By Don Alsafi. One problem we’ve previously discussed is that most of Marvel’s iconic characters – now known by more people than ever before – have been replaced with newer versions, or are otherwise unrecognizable. Tony Stark’s in a coma, Steve Rogers is effectively a Nazi, Peter Parker was a CEO, and Bruce Banner is dead. Having new characters take up the mantle when occasionally required is a time-honored tradition in comics, and certain changes – like the current Jane Foster version of Thor – have been very well received indeed.

But Marvel’s diminishing sales in recent years may have finally clued them into the idea that making all of these changes at the exact same time might have been nothing short of reckless. Thus, this fall will see the kickoff of Marvel Legacy, the name given to Marvel’s linewide relaunch, and which is rumored to return many of these primary heroes back to the fold.

In the meantime, August and September is set to bring us a series of ten one-shots with the umbrella title of Generations, each one pairing up one of Marvel’s classic heroes with the hero currently inhabiting the title, or otherwise descended from them. It’s a chance to see the old and the new working together. And the first one is out this week!

Cover to 'Generations: Banner Hulk and the Totally Awesome Hulk' #1. Art by Jorge Molina/Marvel ComicsGenerations: Banner Hulk and the Totally Awesome Hulk #1

Written by Greg Pak.

Art by Matteo Buffagni.

Colors by Dono Sanchez-Almara.

Letters by VC’s Cory Petit.

Great writing, great art – not always at once. When putting out a series of one-shots starring different characters from separate stories, it’s very easy for such an enterprise to feel inconsequential or meaningless. So it was a smart move on Marvel’s part to have every one of their Generations titles written by someone either currently penning the character’s series, or having once enjoyed a fondly remembered run with them.

In this case, as it turns out, it’s both. Greg Pak wrote a fascinating run on The Incredible Hulk that gave us both the “Planet Hulk” and “World War Hulk” storylines, and he’s currently penning the adventures of The Totally Awesome Hulk featuring boy genius Amadeus Cho – a character he created shortly before “WWH”. He’s joined on art by Matteo Buffagni, an Italian artist whose impressive work here is somewhat reminiscent of the moody illustrations of Jae Lee. (This is only heightened by the dark, somber colors of Dono Sanchez-Almara.)

Strangely, while the writing and art are both top-notch on their own, there is occasionally a bit of a disconnect between the two. At one point, a dialogue balloon indicates a woman screaming as a crowd of people flee the devastation going on around them… except that the art shows her walking away at no more than a brisk pace, seeming mostly unperturbed. It’s also strange seeing Cho and Banner standing next to each other when they’re not “Hulked out”; in his early appearances Amadeus was always portrayed as a slight, sprightly kid, but here you’d be hard pressed to tell from the art that one is a young 19-year-old and the other a fully-grown adult.

Cover to 'Generations: Banner Hulk and the Totally Awesome Hulk' #1. Art by Matteo Buffagni and Dono Sanchez-Almara/Marvel Comics

Cover to ‘Generations: Banner Hulk and the Totally Awesome Hulk’ #1. Art by Matteo Buffagni and Dono Sanchez-Almara/Marvel Comics

Lost without a map? When Generations was announced, all we knew was that the one-shots would pair a classic hero with their current version. What we didn’t know was how. Sadly, this comic doesn’t even remotely answer the question.

The story opens with Cho appearing out of nowhere and encountering the Bruce Banner Hulk in his early years, when he was constantly on the run and hounded by the US Army. Bafflingly, the reason or mechanism for this time-displaced meeting isn’t even hinted at!

The press for this mini-event alluded to these meetings occurring at a placed called The Vanishing Point. But its only mention in the comic itself is on the recap page, in a confusing intro seemingly scrawled by a hyperactive ten-year-old, or perhaps a marketing department which has lost all its writers: “An instant apart! A moment beyond! Loosed from the shackles of past, present, future – a place where time has no meaning! But where true insight can be gained! Make your choice! Select your destination! This journey is a gift…” (So many words, and it doesn’t tell you a damn thing.)

So then… where does this take place? Does everything in the comic occur in some timeless nowhere, like the intro (maybe) implies? Or has Amadeus Cho been transported to the past, as the story proper seems to strongly indicate? And if so, why? How? The story’s utter lack of interest in even raising these questions is bewildering.

It’s possible that this is an unfortunate side effect of the series’ odd format as ten unconnected one-shots rather than a sequential, ten-part storyline. The obvious benefit to this approach is that the reader isn’t unduly pressured to buy all ten parts; if you’re a fan of only half the characters, you can feel free to buy those and leave the rest. But perhaps this series needed a prelude issue to set the stage, to clue readers in on why heroes are mysteriously popping in and out again – and maybe an epilogue, once done, to show what it was all for. Because if the other one-shots are going to be equally light on the particulars, they might end up – like this issue – feeling somewhat insubstantial.

Cover to 'Generations: Banner Hulk and the Totally Awesome Hulk' #1. Art by Matteo Buffagni and Dono Sanchez-Almara/Marvel Comics

Cover to ‘Generations: Banner Hulk and the Totally Awesome Hulk’ #1. Art by Matteo Buffagni and Dono Sanchez-Almara/Marvel Comics

The Awesome and the Angry. What’s so strange, and so frustrating, about this comic failing to provide any context is that it’s otherwise a well-done story showcasing two heroes who are similar, and yet also clearly in contrast. Greg Pak delves wonderfully into the psyches of these two characters, and impressively unpacks Banner’s childhood traumas in just a couple of pages. (This, by the way, is right after we’re shown the dehumanizing toll that constantly living on the run is taking on him.) What’s more, there’s a plot development in the third act that’s delightfully bonkers.

And yet near the end there’s another odd turn as Banner Hulk – who in the entirety of the issue seemed like the unintelligent, “Hulk smash!” version of the character – suddenly speaks to Cho in full, thoughtful, and darkly introspective sentences. It’s such a sudden turn that it again reinforces the notion that this all might be a dream – but it’s so underplayed that we can’t really tell if that’s the intended effect or not.

Variant cover to 'Generations: Banner Hulk and the Totally Awesome Hulk' #1. Art by Dale Keown and Jason Keith/Marvel Comics

Variant cover to ‘Generations: Banner Hulk and the Totally Awesome Hulk’ #1. Art by Dale Keown and Jason Keith/Marvel Comics

What just happened here? As the story comes to a close, Amadeus Cho finds himself being transported away as mysteriously as he arrived. We never find out whether he was truly transported back in time, or what. And there’s no indication as to where the answers might be found! (A final page ad simply directs readers to September’s return of The Incredible Hulk.)

Featuring iconic characters long since absent, Generations seems designed to be a teaser for Marvel’s relaunch next month. But by the end of this debut effort, I’m left just… kind of confused. Entertained, maybe, but also wondering just where this story came from, and what exactly was the point.

If this really is a precursor to Marvel Legacy, it’s not the most inspiring indicator of what’s to come.

7 out of 10

What did you think of ‘Generations: Banner Hulk and the Totally Awesome Hulk’ #1? Sound off in the comments section below.