Friday, March 6, 2015

Waiting for the Trade - Hulk


Waiting for the Trade

Fall of the Hulks: Prelude
Written by Jeph Loeb, Greg Pak, Jeff Parker and Fred Van Lente. Illustrated by Ed McGuinness,
            Ron Garney, Mitch Breitweiser, Dan Panosian, Michael Ryan and Peter Vale.
Collects Hulk#2 and 16, Son of Hulk #1, Hulk: Raging Thunder, Planet Skaar Prologue, All-New Savage She-Hulk #4, Amazing Fantasy #15, Hulk #9 and Incredible Hulk #600-601.


Why I Bought This: I liked the villain concept for this crossover, i.e. that Leader and a few other super intelligent villains have had a secret alliance for years, and now they plan to take out the eight men who are smarter than them in their quest for world domination. I was less intrigued by the concept that there are 11 Hulks running around now or the spoiler I heard that every Marvel hero but Deadpool becomes a Hulk during this thing. So, when I looked for the main crossover title on Amazon it was more expensive than I was willing to pay, but this Prelude existed and was a bit cheaper so I thought I’d pick it up to see if I wanted to wade into the entire thing.
 

The Plot: More or less a primer on the 17,000 Hulks running around who are going to be targeted in the big crossover such Red Hulk, Skaar, Red She Hulk and Savage She Hulk (alongside Banner and regular She Hulk).

 (spoilers below)


Chapter 1 – Maria Hill is briefing Tony Stark (currently the head of SHIELD) on the recent assassination of the Abomination as She Hulk listens in. Suddenly Red Hulk smashes in and defeats She Hulk in seconds off-panel. Tony fights him for a bit as he growls but has to abandon the battle when the Hellicarrier starts to crash. Red Hulk uses the distraction to plant a computer virus that erases all files on the Hulk and escape. Next we cut to Rick Jones hitchhiking. He also gets attacked by Red Hulk only to transform into a blue Abomination known as A-Bomb.

Chapter 2 – We get the back-story of Sakaar (“Planet Hulk”) and see that after Hulk left for World War Hulk his wife’s magic energy kept their child healthy in her corpse long enough for him to be born in a pool of lava and climb out. The naked infant is born knowing how to walk as well as hunt, kill and eat some giant bug creatures. One year later he’s a boy/teen/young man (the art is contradictory) and leading some nomads against a barbarian horde. Dragon’s breath kills his companions but leaves him unharmed so he can fight the head barbarian, who seems to kill him in one blow. Later that night however the lesser barbarians get sliced down one-by-one before Skaar reveals himself for round two with the head barbarian.

Chapter 3 – We meet Thundra in her dystopian 23rd century future where men and women have formed separate nations and are constantly at war, and see her kill an enemy. Thundra is sent back in time to fight Hulk, allegedly to prove female superiority to her soldiers, but in fact she has a secret mission. She ambushes the dumb savage Hulk and they trade punches until her future tech shows her he is the candidate she was looking for, at which point she seduces Hulk. She returns to her own time pregnant. Fast forward 20 years in Thundra’s future and we meet Hulk’s green skinned amazon daughter.

Chapter 4 – We meet teen boy Amadeus Cho, who is being tracked by spies. Cho is “the seventh smartest person in the world.” He broke the record of some televised game show thus garnering the attention of said spies, who then firebombed his home. He’s at a diner where some cop hassles him over bringing a dog inside so Cho goes all Matrix-fu by seeing various geometric angles before attacking and escaping. During his escape he bumps into the Hulk, and they seemingly become friends.

