The Path To "World War Hulks," Or: Get Up, Come On Get Down With The Silliness

Well, now.

Let me preface all of the following by saying that I haven't yet gone out onto the greater Internet to see what the range of opinions is on this week's twin "Fall of the Hulks" releases, Hulk #21 and Incredible Hulk #608. I didn't even speak with anybody at my local comic shop (this week it was All About Books & Comics in downtown Phoenix--click for the site)--I just grabbed my variants (the regular covers come in the mail next Tuesday) and ran. I read and re-read the books whilst waiting for my Toyota to be fixed (#$&@ recalls!), and now, finally, I'm home so I can let my thoughts be known.

The first thing I have to say is that these two issues, like the other two months' worth of adventures before them by Loeb & Pak, take place at roughly the same time, and in fact, they feature the majority of the same characters, with some overlap. I've always been a fan of this kind of storytelling device--using two books to tell two sides of the same story--and for that, I have to extend kudos. No, it doesn't matter which book you read first (and, for the record, Hulk #21 had that dubious honor for me). They both feature the key event at roughly the same place in both stories, from decidedly different angles. (SPOILER goggles on, henceforth.)

Both stories feature the grand assault on the Intelligencia's "Hellcarrier" (the SHIELD Helicarrier they stole after it crashed in Hulk #2, renamed by the that's-why-they-call-him Mad Thinker), with Hulk showing the Red Hulk's part of the assault (plus partner--more on him in a bit), and Incredible Hulk giving us Bruce Banner and his Avengers squad's side. The solicitation copy promised along the way we would learn Skaar's true motivations and the Intelligencia's true plan. I'm not sure this duo of issues showed either, I mean, I guess they showed the "what" of the Intel's plan, but the "why" has yet to be addressed, presuming it's anything other than the standard "bad guys want to rule the world" scenario.

Since I read it first, I'll go over the basics from Hulk #21 first also. The Red Hulk finds his way onto the Intel's Hellcarrier, huge duffel in tow, as he recounts how he and Banner first teamed up. The flashback and the ensuing monologue by the Red Hulk make it clear that their alliance began before Fall of the Hulks: Gamma, making it clear the two of them conspired to "kill" General Ross as their opening salvo against the Intel. Now, as most of you know, I don't think Banner would plot to kill Ross without Ross having done something absolutely dastardly (like commit murder), so I don't think Ross is really dead. (If you're asking, "So where is Ross?" I have to smack you in the forehead and refer you to my August blog post about Incredible Hulk #600 or my iFanboy.com article.)

After the flashback, the Red Hulk boards the 'carrier, but is ambushed by Awesome Andy--I mean, the Gammadroid, whom he defeats before being defeated by the Cosmic Hulk Robot (from the Eternals series as well as Red Hulk #1 and Incredible Hulk #606). MODOK reveals that he was duped all along. Originally, Red Hulk says, the Intel meant to use Banner to power their grand plan, since they already used him--together with the power of the Cathexis Ray that created Doc Samson--to create the Red Hulk. They also experimented on Rick Jones with the Cathexis Ray, producing A-Bomb (which almost-but-not-quite negates the theory about the ending of WWH directly producing Red Hulk, A-Bomb and Samson's new self, see later). Similarly, they needed Jen Walters (who was kidnapped in Incredible Hulk #600) as the power basis for Red She-Hulk. Now that Red Hulk absorbed Banner's Hulk, together with the energy he absorbed fighting Thor, the Silver Surfer, et al., the Red Hulk became the Intel's prime candidate to power the Intel's machinery.

What, then, is the Intel's grand plan? They use the power of the Cathexis Ray, turning it upon the Red Hulk, in so doing empowering not only a legion of A.I.Marines (another eyeroll-inducing name, courtesy Jeph Loeb) on an Arizona military base, and apparently another legion in Washington, DC, but also three teams of super-heroes invading the Hellcarrier with the ability to become Hulks. And Red Hulk states the Intel's plan is to use those Hulks to stage a military coup of the U.S. government.

