Well, I couldn't resist...on its first day of release, ahead of my weekly shipment, I went ahead and picked up Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness' HULK #1 at my local comic shop. SPOILERS below, natch. (And for those who didn't get the title joke: Clor = Clone Thor from CIVIL WAR, so Rulk = Red Hulk, herein.)
The first thing that struck me was the cover logo. I was immediately reminded of the last time HULK was rebooted. ("We took the INCREDIBLE off the cover and put it IN the book!") It's basically the logo that's had the most staying power (being on in the late 60s, then again during Peter David's tenure), only with an inversion of perspective. Not a bad logo, per se, but hey, I liked the logo from the #200s best, even if it didn't really fit the character.
Moving along to the story inside, in a nutshell: Doc Samson and She-Hulk go to Russia to re-enact the murder (!) of the Abomination, who was apparently stomped on and then shot by the Hulk (!!) in a battle that demolished an entire village. They, together with General Ross, Iron Man, and Maria Hill of S.H.I.E.L.D. then encounter the Winter Guard (the old Soviet Super Soldiers). Of course, there's the obligatory fight scene because the Guard want to find Blonsky/Abomination's killer themselves. Ross breaks up the battle with gunshots to alert the heroes that he's discovered a survivor in the town, a boy whose only word, over and over again, is the Russian word for "red." Meanwhile, in the Alaskan frontier, a shirtless, shoeless Rick Jones wakes up to find a nearby town engulfed in flames, and asks the Bruce Banner-ish query: "Rick Jones...what've you gotten yourself into THIS time?!" Lastly, General Ross and Doc Samson travel to the new Gamma Base in Nevada, where a ways beneath the surface, they arrive at a secret level complete with a single patient: Robert Bruce Banner.
The story seems to meander a bit and flirt with being a direct rehash of a bunch of Hulk storylines in the recent and distant past. We've got a "did the Hulk kill?" mystery a la the last relaunched Hulk #1, a brutal Hulk/Abomination battle a la Hulk #25, a battle with the former Soviet Super Soldiers eerily a la Incredible Hulk #393, Bruce Banner's wonderful impression of Hannibal Lecter (without the fava beans or Chianti) a la the recent run in The Ultimates, and last but not least, a retread of Rick Jones as the Hulk from Incredible Hulk #325-332. Did I miss anything? It's like NBC's summer ads for Must See TV: "If you haven't seen it, it's new to you." For those that have, well, I'm sticking around, but you might feel like there's something more important to do, like read The Incredible Hercules or Warbound or the World War Hulk: Aftersmash issue du jour.
If the identity of the red Hulk (who only appears red on the cover, for God's sake) is supposed to be a mystery (as the issue's--and arc's--title, "Who Is The Hulk?", would seem to indicate), then it isn't a very good one, as it's solved by the fifth to final page of the story. Then again, "Who Is The Hulk?" is a better, more dramatic title than, say, "Why Is The Hulk Red?" or my personal favorite, "Why Should We Give A Damn What Color The Hulk Is?". If the answer is given by Rick Jones' torn pants in this issue, then we only have the "who" and not the "how" or "why." I'm curious, but at the same time, I've seen these tropes before. I'd rather see someone else become the Hulk if it's not going to be Bruce. The strangeness of the flow from WWH #5 to this book has me just interested enough to see where everything's headed. Then again, what are the chances Jeph Loeb's trying to fake us out and make us only think Rick is Rulk? (Admittedly: not very.)
The art by Ed McGuinness is pretty good, with adequate storytelling. I'm guessing the series right now is being written by Loeb as a favor to McGuinness, who loves the Hulk and is, I'm sure, telling Loeb what he wants to draw so he can build a story around it. (Not the best way by far of building a narrative, but them's the brakes.) Of course, Loeb will explain why someone else is the Hulk right now, and how, and eventually, Bruce Banner will make his way above ground and become big and green again. And the Abomination will return, too. That's the way it always works. And ordinarily, I like these types of dissections of character stories, so that's another reason I'm sticking on board (aside from the fact that I own every book with "Hulk" as part of its title since 1962).
For originality, this issue #1 gets a big fat 0/10 because as the Barenaked Ladies sang, "It's all been done"....art gets a solid 7/10, and the script gets a 6/10. Overall, that means I give HULK #1 a rating of 13 out of 30. But if you take out the originality rating, it's a 13/20. Whee.
Well, there you have it. I'm not going to speculate on the whys and wherefores just yet...I'd rather sit back and relax and let any further comments and speculation pour in. I may be back next week with more Hulk-related reviews, or some actual speculation.
Keep on Hulkin'!