I've never been a big fan of the Incredible Hulk. I didn't quite understand the character's forced romantic pairing with Black Widow in Avengers: Age of Ultron, and I think the Hulk film starring Edward Norton is one of the worst movies Marvel has ever put its name on. Not even the comic book version of the character ever really spoke to me the way certain others — including Storm, the Flash (Wally West), or Magneto — did. And to some extent, I think executives at Marvel have felt the same way: The Hulk title has been blessed with good writers and artists — Peter David (David's is considered the definitive run on the character), Jason Aaron, Mark Waid, Gerry Duggan, Ed McGuinness, Leinil Yu, Mark Bagley, et al. — but has struggled in recent years to find a storyline or develop the character beyond his Jekyll-Hyde origin story in a way that's capable of hooking readers.
That's why Marvel is changing the game with Totally Awesome Hulk No. 1, in which the Hulk is an Asian-American genius named Amadeus Cho. The comic is a gorgeous, invigorating introduction that both honors the character's legacy and breaks new ground; created by writer Greg Pak, artist Frank Cho, and colorist Sonia Oback, it's also a great example of Marvel's recent commitment to diversity.
American superheroes have always represented the best of humanity, but historically that best has almost always been envisioned as a bunch of white men. That's why changing and rebooting a character like the Hulk is a revolutionary, rebellious act. It's something Marvel has been doing a lot of lately. In 2012, Ms. Marvel was given the title of Captain Marvel, a respected code name that's been held by various male and female characters in Marvel history. In 2014, Kamala Khan, a Pakistani-American, Muslim girl was awarded the title of Ms. Marvel. And earlier this year, a black man became Captain America and a woman became Thor.
Meanwhile, it's a milestone for Marvel to put Pak, who is half-Korean, and Cho, who is Korean American, in charge of telling the story of one of its A-list heroes who is an Asian-American man.
Totally Awesome Hulk represents a sweet homecoming of sorts for the ultra-talented Pak, who originally created the Amadeus Cho character in 2006. Nine years later, in 2015, the 19-year-old Amadeus has figured out how to control the Gamma ray exposure that Bruce Banner initially couldn't get a handle on. With the ability to harness the Hulk's superhuman strength, Amadeus can transform into the green giant while maintaining more control of the monster (or at least that seems to be the case for now). In fact, he's the same person as the Hulk as he is in his human form — as well as the eighth-smartest person in the world, according to the Pym scale. In the nascent stages of his heroism, he's tasked with investigating monster outbreaks all across the world, a setup that in Totally Awesome Hulk No. 1 plunks us into his battle with a giant turtle.
Aiding Amadeus is his little sister Madeline, a 16-year-old super genius, and a B-98 drone called "Kegger." The dynamic of this core trio composed of a man, his sister, and a robot allows you to appreciate Pak's knack for nailing slapstick and sometimes-awkward humor. It also yields special moments between Amadeus and Madeline that exist in the space where sibling concern comes off as nagging and is met with anger, and Pak builds Amadeus and Madeline's relationship with grace.
Cho's art is crackling and flashy when it needs to be. But what makes the art of the book tick is his attention to detail — down to every burger Amadeus inhales— and composition in each panel. Pak and Cho have figured out a way to play to each other's strengths to deliver a comic that's better than the sum of its parts.
I wasn't prepared for some of the emotions I felt upon seeing an Asian-American character like Amadeus take center stage in his own comic. It's still rare to see someone who looks like me appear in a comic book as something other than a martial arts master, a scientist in a lab, or a background character. Amadeus doesn't feel patronizing — he's just a regular (okay, very attractive) guy who likes girls, eats burgers, and sometimes forgets to wear pants when he's the big green guy. It's small stuff, sure, but that doesn't mean it's not powerful.