Something Different: 10 Points - HULK #23

Big ol' note: heavy duty SPOILERS lurk below.

It's here, at last. The origin of the Red Hulk! What many of you have been waiting for since HULK #1. And rather than do a direct review, which I don't think would be nearly interesting enough, let's take ten key points about this issue: what I loved, what I hated, and what just didn't make any sense. How can this issue fail to disappoint? Or can it? Ready? Go!

1. What the #@*! happened? In perhaps the most radical disconnect in this series since INCREDIBLE HULK #600 had Banner suddenly captured by MODOK at AIM's very own Gamma Base, we join ol' Thunderbolt when he wakes up in a room with the Cosmic Hulk. What happened after last issue's climax, where we discovered his secret just as he discovered his daughter Betty's? Did he pass out right then, and she tossed him aside to the Intel to have them lock him up? The thought seems utterly ridiculous that just as Betty discovered her father was alive, that she would just abandon him. I mean, it may be in-character to have her do just that, why are we not privy to that information? It makes little sense other than to have the dual revelations last month be a "good conclusion" for that issue and Ross' waking be a "good opener" for this issue. At the least, some better scripting could have filled in the gaps.

2. Sale good, dialogue bad. The origin of Red Hulk jumps from the childhood trauma that made him distrustful of doctors (I suppose all doctors are the same to Ross, from physicians to college professors, to scientists. Sigh.), over everything shown in INCREDIBLE HULK #291 (see last blog post!), to the events depicted in HULK:GRAY. That's right--it's not the events of INCREDIBLE HULK #1 to which Loeb refers, but the ham-fisted regurgitation of those events which apparently retconned the gray Hulk into the same inarticulate brute that his green self would, years later, become. Sale's art is terrific, as always, looking like it comes right out of the aforementioned series, and I suppose thematically it has to connect with that series right down to the dialogue--but the bottom line is, this is wrong and I don't like it.

3. Covet not thy nerdy scientist's gamma'd-up power. So, Ross saw the early Hulk as a "weapon of mass destruction" whose power he coveted. What then explains his fascination with destroying the beast? Has he felt these many years it was his God-given duty to destroy the creature, to prove that the might of the United States military was greater than that of some post-modern Prometheus turned monster? "Might makes right" is a very slight characterization to make. True, it may seem that with the Hulk, strength is the only language that matters. I guess it's the best characterization that makes sense in the pages permitted.

4. Sal Buscema still rocks. Even with an artistic snafu of sorts (Hulk needed shorts in that flashback to INCREDIBLE HULK #289!), Sal Buscema is still the classic Hulk artist to beat. In three pages, he flashed back to the events surrounding Ross' first treasonous actions in INCREDIBLE HULK #287-291. Solid storytelling, this.

5. Finally, a point for Loeb. "The treason charges were never filed." Ah, what this does to explain that Ross could be reinstated to the military following his resurrection by the Troyjans. So, Ross resigned his commission a second time shortly after INCREDIBLE HULK #291, being disgraced privately. Samson, under AIM's influence, testified that everything he did was under MODOK's suggestion. It's a small thing, but it worked.

6. And a point for the Leader. So, the Leader resurrected Ross as the Redeemer, which we knew, but he wasn't as much a vegetable as we thought. Shouldn't this fact engender a hatred of the Leader above and beyond any hatred for Banner? Ross knew everything that was happening when he was Redeemer, but couldn't react to any of it. You know, it makes what Ross does to the Leader at the end of the issue all the sweeter a victory. But I'm getting ahead of myself, aren't I? Ah, and those Churchill pages were pretty decent. It's good to again see his traditional "cut and rendered" style here.

7. "So, three guys are in a bar..." The scene where the Leader and MODOK offer Ross his daughter's resurrection in return for his loyalty is delicious and well-timed (right after the death of Captain America). It was totally obvious that they'd dangle Betty before him, but the scene still plays well. Leinil Yu does a fair job on the art for these pages, as does John Romita Jr. on the pages that encompass WORLD WAR HULK. (Note that as in RED HULK #3, the event is referred to as the "Ground Zero Event.")

