Gamma Reviews: Incredible Hulks #633 & Skaar #5

Ladies & gentlemen, hobos & tramps:

Welcome to another review jam session! Before we get back to my discussion of continuity vis-a-vis DC's Relaunch, I'm afraid I have to give my weekly round-up of all things Hulk! Don't get used to it, folks, for I'm going to be doing my level best to diversify in the days and weeks to come. (To see just how much I can diversify, check the earliest blog entries from 2005! Just scroll down and find the archives at right.)

Onward? Onward!

THE INCREDIBLE HULKS #633 - Marvel Comics, $2.99
By Greg Pak, Paul Pelletier, Danny Miki, Crimelab Studios & Morry Hollowell

We're officially past the halfway point of Greg Pak's Incredible Hulks finale, "Heart of the Monster," so all of the varied pieces of the puzzle are starting to congeal. Of all the adversaries lined up in issue #630, only two haven't had their shots at ol' greenskin. From this issue's cover, you can see the villain this time is Doctor Strange's sometime enemy, the sinful sister to the Dread Dormammu himself, Umar the Unrelenting! And boy, does she have a history with ol' Hulky...

To those not in the know (and hey, who can blame you, since certain events occurred outside the Hulk's own book?), one of the last times the Defenders assembled to fight evil, they tried to halt a scheme whereby Dormammu and Umar conspired to defeat Eternity and remake the universe in their loathsome image. In the story--written by J.M. DeMatteis & Keith Giffen of Justice League International fame--the Hulk was--ahem--seduced by Umar. He lasted all of a few minutes before collapsing, and changed back to a more-mellow-than-usual Banner. Take from that what you will.

Thanks to the wishing well created by A.I.M. Scientist Supreme (and Banner's ex) Monica Rappaccini and appropriated by Banner's other ex, Red She-Hulk, Umar has returned to plague the Hulk. Or rather, it appears, to help him burn off all that Worldbreaker energy he's built up from seeing his friends poisoned by Arm'Chedon last issue. As result, the entire issue becomes less a focus on the Hulk--who's far too happy to care about anything else, too happy to even speak--and more a focus on Amadeus Cho and friends' efforts to track him down and put an end to this "wishing war" business posthaste.

So powerful is Pak's ongoing narrative that I didn't even realize Hulk's placement as a MacGuffin until my third read-through! He functions as an object of the plot, taken by Umar, sought by Cho and friends, and apparently wanted for death by the other villains of the piece. While it's not necessarily bad because, let's face it, the supporting cast is so well fleshed-out that you hardly notice, I still thought we were through with, for want of a better term, plot-device Hulk (TM).

Still, the book succeeds on the strength of the other characters in the story, as well as on the immaculate artwork by Paul Pelletier, who with inker Danny Miki and colorist Morry Hollowell shows no signs of letting up in this end run. The art tells the story, sells the story, and otherwise makes "Heart of the Monster" even more of a compulsive page-turner than it would be without his involvement. Over previous arcs, Pelletier has shown he belongs among the upper echelons of Hulk artists--perhaps not nearly in the same breath as the all-time greats like Keown, Trimpe and Buscema, but awful close.

Hampered by a story that for about the only time in Pak's tenure relegates the lead character to a thoughtless plot contrivance, this story should by rights earn a "Skip It" rating. However, buoyed by terrific artwork by Pelletier & co. and thoughtful characterization by Pak on the entire rest of the cast (including a guest appearance that makes total sense), I've got to bump up this story's rating. You've got to at least Read It.

SKAAR: KING OF THE SAVAGE LAND #5 (of 5) - Marvel Comics, $2.99
By Rob Williams, Brian Ching, Rick Ketcham & Guru-eFX

Thanks to a strong introduction by his creator, Greg Pak, Skaar blossomed from an eye-rolling, derivative idea into a legitimate character worthy of his father's heritage. It's unfortunate, then, that the first writer to seriously tackle Skaar outside his creator would misfire so badly as in Skaar: King of the Savage Land. In this finale, the storyline, which has thus far been a Ka-Zar riff guest-starring the green-skinned half-breed, degenerates into a morass of unparalleled depths and is, quite simply, the worst thing to come out of the Hulk's corner of the Marvel Universe since Bruce Jones made Betty into the enigmatic "Mr. Blue" and the Leader into a giant brain in a jar.

Am I being too harsh? I don't think so. Bizarrely, as much as this story is a Ka-Zar tale bundled up to fit under the Hulk banner, it's got elements that echo early Hulk stories. (Featuring Ka-Zar, of course.) Specifically, it's got elements designed to attract fans of sixties Hulk artist Herb Trimpe, including the cover with its obvious homage to 1969's Incredible Hulk #110, the villainy of Umbu the Unliving (as seen on the cover), and a non-sequitur of a guest appearance by someone who seems to be the Phantom Eagle, one of Trimpe's favorite creations from WWI. Add more, equally senseless appearances from prehistory's heroes Devil Dinosaur and Moon Boy, as well as western hero Kid Colt, then involve a wormhole that somehow sucked people in over the decades, and you have something more ridiculous. Finish the whole thing off with a blatant "look at me" cameo by Steve Rogers and the Avengers (including Red Hulk!), and the issue feels like everyone's throwing whatever they can at the wall and seeing what will stick. And from out of nowhere--spoiler warning--Skaar saves the day in two pages (by tossing a possessed guy off a cliff to his death!) and Ka-Zar sees fit to crown him new King of the Savage Land.

I hope I'm doing this book justice. And by doing justice, I mean telling you it's a nonsensical book with very few redeeming features. At the very least, Brian Ching's artwork is quite good here, and Guru-eFX keeps the Photoshopped pictures at a minimum this time out. Still, I can't excuse the weak villains, the poor pacing, the limited involvement of the lead character, and the out-of-nowhere conclusion. Truthfully, it may have been a stronger story if Williams had been able to plot it as exclusively a Ka-Zar adventure, as there's really no place for Skaar here. (And that's sad, as from Pak's "Planet Savage" I'd have thought the Savage Land the perfect place for him. I was wrong! I was wrong!)

