My retailer expressed some frustration and confusion last week when he was pulling newly released comics for his various standing accounts, and the source of his annoyance was Marvel and its Hulk comics. Until last week, there was one Hulk title: the unqualified Hulk, written by Jeph Loeb. But with the return of old numbering for Hulk comics with Incredible Hulk #600 this summer, the title pulled off a mitosis-like stunt, dividing into two separate ongoing series by different creative teams. Most of his customers interested in Hulk comics were just down for Hulk, even back when it was called Incredible Hulk (before morphing into Incredible Hercules. So ordering and filling accounts last week understandably became a bit of a headache.
I wondered, though… would reading said comics bring pain as well?
Hulk #14 (Marvel Comics)
by Jeph Loeb, Ian Churchill & Mark Farmer
While Loeb’s story about a new, malevolent Red Hulk has been far from the most cerebral comic book on the stands these days, it certainly has had its moments of sheer, over-the-top fun. Loeb’s Hulk stories have been the equivalent of some of director Michael Bay’s better big-screen efforts in that in order to enjoy it, the audience really has to shut off its brains for the duration. The same holds true of this issue, in which the Red Hulk assembles a team of anti-heroes to hunt someone who may have discovered his secret, which in turn leads to a ridiculous fight with the members of X-Force. Loeb’s plot is awkward and completely devoid of logic. It reminds me a bit of the Defenders/Offenders story arc from earlier this year, but this team-versus-team storyline doesn’t work nearly as well. Furthermore, when it comes to the mutant Domino — a key figure in this plot — Loeb doesn’t seem to pay any attention to how she’s been portrayed in the past.
What piqued my interest about this issue was the debut of a new penciller: Ian Churchill. His predecessor, Ed McGuinness, boasted a cartoony, exaggerated style that was a perfect match for Loeb’s zany, bombastic plotlines. Turning now to Churchill’s usual 1990s, Kewl style, reminiscent of the work of Rob Liefeld and Jim Lee, seemed like a misstep to me… until I saw the interior art. While Churchill’s cover boasts his usual style, the art within is completely different in tone. While it doesn’t ape McGuinness’s approach, it’s definitely in keeping with it. I can only assume that inker Mark Farmer, with whom Churchill doesn’t usually work, brought that looser, louder tone to bear here. It comes as a relief, to be honest, and the visuals were appropriate fun. Unfortunately, they’re not enough to distract from the clunkiness of Loeb’s plot. 5/10
Incredible Hulk #601 (Marvel Comics)
by Greg Pak & Ariel Olivetti/Fred van Lente & Michael Ryan
The man responsible for breathing new life into the Hulk franchise for Marvel is Greg Pak, whose “Planet Hulk” storyline, leading into World War Hulk, boosted sales on Incredible Hulk and led the character to top of sales charts for months. He returns to the core title once again, and this time, the focus is on Bruce Banner and Skaar, the Hulk’s son from an alien world. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this issue, as I had little interest in Skaar before, but Pak puts him to use in a different way. He offers up a different spin on the brains-and-brawn team that he and writer Fred van Lente offered up in Incredible Hercules, only with Banner in the Amadeus Cho role. This time around, it’s the super-smart pipsqueak who’s running the show. Bruce Banner was a Reed Richards-level force to be reckoned with in terms of super-science is a great concept. But why is this title still called Incredible Hulk, one might ask? The answer is that he’s the destination. Banner’s convinced the Hulk will eventually return (which is logical, given how many times it’s happened before), and Skaar wants his behemoth of a father dead. That common goal makes for an interesting team-up and dynamic between characters.
Pak also offers a fairly accessible introduction to the inside-out world of Bruce Banner. The script covers Skaar’s origin, World War Hulk and even the apparent eradication of gamma power from Bruce’s body. The one element that may confuse newer readers is the reference to Bruce’s relationship with his own father, touching upon a patricide plotline from Peter David’s classic run on the character years ago. Olivetti’s rich artwork is a nice fit for this subject matter. He conveys the mature, driven nature of the plot, but it’s not too dark either, capturing a sense of adventure as well.
this issue also features a backup story starring the new Savage She-Hulk, fresh from her own limited series. This isn’t the Jennifer Walters She-Hulk we’ve known for years. She’s apparently from an alternate timeline and now works for A.R.M.O.R., a military agency dedicated to stopping other-dimensional incursions into the Marvel Universe. Van Lente’s script is accessible as well; one needn’t have read the recent Savage She-Hulk limited series to follow the action here. I was at a loss, however, to understand why female versions of Hulk villains were crafted for this story and to appreciate the significance of the revelation of the man responsible pulling the strings at the end of the issue. Michael Ryan’s art serves the story well. It’s bright and dynamic, capturing the power of the various women warriors in the story. Ultimately, while the plot and the art are capable, neither really left me feeling eager to see what’s coming in the next issue. 7/10
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