The State of the Incredible Hulks – Winter 2011

Posted by under *mixed, Comics |

I don’t follow too many Marvel Comics titles very closely. For whatever reason I’ve always found their characters hard to relate to with the exception being the Hulk. He was my one Marvel character and I was ridiculously loyal to him for a long time. When I finally stopped reading the monthly Hulk title early on during Jeph Loeb’s tenure,  it had been at least eight years since there had really been a run with the character that appealed to me. That type of loyalty is kind of sad actually… but I’ve digressed. Jeph Loeb is gone. I’m back. And the number of Hulks seem to have multiplied considerably.

The Incredible Hulks
Greg Pak is a frustrating writer to me. The guy can clearly write and he’s been most closely associated with the Hulk in recent years, which seems weird to me because he doesn’t seem to actually want to write the Hulk. When he first took over the book, Pak stranded the character on a distant planet. Sure, Planet Hulk was a good read, but was it a Hulk book? I mean Banner appeared on like one page during the entire series. Finally, Pak brought the character back to Earth for World War Hulk and set him against the entire Marvel Universe. It was a triumph of a story as far as I’m concerned, but just as I was expecting to get some standard Hulk on Earth stories written by Pak, the series was hijacked by the character Hercules.

Pak returned to the relaunched Incredible Hulk title in the lead up to last year’s World War Hulks and once again completely reimagined the character’s status quo. Suddenly, Banner could no longer become the Hulk and he was teamed up with the Hulk’s powerful half-alien son Skaar who had come to Earth to kill his father. As always, it’s hard to argue against the merit of Pak’s writing skills. Under his pen, the Hulk-less Banner wielded science like a superpower and developed a slightly sinister edge to his character. This was a strong run that saw Banner dedicate himself to training Skaar to kill the Hulk when he inevitably reemerged, but as soon as this new status quo was building some momentum, World War Hulks hit and the apple cart was kicked over again.

Coming out of World War Hulks, Pak’s Incredible Hulks was reimagined as a team book starring Banner, Rick Jones (who is now a blue version of the Abomination), various She-Hulks, and the stone-skinned alien Korg. Once again this take on the Hulk character is well-written and entertaining, but so far we’ve seen these Hulks battle another one of his post-Planet Hulk sons in space, fight off demons in a Chaos War tie-in, and now the Hulk is battling his way through Olympus to confront Zeus. As entertaining as all of this may have been, it does not feel like a Hulk book if for no other reason than there’s zero tension left between Banner and the Hulk. This really is an essential missing piece of the Hulk dynamic. I know other writers including Peter David have written the Hulk this way before, but usually those writers had first spent some time building the Hulk-Banner dynamic.

Paul Pelletier’s artwork on the book has been really strong. Sometimes it reminds me a little of Dale Keown’s classic take on the character. I really dig it. The Hulks all look massive and dynamic. I can’t say I’m a fan of the Hulk’s current look, however, as he’s basically sporting purple shorts with a utility belt and has relatively well groomed hair.

The adjective-less Hulk title has had a troubled history. While it sold well during Jeph Loeb’s run introducing the new Red Hulk, it was also mind-numbingly stupid. Amazingly, that all changed the minute Jeff Parker took over the book. It turned out the Red Hulk had been a mustache-less Thunderbolt Ross and after his failed attempt to seize control of the United States during World War Hulks, Ross was left in the custody of Bruce Banner and Steve Rogers. Ross has been put to work trying to make up for his crimes by stopping a number of doomsday scenarios that were left in place by the World War Hulks villains, the Intelligencia. Under Parker, Hulk has basically been a team-up book with Ross being partnered with characters such as Thor, Iron Man, and Namor to save the world. The nice thing is each of these characters has had some form of grudge against Ross and been anxious for payback. This has resulted in some seriously fun stories and advanced the character of the Red Hulk far beyond anything Loeb did with him. I’m a little stunned that I’m recommending this book after how bad it was during it’s first year. It all makes me wonder if Loeb had any idea who the Red Hulk was going to turn out to be when he started writing the series.

I’m enjoying the art on the title from Gabriel Hardman, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t looking forward to seeing Ed McGuinness return for issue 30. McGuinness was born to draw the Hulk and I’m dying to see him illustrate a well-written issue of the series.

