Tuesday, August 14, 2012

World War Deja Vu

Those of you who followed Marvel's World War Hulk saga may have heard the same glowing word-of-mouth that I remember hearing about it. It seemed to be getting a collective thumbs-up from fandom. I heard from two seasoned comics readers who were practically gushing about it, and these are two men who are not easy to win over. They've seen it all--from not only Marvel but other companies that periodically pull one of these sales "events." If they could be swayed, it was a fair bet that Marvel had hit a home run with this.

For my part, I kept waiting for something unexpected. WWH had been playing out pretty much by the numbers, which usually went something like this: Protagonist is out for blood--he's pissed and taking names. The major players all make appearances to try to take him down. One by one, they fail--because, after all, we've got a ways to go, and the protagonist has a lot more books to sell many more appearances to make, all of which seem to be Major Battle Issues, pitting the two mega-characters against each other As They've Never Battled Before, no-holds-barred. You can mix up the players, and shuffle the goals around, but this is a variation on a theme.

But wait, you say--we've never seen the Hulk like this, man! He's never been as mad! Yet, we have, and he has. He's been a lot madder--pure rage, as a matter of fact. Check out the landmark Hulk #300. When Banner was thought to be dead, the Hulk became a creature of incredible destruction--brutally mowing down SHIELD, the Avengers, et al., and laying waste to large sections of New York, showing no signs of even slowing down. His facial expression alone was horrifying. The issue was a double-sized, kick-ass savage battle issue that was resolved only when Dr. Strange decided to exile him to another dimension.

In World War Hulk, we had a Hulk instead calmly issuing ultimatums and calculatedly plotting his revenge. Oh, and he's wearing leather and spiked armor so that we know he's More Threatening Than Ever. He's in anguish at the losses he's suffered, yes, but no more so than when he lost Jarella. Anger? Rage? Fury? Hulk #300. It's all there.

But let's put that aside for a minute, and consider some other points. First, endings weren't hard to guess, both in the WWH book and in all the crossovers. In short, nothing's going to happen to the Hulk. It would dilute the threat that the saga is trying to build on. I don't think Galactus himself would make a difference as an opponent. The Hulk would somehow find an untapped sliver of rage somewhere within, and the next thing you know Galactus is saying something like "It is unthinkable! Even Galactus cannot stand against such a raging foe!"

Secondly, we'd see a lot of inexplicable defeats--i.e., we'd be presented with why the Hulk's foe du jour is so formidable, but they'll go down nonetheless. Take Black Bolt, for instance--Medusa gave a great rundown on how things were going to go for the Hulk, though we never got to see any of it tried. (In hindsight, apparently the Skrulls have some bugs to work out in their copies.) Or how about Iron Man? In lesser armor, he's put his entire might into one punch and decked the Hulk out cold. But with super-duper made-to-order colossus armor, he can't seem to make any headway.

Third, we'd see characters who normally could do some damage to the Hulk (if not outright lay him out) look like pikers against this foe--probably because the Hulk is now wearing leather and spiked armor. I don't think they dressed him that way just so he could get decked by Hercules. Granted, Hercules has seldom been used to his potential in terms of strength (except, of course, when he's pitted against Thor), so he'd probably be humbled even if he faced the gray Hulk. But the Executioner proved that immortals can withstand what the Hulk dishes out and give back in kind, so the absolute worst I'd expect is a draw--not Hercules caving as a result of mortal strength.

One last thing. I wanted there to be some damn ramifications this time. I wanted the words WORLD WAR HULK to mean something. I wanted a major character or two (or three!) to meet their death. I wanted some blasted consequences. I wanted the Illuminati exposed and a very harsh light shined on their machinations. I wanted the world to gnash its collective teeth in the frustration that there's not a thing it can do to rid itself of the Hulk--and I wanted it to NEVER be able to live with that. Kang's last attack had a city laid waste--why wouldn't we get at least that in a "world war"? Instead, when there aren't any more major Marvel characters for the Hulk to wade through, and the story has played out, Tony Stark makes contact with a satellite, and zap--threat taken care of. A ray beam succeeds where the world's most powerful super-forces failed, Bruce Banner is quickly dispatched and carted away, and everyone goes home.

To be fair, it was revealed that the Illuminati were just the catalyst, not the cause, for the chain of events which sent the Hulk back to Earth in a fit of revenge.  Small comfort for the Hulk, who didn't let them off the hook even after discovering the truth; but the revelation only brought the point home for us that this entire battle was pointless.  Except for one thing: we learned that the Hulk can take down practically any super-being on the planet; that is, assuming he doesn't forget to put on his leather and spikes first.

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