Chapter 5 – In a previous issue She Hulk, Valkyrie and Thundra were fighting Red Hulk. Now a bunch of other female superheroes join them: Invisible Woman, Tigra, Black Widow, Storm, Hellcat and Spider-Woman. They all bull rush him but Rulk shrugs them off. She Hulk gets mad and gets some good shots in. Sue cuts off his air with a force field around the head and then Storm creates a thunderstorm inside the force field for the KO. They tie him up with Thundra’s chain and then gossip while they wait for him to revert to human until someone points out that She Hulk doesn’t revert to human when she goes to sleep. Rulk wakes up and snaps the chain with ease, aiming the debris to KO Spider Woman and Storm (the only two flyers). He then grabs Thundra and leaps off. He then says he has an offer for her at which point we cut to her calling She Hulk on the phone to say Rulk let her go without speaking to her.

Chapter 6 – Skaar comes to Earth. His presence is psychically felt by Hulk, She Hulk and, for some reason, Kate Waynesboro (a brief love interest of Bruce’s in the 80s prior to issue 300), who brings the information to Norman Osborn. Reed Richards’ equipment also detects the dimensional portal Skaar used to arrive. Skaar wants to kill his father. The FF meets up with She Hulk and they decide to intercept Skaar together. Kate summons the War Bound (from World War Hulk) to help find and protect Skaar. Reed is worried if Hulk meets his son he will change from dumb Hulk to his potential planet destroying Green Scar personality. Skaar sees some park rangers kill a coyote so he breaks their helicopter. She Hulk intercepts him and attempts to talk but the army shoots her with a tank. Skaar tosses Thing to the ground with ease while the army attacks the FF for some reason. Skaar attacks the army as the fight goes live on TV (and we see various heroes and villains react). The army (possibly on Norman’s orders) bombs the hell out of the FF-Skaar battle site. In the wreckage Skaar’s sword is broken and there is no sign of him. She Hulk can no longer psychically feel him (implying he his dead) but in the cliffhanger he has changed into a human teen and is petting the coyote.

Chapter 7 – We are once again joined in progress, this time Llyra (Hulk’s daughter with Thundra) traveled back in time to assassinate Norman Osborn only to be captured by him, but then started making out with him in a prior cliffhanger. We pick up with her rejecting Osborn despite her talking future tech sidekick saying he would make a good father genetically. Llyra decides she hates her home reality and wants to stay in the present. Osborn calls in the Dark Avengers to prevent her escape. Llyra’s powers are the opposite of the Hulk: if she gets angry she loses them, but when she is calm she taps into gamma energy from the big bang and basically turns into Neo from the Matrix. She beats the heck out of Ares, Wolverine v2.0, Bullseye and Venom v2.0 before Moonstone and Iron Patriot use their energy powers to take her down. Meanwhile She Hulk is attempting to rescue Llyra but is delayed by Sentry and Captain Marvel v6.0. Jen outmaneuvers them so that she can get to Llyra. The two She-Hulks then turn the tide long enough for a subset of SHIELD called ARMOR to teleport them to safety. ARMOR deports Llyra to her home dimension where we learn she succeeded in her true mission to download some computer files from Osborn’s HAMMER records. Llyra is then granted freedom from the sisterhood of her future so she returns to exactly when/where she left in the present and trades Osborn’s secrets for immunity to stay in the main Marvel reality as an agent of ARMOR.

Chapter 8 – She Hulk recruits Ben Urich (Daily Bugle reporter, usually found in Daredevil) to help her uncover the identity of Red Hulk. He brings Peter Parker along and She Hulk gets Doc Samson and the four of them sneak into Gamma Base, where they find Modok, AIM and Thunderbolt Ross are working together and have captured A-Bomb and Bruce Banner. Seeing Modok makes Samson wig out as he’s apparently been brainwashed to have an evil personality. Samson and She Hulk fight until Modok blasts them both. Red Hulk finds Urich but Pete switches to Spidey and pulls Urich to safety. Spidey uses his agility to keep away from Red Hulk and frees the prisoners. Hulk and Red Hulk fight briefly until Red Hulk uses an energy drain power to turn Hulk back into Banner (allegedly permanently). Spidey escapes with Urich and A-Bomb escapes with Banner, leaving She Hulk and Samson behind. Later, Red Hulk meets up with Urich and threatens him into killing his story (not that he learned who Red Hulk is, but that Ross and AIM are working together to make gamma powered super soldiers).