Deadpool unzips himself from the duffel Red Hulk brought on board, having been brought there as Red Hulk's "Plan B" to stop the Cathexis Ray, but it's too late--all hell has broken loose. He does manage to sidestep Samson and free Red Hulk, but also manages to transform into--are you ready for this?--Hulkpool. (Yeah, I rather thought you were.)

Incredible Hulk #608, on the other hand, shows things from Banner's perspective. First, there's a rescue mission on an Arizona military base, where Banner apparently tries to rescue his wife, Betty--and runs into the believed-dead Colonel Glenn Talbot, who his BannerTech tells him is not a robot. At the same time, as the Intel watch the footage of the event, they are attacked on board the Hellcarrier--by Banner and his Avengers! Amadeus Cho has been using an image inducer to pass himself off as Banner...and, of course, Betty (who prefers "Miz Ross" to "Miz Banner) clocks Amadeus anyway, escaping with Talbot, who locks her into a secure bunker meant for the President before teleporting himself away. While trying to open the door, Cho talks with Bruce--who also states Talbot should be dead--and Cho refutes that he heas found evidence of Talbot being part of a black-ops program, but doesn't complete the thought. In short order, Bruce meets with Lyra, making it clear she's on his side (but where is Jen?) and Skaar confronts Bruce about working with Red Hulk. Bruce explains that he's deceived and used everyone--the Avengers and Skaar--in order to save the world and Betty--"because if any of you knew all the different angles I'm playing...you'd never trust me again." He also states that if his plan succeeds, Skaar will get his chance "to get the only thing [he] ever wanted from [Banner]."

Then, of course, the excrement hits the fan: Red She-Hulk shows up, attacking the Avengers and impaling Skaar with his own sword. Bruce manages to disconnect Reed and the others from the Liddleville device. He expects the Intel's plan to fail, but then the Cathexis Ray goes operational, transforming the A.I.Marines into Red Hulks, ready for their march on Washington. Skaar attempts to round up Bruce and escape but is thrown clear of the Hellcarrier, and Bruce sees mutated, Hulkish versions of Wolverine, Namor, War Machine and Captain Marvel...before everything fades out, one year later, and...well, my spoilers are just going to have to stop there!

There's not much to tell about the Red She-Hulk backup, except to say that, in the words of MODOK, "[A]s long as [the Red She-Hulk] remains under our control...we have nothing to fear from Bruce Banner...or the Red Hulk." Doesn't that seem to imply she's someone important to both men? Hmmm....

I do think the storyline is getting slightly silly (okay, maybe more than slightly), but it does seem we're going places. As both events occur at the same time, I think it's quite safe to state that Talbot is not the Red Hulk (unless the one seen with Cho and Betty is some kind of doppelganger that an EMP can't incapacitate, which I doubt). However I'm happy to say it still seems possible that Betty is the Red She-Hulk. It's only once she's seen for the final time, locked (?) in the bunker, that Red She-Hulk appears. Yes, it may be a false lead (She-Hulk, I am loath to admit, was nowhere to be found in either issue), and we may be picking up on exactly what Greg P. wants us to pick up on, that's true. But who makes a better fit for the Scarlet Smasherette at this point? Especially when considering what MODOK's said in the backup feature.

At this point, yeah, I'm asking "What now?" and "What the #@!&*?!" as well as "Why does Deadpool have to be in absolutely everything?" There were some strange pieces to this story...was Banner in a part of the ship immune to Hulkification? And why were the Intel draining the collective smarts of everyone? How much did they succeed? For that matter, why tease the eight smartest if they only used six? Bottom line, I do want to see how everyone gets out of this situation, and that, I suppose, is "mission: accomplished" for "Fall of the Hulks."

Now, on to "World War Hulks"...with, of course, a few more parts of "Fall of the Hulks" coming at us over the next month and a half to finish things up.

What do you think, sirs?



I Love Logic!


I love logic. And if that statement sounds tinged with more than a little sarcasm, then good for you! You know me better than most!

