Since the conclusion of World War Hulk, the green giant has had a lot of attention, if only through a kind of diffused focus.
Divorced from his ongoing series, renamed Incredible Hercules, and reduced to a co-star in the new Hulk title, Bruce Banner was becoming a bit of an also-ran character. One of the boldest of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s creations, the Hulk is a monster comic mixed with the super-heroic element as only Marvel could produce. The moniker ‘heroes with problems’ may suit Spider-Man and the X-Men, but the Hulk is a walking/talking problem, the embodiment of the wimpy Banner’s innermost rage. Impervious to harm and stronger than any living being, the Hulk’s only wish was to be alone, something he could never have.
In Fall of the Hulks/World War Hulks, a new mysterious red-hued Hulk emerged and killed the Abomination, clocked the Watcher and defeated both Thor and the green Hulk, leaving Banner finally free of his curse. Finding himself no longer threatened by his baser feelings, readers got to see a darker, more manipulative and cunning side to Banner as he plotted and schemed his way to foiling his ultimate foe the Leader’s plan for world domination. The story spanned two monthly comics and multiple mini-series with several hits and misses culminating in not one but two finales, reviewed below.
I am very late to the party on these reviews, in fact there are two great reviews that can be found at Gary Miler’s Blog and at Ratchet’s Site. I blame the Marvel Comics subscription service for the tardiness in my 2 cent review, but I can live with the issues being late as all things considered I ended up paying under $2 a piece for them.
Greg Pak is a genius. The man behind Planet Hulk, the series that revived the ailing monthly Hulk title, Pak has a unique grasp on what makes the Hulk comic tick; a combination of melodrama and action. The creation of the Hulk’s son Skaar- a younger version of the Hulk raised by monsters living in the wreckage of the planet Sakaar- was an added bonus to the Planet Hulk saga. Placing Skaar on Earth where he would hunt down his father whom he vowed a murderous revenge on was also clever… teaming Skaar up with Banner who decided to train his son to take down the Hulk when he inevitably returned was a hat trick of comics. Wrapping it all up is a mixed bag.
The past year has seen the revival of the Incredible Hulk as a comic focused on the relationship between Bruce Banner and his angry son Skaar as the two prepare for the return of the Hulk, a creature that both want dead. In the meantime, Banner has battled the plotting of the Intelligencia, a group of super-intelligent super villains, led by Banner’s ultimate foe, the Leader. The Leader’s scheme ends up taking a back seat as soon as the Hulk returns and the battle between father and son ensues.
I like the idea of the Skaar and Banner having a complicated relationship, but the fact that overly complicated Intelligencia story line takes a backseat to their fight seems somewhat strange to me. Also, the re-introduction of Banner’s history as an abused child was not very well conveyed. Depicting Banner’s father as a frothing beast attacking his mother and young Bruce is far too close to an excuse for the Hulk’s existence for me. Including a real-life issue as evocative as child abuse is a risky thing. If it is handled too lightly, it comes off as juvenile – if it is handled too strongly it comes off as pandering or as social commentary masked in a super hero book. For both reasons I feel it has no place in the Hulk.
Speaking for myself, I prefer to view the Hulk as an embodiment of the rage and destructive capabilities inside all of us, regardless of one’s status as a survivor if abuse. Bringing up Bruce’s history of abuse from his father also forces the relationship between Skaar and Bruce to mirror that of Bruce and his own father whom he views as a kind of proto-Hulk, unless I mis-understood the metaphor.
In any case, that element of this issue which gripped most other readers as emotive and touching left me feeling a bit awkward. I still enjoyed the comic and clamor along with others that it puts a wonderful cap on one story and prepares for the beginning of the next, I just wish that they had left the abused child bit out of the issue as it didn’t work for me. I’m not exactly sold on the Hulk family element that Pak seems to be developing with Betty Ross as the mother figure Red She-Hulk and Skaar as the unruly son because I just can’t see Bruce Banner/The Hulk as a father figure. Seeing as how the Hulk only ever wanted to be alone, I find it hard to believe that he is a family man… which may very well be Pak’s point, but I’m still not on the band wagon yet.
Perhaps after the new Incredible Hulks series proves me wrong I’ll feel better about this one. As it is, it was an awkward if well-written conclusion. Maybe I just need to read it again in a few months. I have yet to be disappointed by Greg Pak on the Hulk, so I’m sure this issue will improve with age.
Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuiness are old hands at collaboration. The two have tackled several icons, most notably Superman/Batman and now the Hulk. While I have enjoyed much of Loeb’s previous work, it was McGuiness’ art that sold me on the new Red Hulk ongoing series. Overblown with near comical feats of violence and destruction, I was never sure if it was the worst or best comic I had ever read but it certainly looked impressive.
The secondary conclusion of the Fall of the Hulks/World War Hulks story concerns the final battle between a newly gamma-irradiated Banner and the Red Hulk, now revealed to be General Ross. For even the casual reader, the relationship between Ross and Banner is self-evident. Even so, Loeb felt the need to devote an entire issue mapping out the path that led Ross to allying himself with the Leader to take over the country. Ross eventually decided to turn against the Intelligencia and briefly partnered with Banner to take them down… which was another in a series of logical leaps that Loeb asked readers to take.
But honestly… after depicting the Red Hulk knocking out the Watcher, how do you judge what is over-the-top?
The obsession with the mystery of ‘who is the Red Hulk’ has always struck me a a bad idea, particularly as the first time the character used the phrase milksop I had him pegged to rights. It would have been far more interesting to delve into the General Ross as a collaborator of the Leader’s and a tool of the Intelligencia gone rogue rather than trying to be coy by leaving out details that would later have be put into place.
The 24th issue of Hulk sees the Red Hulk destroying a Life Model Decoy of Major Talbot in the White House (which makes about as little sense if you are reading this fact for the first time as it would if you had been reading the story from the start) before he is attacked by Banner who is recently, and proudly, the Hulk again. The rest of the issue is just fisticuffs and internal monologues ending with the Red Hulk incarcerated and drafted into the Avengers for a very convoluted reason.
The color-coded internal narrative device that Loeb seems to enjoy so much has always completely failed for me. Pairing this device with an already overly complicated plot is a marriage of bad ideas. However, the artwork is simply stunning. The Hulk for me has always been about mad scientist master plans and enormous battles as the Hulk gets madder and madder and the devastation grows and grows. Therefore, this issue worked for me (barring the narratives and nonsensical plot that are best left ignored), perhaps moreso than Pak’s concluding issue.
I realize that preferring Hulk #24 to Incredible Hulk #611 is definitely not a a popular view and I admit that Loeb’s issue is definitely not written well, but it delivers a knock-out fight thanks to the excellent artwork by McGuinness. If that makes me a bad person, so be it. The action was simply better in the Loeb issue and the angst was not as overbearing for me as a reader. I may change my mind as the forthcoming issues further develop the seeds planted in these issues, but for now I prefer the blockbuster brawl.
The Fall of the Hulks/World War Hulks story has been a rambling mess of plotting that is almost impossible to follow. Strangely, the more crossovers and spin-offs I read, the less I understood. For that reason alone I am glad that it is over. Next month Jeff Parker takes over the Hulk series with Gabriel Hardman on art chores which is a dream come true, no matter what color the main character is, red or green.