Hulk Vs. Thor: Banner of War Alpha #1 first impressions: “Understands what has always made these characters fun”

The Marvel match-up of the year is here. On May 10, the House of Ideas releases Hulk Vs. Thor: Banner of War Alpha #1, the first chapter of the five-part ‘Banner of War’ crossover featuring the latest mano a mano showdown between Avengers powerhouses Hulk and Thor. But just why are they fighting? And does the series do justice to the epic collision between these two titans? Read on to find out.

Banner of War Alpha #1 is drawn by Martin Coccolo, written by Donny Cates, colored by Matt Wilson, and lettered by Joe Sabino. It picks up where the Hulk and Thor series (both written by Cates) left off, with Thor as reluctant King of Asgard and Hulk under complete control of Bruce Banner, who “pilots” him much like a suit of armor. Recently, Banner used the Hulk’s body to flee Earth, where he is wanted for the murder of seventeen people in El Paso. The story begins when Thor is notified of Hulk/Banner’s location and decides to pursue it.

Hulk Vs. Thor: Banner of War Alpha #1 credits

Hulk vs. Thor: Banner of War #1

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

Written by Donny Cates
Art by Martin Coccolo
Coloring by Matt Wilson
Lettering by Joe Sabino
Published by Marvel Comics
‘Rama Rating:  6/10

Banner of War Alpha #1 is drawn by Martin Coccolo, written by Donny Cates, colored by Matt Wilson, and lettered by Joe Sabino. It picks up where the Hulk and Thor series (both written by Cates) left off, with Thor as reluctant King of Asgard and Hulk under complete control of Bruce Banner, who “pilots” him much like a suit of armor. Recently, Banner used the Hulk’s body to flee Earth, where he is wanted for the murder of seventeen people in El Paso. The story begins when Thor is notified of Hulk/Banner’s location and decides to pursue it.

Of course, this is not the first time Hulk and Thor have fought. The two champions have been rivals for almost all of their respective six-decade histories, so ‘Banner of War’ has a lot to live up to in terms of making a memorable battle. Fortunately, artist Martin Coccolo understands the assignment perfectly, creating a galaxy-spanning smash-em-up so packed full of action it seems to spill off the page. 

Like every issue of ‘Banner of War,’ Alpha #1 is an oversized comic, and Coccolo earns it.

Notable sequences include a planet full of cartoon characters, a blockbuster flashback of all of Hulk and Thor’s best battles, and a splash page straight out of a Marvel Vs. Capcom-style fighting game. Of the many things that will draw fans to this comic, seeing the Green Giant and Thunder God duke it out is certainly the biggest, and Coccolo’s work does that fight justice. 

Hulk Vs. Thor: Banner of War Alpha #1

two-page spread from Hulk Vs. Thor: Banner of War Alpha #1 (Image credit: Marvel Comics)

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However, fans that are drawn to the comic for the fight might be a bit surprised by the combatants they meet there. Cates has taken a big swing with the characterization of our leads, creating a darker, more world-weary Thor and a Hulk who’s more machine than monster. And while Cates has always found new paths for characters, Banner of War Alpha doesn’t feel like a natural step for either hero.

For example, the Thor we meet at the beginning of the issue is pensive. But when Hulk/Banner claims his innocence in the El Paso murders, Thor doesn’t stop for a second to hear him out. Banner, too, is fighting for reasons that are a bit unclear, especially since the comic sets him up as trying to flee from the Avengers, not engage them. What Cates excels at writing, however, is a fight scene. And since this comic is a cosmic cage match above all things, the character flaps really don’t take away from this extremely fun, galaxy-spanning action book. 

And speaking of spanning the galaxy, Matt Wilson’s colors cement this book’s status as a planet-hopping thrill ride. Wilson goes hard in creating bright, neon landscapes for Thor and Hulk’s battles, but doesn’t forget to make them feel like distinct, alien worlds.

a page from Hulk Vs. Thor: Banner of War Alpha #1

a page from Hulk Vs. Thor: Banner of War Alpha #1 (Image credit: Marvel Comics)

A great example of this comes from the aforementioned “cartoon planet,” where Wilson uses light blues, pinks, and yellows to paint the environment. However, when things start to get violent, Wilson avoids the obvious choice of painting the scenery red and instead doubles down on the planet’s Easter colors, deepening the purple sky to look more dangerous. Can you remember the last time a comic used pastels to create carnage? Even if you can, it’s doubtful it was done as well as Wilson does it.

Finally, guiding us through this starry skirmish are the letters of Joe Sabino, who does an excellent job packing a lot of dialogue onto the pages. Don’t get us wrong – Banner of War Alpha is not overly wordy. In fact, the dialogue between Banner and his mental version of ex Betty Ross, and between Thor and his father Odin’s spirit, move along both the plot and the characters of this book – they’re kind of like the “Mickeys” to the two title characters. Still, there’s a lot they have to say to their respective “Rockys,” and a person less talented than Sabino might have let that clog up the page and distract from the action. 

Action is, after all, the purpose and engine of this series, and Banner of War Alpha #1 proves the creative team can deliver. While it has its flaws, the oversized comic begins an adventure that will utilize Hulk and Thor the same way Jack Kirby did when he created them 60 years ago – as modern-day Herculeses, accomplishing feats of strength no mere mortal could. However the story goes, and whoever ends up winning, Banner of War understands what has always made these characters fun.

Though it might be the biggest Marvel match-up this year, Hulk Vs. Thor is hardly the first. Check out Newsarama’s history of Marvel heroes going toe-to-toe here.

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