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Volume 1, Issue 3
Pre-Christmas Go-For-Broke Edition
(Anyone else miss getting X-Men action figures for Christmas?)
This issue is dedicated to Ms. Natasha Wayne, for her thoughtful donation of a half-empty bottle of Skyy Berry Vodka. Vodka: It’s like the Battle of Stalingrad, in your mouth!
World War Hulk #1 – 5 (of 5)
Written by Greg Pak
Drawn by John Romita Jr.
I should start off by saying that I’m not some huge Hulk fan.
Now, don’t think that that’s going to stop me from finding things to bitch about, but I wanted to get that out there in the open.
It’s not that it’s a bad story—the way I see it, it’s not. It’s just a bad ending. Quite a bad ending. And yet all in all, a very, very Marvel ending. Let me back up and explain things as best I can (keeping in mind I’ve got six shots in me and I’m just getting started).
Everyone knows the Hulk. Scrawny human guy gets pissed off, grows ten feet taller, a hundred times stronger, complexion becomes somewhat greener. He destroys half a town, beats up a gang or a villain or an army, comes to his senses, continues hitchhiking through the neverending American Southwest.
(How does he do that, by the way? I mean I could see that in the Eighties, when the Hulk TV show was on, but nowadays? Who the hell picks up hitchhikers anymore, especially hitchhikers who give really vague answers to what they do and where they’re from like “you should see the other guy” and “there’s only so much work in town for someone like me” and “I guess I wore out my welcome”? If Bruce Banner was a real person he’d be sitting on his ass on the side of Route 66 day in, day out until a Highway Patrolman picked him up for being a vagrant. Or if he’d just man up and walk from town to town, by now he’d be tough enough that no one would mess with him enough for him to get stressed out enough to turn into the Hulk in the first place.)
Anyway. After years of dodging the subject, Marvel finally admitted that yeah, the ridiculously destructive actions of the Hulk over the years have probably caused a sizable number of (arguably) accidental deaths. After the Hulk up and kills almost a whole town, a secret meeting of superhuman authority figures—specifically, Mr. Fantastic, Dr. Strange, Iron Man and Black Bolt—decides that the best thing for everyone is to shoot the Hulk out into deep space, to some other planet where he can’t smash anything that anyone on Earth gives a crap about. In theory, a good idea. Hell, I’d vote for a tax increase if it meant NASA could load Dick Cheney onto a deep-space probe with a year’s supply of Spam and bottled water and just have done with it.
In practice, however, Earth’s heroes learn what my generation learned on a very special episode of Bobby’s World: the truth never stays buried for long.
It turns out the Hulk landed on this savage world called Sakaar, home to millions of thousands of hundreds of dozens of crazy super-monsters like the Hulk, ruled by a tyrannical emperor who enjoys watching gladiator matches between said monsters. Enter the plot to Gladiator in reverse: Hulk becomes famous as a gladiator, gathers an army and overthrows the emperor. He rules the planet in relative peace, happy with a new wife and a child on the way. Then, simply put, it all blows up in his face. Or Reed Richards’s face, depending on how you look at it. The ship that brought the Hulk to Sakaar explodes, killing most of the planet’s population, including his wife and child. Hulk leaves Sakaar with his remaining friends, the Warbound, seeking revenge on Earth. (He sure gets there pretty quick. Writers are not usually on very good terms with the laws of physics, I’ve noticed.)
Now to the meat of it. The first three issues aren’t bad—in a five-issue miniseries starring the Hulk, none of the back story about space, or aliens, or conspiracies really matters in the least, because here’s what the first three issues are going to be about:
‘Oh no! The Hulk is here and he’s messing up all our stuff! Let’s try to beat up the strongest living thing on the planet! What? That didn’t work? Let’s throw some more super-heroes at the problem! Still no end in sight? Time to throw the U.S. Military at him! That bought us some time, now let’s try to beat him up again! Crap! Why isn’t this strategy working?” And so on. It’s a bunch of appetizer slugfests to warm us up for whatever the real story is this time, beyond the numerous ass-kickings and various shades of green previously undiscovered by civilized colorists. So if it’s the Hulk, and he’s kicking someone’s ass, it can’t really be considered bad. And once the minimum ass-kicking requirements have been met, we can move on to the real plot.
By issue four, New York has been evacuated except for the heroes, the Warbound and a handful of completely insane humans who worship the Hulk for some reason (I guess the Hulk isn’t the weirdest thing I’ve heard of people worshipping…). He manages to corral the four who are directly responsible for his recent run of luck (Richards, Strange, Bolt and Stark), and from there he slaps them with “obedience disks” that keep them from getting away(kind of like the restrictor plates that Luke puts on Artoo and Threepio in A New Hope… crap, did I really just write that? Where people can read it? Oh God). In an arena made from Madison Square Garden, Hulk and the Warbound force the four heroes to fight each other to the death as penance for unwittingly having done the same thing to the Hulk. It’s pretty much the typical “oh God, I can’t bear to do violence to mine most dear bosom comrade-in-arms” stuff you hear from the three of them (remember, Black Bolt can’t talk or he’d, y’know, actually advance the plot by killing someone), and just when Richards is about to kill Tony, Hulk decides not to let anyone else die, saying “we came here for justice, not vengeance” and so on. He apparently also came to Earth to never let anyone else finish a goddamned sentence, or Reed Richards may have gotten the chance to say “wait a minute, Bruce! We didn’t put any damn bomb on your ship! We were only going to exile you, not kill you!” But in typical Hulk fashion he’s not really a big listener.
