It's a kid-friendly version of the Avengers, where no one has a secret identity, everyone on the team likes each other, Iron Man's not a fascist, and Captain America's not dead.
Need I say more?
The opening scene shows the Hulk fighting, and apparently losing, a struggle with the U-Foes. Exciting, eh?
Having hooked casual readers, the story can now actually begin. Hours before the fight, the Hulk is bouncing around the Arizona desert, enjoying a chance to cut loose with his awesome strength while being certain no one will get hurt. The Avengers, who are using surveillance technology to spy on the Hulk from their HQ in New York, are equally pleased that their friend is getting some play time in. Cap is pleased too, but also impatient: he calls the Avengers to order so that they can discuss the recent appearance of so many new supervillains. (This agendum is the subtlest of nods to the events of last issue; this book, aimed at younger readers, wisely keeps the stories self-contained.)
While the Avengers chatter, the Hulk takes a nap out in the desert, waking up hours later as Bruce Banner. Banner is annoyed, but not angry, that his alter ego has left him stranded in the desert in nothing but a pair of ragged purple pants. Having no alternative, Banner heads out into the desert on foot. (I wonder why the Avengers don't send a Quinjet to pick him up, since they know where he is. I also wonder why he isn't coming down with hypothermia: the desert gets rather cold at night, and he's got no shoes, no shirt, and his pants have seen better days. Kids, don't try this at home.)
Ignorant of his surroundings, Banner walks until he finds a pretty slick airfield. Approaching, Banner sees an emergency in progress: the men inside are tracking a private spaceflight, and the craft appears to be having difficulties. Being appropriately heroic, Banner walks in, apologizes for his appearance, and volunteers to help. The men inside are understandably wary of a half-dressed stranger appearing out of the blue, but when they recognize him as Dr. Bruce Banner, winner of "the President's Prize in experimental science," they're happy to have him on board.
What kind of science does Banner practice? Why, experimental science, of course. Radiation, spaceflight, you name it, he does it. A sour man might call this lazy writing for kids too ignorant to know better, but I call it a gentle tip of the cap to the tropes of the Silver Age.
Just what is the trouble besetting the spaceship? There's a cosmic storm coming, and unless the ship lands immediately the astronauts will be bathed in cosmic rays. What the scientists don't know is that their boss, Simon Utrecht, planned this outcome: he and his comrades fully intend to soak in cosmic rays, which they believe will give them superpowers. Banner, also ignorant of Utrecht's agenda, uses his experimental-science skills to bring the craft down prematurely. Unfortunately the damaged ship crashes rather than lands.
Making a quick call to the Avengers to ask for help, Banner and the scientists race to the crash site. Banner gets too close to the smoking ruin and is blasted aloft as the people inside the craft smash their way out. It seems Banner's interference didn't prevent the four astronauts from gaining superpowers after all: Utrecht and his friends have transformed into superhuman beings, and have renamed themselves Ironclad, X-ray, Vapor, and Vector. Those new powers are about to come in handy, because Banner, now Hulked out, bounds back to the crash site to express his displeasure at being thrown into the air. A fight breaks out.
Meanwhile the Avengers are on their way; at least Spider-Man and Iron Man are, having been the only Avengers on duty when Banner called. These two left immediately, Spider-Man clinging to the back of Shellhead's armour. Iron Man gets word that Cap and the others have just scrambled a Quinjet and are on their way, but there's no time to worry about that, because the Hulk is getting his butt kicked. Between X-ray's radiation blasts, Vapor's chlorine gas attacks, and Ironclad's fists, the Hulk is taking a beating. But the pain helps him focus: he disrupts Vapor with a gamma-powered sneeze, uses Ironclad as a human shield from X-ray's radiation, and allows Ironclad, who can increase his own mass, to get heavy enough to sink into the earth, becoming trapped there. "Now Hulk smartest one there is!"
Pride goeth before a fall. Vector's interrogation of his flunkies has revealed the Hulk's dependence on gamma rays, and armed with that information X-ray can use "anti-gamma rays" to transform Hulk back into Banner. Luckily for the hapless experimental scientist, the cavalry has arrived: Spider-man gives Vector a swift kick in the spine ("whump") and Iron Man, on Banner's suggestion, sucks most of X-ray's energy into his armour's batteries. The U-foes, staggered, regroup and prepare to battle on, but too late. With one STOMP Giant-girl brings a massive foot down on the four of them, and the battle is over.
"Three men of science," says Iron Man, looking at Banner and Spider-man, "and this is how we beat them?"
Banner, sheepishly, says "I guess some problems don't require complex solutions."
The remaining loose ends are quickly wrapped up. The lab geeks apologize to Banner for revealing his vulnerability to gamma rays, but Banner forgives them on condition they give him a second lab coat. Iron Man implies that he'd be happy to buy Utrecht International, now that its founder will be going to jail. Wolverine suggests that Utrecht's gang be called the "U-Foes," the first time that name's been used by any character. And Spider-Man reveals what the readers already knew: Utrecht's gang got its dose of cosmic rays because Utrecht planned it that way, not because of Banner's interference. Utrecht wanted superpowers because they were the only powers he didn't have.
"So why is it that those who get power by accident are the ones who work hardest to deserve it?" asks Spidey, rhetorically.
"Thanks, Spidey," replies Banner.
"Um, I was talking about me..."
As always, the book provides a satisfying, straightforward superhero romp. And, as usual for this title, this issue provides several particularly good moments:
Little touches like these elevate this book from a kids' book to a book that is truly satisfying for all ages. Marvel should wish that all of its books were this good.
Four webs. Another satisfying entry on this title. If you haven't picked this title up, I encourage you to check it out. It isn't just a good series for kids, it's a good series, period.