Please, just Burn It and read this instead:




Movie Review: Captain America - The First Avenger (& Cap, Red Skull Reviews!)

I haven't done one of these movie reviews in a good, long time on this site. In fact, the last time was when I saw 2008's Incredible Hulk from Marvel Studios! In coming weeks I'm going to try and serve up some more reviews, whether of superhero films or other genres (hint: I love Hammer Films!). For now, here's what I thought of...well, you see it in the title of this post, don't you?

 Captain America: The First Avenger
Directed by Joe Johnston
Starring Chris Evans, Tommy Lee Jones, Hugo Weaving, Hayley Atwell, et al.
Screenplay by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely
Produced by Marvel Studios, Distributed by Paramount Pictures

Captain America has had a long and rocky road to the silver screen, starting with an early serialized feature produced by Republic Pictures in the forties and continuing through a duet of less-than-stellar made-for-TV features in the seventies (one of which, heaven help him, starred Christopher Lee). A low-budget feature film released in 1991 got the most details right out of all previous adapations, but still was hampered by pedestrian direction and acting, and featured the Red Skull as an Italian fascist and not a Nazi. (Cue jokes about his head looking like a big ol' tomato.)

Hence, when Marvel Studios announced plans in 2008 to produce a new film version, fans hoped they would at last see a fully-realized version of the character. After the successful translations of 2008's Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk by the new studio, it seemed that dream was within reach. Adding weight to the dream was Marvel's announcement the story would almost entirely take place during World War II and feature a Red Skull character largely true to the comics. Bucky would appear. The Howling Commandos, a ragtag group of soldiers with whom Cap sometimes cavorted, would appear.

The story of Captain America: The First Avenger begins in the present, where a team (presumed to be S.H.I.E.L.D., represented by Agent Coulson and Nick Fury in previous films) happens upon the remains of a large ship in the Arctic. When they find the familiar red-white-and-blue shield belonging to the Captain himself, we flash back to New York in 1942 where Steve Rogers (a digitally-scrawny Chris Evans) tries repeatedly to be drafted to war. We see the familiar touches--he's classified "4-F"--before he's recruited by Professor Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci) to be one of a group of candidates to train at Camp Lehigh under Colonel Chester Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones). Eventually, of course, he's selected to take the Super-Soldier serum, and next thing you know, he's a living legend.

Or not.

Wisely, the script takes us through a journey whereby Steve Rogers must prove himself worthy of being such a symbol. Interestingly, the concept of Captain America takes a path unseen in the comics world, but which is totally fitting. It was unlikely that the army of the time would take quickly to such a costumed character, so the novel addition to the origin made here makes considerable sense. The moment where we finally see the fully-suited-up Captain America is well-earned and worth the ample screen time shown in getting him there.

The supporting cast built up around Evans as Captain America more than pulls their weight. I'd expect no less of Jones as Col. Phillips, but the rest are just as solid. Sebastian Stan plays a solid companion in Bucky Barnes, and Hayley Atwell is a sensation as Peggy Carter, a throwback to the leading women of the forties. Neal McDonough heads up the remainder of Cap's war crew as Timothy "Dum Dum" Dugan, and does the role justice.

Of course, a hero is only as good as the villain of the piece is evil, and Hugo Weaving is the perfect choice to bring Johann Schmidt, the real, German Red Skull to life. Redefined slightly as the head of HYDRA, the Nazis' science division, Schmidt schemes to use the stolen power of an object known as the Tesseract (which Marvel fans will recognize as something else) to win the war for himself and his followers. At first, I wasn't sold on the Skull being a HYDRA agent, seeing it as another subterfuge for hiding the character's Nazi roots, but I do understand the film must play overseas, and Nazi paraphernalia would certainly hamper that aim. Besides, the swastika does appear briefly, but never completely, to bridge the group's connections. Wisely, Schmidt is assisted by another name fans will recognize: Arnim Zola (Toby Jones), a biochemist with close Nazi ties.

Director Johnston, who previously helmed the period comic book drama The Rocketeer, ably gives us a picture that is as much a war movie as it is about superheroes. Everyone is about as on-point as I could have asked for, and every minor change in the characters is in service to the tale being told, never out of place. The story feels organic in spite of the fact we know where and when it must end. It's a dramatic finish, certainly, involving our main hero and villain just as it should. The ending is heartfelt, bittersweet at turns, and fully establishes what comes next, and one can see all kinds of plot nuggets for next summer's Avengers film as well as the inevitable Captain America sequel.

Overall, Captain America: The First Avenger has a wealth of elements lifted directly from the comics, whipped together to tell a compelling origin story full of rich characters and situations. It's got something for everyone, including a few choice easter eggs that had me smiling. (Watch for the surprising appearance in the Stark Expo at the beginning.) Without question, it's the best of this year's four summer superhero blockbusters, and it may even rival Iron Man for the best film to come from the young Marvel Studios. With action, romance, and an old time sensibility that recalls Raiders of the Lost Ark and more, Captain America is a sure bet for fun this summer.

(And the ending...well, unless you've lived under a rock these last few weeks, you should know to stay after the credits. You won't be sorry. Just...try not to cream your jeans.)

My Rating: A.

Bonus Reviews:
CAPTAIN AMERICA #1 - Marvel Comics, $3.99
By Ed Brubaker & Steve McNiven

For the second time in seven years, Ed Brubaker helms the launch of a new Captain America series, and just as he did the last time, he does it in style. Apparently picking up shortly after the finale of Fear Itself, "American Dreamers" begins with the funeral of one of Captain America's closest friends from the forties. It's a terrific entry point into Cap's life, and Brubaker takes full advantage of being able to tell just enough of the hero's "man out of time" origins to bring in any new readers that might pick up this book after seeing the movie.