Anyway, just as the Hulk wusses out and decides to leave before anyone gets killed—ironically spouting the same “I want people to know what monsters you are, and I want you to have to live with it” kind of speech that Reed and Stark usually save for guys like Doctor Doom—the Sentry, having spent the last four issues of the miniseries being unsuccessfully goaded into action, is finally successfully goaded into action. The Sentry, for those of you who don’t know (and I commend you for having lives), is kind of like Marvel’s answer to Superman, except he’s so afraid of misusing his awesome power that he created a whole separate “evil” personality to justify not using it, and he’s agoraphobic (afraid of going outside, kind of like me, only with an Avengers membership instead of a part-time grocery store job).
So in the last issue, the Sentry, who was once the Hulk’s closest friend according to retroactive continuity changes, attacks Hulk with everything he’s got. And, I hate to use an offensive word, but it’s retarded. An absolutely, unabashedly retarded super-brawl occurs and at the end all we’re left with is an unconscious Bruce Banner and the revelation that—duh—Richards and the other Illuminati didn’t plant that bomb on the Hulk’s ship; some of the emperor of Sakaar’s loyalists did it, and Miek, one of the Warbound, let them because, well—he delights in death and bloodshed. Hello? Does “Warbound” sound like the name of a crocheting club to you? Yeah, that betrayal by a sinister-looking alien really came out of left field, didn’t it, Bruce? Miek (whose only accomplishment, as far as I can tell, is being distinguished as the “bad boy” among a group of monstrous killers) stabs Rick Jones and then gets the (weird alien equivalent of an) ass beaten off him while he explains why Sakaar really pulled a Krypton. The Hulk begins emitting so much kinetic energy that he threatens to disintegrate the Eastern seaboard if he isn’t stopped; then, of course, he is stopped, by a bunch of orbital lasers. Or something. Seriously, if I’d taken this script and traveled back in time to 1965 and showed it to Stan Lee, he’d have laughed in my face and called me a moron. To top it off, apparently there’s going to be a new “Red Hulk” next year, as well as “Skaar, son of Hulk,” who emerges full-grown and armored, like Athena, from the soil of the remains of the planet Sakaar at the end of issue five. Jeez.
So, aside from all of the above about the last issue, there are two things about World War Hulk that bugged me. First of which was the constant use of the word “smash” and the phrase “puny humans.” The Hulk would not stop calling everyone “puny humans” every time he wasn’t addressing an individual person—his fight with the Illuminati, his fight with the US Armed Forces, when he demanded the whole of NYC to be evacuated—always with the “puny humans,” like it’s a new insult that he totally didn’t first think up in 1962. And then there’s the smashing. If memory serves, even Storm at one point says “he’s already smashed the Avengers and the X-Men!” Reed Richards fears that the Hulk will smash everything and everyone who stands in the way of his judgment of the Illuminati. Iron Man admits he may well be smashed to death in one-on-one combat with the Hulk. It was at this point that, for me, Greg Pak’s completion of the fifth grade was thrown into serious doubt.
Secondly—the Hulk won’t let Reed Richards finish one single solitary goddamn sentence, AND YET, he sits in his big fancy spaceship (question: where’d he get that from if his planet was all but blown up?) and waits for all eight million people in New York City to evacuate. I’m usually the last guy to argue for more “realism” in comics(that being a code word to sneak in more mainstream-pandering Ultimates-type stuff into our precious subculture), but what about consistency in characterization, huh? Too much to ask? The Hulk can’t kill anybody else, right? That’s why the city was evacuated? Because if the Hulk accidentally killed anyone, that would make him an unsympathetic character. A villain. And yet, somewhere out there in the same universe, the Punisher and Wolverine are running amok and everyone loves them for it. Guh? This is beside the fact that DC Comics annihilates entire cities about once a year. Just for kicks, to add a little drama. Montevideo? Kansas City? Gone, not to mention all the places they made up just so they could be blown up. And all of a sudden, Marvel gets paranoid about a few hypothetical bystanders getting pureed by Hulk-debris? (I’m going to copyright that compound word, so don’t you dare go and use it without my permission.) I’m sensing a slight lapse in prioritization. Priorities. Whatever. I’m drunk.
To sum things up, I guess I’d be more pissed off about the way this story ended if I’d bought the issues as opposed to borrowed them, and I’d be more willing to forgive it if I’d read any other Hulk stuff in the past five years instead of just jumping into this because it was a publisher’s centerpiece event of the year. Issues one through four entertained me. Issue five made me want to go find more alcohol, and alas, it’s all gone now.
Rating: (#1-4) Three Vodka Collins /(#5) One Shot Bacardi 151
3 weeks ago