Now, on to the point, and I have one (not at the top of my head): it amazes me to no end when people take something like, say, the ongoing mystery of the identity of Red Hulk, and they start to make totally illogical guesses in a fashion that is akin to throwing excrement through a fan as a means to hitting a bull's-eye. More often than not, you're going to hit every other place but the bull's-eye, and you're going to make your housemates mad at you as they ask aloud why you can't use some other implement that's not nearly as messy (or, perish forbid, one that actually makes sense).

Is it my own understanding of the way mysteries work that makes me shake my head when I see the theories that permeate the Internet lately? The latest theories I've seen for the identity of the Red Hulk (with the names of the individual and the places I saw them not identified to protect the guilty) include Samuel J. LaRoquette (better known as the Leader's henchman, Rock), Philip Sterns (better known as the Leader's brother and the Hulk's enemy, Madman), SHIELD agent Clay Quartermain, and a henceforth-unnamed, previously-unmentioned son/blood relative of General Ross. And I've just heard that Red She-Hulk could be Diane Davids, better known as the Leader's minion, Ogress.

Out of the countless theories out there, few prove resistant to close scrutiny. I've refuted some of the above theories and the reactions have proved, well, very interesting. Some out there must think "argument" is something that must conjure another "a"-word, "anger." They retaliate with accusations and would rather blindly hurl insults about the quality or quantity of my research than defend their own theories. They seem to have forgotten that criticism isn't personal, that any flaws I point out aren't meant as attacks against the individual. If you hadn't considered a point or think you may have to revise a theory, then own up to it--don't hurl an insult!

I believe that Red Hulk's identity has already been alluded to time and again over the course of the series thus far. If this were an earlier era of Marvel comics, I might suspect the answer to be somewhere far outside the scope of writer Jeph Loeb's current tenure; however, since the story is meant to be collected and read as one lengthy arc, independent of the vast majority of Hulk canon, meant to be enjoyed by more than just the longtime fan, I would say otherwise. Also, the mystery of Red Hulk has been ongoing for over 2 years (Hulk #1 had a cover date of 01/2008) and still has gone unresolved. Hence, the payoff must be equal to or greater than the buildup, yet it must fit the clues given. If you put these ideas together, that means that the Red Hulk is someone well known to both characters in the Hulk's corner of the Marvel Universe and the fans. It also must be someone who has been at least referenced or name-dropped since Loeb's Hulk #1.

And right there, that eliminates all the alternatives suggested by those individuals I mentioned above, except one: Clay Quartermain. And if you think I think it's Clay Quartermain, all-around good guy, SHIELD operative believed killed on board the SHIELD Helicarrier in HULK #2, you've got another think coming. (For my money, Quartermain was killed by Leonard Samson because he would have recognized the situation surrounding the Red Hulk as too similar to when Ross became Zzzax--which Clay helped with way back when.)

I've also heard the excuse that the regular mystery rules don't apply because of Jeph Loeb, who, as the pundits put it, is so god-awful a writer that he will throw excrement at the printed page and whatever sticks, he'll write about. I think that is simply an atrocious way of looking at any writer. Jeph may not be my favorite writer, but I have to say he knows his way around a mystery (c.f. "Hush," "The Long Halloween," and "Dark Victory," among others). and I should think the vast amount of proof I've posted previously about Ross being Rulk should silence the staunchest critics.

General Ross is the most natural fit for the identity of Red Hulk. What would you have to alter about him to have him be the Red Hulk? So it calls in question some of his appearances during Loeb's own run, likely having a Life Model Decoy substituted for Ross at many key points. With virtually every other possibility, it causes the writers, Loeb and Pak, to have to create or amend large pieces of those characters' histories, and in the case of the "henceforth-unnamed, previously-unmentioned son/blood relative of General Ross," it requires them to actually invent a whole character out of nothing, purely to make a character who fits all the clues (and even then, Rick would never recognize someone we haven't even met, such as in Hulk #2--that's a false lead).

If Jeph Loeb is playing fair, which I believe him to be, then you can find the Red Hulk's true identity on this very blog, way back in August '09. The man himself has been quoted as saying that Hulk #600 provides the last of the clues necessary for one to figure the mystery out for himself--which is impossible if the mystery relies on past details, little bits of retroactive continuity, that were yet to be revealed in any Marvel comic.