8. McGuinness triumphs in that metamorphosis shot. Ross into Rulk, and away go the eyebrows and mustache. A brilliant two-page spread. That is all.

9. And Mike Deodato is spectacularly wasted. And I don't mean he was drunk when he drew these pages. Most of what Mike drew on these pages amounts to homage after homage, redrawn page after redrawn page of events that occurred over the course of the proper "Red Hulk" saga. He redraws McGuinness' pages, he redraws Romita Jr.'s pages, and in between he helps Loeb fill in some gaps regarding who killed Clay Quartermain and why (well done), whose voice it was coming out of the Ross LMD at the end of issue #6, and the whys and wherefores of the Banner/Red Hulk alliance. Yet, for all the eager gap-filling, we still don't know what Banner said to Ross way back in issue #2! Sigh.

10. I never liked Talbot, anyway. So, there's the matter of that last page. Who remembers Greg Pak's INCREDIBLE HULK #608? Then look at the last page of this issue and tell me that's possible. Yeah, that's what I thought. Now, it's true that Amadeus Cho told a little story about Talbot doing some black ops work, so that may mean he's really still alive somewhere else, but wow. A double reverse. Can we have a decent explanation for this one, please? I'd hate to think that Bannertech really isn't worth a damn. At least I can say that's one powerful way to finish an issue, even if it makes no sense.

So, what do you think, sirs?



In Advance of Hulk #23: Flashing Back to INCREDIBLE HULK #291

Fellas (and Ladies)--

In advance of reviewing tomorrow's HULK #23 with its origin of the Red Hulk, whose identity and history I prognosticated many months ago, here I go reviewing a key issue in the matter. Unfortunately, this book has never been reprinted, aside from digitally in the GIT Corp. "The Incredible Hulk: The Complete Collection" DVD, now sadly out of print. The reason for its inclusion should be clear soon enough:

"Old Soldiers Never Die!"
January, 1984
Writer: Bill Mantlo / Artists: Sal Buscema & Gerry Talaoc

If you've been following the ongoing "World War Hulks" storyline, you'll know by now that General "Thunderbolt" Ross stands revealed as the Red Hulk. How did he get there? The answers are coming in tomorrow's HULK #23. However, just before that issue hits, I think it's a good idea to go back and review this little gem: the only previous time the "origin" of General Ross has seen the light of day. Now 26 years old, this book is an obvious companion piece to HULK #23, and I have no doubt thanks in large part to writer Greg Pak's tremendous affection for Bill Mantlo's tenure on the book, this issue will be referenced, so it's a good plan to "study up."

At the onset of this issue, General Ross stands a defeated man. He knowingly went against the orders of the United States government, allying himself with M.O.D.O.K., setting free the Abomination from a top secret military installation and commanding him against the Hulk. Why was this act treasonous? The President himself had pardoned the Hulk for all previous activities since, at the time this issue was written, the creature now possessed the full faculties of Bruce Banner, the monster within repressed seemingly forever.

Writer Mantlo clearly set up this story to function as an epitaph, a coda to the career of General Ross. As he sits at his desk, deciding whether to inform his superiors of his treasonous actions, Ross reflects upon the long life he's lived. (In this story, he is identified as 67 years old.) He came from a line of military men, with his grandfather serving in the Civil War under Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, while his father fought during World War I in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. He grew up hearing his father's tales of valor, and voraciously read every book on military history and strategy he could find. He enlisted in the military and graduated at the top of his class, and during his time there he met, romanced, and married his commanding officer's daughter, Karen Lee.