Chapter 9 – Banner stops some dude from beating his kid on the subway. When he gets off the Avengers and FF are waiting for him as this has first time back in NYC since “World War Hulk.” Bruce has come to meet with Reed for info on Skaar (who apparently in some other issue not reprinted here fought the savage Hulk and stabbed him in the chest). While he’s there Marvel’s smarted heroes (Reed, Pym, Beast, Black Panther and Cho) test Banner’s blood and confirm that he can no longer become the Hulk. Bruce doesn’t believe them since Hulk always comes back, and then steals the Green Scar Hulk’s sword from Reed’s lab and teleports away. Banner then seemingly transforms into Green Scar and challenges Skaar to a fight, but in fact Banner is wearing some Gamma-absorbing armor from his early 60s’ comics. While Skaar’s gamma strength can’t dent it, when he switches to his mother’s “old world” seismic power he shatters the suit. Banner explains he can’t become Hulk anymore right now, and believes Skaar only wants to kill Hulk (specifically Green Scar) and not Banner. Banner adds that Green Scar wants to kill his son as well because Skaar destroyed his mother’s planet. Banner offers to align with Skaar and train him so that he can defeat Green Scar when the Hulk power inevitably returns. To that end he sends Skaar to pick a fight with Juggernaut as his first test in the cliffhanger.

Chapter 10 – We start with another JIP with a previously page for an issue not in this trade. In this case Domino may have discovered the secret of Red Hulk’s identity so he hired Elektra and Thundra to capture her, which caused Wolverine to come to the rescue. Wolvie stabbed Red Hulk in the eyes and blinded him only for a Red She Hulk to show up and make the save. On top the new stuff as Red She Hulk claims she killed both Elektra and Domino (and is no wielding their weapons). Wolvie responds by stabbing her in the leg while stabbing the third rail of the subway line causing them both to be electrocuted. He then stabs her in the chest, which seems to casually take in stride. She spits fire on him and gets a few punches in, while claiming to have killed She Hulk too, causing Wolvie to go berserk. Then for some reason Punisher shows up and shoots Wolverine. Deadpool is with Punisher until Red She Hulk stabs him with Elektra’s sai. Archangel arrives to help Wolverine though Thundra dispatches him with ease. Red She Hulk helps Red Hulk escape and as they talk we get all clues about their secret identities (ultimately revealed to be Thunderbolt Ross and Betty Ross shortly after this story). Meanwhile a mystery person arrives and convinces Wolvie to leave and tend to his wounded X-Force teammates. He then makes an offer to the remaining antiheroes. Back in the tunnels Red She Hulk turns on Red Hulk and beats him down then delivers to Doc Samson, who has the antiheroes and reveals he has been pulling the strings all along.
 

Critical Thoughts: This is mostly terrible. I think the basic concept is flawed in much the same way the Clone Saga was flawed. One or two alternate versions of a major character are fine, but more than that gets ridiculous. Let’s assume there was a good story to be told in the Red Hulk mystery or there is a good story to tell involving Hulk having a grown barbarian son from another planet (I’m dubious of that second claim since that origin story is this trade is awfully dumb, but for argument’s sake we’ll give it the benefit of the doubt). Red She Hulk still feels like one step too many, where the writers are being more cutesy than clever. Once we give Hulk yet another grown child in that amazon She Hulk or we turn Rick Jones into an Abomination clone it feels like we’re just piling on nonsense for no reason (not to mention Hulk has yet another alien child not in this book that for some reason has vast cosmic power). This is a perfect example where less would be more; especially since Hulk has a basic straightforward superpower that is probably the most widespread in comics anyway. Thus it is not like we haven’t seen Hulk fight other super strong characters before, it’s pretty much his most common story traditionally so the writers need more of a hook than just color and sex variations to make these alternate Hulks interesting, and that’s not being done in this sampler. And if we go beyond the pages of this trade, once this story finished it’s revelations it has the effect of decimating Hulk’s civilian supporting cast as now Rick Jones, Betty Ross and Thunderbolt Ross are all gamma monsters leaving Hulk with exactly zero normal humans in his orbit, which I can’t imagine is a positive development for any series to radically alter the entire supporting cast, especially to alter them all in the exact same way.