In past projects, Brubaker has had terrific success in bringing A-name artists to his productions, and this one's no different. Steve McNiven, previously known for the Civil War event series, joins the ranks of distinguished talent like Steve Epting, Sean Phillips, Butch Guice and Mike Deodato Jr., providing a dynamic take on the characters in Brubaker's bailiwick while Justin Ponsor colors every scene brightly. Cap and his friends seem to burst off each page, and one can't help but be drawn in.

The plot involves the beginnings of a conspiracy meant, it seems, to bring Cap down--a classic revenge scheme involving players stretching back through the character's storied history. Brubaker sets the stage well, giving readers all they need to know without filling in recent, unnecessary backstory about Bucky and the fates of all concerned in Fear Itself, forging boldly onward. If you're looking for a Cap fix but don't want to have to deal with a major Marvel crossover, the newly relaunched Captain America is for you. At least, do yourself a favor and Read It.

RED SKULL: INCARNATE #1 - Marvel Comics, $3.99
By Greg Pak, Mirko Colak, June Chung & David Aja

For years, the Red Skull's history has been something of an enigma. The popular story involves the Fuehrer himself, Adolf Hitler, proudly proclaiming he could turn any man into a symbol of ultimate evil. To that end, he selected a mere bellboy and groomed him to become the Red Skull, a foremost symbol of terror for the Third Reich.

The real story is, of course, more complicated than that, and here writer Greg Pak and artist Mirko Colak begin to unfurl their definitive version of the events that led young Johann Schmidt down the path of treachery that made him don a scarlet death-mask. As others have pointed out, Pak's having previously written the origin of Magneto, itself steeped in Holocaust lore, make him the ideal choice to tell the tale of the character who may well be Magneto's true opposite.

Like Magneto's origin, Pak begins the story of the Red Skull as early as he can, with this issue revealing Schmidt's early years in a home for wayward boys, escalating through his first exposure to the Nazi party in 1923, and finally climaxing in his first showing of brutal violence upon another creature. It's vivid, it's disturbing, and I couldn't put the book down.

The allure of this issue had just as much to do with Pak as it did with Serbian artist Mirko Colak, who sets the right tone from page to page. He's an excellent storyteller who doesn't need words to bring his point across. although this project marks his first work at Marvel, I'm betting this isn't the last we'll see from him.

The Red Skull takes his first steps toward the evil of the Third Reich in this story. It's already brilliant work, and it's only going to get better. Buy It or be sorry!



ASAP Reviews: Hulk, Defenders, Alpha Flight, Ghost Rider & More

Yes friends, I've been remiss in reviewing! At the same time, I want to move upward and onward to bigger things (and yes, that includes starting to expand my sphere once more beyond comics!), so herewith is a whole mess of reviews of recent comics, dubbed my "ASAP Reviews"! They're not ASAP because of their timing--cruel joke, that--rather, they'll go against my usual verbosity by being As Short As Possible. Same rules as my previous "Quick Reviews" apply, as on top of a sentence or three about each book, you'll know whether I recommend you Buy It, Read It, Skip It or Burn It.

ALPHA FLIGHT #2 (By Greg Pak, Fred Van Lente, Dale Eaglesham, Andrew Hennessy & Sonia Oback) - Pak & Van Lente's super saga continues, with Fear Itself only a tertiary part of the story being told. Still solid art by Eaglesham & co., and the story comes into clearer focus with further developments involving the "Unity" party and historical elements involving all characters that may leave newbies lost. More familiar faces pop up in interesting ways, but overall, this one's of more interest to longtime Flight fans. Read It.

 DEFENDERS: FROM THE MARVEL VAULT #1 (By Kurt Busiek, Fabian Nicieza, Mark Bagley, Andrew Hennessy & Chris Sotomayor) - With a storyline that just might rival the original 2001 Busiek/Larsen Defenders series for sheer, unbridled lunacy, this one-shot is just what the doctors (Banner & Strange) ordered. I'm a sucker for tales of the original four Defenders, and well, this is certainly one of those. With a plot that likely has nothing to do with its goofy script, file this one under "must be read to be believed." Even if it doesn't deserve a buy, the least you can do is Read It.

GHOST RIDER #1 (By Rob Williams, Matthew Clark, Sean Parsons & Rob Schwager) - Oh, look! It's another series where the protagonist is radically changed, his powers given to another, leaving said protagonist on a trek to regain his powers, or something like that. Matthew Clark's art is ssssssmokin', but I still can't get past the premise. Although not with this character, it's been done to death. Unusual that Zarathos is shown among the gallery of baddies at the beginning if Ghost Rider's supposed to be he, and incredible that nobody in editorial caught the snafu of including the wrong Lilith among the rogues on the same spread. Not giving up altogether, but for now I'll be nice and say just Skip It.

HULK #37 (By Jeff Parker, Elena Casagrande & Bettie Breitweiser) - Fear Itself has struck the Red Hulk's book at long last, and surprise surprise, it's not as intrusive to the overall storyline as one would have imagined. M.O.D.O.K., Zero/One and Black Fog join Tron Thing, I mean Angrir, Breaker of Souls in tormenting the red rampager. It would seem we already know the ending of the story from last month's Avengers #14, but who really knows? Casagrande's art is an unobtrusive change from Hardman's, and Parker's script is capable enough for the package to make me recommend you Read It.

"Identity Wars" in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN ANNUAL #38, DEADPOOL ANNUAL #1 & INCREDIBLE HULKS ANNUAL #1 (By John Layman, Lee Garbett, Juan Doe, Al Barrionuevo & more) - Chew's very own John Layman embarks three of Marvel's most popular characters on an adventure into an unusual alternate reality, with suitably disastrous consequences for all concerned. Delightfully Silver-Agey in feel, the storyline opens strong with the Spidey chapter, softens in the middle with Deadpool (whom I've never really enjoyed anyway), and finishes with some interesting variations on the Hulk. So I'm a sucker for a horny Hulk. (And that is SO not to be taken the way you think!) Just plain fun, but Deadpool prevents me from having you do more than Read It.

