“Love & Death”
Writer: Jeph Loeb
Pencils: Ed McGuinness
Inks: Dexter Vines
Colors: Guru eFX
Cover artists: Ed McGuinness (regular covers)/Arthur Adams (variant)
Editor: Mark Paniccia
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Price: $3.99 US
Jeph Loeb’s had a rough go of it as of late, critically speaking. His run on Wolverine was universally panned. The same for Ultimates 3 and Ultimatum, for the most part. While his latest efforts at Marvel have been successes on the sales charts, they’ve been creatively flawed, at best. But then again, there’s Hulk. The introduction of the Red Hulk and the excesses of this action-oriented series haven’t represented the most sophisticated in comics storytelling, but they have been undeniably entertaining. This latest story arc is incredibly contrived, unnecessarily decompressed and rather forced, truth be told, but it’s also damn cool and fun.
The Hulk learns that he’s about to be a pawn in a cosmic game, to be used for the entertainment of the Elder of the Universe known as the Grandmaster. The cosmic being promises Hulk that he’ll be reunited with his long lost love Jarella, a princess from a microscopic alien world. All the Hulk has to do is two things: select a team of warriors and lead them in a battle to the death. The Grandmaster takes the Hulk to recruit his one-time allies from the Defenders to his cause. Little does he know that the Grandmaster’s opponent has similarly empowered the Red Hulk to assemble his own team to oppose them.
McGuinness’s cartoony style and larger-than-life figures not only suit the title character incredibly well, it also suits the cosmic qualities of the plot and the appearances of stoic giants of the universe who turn up in this story. McGuinness’s plays up bombastic nature of the story perfectly with a few double-page spreads. McGuiness pays tribute to the classic efforts of such artists as Kirby and Ditko. Sure, the huge look to the art spreads the story out over more pages than is necessary, but it is pleasing to the eye. The more exaggerated expressions on the characters’ faces also make it clear that the artist’s not taking things too seriously, as he shouldn’t; the script isn’t either, and McGuinness wisely follows that cue.
Marvel offers up about 24 pages of story and art for $3.99 US; again, the publisher opts to test how much good will it has with its audience, and I don’t think it’s a wise move. Perhaps what’s most frustrating about their four-dollar comics is that there’s no consistency from one to the next. Some come with plenty of extra new story and art. Others feature reprint backup features or perhaps “behind-the-scenes” material. And then we get comics like this one, with nothing extra but the added buck on the cover price. It seems as though Marvel can’t make up its mind to which extent it wants to piss off its customers.
Loeb offers up a thoroughly accessible script here. Given that the story jumps around to different points in Marvel history, that’s important, but then again, the ridiculously simple nature of the plot isn’t exactly the most difficult concept around which to wrap one’s head. The Defenders, at different points in their lives, are called upon to fight their opposite numbers so they can be reunited with their lovers. The Elders of the Universe are walking plot devices that make the most unlikely, forced and ludicrous ideas possible, but there’s a certain 1970s charm to the cosmic characters and the crude setup for a super-hero/villain royal rumble.
Loeb decompresses this gathering-of-the-forces aspect of the story too much; it really didn’t need a full issue. By the time the writer turns his and our attention to the third hero, the pattern is painfully obvious. The script gets annoyingly repetitive, to be honest, though I must give the writer credit for his Hulk dialogue. It’s pretty funny, from start to finish.
The Offenders (what a wonderfully cheesy name for the villain team) versus the Defenders. It ain’t smart comics, but it’s fun comics. 7/10