the spotlight on Bruce Banner. The poignant, character-focused issue brings readers up to speed with the scientist's struggles to live a post-Hulk life.
The gamma radiation is gone from Bruce's everyday existence but the emotions and the embattled psychological make-up that birthed the Hulk are still there. The usual cycles that Bruce has had to adhere to ever since that fateful bomb blast are broken. He doesn't have to reign himself in any more.
But the freedom and ensuing recklessness that proves to be its own problem. Bruce always had to stop himself from feeling too much of almost anything. Now that he doesn't have an emerald-skinned alter-ego to worry about, Banner doesn't have to check himself any more. That gets him into life-threatening situations that he can't punch or leap his way out of.
The issue ends with Banner coming face-to-face with Iron Man, having to process his own emotions over what he's done and what he can't do any more. Just when it seems like the "let's punch it out" superhero cliche is going to kick in, something different happens.
This is an interesting moment for Bruce Banner, not unlike the respite that Bruce Wayne got from being Batman months back. It's a chance for Pak to explore a different side of one of Marvel's oldest characters, away from the power that's been a core part of the fantasy. The pull of decades-old status quo will probably pull Banner back into those purple-ripped pants at some point. But part of the charm of the new Hulk title has been seeing how Amadeus' very different emotional issues — thick-headed impulsiveness, for one — are presenting different challenges for him. Hopefully, we get a decent-sized run of issues where Bruce has to figure out how to live in his own pale skin while Amadeus deals with how his young adult brain manifests the power of his new emerald epidermis.