THE INCREDIBLE HULK & THE HUMAN TORCH: FROM THE MARVEL VAULT #1 (By Jack C. Harris, Karl Kesel & Steve Ditko) - None of these one-shots featuring old inventory stories has been more fun than this one, and it's almost exclusively due to two words: Steve Ditko. Kesel scripts adequately from Harris' original plot in a tale that teams the heroes against the Wingless Wizard. Ditko's art is a joy to behold and Kesel's inks are delicious. Kesel needs to remember that the Hulk has no problem conjugating verbs, but really, that's a small quibble. Everyone should rush out and Buy It already!

More later in the week, with reviews of Ed Brubaker & Steve McNiven's brand new Captain America #1 and Greg Pak & Mirco Colak's Red Skull: Incarnate #1 accompanying a review of Marvel Studios' newest summer blockbuster, Captain America: The First Avenger!



Knee-Jerk Reactions: The "New" Incredible Hulk, Defenders (UPDATED)

(Now heavily updated with links to more "Defenders" info & some added detail on both series!)

In a fit of "breaking news" from San Diego Comic-Con 2011, it's now been officially announced that writer Jason Aaron (Wolverine, Punisher MAX, Scalped) and artist Marc Silvestri (X-Men, Cyberforce) have teamed for the brand-new, relaunched Incredible Hulk series that begins in October. The series spins out of both the conclusions of Greg Pak's Incredible Hulks finale, "Heart of the Monster," and Matt Fraction & Stuart Immonen's Fear Itself, which saw the green-skinned rampager as wielder of one of the hammers of The Worthy and re-designated Nul, Breaker of Worlds.

Please, if you don't want to be spoiled with thoughts of the new status quo, I direct you to look elsewhere, because this post will be filled with 'em. Caveat emptor!

Here's one of the first covers by Silvestri:

You're really not seeing things here. In an interview released at Newsarama today, Aaron confirmed that due to unknown circumstances, the Hulk and Banner have again been split into separate beings at the start of his series. It has happened four times before--back in the early seventies thanks to Raoul Stoddard's Gammatron (Incredible Hulk #130-131), again in the eighties when Banner became Captain Universe (Hulk Annual #10) and when Hulk was immersed in Doc Samson's nutrient bath (Incredible Hulk #315-323), and still again when the Marvel heroes fought Onslaught (Onslaught: Marvel Universe), so it remains to be seen just how different the separation will be this time around.

Aaron appears to hint that the Hulk, not Banner, is the hero of this story, and that his tale leads to "the biggest, craziest throwdown in Marvel history" during his second arc. These ideas would appear to follow directly from Greg Pak's tenure and specifically the period where Banner was briefly cured of being the green goliath. If you remember in Incredible Hulk #603, Banner posited that the real reason the Hulk was born was to protect the world from his own very dangerous intellect. It looks as though Aaron is ready to fully capitalize on Pak's groundwork from the last five years, which in concept makes me a happy Hulk fan.

Not quite sure about the blood on his hands...

The first arc, "Hulk Asunder," apparently begins with Banner and Hulk already split. We don't know how, but it's hinted that neither the end of "Heart of the Monster" nor Fear Itself actually shows the split--it's all yet to be revealed over the course of several arcs in Incredible Hulk. At the beginning, the Hulk is the leader of all the creatures on the Mole Man's Monster Isle, and Banner is, well, a little mad. At least Aaron admits that events always serve to reunite the two, so we'll eventually again have a united Hulk/Banner, in one corporeal form if not of one mind (because where's the fun in that?).

I'll say this: a physically separated Banner and Hulk is a logical step in light of the iterations of the characters we've seen in recent memory. We've seen the different personalities--savage, Fixit, and the more contemporary Green Scar/"Gravage"--over the last few years thanks to Pak and Jeph Loeb. We've seen Hulk for prolonged periods without Banner, and Banner for prolonged periods without the Hulk. What we're about to see is a matured--relatively speaking--Hulk, "on-camera" with a Banner who has grown considerably in recent years and who opts to use his incredible intellect in ways he hasn't in far too long.

That said, I certainly hope that we don't see a repeat of John Byrne's tenure, with Banner assembling a new group of Hulkbusters chasing after ol' greenskin. At the very least, Byrne's planned Act-One finish would seem to be off the table as a conclusion to this storyline.

Aaron cites years of Hulk stories as inspiration, ranging from the TV series, to the stories of Byrne, Peter David, Greg Pak, and a surprising choice: Bruce Jones. Jones is especially reviled around much of Hulk fandom for his overlong conspiracy arc and his decompressed storytelling style that left the big green guy out of the series for issues at a time. However, he's a guilty pleasure to me, and Aaron has a point about Jones "[making] the Hulk a monster again," and if that run hooked him in anew, then maybe it led to his keeping in touch during Greg Pak's magnificent run.

On the art front, it's certainly interesting to note that Marc Silvestri, the head of Top Cow, a leading imprint at Image Comics, is the only announced artist. While he's made a name for himself over there, he has contributed to a select few one-shots and specials for Marvel over the last few years. This series marks his first regular monthly work since the Hunter/Killer limited series in 2005-2006, and his first regular work at Marvel since his work on the four-part "Here Comes Tomorrow" story in Grant Morrison's New X-Men. (And if you don't, it's his first regular monthly work since the eighties' Uncanny X-Men!) His work has been seen on the Hulk only once before, on the variant cover to Darkness/Hulk from 2004.

Upon seeing his preview pages, it's obvious that both Aaron and Silvestri have been heavily influenced by Greg Pak's "Planet Hulk" series, with giant monsters and strange landscapes, so that can hardly be a bad thing.

Keep in mind this is only the second-ever Incredible Hulk #1 (the other relaunches have both been adjectiveless). And we still have never had an Incredible Hulk #7, 8, 9, 10 or 11. So there's your fun fact for the day. And if you're not already sold on this project, well, courtesy some images from the panel, take a look at the return of a rather classic logo for green-genes:

Image courtesy BleedingCool.com

Word has it the variant covers for Incredible Hulk #1 are by Dale Keown and Neal Adams. Look for more news as it becomes available both on this very site and out there on the greater internets.

