Thursday, January 10, 2013

Review: Fear Itself: Hulk

This Fear Itself-branded collection follows the strategy of Fear Itself: Dracula—that is, it opens with a story that ties into Marvel's Fear Itself series/event, and then fills up the rest of its page count with material having nothing at all to do with Fear Itself.

The book contains five issues of the Jeff Parker Hulk series, which at the time of publication did not actually star The Hulk (at least, not the regular, green-skinned one that Dr. Bruce Banner transforms into when he gets angry), but the red-skinned Red Hulk that General Thaddeus "Thunderbolt" Ross turned into when...when he wanted to shave his mustache...? I only read the Jeph Loeb-written Red Hulk stories before this, so obviously I don't know much about the mechanics of the Ross-to-Hulk transformations, aside from noticing that when the mustachioed Ross Hulks-out, he loses his 'stache for some reason. (As to why the series is entitled Hulk instead of Red Hulk is beyond me; you'll have to ask someone in Marvel's marketing department).
The first two of those issues tie into Fear Itself.

In Hulk #37, we see the Red Hulk vs. Hammer-ed Thing fight previously seen in Fear Itself: Avengers again, this time drawn by artist Elena Casagrande and from the point-of-view of Red Hulk antagonists MODOK and Zero/One, a character completely new to me (But who seems to be part of the ongoing Ross/Red Hulk story that Parker was telling in his title before he had to link it up with Fear Itself for a few issues).

And in Hulk #38, MODOK, Zero/One and their respective forces interact with one another and ultimately fight against Red Skull's Nazi mech forces that are marching on New York City (the title character appears only on the last page, slowly waking up after being knocked into Vermont by one tremendous blow from the possessed Thing's evil magic hammer).

The next three issues, or the remaining 3/5ths of the collection entitled Fear Itself: Hulk, have nothing at all to do with Fear Itself, but instead continue to follow Ross/Red Hulk's struggle against Zero/One and an alien menace called Omegex, who looks like the Kirby-designed Destroyer seen in the Thor movie. A couple of Watchers, War Machine, Ross' childhood and his relationship with his daughter and Bruce Banner are all involved.

It's all well-written, and, to Parker's credit, despite knowing I walked in on a story already deep in progress, it was easy enough to follow. And even having just met most of these characters, the parameters of the conflicts were easy to understand and, more importantly, appreciate. The stakes of the Hulk's battle with Omegex are incredibly high, and Parker certainly sells a sense of tension to their conflict. It's very cosmic, very superhero, but as the book reached its climax, it seemed just as likely that the Red Hulk could die as his foe could be defeated (After all, Marvel's got another, better-known Hulk they could always have star in their comic entitled Hulk, you know?).

Longtime Parker collaborator Gabriel Hardman draws the last three issues, and it's worth noting that some pains were taken either in finding in Casagrande an artist whose style is similar enough to Hardman's that the book flows quite nicely and, if you weren't paying super-close attention or reading the credits, you might not notice the change, or pains were taken by Casagrande to work in a style that so closely resembled Hardman's.

On its own merits, this is a fine superhero story, one that delivers the exact sort of thrills one might desire or even expect from a superhero story in an effective and intelligent manner. But I don't think the packaging helps...anyone, really.

If you show up for the Fear Itself, then you're probably going to be disappointed in how little this has to do with Fear Itself. And if you were following Parker's Hulk comics in their collected format, you might expect them to appear in collections with titles like, I don't know, Hulk Vol. 1, Hulk Vol. 2 and so on.
At the end of this trade, there's a two-page ad/reading list for various Hulk-related comics, I can't even begin to make sense of it. There are Hulk Vols. 1-6 listed, featuring the Red Hulk, but they're all by Jeph Loeb. There are unnumbered books seemingly starring the Red Hulk and written by Jeff Parker like Red Hulk: Scorched Earth and Hulk: Fall of the Hulks—Red Hulk, and there are Parker-written Hulk comics with no volume numbers like Hulk: Fall of The Hulks—Savage She-Hulks and Hulk: World War Hulks—Hulked-Out Heroes and then there are also comics called Incredible Hulk, Incredible Hulks, Hulk: Son of Hulk, Hulk: Skaar Son of Hulk...Guys, I just want to read Hulk comics! Why does it have to be so confusing? Why is it that even an ad explaining what Hulk comics there are by what creators is so goddam hard to make sense of...?! Can't you just, like, pick a title and stick with it? And demarcate volumes and reading order using something like, oh, I don't know, numbers...?

I'm not sure exactly when it happened, but Marvel's Hulk comic has spawned a franchise that is every bit as confusing and new reader repellent as their X-Men and Avengers franchises.


Medraut said...

I don't know why, but Ross' disappearing mustache really bugs me. Probably the only reason why it disappears seems to be that it would have been too big of a clue to the identity of the Red Hulk when his identity was still a mystery.

Aki Alaraatikka said...

Why his moustache dissapears exactly? Could it be that the process which creted Red Hulk was different from the one that creted the first Hulk? I have no idea. Haven`t read the story.

Try Comic vine, if you wanna figure out in what order to read something.

Anonymous said...

Hey, I missed something in the last few decades: didn't Ross, y'know, die? After bodyswapping with Zzzax in '87? Which was fine with me, as Ross was a bit of an intolerant arse and basically only existed to cockblock Betty & Bruce...