Next, it seems the villain is Doc Samson. A character no one has ever given a crap about so why would we care if he turns heel in a general sense? And specifically how does he measure up as the potential main villain of this crossover, when we are already have the much more interesting secret alliance led by the Leader, and the year long Red Hulk mystery as selling points? Of course I say Samson seems to be the main villain but in one chapter Samson is just a brainwashed dupe of Modok but then in the ultimate cliffhanger he seems to be the one pulling the strings, so who the heck knows?

This leads to the related criticism of how little I care about these new characters. Skaar is at best two-dimension and at worst jaw-droppingly ridiculous (he’s born able to walk and hunt?). Cho doesn’t do it for me, although at least other writers have tried to make him interesting. Thundra was not interesting in the 70’s when she hung out with Thing, and now this book completely erases her subsequent history (she had married Arkon in the pages of Avengers decades ago) and reverts her back to basics with the end result of giving Hulk another, less interesting child from the future. And here’s a little thing, why are we naming that character “Llyra?” when Namor has a green-skinned female villain with the exact same name and look. Then we have Red She Hulk, whose attitude in her first appearance is like a parody of the worst of 90’s comic. Actually that entire fight issue that closes the trade is like a bad parody as numerous characters are stabbed in the chest and aren’t even phased; which removes all stakes or sense of danger from the action.

There are really only two positives about this book: one minor and one major. The minor one is the fight scene with the Lady Liberators and Red Hulk is entertaining. (Although if She Hulk was recruiting female superheroes to take down a Hulk-class foe why isn’t Spectrum there? Spectrum is likely the most powerful female hero in the Marvel Universe and served with She Hulk on the Avengers. Instead lightweights like Tigra, Hellcat and Spider Woman, all of whom could not possibly hurt a Hulk are recruited. Dagger would also be much better choice than half the women chosen, though I’m not sure She Hulk knows Dagger). Still as written it is a fun issue both in terms of the fight and the ladies’ banter.

The best thing about the book is the characterization of Banner himself. I like how Banner does not doubt for a second that he’s not actually cured of the Hulk despite Reed and company’s tests. I like the way he confronts Skaar. I like the way he scares the abusive father on the train. I like how he seems to be in control and planning ahead for once. It’s been a long time since Banner has been written with clarity (probably not since Peter David’s Pantheon era in the 90s). And since Banner is the lead character in the book finding an interesting take on him is a major plus in this thing’s favor.
 

Grade: D. In terms of providing a primer of who the various Hulks are, this book succeeds in its goal, which prevents it from getting a failing grade. However, while it may give someone a general idea of who all these new Hulks are, it does not entice me to want to read about any of them again.

 

 

 

 

4 comments:

  1. Which is exactly the problem that Marvel has had with "Hulk" recently. He used to be one of a kind, and now there are (were) literally a DOZEN Hulk and Hulk-like characters running around, smashing and spouting stupid shit about being angry.

    The more recent Doc Green stuff has looked good, as it focuses more on Hulk gaining super-intelligence via Extremis and trimming the fat off of the roster of Hulks running around by depowering each one he runs into via an "anti-Hulk" serum or somesuch. I know that's a gross simplification, but still...seems MILES ahead of what the book has been recently.

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  2. Hulk comics fell off hard after World War Hulk.

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  3. Jeph Loeb couldn't follow Greg Pak. Hulk went right into the shitter when Loeb started started that unbelievably shit Red Hulk storyline.

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  4. I quite liked Banner in Indestructible Hulk but then they seemed to forget to give Hulk any personality.

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