Also of note is the following image, which confirms the existence of a new Defenders series, spinning out of the end of Fear Itself:

The series will be written by Fear Itself's very own Matt Fraction and drawn by the husband-and-wife team of Terry & Rachel Dodson. From the above image, we can see that in addition to the previously-hinted members (Doctor Strange, Iron Fist, Silver Surfer and Red She-Hulk), Namor the Sub-Mariner will also be among the group, conjuring still more echoes of the original seventies non-team.

According to a CBR interview with writer Matt Fraction, the series will be developed "Marvel-style," which is plot-first, then pencils, then script. Fraction also intends to bring in other characters than are on the first issue's cover, and describes the series as superheroes meet The X-Files meets Fringe, with storylines evoking Steve Ditko's Doctor Strange epics and Jim Starlin's Warlock series at turns. As one who's enjoyed some of Fraction's work (including The Immortal Iron Fist co-written with Captain America scribe Ed Brubaker) and frowned upon other titles in his oeuvre (Thor and much of Fear Itself), I'm obviously hoping for more of the style he used in the former, and less of the latter. With the Hulk sending the heroes on their first mission (again, see that interview) they've hooked me through the first arc, at least. Time to start another longbox of Defenders...

Not much more is known about the new Defenders team, except that the villain of the first arc will be the "Ebon Hulk." Whether this appellation refers to the Dark Hulk who appeared during a previous Defenders reunion in Incredible Hulk #370-371 or a wholly new creature remains unknown. We'll see the answer to that question, and many more, in months to come.

What d'you think, sirs?


All's I Gotta Say (Until Later Today)... Hulk! Avengers!

Behold the first conceptual artwork showing the Incredible Hulk, on a poster exclusively available at the Marvel booth at San Diego Comic-Con today. If they stick close to this model, I'll have no problem with the film.

Does anyone wanna get me this poster at the show today? E-mail me at delusionalhonesty (at) gmail (dot) com and I'll gladly reimburse the poster price plus packaging & shipping. And if you can find a Hulk #42 ashcan edition to throw in, I'd also be greatly appreciative.

See everyone at New York Comic-Con in a couple months.



CBRevolution: Whatever Happened To...Marvel's Graphic Novels?

Thanks go out to Rokk of Comic Book Revolution, a comics news site with which I'm now affiliated! Today, you can find the first of (hopefully) many articles I'll be writing for the site. It's something I've been teasing for a while here, but am finally delivering: a retrospective on Marvel's series of original graphic novels from the 1980s and 1990s! Click on the picture link above and see what I've written--and then, bookmark that site and look at what Rokk, Andrenn, Jordan, Mark, Brandon and the rest of the guys are doing thataway!

More hijinks on the perils of comics continuity over the weekend!



DCnU-Inspired: Continuity - Please Use in Moderation (1)

(DCnU Continuity Series:  Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5) 

Wow! The DC Relaunch is the gift that just keeps on giving. This article is the fifth in a series centered on issues surrounding DC Comics' September relaunch of all their series. In previous articles, I've addressed a lot of retailer concerns, and even provided a historical perspective on distribution. Now I'm emphasizing fans instead of retailers, content instead of trappings. This article's been in mind for some time, but recent developments concerning DC's flagship character, Superman, have made it unavoidable. Don't know what's happened to Supes lately? Don't know that he's getting super-armor and will no longer be married to Lois Lane? It's just the next in a long line of changes, friends, and it all concerns the big "C"-word: continuity.

The New-New-New-New Superman. (We'll get to him later.) Art by George Perez.

Strictly defined, "continuity" is "the state or quality of being continuous"--straightforward enough. As applied to serial fiction (according to the always-right-yeah-right Wikipedia), it's defined as "consistency of the characteristics of persons, plot, objects, places and events seen by the reader or viewer over some period of time." It's a term used in movies and television, where they often have a script supervisor in charge of getting the details right because scenes are often shot out-of-order. A continuity expert makes sure a glass of water is at the same level throughout a scene. makes sure an actor wears the same clothes or is groomed a certain way in every take for a scene.

In comics, continuity takes on an arguably more twisted meaning. When telling stories about the same characters in one fictional universe, the details shouldn't change. Superman shouldn't have the hots for Lois one month and then do the same for Lori Lemaris the next month. He shouldn't have super-strength and speed one month and the next have electrical powers without explanation. It's all a matter of consistency, of keeping characters and their ongoing situations recognizable to the core model from month to month. Even if one waits a year or more between picking up an issue of any given series, the storylines shouldn't be all that different as to render the reader totally lost.

In the early days, consistency didn't even really matter.

In the early days of comics, the thirties and the forties, creators didn't have to worry about continuity except in a very basic sense. In his secret identity, Superman was really Clark Kent, reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, and he often competed with himself for the affections of fellow reporter Lois Lane in between saving the world and reporting about it. Simple, right? Even still, some of the details got mixed up. Clark worked for the Daily Star in one issue, the Cleveland Evening News in the next, and far later the Star became The Daily Planet. A new villain, named only Luthor, was a redheaded mad scientist when he first appeared in Action Comics #23 (1940), and yet he appeared soon after in a daily newspaper strip (and then Superman #10) as a bald man. The goof was attributed to Leo Novak, who either mistook Luthor for a bald henchman or the Ultra-Humanite, another early villain.

No one thought twice about these discrepancies at the time, which brings up another important point about early comics as they were never intended as serious literature. They were designed to be read by children and discarded after a few short years so those children would then form attachments to novels, magazines and the like. Certainly no one expected comic books to gain any manner of cultural relevance! Comic creators were also often those who couldn't get jobs creating newspaper cartoons or who were otherwise unable to write or draw what they wanted elsewhere. Nobody wanted to work in comics! (Stan Lee, hired at Marvel/Timely in 1941, actually changed his name because he wanted to write the Great American Novel, and thought he couldn't do it if everyone knew Stanley Martin Lieber wrote comics.)

