By Alex Zalben
It’s Red Hulk week at Marvel – clearly – as three separate issues featuring the non-mustachioed anti-hero hit the shelves at the same time. Before you check out our reviews, be sure to read our Five Minute Recap to get up to speed on the character. Still there? Okay, now read the reviews.
There’s a lot of ground to be covered in this issue: writer Brian Michael Bendis needs to explain who the Illuminati are, what the Infinity Gems are, who the Red Hulk is, and all this while continuing an ongoing story. All you need to know? A bunch of heroes hid the most powerful weapon in the universe, in secret, and a bad guy is putting that weapon back together. Also? The other heroes aren’t going to be happy when they find out what was going on behind the scenes.
Bendis explains it a little more fluidly and deftly than I did right there, and does a good job of using Medusa, the widow of one of the former members of the Illuminati, as a window into their world. However, Bendis’ detractors are going to have a field day here, as not only do we get yet another issue of Avengers where, for the most part, they all stand around talking. But we also get some of his favorite creations, including The Illuminati and villain The Hood all in one issue.
I’m not going to say these imaginary detractors are off-base: there’s a lot of Bendis patented back-and-forth in this issue; and as a reader, I’m a little tired of the Illumnati. However, what makes this issue a rank above, and the area I don’t think Bendis gets enough credit for, is the deft way he structures an issue. For the past few months, he’s been playing around with the two-page splash in various comics, using it in unique ways to tell a story – some successful, some not so much. Here, we get some nice cutting back and forth between timelines to tell a story. If you’ve seen The Social Network, you’ve seen the technique used effectively there, and Bendis manages to harness that for comic books.
It’s a neat way of telling a story, but it wouldn’t even remotely work without John Romita Jr.’s art. Romita is at the top of his game in this issue, drawing almost the entirety of the Marvel Universe, locations from a warehouse, to a snowy wasteland, and everything from the investigation of a murder scene, to a mostly silent fight between the Red Hulk and The Hood. I’ll also mention that Romita’s pencils are deftly aided by frequent collaborator Klaus Janson’s inks. I’ve found that Janson has been thickly inking Romita recently, which doesn’t work as well for the latter’s delicate cross-hatching. This issue, though, is pitch perfect, and worth picking up for the art alone.
Two other little pieces of criticism: I’m never a huge fan of the “let’s beat up the most powerful guy in the Universe, to show how bad-ass our villain is,” which is employed here; and similarly, I’m not quite sure Bendis has captured the voice of the Red Hulk yet. However, it’s his first real issue with the character, so I’ll give it time.
All in all? I’m not sure a new reader would be hooked on this particular issue of the title, just given the amount of exposition – but it does a good job of filling in first-timers, as well as giving a few nuggets of fun fanboy stuff for older readers. Heck, you just type the words, “Infinity Gems,” and I’m there. But then, I’m a fanboy. So there is that.
Recommendation: Pick it up, if you’re looking for a nice tour of the Marvel Universe, and some very, very nice art.
If you gave up on the Red Hulk before, for whatever reason: do not hesitate to pick up this book. Writer Jeff Parker has a gift for characterization that’s aided and abetted by Gabriel Hardman’s gorgeous pencils in this issue, making it a must read.
If you’re not up to speed (and why wouldn’t you be, here’s our Five Minute Recap), Rulk was trapped underwater by Namor the Sub Mariner – after the two had teamed up to take down some nasty sea serpents. Rulk manages to escape using a neat little trick that plays entirely on Namor’s ego, only to be thrust into yet another Doomsday scenario. This time, he’s helping Rick Jones (a.k.a., the monstrous A-Bomb), who is lost on Monster Island, trying to stop the residents from heading to America and destroying, well, everything. I mean, it is a Doomsday Scenario, after all.
Like I said, Parker is a master off character: his Rulk is simultaneously the a-hole jerk who will punch god in the face, if he had the chance, from Jeph Loeb’s prior run; and also General Ross, career military man. Not only that, but he perfectly plays off Ross being totally out of his element, forced to team up with – and aid – the people he hates the most. It’s a brilliant dynamic, and Parker brings out all the complexities of the character. In this issue, we get some particularly great dialogue, through the eternally optimistic Rick Jones, who teaches Ross that maybe he isn’t as alone as he thinks he is.
Beyond character, though, the action is top notch. If James Bond was big, red, and fought giant monsters, this is what 007 would be like. You can almost hear the signature Bond sting in the background, as Steve Rogers shoots a grappling hook from a submarine to a plane, so he and Rulk can fly to Monster Island. Rather than being constrained by having Rulk punch bigger and bigger people, Parker is using this set-up to let his imagination fly, too. What more could you want from comics?
And if that wasn’t enough, there’s the craziest back-up story of the year, as a Watcher finds out just how far gone Uatu – our Earth’s Watcher – has gone since he was punched by Rulk.
Recommedation: Must Buy
Writer Paul Tobin does an extremely brave thing in this, the second issue of the ongoing Spider-Girl series. Rather than piling on the action (don’t worry, there is some action) in order to hook new readers, the majority of the issue is spent exploring the emotion of grief. Spoilers on, of course, but here’s what happens:
Last issue, Spider-Girl was rushing to her father’s side, worried about a disaster at his location that was powerful enough to take down the Fantastic Four. Turns out, it was the Red Hulk, who is out of his mind, taken over by some unknown force. Oh, and Spider-Girl’s father? Dead, crushed in the rubble.
It’s an interesting thing to note that in olden-times of comics, this would have been the regular ol’ Green Hulk’s role, driven mad by some villain, and forced to attack the hero’s family. But it looks like Rulkie has taken over that role, with the added bonus that where the Bruce Banner Hulk has never killed anyone, Rulk can. Yipes.
Back to the issue, though, Tobin makes sure that we know Spider-Girl is in over her head, and out of her element. He doesn’t give her an instant power-up, or make her able of taking down Rulk. Instead, she spends most of the first part of the issue running (and swinging) as fast as she can. Even though she knows the body of her father is crushed under rubble behind her, she knows she has to keep everyone else safe. It’s a tense sequence that culminates in a beautiful gut-punch of a page, drawn ably by artist Clayton Henry. In a full-page splash, Spider-Girl is on the ground, begging Rulk not to kill her, as he holds a car over his head, ready to crush her into Spidery bits. In the car? A man, terrified, as his own daughter yells, “Daddy! Get out! Get out!”
How do you know someone’s a good writer? When they can perfectly encapsulate everything the main character is thinking and feeling visually, with the help of the artist, rather than outright saying it. Tobin does that here, and that’s not even the brave part.
The rest of the issue is Spider-Girl, in and out of costume, dealing with the death of her father. There are some touching moments throughout a moment where our hero doubts she’ll ever put on the costume again, and a new affirmation of why it’s important for her to still wear the tights. And a hint of who was behind Rulk’s attack.
If there’s anything holding me back from being gung-ho about this issue, it’s that we’re in issue two, and already need two art teams, which is a bummer (especially as Clayton Henry’s art is so fluid, reminiscent of a slightly less sexy-lady inclined Frank Cho). And I’m also not crazy about the conceit that Spider-Girl is tweeting her adventures. It’s a neat, modern way of getting her voiceover and thoughts in there, but it will look positively quaint in a few years, when we’re all using HoloBook to social network, or whatever. Plus, I find it takes me out of the story: I’m wondering when, in the middle of a fight, she finds time to take out her phone and access Twitter.
Those aside, if you’re looking for one of the more mature explorations of a very heavy topic in superhero comics, look no further than this issue. And if you’re looking for big action? Look no further, too.
Recommendation: Pick It Up