Hulk 18 – 23
Incredible Hulk 606 – 611
Red Hulk 1 – 4
Savage She-Hulks 1 – 3
World War Hulks 1
Hulked Out Heroes 1 - 2
Two ongoing titles featuring two separate leads running two separate story threads by two separate creative teams get tied together in two cross overs, Fall of the Hulks and World War Hulks. I don’t think it’s entirely unfair to say that when Jeff Loeb’s Hulk and Greg Pak’s Skaar Son of Hulk comics started, apart from the obvious overlap in the titles names, they were separate in every other sense. Reading eighteen months worth of these comics inside a short space of time it feels as if somebody, maybe editorial, continually adjusted the parameters everyone was working to so that they had no choice but to acknowledge each others existence and find a way of living together.
The two big stories lead into each other and are essentially one. In it, we learn that Hulk’s number one enemy, The Leader, is part of a society of Marvel’s brainiest super villains called The Intelligentsia whose members include Doctor Doom, MODOK and The Mad Thinker. They plan to ‘save’ the world (take over the world) by abducting the eight smartest superheroes (not ‘people’, as they claim, otherwise they would have gone after Stephen Hawking and Noam Chomsky) and steal their brain processing powers. Part of their plan involves them taking over The White House by attacking it with two hundred Hulkified soldiers which, thanks to the testing process leading up to the big day, is what led to the creation of the Red Hulk and She-Hulk. It’s a totally crazy, larger than life, super monster story that, at least, should be admired for its willingness to embrace complete lunacy.
Firstly, trying to read the individual comics and experience the narrative as intended was very difficult. Each issue features a checklist at the back indicating what comics were published when and suggesting which order they should be read in but the iconography used on the story-so-far openings implies a different order. The result was that whatever way I read the story, and I adjusted my method two or three times throughout, the impact of a revelation was constantly being undermined by it being referred to before elsewhere. I have often found cross-overs to be unsatisfying but I am surprised that one that runs over just two regular titles, the occasional one-off and mini-serial couldn’t be coordinated better. On the plus side, everyone involved seemed to do a good job of retro-rationalising events from when they worked independently of each other. Admittedly, the rationale is often daft but it at least keeps within its own internal logics.
The disconcerted effect of reading the story, it reminded me of being four years old and sliding around the kitchen in my father’s giant shoes, is added to further by the adhoc spin-off specials and serials. Jeff Parker writes a couple of these, Red Hulk and Savage She-Hulks, both of which fit as well into Loeb and Pak’s narratives as their comics do. Parker’s stories work like DVD extras, virtually inaccessible without the main event, which is a shame because of the three writers, he’s normally the more preferable. His two-part Hulked Out Heroes was very disappointing. In it, a Hulk version of Deadpool flits around the timelines in search of an earlier version of himself to murder. Instead of encountering real historical figures he instead involves himself in earlier Marvel mythologies. It’s a Marvel Comics contrivance these days that every science fiction idea has to be shoe-horned into its own chronology instead of the raw premise being explored to its satisfaction.
Pak’s stories feature all of the power that I’ve grown to expect from his Hulk adventures but seemed to lack some of the intensity of his Planet Hulk. Ironically, Loeb’s issues seemed brighter, as if Pak was the giver and Loeb the taker away. Fundamentally, though, the dumb remains with the dead Betty Ross revealed as the Red She-Hulk, General Ross as the Red Hulk and all plot contradictions dismissed as being down to LMDs (Life Model Decoys or robots). At least the General Ross revelation answers the lifelong question, what happens if you grow a moustache before turning into the Hulk?
The art ranged from the downbeat to the special-effects driven but all of it looked impressive to me. Paul Pelletier’s fight scenes on The Incredible Hulk issues has the impact of a motorway collision while Ed McGuiness on Hulk benefits from not having to reference Marvel comics from decades earlier too much. I want to give a special mention to Salvador Espin whose more cartoony work on Savage She-Hulks looks energetic and fresh amongst all of the mayhem.
As for the budgetary stats; Well, I’ve lost track a little. The bulk of them I got for 50p or less. There were literally only four holes I had to plug at full price, £2.60 each. These comics are good pop-fun and, for what I paid for them over all, good value for money.