Now, seeing the extra tidbits in the previews of Hulk #21 and Incredible Hulk #608, both due out next week, I would say yet another possibility was crossed off the list, and that's the big one everyone shouted about since the ending of Fall of the Hulks: Gamma. I called it a red herring then and my opinion remains the same.

Does anyone have any well-reasoned theories about Red Hulk being someone other than General Ross? If so, step on up! I am absolutely ecstatic to listen to your theories!



The Lost Art of the Anniversary Issue

Hey guys,

I've been thinking quite a bit on my way home from the weekly jaunt to the comic shop, wracking my brain. I'm not ready for my post on the "Fall of the Hulks" so far, but I would like to get one thing off my chest that has bugged me for the last few years, especially in light of 2009's onslaught of anniversary specials.

You know the ones--Incredible Hulk #600, Amazing Spider-Man #600, The Mighty Thor #600, Daredevil #500, even Captain America #600. And what do all of these issues have in common? With the exception of one, they're all pretty much either a standalone anniversary special, or else they are the beginning of a special new storyline. Only Daredevil #500 really was an anniversary issue that showed any real payoff, any dramatic resolution to a longstanding storyline or arc, and really shook things up for the next (I'm exaggerating here but you get the point) hundred issues.

And that brings me to my big point: I miss the days when anniversary issues weren't just an excuse to print a cover gallery and give a couple of extra mini-stories with some reprints thrown in the back. Does anyone remember the days when that big anniversary issue was used as the payoff to a storyline that lasted anywhere from the last six months to the last two-plus years?

Amazing Spider-Man #200 finished a storyline where Mysterio had been revealed to be behind the (faked) death of Aunt May at the "Restwell Nursing Home." After fighting through the Kingpin and Mysterio himself, Spidey found May Parker alive--and helpless before the burglar who had killed Uncle Ben back in Amazing Fantasy #15!

Fantastic Four #200 wrapped up the storyline that began in #191 with the breakup of the Fantastic Four. Everyone had their solo adventures throughout the next eight issues, facing diverse foes like Darkoth, Diablo, the Invincible Man, the Red Ghost, and more before coming in contact with the ultimate mastermind behind everything--Dr. Doom, who cloned himself and gave his "son" the combined powers of the Fantastic Four.

One of my favorites, Iron Man #200 returned Tony Stark in grand fashion as, fresh from recovering from the depths of alcoholism, he donned a new silver-and-crimson armor to take back his company from Obadiah Stane. This arc began all the way back in #161, and included Rhodey's donning the Iron Man armor for the first time in #169, an event that put him down the long and winding road to eventually becoming War Machine!

Incredible Hulk #300 capped off the "Hulk with Banner's brain" arc that started around #272, with Nightmare's haunting of Banner climaxing in a mindless Hulk incarnation rampaging all around New York City, climaxing in Dr. Strange banishing him to the Crossroads dimension.

Captain America #350 was also a milestone of sorts, wrapping up the storyline Mark Gruenwald instituted in #332 (with seeds going back to #323) where the U.S. government forced Steve Rogers to give up being Captain America. They gave the costume to John Walker, who previously appeared as the Superpatriot. Steve Rogers briefly became "The Captain" and in the final showdown, fought Walker, before discovering the Red Skull was again alive and well--and in a cloned body of Steve Rogers himself!

These are but a few examples I can think of off the top of my head. I'm sure there are more (and I'd appreciate it if anyone who loyally follows this blog would contribute their two cents). It's a shame that recently, the tides have turned and Marvel and DC both have apparently decreed that with rare exception, anniversary issues aren't to celebrate what came before and provide a slam-bang finish, but to start something new and bold. Now, I can see the point, to a degree--after all, you want this special round numbered issue to hook new readers, so the incentive is there to make the anniversary issue not the final part of a saga, but instead the first.

At the same time, I was raised on comics where there was that anticipation of a series inching closer to an anniversary, seeing everything start to fall in place as the issues went from x97, to x98, to x99...knowing there's a big payoff in the offing, somehow.

Does anybody else miss old school anniversaries like I'm describing?