What makes a defining moment so defining in comics has little to do with the immediate impact it has on a story. That impact may be intense and memorable by every objective measure, but it’s often just a prelude to the much larger conflicts that it inspires. Whether it’s Doomsday killing Superman, the Joker crippling Barbara Gordon, or Tony Stark taking his first shot of tequila, these moments only become defining when that larger conflict takes shape.
Without question, the death of Bruce Banner is the defining moment for Civil War II. The impact of this moment creates the catalyst for the real meat of the story. After this moment, the lines are drawn, the divisions are set, and the hearts of Marvel’s greatest heroes are pulled in opposite directions. It’s the last straw for Tony Stark. It’s that painful moment of clarity that only admitted alcoholics can appreciate.
There’s no question that the death of the Hulk lit the match that ignited the powder keg that is Civil War II. However, in the midst of this raging inferno, it’s easy to overlook the personal impact of the Hulk’s death. Bruce Banner dies surrounded by friends and former teammates who knew him as more than just the oversized brute with anger-management issues.
That sentiment is understandably sidelined by the larger conflict in Civil War II, but Greg Pak and Mark Bagley attempt to explore that sentiment in Civil War II: The Fallen #1. That sentiment proves vital to delivering the dramatic impact of the Bruce Banner’s death. It takes a step back from the legal, philosophical, and ethical debate surrounding proactive punishment and focuses solely on the emotions surrounding those closest to Hulk and Bruce Banner. There’s nothing that’ll overwhelm a message board here. There’s just raw, genuine drama surrounding the death of a beloved friend.
There are no monster battles. There are no alien invasions. There are no homages to Bill Bixby walking solemnly down a highway. Civil War II: The Fallen #1 deals solely with the reactions among Bruce Banner’s friends and family. Those reactions are not divorced from the larger context of Civil War II, but they are secondary. The primary focused here is the mixed legacy the Hulk leaves behind.
The bitter part of that mixture plays out at Bruce Banner’s funeral. Whereas Bruce’s friends and fellow heroes are on hand to honor his memory, there are plenty of protesters as well who still condemn the Hulk in death. This is an important context to include because it highlights the unique dimensions of the Hulk. It’s a big part of what makes him unique among heroes. Plenty of heroes have green skin and big muscles. Few deal with the kinds of complications that the Hulk deals with, even when he isn’t angry.
It’s easy to forget that the Hulk’s rampages can be pretty destructive. Given the enemies he deals with, his battles incur more collateral damage than most. In a world that includes shape-shifting aliens, uncontrollable mutant powers, and a helicarrier that crashes every other week, that’s saying something. Unlike those destructive elements though, the Hulk is a singular face upon which people can focus their blame. As any minority (real or fictional) can attest, it doesn’t take much blame to inspire outrage.
Despite this outrage, Bruce Banner spends his life trying to make the Hulk a force for good. Those are the efforts that his friends and family honor. Throughout Civil War II: The Fallen #1, the darker parts of his legacy aren’t ignored. Instead, they are seen in context, which isn’t easy to do with a rampaging monster. It’s a testament to Banner’s efforts and it nicely highlights the sentiment of every character involved.
However, the funeral of Bruce Banner isn’t what gives Civil War II: The Fallen #1 the bulk of its dramatic weight. It’s the living will that Bruce shares with his friends and family after death that evoke the most emotion. It doesn’t just involve his assets, his work, or his acknowledgement that his anger management skills had room for improvement. It involves creating a legacy that appropriately embodies the impact of the Hulk. Naturally, it has to do with anger.
It all comes back to anger and how to deal with it. For most people, including Hulk’s own friends and family, dealing with anger doesn’t result in the same consequences or collateral damage as him. As a result, he has to work harder than most. That means he has to master anger management techniques that cannot be found in self-help books or overpriced seminars. His efforts to share this mastery, as imperfect it may be, acts as his greatest legacy as the Hulk.
It’s fitting in so many ways. How many problems in the real world and comic book world could be solved if people just managed their anger better? How many battles would that avoid? How many buildings would go un-smashed? It’s the best legacy that Bruce Banner could’ve left. However, it resonates with some more than others.
As fitting and heartfelt as Bruce Banner’s final testament may be, there are those who need more than better anger management skills. Amadeus Cho, whom Pak is developing in Totally Awesome Hulk, doesn’t take time to grieve, like so many of Hulk’s friends. For him, the sentiment in Civil War II: The Fallen #1 is hollow at best. He sees what happened to Bruce Banner as an injustice and that just makes him too angry.
Cho’s reaction, as well as the reaction of others like General Ross, are somewhat muted at times. There are some inconsistencies in the narrative and with certain characterizations, but the underlying sentiment is spot on. The tone in Civil War II: The Fallen #1 is solemn, but appropriate. Pak and Bagley craft a fitting, heartfelt sendoff to the Green Goliath. For once, anger takes a back seat to a Hulk story and it works, creating far less collateral damage in the process.