Ross didn't have to wait long after graduation to enter the trenches of war, as the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. He entered the theater of war in the Pacific as a Captain, earning his still-current nickname for striking like a thunderbolt as he led his men into battle. He left World War II as a Major, and around that time, his daughter Betty was born. However, family obligations couldn't keep him from going back to war, with the conflict this time being Korea. He lived for war, and rose to Colonel, then General. Medals followed, and the war ended, which meant a return to a desk. He saw Betty grow up, having wished for a son but denied that. Years later, his wife Karen died, and instead of allowing Betty to comfort him, he sent her away. A military base was no place for a young woman, he argued; and besides, if he loved Karen as much as he loved the military, she might have still been alive.

Soon, of course, the government placed General Ross in charge of the G-Bomb project, which brought him in contact with Dr. Robert Bruce Banner. After having attended boarding school, Betty returned to her father, and found herself attracted to Banner, who was in every way the opposite of her father: a man of intellect, of kindness. We know what happened next, of course: Bruce Banner became the Hulk in the wake of the G-Bomb detonation, and General Ross regained a purpose, marshalling the military's forces against the green goliath. Having discovered Banner to be the very creature he intended to destroy, Ross redoubled his efforts to find his daughter a suitable husband, introducing her to Major Glenn Talbot. Banner briefly gained control over the Hulk, and he and Betty nearly married, only to lose control anew on their wedding day. Ross' resolve to kill the Hulk strengthened, and to that end, Hulkbuster Base was built. Soon afterward, time apparently healed Betty's broken heart, and she fell in love with Talbot, who married his commanding officer's daughter just like Ross had done before him.

But Talbot and Betty's marriage was not to be a happy one, for the Hulk often came between them. Talbot himself was presumed dead while on a mission to save Ross, but returned eventually, albeit in a vegetative state. The Hulk restored Talbot's psyche, but his marriage to Betty was irreparably damaged and the two divorced thereafter. Betty then realized she never stopped loving Bruce. The two resumed their relationship, while at the same time, torn over what he had done in pursuit of his own dreams, Ross resigned his command. Talbot wasn't deterred, picking up where Ross left off, having newly achieved a colonelship as well as control of the renamed Gamma Base. He chased the Hulk, whom he hated more than ever because he lost Betty to Banner, but only succeeded in destroying himself.

Shortly, Bruce Banner gained control over the Hulk anew. It wasn't what Betty wanted--she hoped for a cure over control--and she left, apparently for good. Ross became enraged that Banner had hurt his daughter, and once again donned his uniform. But it was too late, and the government pardoned the Hulk. Knowing in his heart that the Hulk would only return, more savage than ever (and how right he would later be!), he allied himself with M.O.D.O.K., thawing out the captured Abomination and setting him loose on the Hulk. The Abomination failed, and the whole plan came out, not just to the Hulk but also to Betty, who branded him with the word he never wanted to hear: "Traitor."

Confronted with the truth behind his actions--that his blind hatred for the Hulk overrode all rational thought--General Ross briefly contemplated suicide, but decided that was the "easy way out." The tougher, and more sensible road, was admitting his treasonous activities, and learning to live with his disgrace--in his words, "the toughest war this old soldier will ever have to fight."

Of course, General Ross wasn't finished with the Hulk after this issue. He would return to interfere in his daughter's wedding, by then a broken man. He again sought to kill Banner, contributing to events which returned the Hulk to his original, gray-skinned incarnation and briefly turned Rick Jones into a Hulk. He obtained the power of Zzzax, one of the Hulk's feared enemies, and later died. But fate wasn't through with him: the Leader resurrected him as the second Redeemer. Again dead, he was brought back for a third chance at life by the alien Troyjans, and was somehow reinstated in the military in spite of his previous treasonous activities. He and Banner reached a detente, but only until Betty died.