The third ongoing Hulk title is called She-Hulks and it teams the Jennifer Walters She-Hulk with Banner’s third recently introduced child, the Savage She-Hulk Lyra. Lyra is the Hulk’s daughter by Thundra from an alternate future. These two Hulks are currently working for Banner hunting down the members of The Leader’s Intelligencia who escaped at the end of World War Hulks. In addition Banner has tasked Jennifer Walters with helping Lyra adjust to modern life and that means sending her to high school in New York City. The book is harmless fun from Harrison Wilcox and Ryan Stegman. Wilcox’s stories are fun and straight forward with a lot of humor while tying in nicely continuity-wise with Pak’s work. Stegman’s art has a cartoony, manga-influenced feel that works well for the book, even if the occasional high school student looks like he’s in his late 30s.

Skaar: King of the Savage Land
In addition to the three ongoing Hulk titles, Marvel is launching a five-issue mini-series in April that will send the Hulk’s son Skaar to the Savage Land and likely into battle with Ka-Zar (followed by the requisite team up of course). The book comes from the team of Rob Williams and Brian Ching neither of whom I know anything about, but I’ll reserve judgement until I see the book because the Savage Land sounds like the perfect environment for a Skaar series.

Overall, I think the Hulk family of titles are in pretty good shape. I’m actually amazed there are three enjoyable Hulk titles on the shelf each month when prior to Planet Hulk it had probably been a decade since there had been even one decent title. There are pending concerns however.

One of the problems facing the Hulk family right now is the sheer number of Hulks. This is an interesting diversion from the typical Hulk story, but it has to be essentially a temporary status quo because when the Hulk is surrounded by six or seven other Hulk-like characters he’s just naturally going to seem less special. I do not expect characters like Rick Jones and Betty Banner to remain Hulks forever and the litter of Hulk kids? Seriously, I can’t wait until Marvel tries to put these Hulk-babies back in the bottle Brand New Day-style. What a nightmare. And it’s a shame because I think Skaar can be pretty cool. Lyra on the other hand can go at any time.

Mostly, I just really hope before Pak is done with the Hulk for good that finally we get to see him write some classic Hulk stories featuring his slightly devious and scheming version of Banner having to wrestle internally with an uncontrollable Hulk on Earth without the presence of aliens and gods. Otherwise, Pak’s run, as good as it has been, will ultimately feel as inconsequential as the nonsense Bruce Jones produced with the character.

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  • ptb said,

    Planet Hulk was great and it led beautifully into World War Hulk and the Skaar series. Unfortunately, Pak’s plans seemed to get derailed by Loeb’s Hulk. He’s a great writer, but I do not like all of the Hulks that are running around currently. It’s too much and drove me away from the family of titles.

    I do like the parallel of Planet Hulk having been relatively Banner-less and Incredible Hulks being Hulk-less for a while. Your mention of Banner being a bit more sinister and using science and his intellect as a super power sounds really intriguing.

    Also, I have read some decent stories with the Lyra She-Hulk, but I still don’t think she needs to be around.

  • KevinMLD said,

    Marvel repackaged that Banner/Skaar stuff in a hardcover called Son of Banner. It’s definitely something I’d recommend. The Juggernaut even makes a notable appearance.

  • Aaron said,

    In the solicitations for next week’s books, the cover of She-Hulks #4 says “#4 (of 4)”. As if it was supposed to be a limited series all along. Which it clearly wasn’t, or else they wouldn’t have set up the Lyra in highschool stuff.

    Marvel pulled this trick on me with Super Soldier too, when the book was originally solicited as an ongoing, then relegated to ‘limited series’ when sales were weak.

    I’m annoyed by the lack of support for these books, and also that She Hulk can’t catch a break.
    The recent runs of She Hulk’s solo book were some of the best comics written in years. Sad that she can’t hold an audience. And it might have to do with there being so many Hulk books on the shelves.

  • KevinMLD said,

    I even did some research to find out if the She-Hulks series was an ongoing or a mini-series before writing that and it definitely was announced as ongoing.

    Marvel has tried to get people to buy into She-Hulk for as long as I’ve been reading comics and while people have raved about the books on occasion (particularly Slott’s work), they never seem to sell. I’m not sure if this latest failure has anything to do with the number of Hulk books on the market now however. There’s only one extra Hulk title now than when Slott was writing She-Hulk and that didn’t title didn’t sell either.

    At least she has an ongoing role in Incredible Hulks.

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