On impulse, I decided to comb through the racks of discount graphic novels at Midtown Comics one afternoon. I was in the mood for something older, something that reminded me why I fell in love with comics in the first place. They didn't have much, but they did have an older trade paperback of Incredible Hulk issues that caught my eye. As a big fan of Peter David's work on X-Factor and of the author in general, it's hard to believe I haven't read a lot of his 11+ years that he spent writing The Incredible Hulk. I decided, what the hey? It was worth a shot. The Hulk is never my first choice for comics, red or otherwise, but I figured David's work would be strong. He also wrote an introduction and a conclusion for the book which was a nice touch.
This volume jumps around a lot. So much so that it's hard for me to sum it up in a few paragraphs. This was published in the '90s before trade paperbacks really told a coherent story, so it's more of a 'best of' collection of Betty Ross's relationship with Bruce Banner/the Hulk. It tells the origin of The Hulk, which is nice for first-time readers. This is mainly because the first issue is where Bruce and Betty meet. It then goes into a story where Betty is already a gamma-inspired villainous called the Harpy with really no explanation as to how she got that way. If such things don't bother you (I'll admit, it didn't bother me as much as you might think) then just go with it. Don't know why the Harpy story really made it into the collection, other than it's referenced in the very last issue as a throwaway line in the last issue and Bruce cures her while she is the Harpy, I guess proving his love or whatever.
The idea of following an epic love of two characters sounds like a good idea on paper, but so many different things have happened to The Hulk over the years that it means whatever stage of transformations he's in is going to be hard to follow. For instance, The Hulk is the grey Hulk by the time you get to the McFarlene-drawn story (don't get excited about that, it's definitely not his best work) you kind of wish you knew more about what happened in the in-between periods. The last story I reviewed, Spider-Man: The Birth of Venom did have little prose pieces in between the reprinted issues to tell you something like, "Peter Parker broke up with Felicia Hardy; he then marries Mary Jane." Stuff that would obviously good to read, but doesn't really directly relate to oh, say the aforementioned birth of Venom. I think it's kind of integral to know what's going on with The Hulk to better understand the story here, as Peter David's storyline for the character just made him too dynamic to read snippets of.
This collection is not in-print anymore, which I'm not actually going to lose sleep over. The earlier stories, including the Hulk's origin and the Harpy tale, are not written by Peter David. The art is also all over the place, and it prevents the volume from that cohesive feeling I think you're supposed to get from reading a collected work. I think it was good to read these stories and have them stored away in my vast knowledge of comic book history, but reading some of the now-published Essential collections might give a reader a better conception of The Hulk's story overall. The cover is also epically horrible. While Bruce's relationship with Betty is obviously integral to his story as a whole, it's really not enough to base a collection on. That's why this trade paperback just doesn't hold up.