Oh, but all of these events are prologue. We'll find out how the dots connect tomorrow, and how the prior events I've described all contribute to the birth of the Red Hulk. That said, Bill Mantlo crafted a terrific "origin" for General Ross, the Hulk's greatest enemy. The story went a long way toward fleshing out the character back in 1984. It should be required reading for anyone looking at tomorrow's HULK #23 and wishing to see a counterpoint. I'm thinking the two books won't be as far apart as some out there would like to argue.

Join me...tomorrow.

Or Hulk will smash!



INCREDIBLE HULK #610 - The Review



Writer: "Gregarious" Greg Pak
Artists: "Princely" Paul Pelletier & "Dandy" Danny Miki
Colorist: "Fun-lovin'" Frank D'Armata
Letterer: "Simple" Simon Bowland
Cover: "Jazzy" John Romita, Jr., "Kinky" Klaus Janson & "Daring" Dean White
Assistant Editor: "Jiltin'" Jordan D. White
Associate Editor: "Naughty" Nathan Cosby
Editor: Mark "Enough of these nicknames" Paniccia

***SPOILERS*** inside if you go further!

He's baaaaaaaaack.

Wow, is that cover ever one big misnomer. I know practically every reader of the Hulk, myself included, predicted last month that it was Bruce's understandable anger over his son's near-slaying of Betty Ross Talbot Banner (say that name five times fast!) that would serve as catalyst for the return of the one, true Hulk, who would kick ass and take names while chewing no bubble gum as we headed toward the conclusion of "World War Hulks." It even looks that way on the cover. Doesn't it seem like Skaar and Red She-Hulk are looking on in horror as the change occurs right before them? So, my first admission is that I'm glad I was wrong. Greg Pak did not take the easy way out in this story. What could have in lesser hands been a farce instead wound up being a tense, packed-to-the-gills page-turner--and a strong contender for best single issue of this series, post-"Planet Hulk." Considering the stellar issues that came right after the reversion to the old numbering scheme, that's saying something.

At the beginning of this issue, Bruce tries in vain to help Betty heal from the battle wounds inflicted by Skaar. I have to guess that the "Sakaarian Oldforge Blade" Skaar used had some mystical properties that triggered the change from Red She-Hulk to plain ol' Betty, otherwise last issue's conclusion only makes sense to establish the identity revelation and then to propel the (brief) origin story that's presented in all of two pages herein. Most of the story we've guessed already: after nearly dying from gamma poisoning (here referred to as "cancer" which was only brought up in Bruce Jones' run, hmm), Betty ended up frozen by her father, then thawed by the Leader and M.O.D.O.K., who brought her back from the brink of death, cured her illness, then brainwashed her and turned her into the Red She-Hulk. The only truly new detail we get from the "origin" is that Betty's another confirmed split personality case in her gamma identity, which stirs echoes of her time as the Harpy. (It's worth questioning whether the gamma/cosmic ray mix brought about the split personality, or if Betty only developed the split personality based on some subconscious belief that irradiation makes you develop a split personality. Then again, our Betty has never been an especially well girl, psychologically speaking.)

Breaking up a fight between Red She-Hulk and Samson is the Hulked-Out Amadeus Cho. He's not hulked-out in the same way as the military men or heroes who the Intel exposed to the lethal cosmic/gamma ray cocktail, the radiation instead affecting his mind. (Can we call him Cho-D.O.K.? Or just Red Leader?) He and the rescued smartest men come up with their new plan, when the Leader and M.O.D.O.K. show up! But they're not alone...


Oh yes! What would a Leader storyline be without his awesome artificial creations, the Humanoids? It looks as if they've been "Hulked-Out" a bit, themselves. It doesn't matter, however, because Cho takes care of them in short order with the power of his mind!