The origin of Luthor in Adventure Comics #271 was one of comics' biggest retcons.

Eventually, writers would begin to tell stories that delved into the backgrounds of their characters, like Jerry Siegel, who in 1960 told Luthor's origin in Adventure Comics #271, incorporating his original red hair but stating the reason he lost it--and hence, hated Superman--was due to the Man of Steel's actions when they were both boys. Silly? Maybe. Still, it didn't solve anything since Superman and Lex were both adults in that first appearance when he had red hair. However, in reinventing the past, this story marks an important use of the retcon, or retroactive continuity--a fundamental conceit of comic books that writers have embraced with increasing frequency.

In the later era of the fifties and sixties, Superman editor Mort Weisinger engaged in spotting mistakes in his letter columns, a practice that gave rise to what some might deem the worst kind of fan behavior (actively looking for said errors). I'm told rewards were offered by many publishers--free comics, money, something else. Directly or indirectly, the practice led in 1964 to Stan Lee, Marvel's key writer/editor, instituting the No-Prize, an award given for not only spotting a continuity gaffe, but also explaining why it wasn't really an error at all, because, after all, Marvel didn't make mistakes. Lee forced fans to be creative to win the prize, which originally was mere recognition in a letter column, but soon became an empty Marvel stationery envelope.*

(* My favorite No-Prize idea concerned the Hulk. In the seventies, Banner wore another color of pants, but when he changed they turned purple, which prompted one astute reader to surmise that gamma rays sometimes cause fabric to turn purple! The explanation has remained in place ever since.)

Flash #123: in many ways, a landmark for the comics industry.

Another leap forward came in 1961, just before the dawn of the Marvel Age of Comics. As detailed previously, comics circulation plummeted in the years following World War II, leading to cancellation of many books. Only Superman, Batman and a handful of other characters were consistently published from the late thirties through the present. Hence, DC introduced a new Flash, Barry Allen, instead of returning their original "Golden Age" Flash character, Jay Garrick, and no one was really the wiser. They opened up a can of worms with September 1961's Flash #123, featuring the landmark "Flash of Two Worlds" story by Gardner F. Fox, inspired by DC's then-editor, Julius Schwartz. The tale firmly established the earlier Flash had existed as part of a separate reality that could "cross over" with the then-current DC. But again, the revelation that the other Flash existed in another universe led to questions about the characters who'd been continually published in the same era!

Over the next several years, DC would showcase meetings between its older and newer generations of characters, often framing them as "crises" when the Justice League of America (JLA) teamed up with its predecessor, the Justice Society of America (JSA). The first such meeting between the groups, in Justice League of America #21, established the names "Earth-1" for the modern DC heroes and "Earth-2" for their Golden Age counterparts. Dennis O'Neil and Dick Dillin addressed the "problem" of Superman having existed in both the JLA and JSA eras in Justice League of America #73 (August 1969) with the (re-)introduction of the Superman of Earth-2. That Superman was named Kal-L (not Kal-El), had parents named John and Mary Kent, worked at the Daily Star, and was middle-aged. Soon after the development of the Superman of Earth-2 came the Batman of Earth-2, following a similar premise, and years later DC introduced Power Girl, the Earth-2 counterpart to Supergirl. These characters could do things DC wouldn't allow their Earth-1 counterparts to even consider, like aging, marrying, having children (like Batman's daughter, the Huntress) and dying.

The first of many, many crises for DC's heroes.

Meanwhile, another trend swept comics, spurred on by Marvel Comics throughout the sixties and seventies, but which was also employed by DC: the proliferation of editor's notes. Such notes were used to interconnect various series by indicating in which series and issues certain other events occurred.The last time the Fantastic Four fought Doctor Doom, that time Bucky was killed, a subtle reminder that the fella snapping photos while Daredevil fights the Eel is really Spider-Man--all were in these notes. While many notes were relatively unobtrusive, some writers would get carried away and reference multiple stories or otherwise write a caption that stopped the narrative dead in its tracks. Only infrequently could fans just coming to the hobby readily pick up the books referred to in these notes. (Some notes even cited recent reprints of the stories back when there were such vehicles, in the age before graphic novel collections.) The notes reinforced the shared universe feel of the comics in their best moments, but at their worst could be totally off-putting.

While the Crisis sagas of the sixties and seventies relied on two generations of characters, it was at first a manageable system. The real trouble hastened with the acquisition of other companies' characters and making those characters part of separate universes instead of merely blending them into DC's own "Earth-1" tapestry. Fawcett Comics' Captain Marvel (himself the target of a copyright infringement lawsuit by DC) and his ilk became denizens of Earth-S, and Blue Beetle and the other Charlton Comics heroes lived on Earth-4. DC added Earth-3, home to the Crime Syndicate, an evil variant of the Justice League. Every time you turned around, another DC character was doing something crazy in an "imaginary story" that couldn't happen in the mainstream DC universe, and another alternate Earth was created. For a while it appeared that every off-base continuity element from DC's middle decades was explained away by just being another alternate Earth, in a broader continuity of universes, or multiverse.

Steve Englehart retcons the Captain America of the 50s.

By comparison, Marvel took pains to acknowledge all its characters as part of the same cohesive universe. In the sixties Stan Lee established Captain America had been frozen in ice since the end of World War II, and was thawed by the Avengers. Similarly, the Sub-Mariner had been reduced to an amnesiac vagrant until the new Human Torch, the Fantastic Four's Johnny Storm, awakened his dormant memories. Later, writers Roy Thomas and Steve Englehart established the original Human Torch's body was rebuilt and became the Avengers' resident android, the Vision. During the "Kree-Skrull War," Thomas had Rick Jones harness some power that brought to life versions of earlier generations of Marvel heroes without bringing them in from alternate realities. And in the early seventies, Englehart established the Captain America of the fifties was not really Steve Rogers, and used that idea to springboard a new story of his return. In addition, most of the dimensions the heroes visited weren't shadows of the main Marvel universe, but far different dimensions with their own physical laws, like the Dark Dimension and the Negative Zone. Only a handful of alternate realities or alternate futures were ever glimpsed, and were different enough from the main reality to avoid confusion.

