Sunday, August 24, 2014

With Hammer In Hand

Riding on the coattails of the World War Hulk event was the 2008 series featuring the "Red Hulk"--a savvy, aggressive new manifestation of the Hulk who began a rampage of destruction and attacked and defeated a number of powerful Marvel characters (as well as destroying the SHIELD helicarrier) before finally being brought down. I remember thumbing through the first couple of issues at the store and putting them back on the rack, finding little at first glance to hold my interest. The art placed a great deal of emphasis on the new Hulk's over-proportioned physique (complete with bulging veins), while the stories seemed focused on destruction for the sake of destruction and didn't appear to contain much depth otherwise.

The hook of the series ended up being, "Who IS the Red Hulk?" (or "Rulk," a groan-worthy amalgam of the words that the stories made every attempt to have catch on, but thankfully never really did), a mystery which probably did more to sell the issues than the actual stories. It wasn't until two years later that the Red Hulk's identity was revealed to be "Thunderbolt" Ross; and just to prove how bad bad can get, there was also a "Red She-Hulk" on the scene--none other than the General's daughter, Betty. Eventually, the green Hulk returns, as well. And you thought the heated arguments at your Thanksgiving table were off the scale--I imagine the Banner/Ross sit-down must be close to nuclear.

Still, the cover to issue #5 managed to grab my attention:

Thor had also returned with new stories, his well-written issues a stark contrast to the Red Hulk books--and I had to admit to being curious about another Hulk/Thor match-up, particularly with a reputedly more powerful version of the Hulk on the scene and a new no-nonsense Thor ready to cut loose.  So against all better judgment, I decided to bite the bullet and pick up this battle issue.

I should caution you beforehand by reminding you that this is 2008, where issues with prolonged battles generally have their artwork carry the day and only bring in dialog on an as-needed basis--so the battle isn't going to be enhanced to any degree by the insertion of characterization along with the swinging arms and the bold you-will-fall! declarations. That's not to say you won't find the fight entertaining--but you may reach the end of it wishing that writer Jeph Loeb had put in considerably more effort on the script.

We start soon after the Red Hulk had just decisively put the smack-down on his green counterpart in a destructive battle in San Francisco. Loeb is writing this series with something of a revolving door style, with a new challenge to the Red Hulk ready to step in before the dust has settled on the last one:

As seems evident, Loeb is on virtual auto-pilot and provides little to no build-up before having these two cut right to it. Given the bruiser mindset that Loeb means for this Hulk to exhibit, a lack of interest in conversation or breast-beating with more of an emphasis on toughing it out with his opponent makes that understandable. In a way, it provides the fight with a certain momentum, as it doesn't take long for Thor to realize the kind of fight he's involved in.

Thor's fighting style has always been part battle, part bluster--and to Loeb's credit, that style is intact here, though perhaps more to highlight this new Hulk's ruthlessness and posturing as well as his own style of speaking at length only when he's seized the advantage. Given what we've seen so far, it's becoming clear that he hasn't yet been at a disadvantage in this fight; and in the following sequence, he shows no lack of confidence whatsoever that he can bring this fight to an end.

By this point I was practically wanting to crumple this issue in my hands. What exactly is keeping Thor from putting up a struggle while the Hulk is towing him into the sky? There must have been any number of ways he could attempt to break free. But we're coming to the conclusion of this fight ("What, already?" I can hear you asking), and I can read the writing on the wall here. This series has spent issue to issue having the Hulk mow over his foes, and Thor is going to prove to be no different.

And just for kicks--and I mean kicks--let's have the Hulk humiliate Thor in the process:

I may have to look up the meaning of "wrathful vengeance"--but from what Loeb has shown us of Thor's prowess here, we're probably ready to join the Hulk in not being too worried about a rematch. Luckily, a certain green goliath will arrive to give Thor a hand, as brute battles brute in a fight to the finish.

Hulk #5

Script: Jeph Loeb
Pencils: Ed McGuinness
Inks: Mark Farmer
Letterer: Comicraft

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