Since his earliest issues of the Hulk Peter David had been investigating the various aspects of Bruce Banner’s personae, and that all comes to fruition in this content. Volume 5 ended with Bruce and Betty Banner reunited, and her understanding that her love for him transcends the enormous problems of his transformations into the Hulk. “I’m like alcoholism”, sneers the grey Hulk, “You love Banner, but he’s got this huge problem that you’re stuck with.” Not for much longer, actually.

This is one great looking book. Dale Keown’s pencils, enhanced by the inking of Bob McLeod and Mark Farmer, really sparkle. He doesn’t skimp on backgrounds, but his panels never seem cluttered, and he’s obviously really enjoying himself when it comes to the Hulk letting loose. At the time Todd McFarlane was still considered the gold standard for the Hulk. Keown might not be quite as distinctive, but there’s a greater clarity about his work that transcends a few poorly drawn figures, and as was the case during the previous volume, he’s constantly improving as the book continues. Compare the earliest pages to the final ones.

David’s sense of humour is prevalent throughout from a scene of a nunnery surrounded by tanks in the cathartic opening chapter followed by a nun bawling out the commander, to the grey Hulk revelling in his absolute control of any situation by messing about. Humour had been used more sparingly in the earlier volumes, and embracing it is David integrating his own writing strengths in the same manner he treats the Hulk. David’s plots consistently fool, as he’s smart at planting clues that will lead the thoughts one way, when in fact misdirection is the order of the day. There are occasions when there’s a little too much in the way of monologuing (step forward Super-Skrull), and the reintroduction of Marlo Chandler is a coincidence too far, but the series is better for her presence. And let’s balance that against all the really good stuff. We have the Hulk literally battling against himself, the harrowing story of Bruce Banner’s childhood, and several surprises.

While everything gathered here is professional, it’s not all gold. Keown appeared to need extra time for the main story, so David wrote fill-ins for other artists. The Rhino as Santa isn’t as funny as David thinks, and Bill Jaaska’s art is variable. Both creators are better on a tale of Banner’s gamma-irradiated psychiatrist Doc Samson. It’s glum, tragic and feeds into the revelation about the Hulk that preceded it.

The previous book and the early material here dot back and forth to a variety of superhumans following Banner or discussing him, and that’s a plot resolved in the final chapters, quite neatly in fact. By the end of the book David’s created a Hulk not previously seen, the third revision of his run in case you require impressing, introduced a whole bunch of new super powered characters and taken the time to define them, and dangled a tempting offer in front of Banner. It’s a couple of hundred pages of fun. Roll on volume 7. For those who prefer, the final issues reprinted in volume 5, and the Keown illustrated material from this collection is available in hardcover as Silent Screams, part of Hachette partwork series The Ultimate Graphic Novels Collection.