Only later would Marvel begin to play in the "alternate universe" sandbox with the advent of What If?, a series starring the Watcher, a tertiary character introduced in Fantastic Four. Fascinated by the heroes of Earth, the alien peered into alternate realities to see other versions of key Marvel events, such as what might have happened if Spider-Man had joined the Fantastic Four back in Amazing Spider-Man #1, or if Conan the Barbarian (then licensed by Marvel from the Robert E. Howard estate) had time-traveled to present-day New York City. The series afforded Marvel the opportunity to tell stories outside canon, while its episodic nature meant that a different hero or team could be spotlighted every issue (occasionally with more than one story per book). Although the book only ran 47 issues, it would return in 1989 for many years. Even today, the series returns annually with a number of one-shots. More than any series before or since, What If? serves as a foremost example of fanservice in comics due to its very nature, where anything can and often does happen to beloved characters--albeit often with a "monkey's paw"-style twist. (DC would exploit their own version of What If? much later in their "Elseworlds" imprint from 1989-2008. The stories were often anchored less to any individual divergence in the comics themselves and more the result of changing world history or the character's milieu, like involving a late 19th Century Batman against Jack the Ripper.)

Marvel's experimentation with the multiverse kicks in high gear.

While Marvel developed their own multiverse in 1977, a group of fans took it upon themselves to analyze the different continua of both DC and Marvel. Mark Gruenwald and Dean Mullaney developed the two-issue fanzine Omniverse and in so doing coined the very term, defined as a system of multiverses: Marvel's, DC's, all the independent publishers', every novel, every piece of literature, every story ever told, even our reality, all strung together in a string theory of deliciousness. The fanzine led to Marvel hiring Gruenwald as a writer and editor, where he put his ideas to further use in some early Marvel Two-In-One stories about time-travel and Serpent Crowns from across the multiverse. He also codified much of Marvel's universe in the first-ever official handbook, called (what else?) The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe.

Adding to Gruenwald's vision, whether he knew it or not, was British creator Alan Moore, who teamed with artist Alan Davis on a revival of the Captain Britain character for Marvel U.K. beginning in 1982. In that series he established the Captain as but one in a group of British warriors across a myriad of realities. Henceforth the mainstream Marvel universe was dubbed "Earth-616," after the alleged newsstand release date of Fantastic Four #1. (Although the book was cover-dated November, it may have hit newsstands as early as June. The British invert the month and year, hence 61-6.)

And somewhere in there, DC decided that enough was enough. With the newfound attention to multiverses and continuity came the idea to tear it all down and simplify...

Next: "O Crisis! Where Aren't Thou?" (Or, Continuity Gets Kinky)

(DCnU Continuity Series:  Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5)  



Sketch Time: Daredevil (Circa 1993)

The year was 1993, and writer Dan Chichester and artist Scott McDaniel were hard at work making major changes to the Man Without Fear! In "Fall From Grace," Matt Murdock's life was shattered. Add guest star after guest star to the mix, like Silver Sable, Venom, Morbius, and even DD's former flame Elektra, and you had a storyline that tried to be epic in scope. Early in the story, Daredevil obtained this new costume, an armored look, here illustrated supremely well by the talented Stuart Sayger at the Pittsburgh Comicon 2011.

The Daredevil: Fall From Grace graphic novel collection is sadly out of print, but you can probably find it cheaply at amazon.com or eBay. I hope one day Marvel re-releases the book, either in hardcover or softcover format.

So, who wants to show some love for 1990s DD?



From Arm'Chedon To Imperfect Futures (& Fear, Too!)
(Incredible Hulks #632 Review & More)

Hulk news roundup, kids! Somewhere in here, I'll even stuff in a review of Incredible Hulks #632 for good measure, because I love you guys so much. In order to give you the most news for your mouseclick, I'm experimenting with format. If you don't like my plethora of gobbledygook, you'll let me know and we'll be back to where we began the next time, yeah? (Can I get a "Hell yeah"?)

First, may I present the two covers to the October-shipping Hulk #42, one of which is by Patrick Zircher, and the variant by Greg Pak's former Incredible Hulk partner-in-crime, Ariel Olivetti, which itself conjures a comparison to...well, just you look! (Click for larger versions.)


Olivetti's definitely giving us a Rulk-tastic homage to Walt Simonson's thrilling cover to The Mighty Thor #337. But a "50th Anniversary Variant"? Not the Hulk's anniversary, certainly--that isn't until next year. Might Marvel be pulling a fast one and celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Marvel Age of Comics that began with Fantastic Four #1 in November 1961? Seems logical. Wait and see! (Although it does strike me as strange that we'll be entering the Hulk's 50th anniversary year, 2012, with no Hulk book centered on Bruce Banner, unless solicitations change.)

Still, are we getting a hint as to Gabriel Hardman's Hulk successor with the main cover being by issue #36's superstar artist Zircher? Next week we'll have our answer, Hulk fans...

Speaking of Bruce Banner, this little gem hit stores on Wednesday:

The Incredible Hulks #632 - Marvel Comics, $2.99
By Greg Pak, Paul Pelletier, Danny Miki & Morry Hollowell

Picking up where they left off three weeks ago, Greg Pak & Paul Pelletier masterfully craft another entry in this final stage of The Incredible Hulks. Whereas last issue centered on two villains in the classic Hulk mold (i.e. baddies that love to punch and hit for pretty much no other reason than to do so), this issue reintroduces perhaps the biggest threat of Peter David's tenure short of the Maestro himself: Arm'Chedon, the alien warlord first known as Armageddon. Like Bi-Beast and Wendigo, he too has been summoned thanks to the wishing well at the center of "Heart of the Monster," and he provides the most direct focus on the Hulk's family to date.

