With Marvel’s popular and successful foray into films with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’ve finally decided to get back into comics. I grew up a big fan of X-Men and other superheroes but haven’t really kept up since the 90s. Thus begins my grand catching-up of the last ten years of Marvel comics, events and stories.
Thanks in large part to trade paperbacks and the digital convenience of Marvel Unlimited I can make relatively quick progress, and I’ll write down my Final Thoughts for each collection here on my blog. Like my gaming Final Thoughts, this will be full of spoilers. You’ve been warned!
Artists: Ed McGuinness, Frank Cho
Issues: Hulk #1-12, King-Size Hulk #1, Incredible Hulk #600
I would imagine that most people in the world are familiar with the Hulk – he’s big, he’s green, he likes to smash. Up until I began reading Incredible Hulk (Vol. 3) beginning at issue #88, that’s all I really knew of him too. Planet Hulk changed my perceptions completely and me a huge fan of the big guy. As short and mildly disappointing as World War Hulk was, it still felt like a nice action-packed epilogue to those events.
Hulk is finally defeated and imprisoned after World War Hulk, and his Incredible Hulk series actually segues into Incredible Hercules (which I’m reading and surprisingly enjoying). But there must always be a Hulk comic, and an adjective-less Hulk series was born in early 2008 starring a new, vicious Red Hulk that was all villain. Though poorly written and brightly drawn, Red Hulk is a fun foil and adversary for our green anti-hero.
The initial hook of this new Red Hulk is who the hell is he? I already know seeing as this comic is seven years old and that cat’s out of the bag by now, but interestingly they keep it a hidden secret throughout this first collected volume, teasing (and eventually discrediting) that it’s Rick Jones or Doc Samson.
Red Hulk enters the scene in an action-packed manner that sets the tone for the entire series. Following a mysterious investigation over the murder of former Hulk villain Abomination, He crashes in on Iron Man and She-Hulk aboard a helicarrier, swiftly defeating them both. He then proceeds to kick the crap out of another new Hulk-type creature A-Bomb (the newly Hulkified Rick Jones) before Bruce Banner escapes from his prison facility and the fight we’ve all been waiting for is unleashed.
Hulk and Red Hulk spend an entire issue fighting, and the dialogue is about as scintillating as you can imagine. I did enjoy how much of a straight-up asshole Red Hulk is, constantly taunting and making lewd remarks like a schoolyard bully. Rulk, as he’s referred to by many other characters, gets the upper hand. Then Thor shows up and the two of them fight for the entire next issue.
The plot of the initial story arc (#1-6) is very much just one battle after another, with Red Hulk showing off his immense power and talkative personality. The combination of Thor and Hulk together finally defeats Red Hulk, at least momentarily. At some point the Mighty Avengers show up to help with clean up duty (poor San Francisco). The mystery of Red Hulk’s identity remains present but everything takes a backseat to the rough and tumble fight scenes. The battles are fun but the art is extremely bright and exaggerated, reminding me a lot of glossy 90s comics, which is not a compliment.
The next story arc (#7-9) attempts to tell two parallel stories – the Hulk fighting off Wendigos in Las Vegas (along with some other heroes) and Red Hulk fending off She-Hulk’s revenge as she gathers her own little army to take him down. The stories aren’t intertwined at all; the comic is simply divided with the first half going to Hulk.
Bruce Banner arrives in Las Vegas only to witness a sudden outbreak of Wendigos, those not-so-friendly flesh-eating werewolf type creatures from Canada. At the same time Ms. Marvel, the Sentry, and Moon Knight show up to join in the fray, and though they first begin battling (as comic book characters often do) they soon join forces to take down the rampaging monsters. It’s a fun if ultimately forgettable little romp.
Meanwhile She-Hulk is super pissed from her beatdown she got earlier in the series and wants to take down Red Hulk personally. She gathers an odd team of Thundara and Valkyrie and they all get their assess kicked until the rest of She-Hulk’s contacts arrive – just about all the other major women in the Marvelverse including Storm, Invisible Woman, and Black Widow. With their combined powers they are able to temporarily take Red Hulk, only for him to swiftly escape. If you haven’t learned by now, Red Hulk is ridiculously powerful.
The final arc takes the over-the-top silliness of the series to extremes as Grandmaster plucks Hulk along with various other powerful heroes from across time and space to battle each other for no real reason. Hulk, Namor, Dr. Strange, and Silver Surfer briefly battle the likes of Red Hulk, Tiger Shark, Baron Mordo, and Terrax.
It’s all incredibly stupid. At one point Red Hulk goes around and pretty much kicks everyone’s ass, including somehow absorbing Silver Surfer’s cosmic energy and riding his surfboard – c’mon! Villain’s are fun because of their motivations, their relationships with their heroes, and their personalities – rarely it’s based purely on raw strength and power.
The King-Size Hulk issue helps fill in a few blanks in the series, like where the Wendigo’s came from and why She-Hulk formed a team of “Lady Liberators.” None of it is important or even all that interesting. Incredible Hulk #600 technically kicks off the new Incredible Hulk series (Incredible Hulks in Marvel Unlimited) that launches out of this one in 2009. If you ever wanted an exercise in horribly confusing name changes and comic numbering, look squarely at Hulk around this time period.
Up until that last story arc I was generally on board with Hulk as a simple, glossy, beat ’em up comic series, but that last bit involving Galactus and a bunch of silly nonsense really irked me. Still, Hulk would continue on for nearly 60 issues into 2012, so clearly it either finds its footing, or people really enjoy seeing this mega-powered asshole continue to kick ass in random fight scenes. It does refreshingly stay mostly out of the greater Marvel continuity, which is mired in the events of Secret Invasion and Dark Reign during this time. I’ll stick with it for now, though its emphasis on pretty pictures and big action sequences with little substance may make it the Michael Bay of comic series.