This sequence also firms up the identities of the eight smartest men in the Marvel Universe--that is, if you count who the Leader considers the smartest. Of course, he considers himself above all, but the others (in his mind) were, in no particular order: Doom, Richards, Banner, Stark, Pym, McCoy, and T'Challa. Banner counters that Cho was "always" one of the smartest, and that his brain power has been further boosted by the cosmic/gamma rays, with the Leader's downfall to follow as result of his not having considered Cho a threat. Eventually, after a thrilling tete-a-tete with Banner, the Leader survives to scheme another day. (Or does he? Check out HULK #23 next week!) M.O.D.O.K. isn't quite so lucky. And Samson throws his lot in with the good guys again.

It's intriguing how the rest of the puzzle pieces fit together from here on in. How best to solve the puzzle of de-Hulking the heroes and the soldiers storming Washington? You have to find a receptacle for all that radiation so nothing goes kaboom, of course! And who absorbs massive amounts of radiation better than anybody else? Remember how a certain someone taunted Victor Von Doom some months back? "Say my name!"


Thinking about the final set piece of this issue, where Bruce Banner absorbs the radiation from the Hulked-Out Heroes and Soldiers, it became apparent to me that the scenes just before the big explosion, where Banner stands in poses reminiscent of his first gamma exposure in INCREDIBLE HULK #1, serve a larger purpose beyond just visually mirroring that important first story. Conceptually, it mirrors the origin of the Hulk as well! Consider that in the original story, Bruce Banner went out onto the test site to save one young boy he didn't even know from (as far as he knew) death, insodoing releasing the raging spirit that dwelled within him. Here in INCREDIBLE HULK #610 we have a play on that scenario: Bruce Banner, knowing full well that his actions will cause the rebirth of that same raging spirit, freely sacrifices his "cure" to save several of his friends in the superheroic community as well as two hundred A.I.Marines he doesn't even know. In one fell swoop, Greg Pak states unequivocally that Bruce Banner is and always has been a selfless man, a hero. Was there any doubt?

Also, it seems Banner isn't the only one who's into heroic sacrifices, as Leonard "Doc" Samson lays down his life so that the Cathexis Ray's effects may be reversed, the gamma removed from his body for the first time since INCREDIBLE HULK #193. Is it a "final" death? Probably not, but his sacrifice does redeem the character, even if the plot-logic of sending him off at the drop of a hat is ludicrous, with how his body even fixes anything a wonder. Ah, well. All in service to the larger narrative, right?

Speaking of larger narratives, I've got your "building for three years" one right here:


In the completion of the arc that began during World War Hulk, Bruce Banner again transforms into the epitome of anger--as shown by the massive energy output around him, this is the "World Breaker" incarnation of the Hulk first seen in WWH #5 and last seen, however briefly, in Skaar: Son of Hulk #12. This incarnation is also known to many as the "Green Scar," and his presence marks the thematic conclusion of nearly everything that's happened since that epochal storyline. Next issue, we'll see Father vs. Son, Hulk vs. Skaar. Somehow, I get the feeling that Banner isn't planning on Skaar killing the Hulk. (Not that it would happen. Whose book is this, anyway?)

We're coming on the perfect moment for the evolved "Green Scar" to thrive! I'm feeling the intense character growth the Hulk has undergone under Greg Pak's pen, and nothing would further the growth of the character, and evolve the dynamic of father and son, like the Hulk being able to apologize to his son, to be better than his own father was to him. Isn't that really what the Hulk is all about? Making it so that the sins of the father are not visited upon the son? He can make peace with Queen Caiera's memory and they can move forward together. After a damn good fight, of course!

So, maybe this wasn't so much a review as a deep analysis. I said before that this issue ranks among the best since restoring the old numbering, and perhaps it will stand as one of Greg Pak's best, period. Or maybe it's just leading toward next issue's conclusion, which stands to be pretty incredible as well. Paul Pelletier and Danny Miki did nothing short of excellent work this issue, as usual, and that two-page spread of the Hulk at the end is a treat, as is that final page. The colors of Frank D'Armata bring the whole shebang to life.

It's one great day to be a Hulk fan.

Rating: * * * * 1/2 (out of 5 stars)


(Next: HULK #23!)