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Even after repeated readings of Bruce Jones’ run on The Incredible Hulk, we get a visceral thrill from turning the page to find this portrait of Hulk grimacing, with a bullet firmly gripped in his teeth.

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Marvel gave Hulk a new #1 issue in 1999, in the first renumbering of his series since Tales to Astonish became the Hulk’s own series at #102 back in 1968. John Romita, Jr. jumped on board with issue #24 of this series for an Abomination story, left, and came back with #34 to team up with Jones for Return of the Monster. The Jones/Romita collaboration gives us a brilliantly executed silent story where Banner’s meditation practices and an autistic child make a deep connection.

We also get something often attempted but rarely achieved: Banner Hulks out at the most dramatic moment for maximum effect.

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Jones implicates Hulk in the murder of a young boy, which steers the plot towards crime or spy fiction interspersed with ‘day in the life’ stories where Hulk confronts normal people in troubled times. Lee Weeks joins in the artistic foray as the insidious plot thickens — and let’s not forget the stunning covers by Kaare Andrews!

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Mike Deodato draws the next Abomination story. One can scarcely imagine a better choice of artist for what follows: the dark underground recesses where a captured Abomination seethes, the stark desert landscapes where Banner finds love that threatens to destroy him, the savagery of rage and passion consuming the minds of monsters in combat.

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We are fans of the Abomination from way back in the 1970s — probably thanks to reading his sick origin from 1967’s Tales to Astonish #90 as reprinted in 1976’s Bring on the Bad Guys — but this story beats them all. He is so remorselesly evil, and the role of his wife in all this is a brilliant way to inject new life into the old monster!

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With all the grim, teeth-gritting, monster muscle-flexing freakouts, Jones and Deodato take a quiet two-page sequence that more subtly captures the evil of the Abomination. What kind of sick, twisted bastard does what happened to the Hulk to himself, on purpose, just so he can be bigger and meaner to everyone else on the planet? Emil Blonsky, scumbag scientist — that’s what kind! Let’s join him for this brief journey of malevolence across the plains.

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Deodato doesn’t finish the entire run with Jones, but he does stick around to draw hordes of nasty little beasties in the Split Decisions chapter and continues to provide stellar covers for most of the run.

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Crusher Creel: the Absorbing Man. He can absorb the properties of anything he touches. Since it’s a divine power, he can still function rather than turn into — for example — a brainless carrot or a lump of steel. Instead, he gets their properties like strength, resistance to damage, and… lots of Vitamin A?

Jones and Leandro Fernandez take us on a ride with this big, mean creep, and it has its moments, but not quite as grand as what came before. Toward the end of Jones’ run, the series exhausts its awesomeness. Iron Man and Hulk stories usually turn out well, but the crime/spy feeling of the book gives way to more “superhero” style stories.

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Perhaps Hulk got smashed by editorial decisions as Marvel rolled out their Marvel Knights imprint in 2004, or maybe Jones merely paved the way for Peter David to return to scripting Hulk. We don’t know! But we do get a resolution as to how the Hulk became a fugitive at the beginning, and Jones nicely wraps up all the plot threads. Great run!

Collectors Guide: Find it as issues #34-76 of The Incredible Hulk (1999 Series) or as the eight-volume Incredible Hulk trade paperbacks (2002-2004).

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