Y'see, back in the mid-1990s, the Hulk killed his son, Troh-Maw, and Arm'Chedon pursued the green goliath for vengeance. He tried to use the Hulk's strength to resurrect Troh-Maw, but his power was too much and as soon as he lived again, he died again. Hence it makes dramatic sense for the villain to target the Hulk's own family in his quest for vengeance, and the results are, unsurprisingly, incredible.

How angry do Arm'Chedon's actions make the Hulk. Probably as angry as you're thinking, which brings all Pak's themes stretching back to World War Hulk into the narrative. This time, however, he has his family and friends to back him up, which ratchets up the tension. Seldom have the Hulk's struggles been so clear and so well-depicted. Thanks to Pak's grasp of the character, and the combination of Pelletier's brilliant artwork and Hollowell's verdant hues, I can safely say this is what the Hulk's all about.

Like the Hulk himself, Pak's finale gets stronger with every issue, after an already-impressive start. For twists, turns, and a taste of everything that's made the Hulk great over the last five decades, "Heart of the Monster" is where it's at. Miss it at your peril. Buy It!

Moving onward, some of you, my constant readers, have asked me to review Fear Itself; after all, the seven-issue limited series features the ever-lovin' Hulk as Nur, the Breaker of Worlds, wielder of one of the hammers that marks him as The Worthy. It's true that I have reviewed the first two issues, so why wouldn't I review the subsequent issues?

Maybe because it's not as much of a Hulk story as it seemed in the beginning? While we did get a few decent pages starring ol' greenskin in issue #3, the following story released last week featured him for all of four panels. (Okay, five, counting the preview page at the end.) No? How about I voice my ever-growing disenchantment with the limited series as not being an event that's easily digested by itself, like, say, the original Crisis On Infinite Earths or even Secret Wars II or The Infinity Gauntlet? Whereas event miniseries of earlier vintage could be read by themselves with all the vital parts contained therein (and you could read the crossovers to truly "enhance" the overall experience), series like Fear Itself and its DC Comics counterpart FlashPoint seem to mainly exist to drive the larger event throughout the comics' mainstream lines, with many important plot points seemingly dealt with only in crossovers in which I have painfully little interest (and even less cash to spend on).

Remember when I complained that nowhere in the main series was it shown how the Absorbing Man obtained his hammer? And how Attuma was never shown obtaining his? These are inexcusable lapses in storytelling that wouldn't have made it outside the planning stages if this were Jim Shooter's Marvel. And they're just the beginning. Writer Matt Fraction, who has been a decent writer in The Invincible Iron Man and especially alongside Ed Brubaker in The Immortal Iron Fist, only hints at large developments and then hastily refers readers to this issue or that issue where we'll find out what "really" happens when characters X and Y meet/talk/fightfightfight. At best it's an annoyance, and at worst it's just sloppy soap-opera writing (where you pause for dramatic effect and pick up later, leaving the resolution to said plot to the audience's imagination).

Mainly, Fear Itself is designed to function as the next big thing for Marvel's two movie titans of the summer, Captain America and Thor. It's an odd blend that never really gels due to the lack of basis in the histories of these characters leading up to this year. Heck, remember when several characters got the power of the Juggernaut a few years back ("The Eighth Day")? I guess that event wasn't big enough or remarkable enough, so Marvel's doing it again, this time with magical hammers like Thor. And they're giving characters nobody cares about these hammers just to throw a spotlight on them and show fans they haven't forgotten about them. And look! There's the Hulk! And the Thing! And yep, Juggernaut, too!

No psychological underpinnings in the main series. All action, action, action. No pathos. Tony Stark drinks again so he can make a deal with Odin? I can't be compelled to care.

Yes, I'm reading the main series, and I'm also picking up The Deep, Alpha Flight, Spider-Man, and whatever Hulk appearances are out there, including the forthcoming Hulk Vs. Dracula story. I'm also picking up the series I read anyway that just happen to have the crossover run through it. But I'm not going out of my way and picking up a lot of series to get the "full scope" of the event. I know better. Besides, my pocketbook would probably come to life and kill me if I did.

And that, my friends, leads us to the last set of bullet points on my slideshow. Following up on Wednesday's blog entry, where I assessed Red She-Hulk's involvement in an upcoming Marvel event that starts around Christmastime, this picture popped up on the 'nets today:

To date, we've seen five "It's either in you or it's not" teasers, and this one may be the most telling. One thing is sure: all of the images are not from new art, but instead culled from previous stories. (Iron Fist is from David Aja's cover to The Immortal Iron Fist #6; Dr. Strange, the second image, a riff of an old Paul Smith piece; Red She-Hulk, the third image, from Ed McGuinness art in Hulk #22; Silver Surfer, the fourth image, from Claudio Castellini's 90s work; and this one, from Frank Cho's cover to Dark Reign: The List - Hulk.)

What is the point of these teases? "It's either in you or it's not." Of all the words in the five images, what word occurs in almost every one? That's easy: "Defender." As in, the Defenders, the classic non-team originally comprised of Dr. Strange, the Sub-Mariner, the Hulk, and the Silver Surfer. Intriguingly, the only image in which the word "Defender" does not appear is the Hulk! His image contains the word "Offender" instead, which conjures memories of Jeph Loeb & Ed McGuinness' Defenders revival during the current Hulk series, in which the Red Hulk assembled a group of evildoers called, yup, the Offenders.

Is Marvel trying to make the Hulk go bad? It would make sense if the rumors we've heard about the "Avengers" movie were true, that the Hulk is being set up as the big bad guy for the film. But even that doesn't make sense. The Hulk, if anything, is Marvel's poster child for being misunderstood and engaging in fights with other heroes based on little to no provocation. Even World War Hulk featured a Hulk full of righteous indignation at the Illuminati who dared to exile him into space. Maybe they weren't directly responsible for the death of a million Sakaarians, but if they hadn't exiled him, none of what happened would ever have occurred. Even the few other times the Hulk might have been classified a "villain" in the mainstream 616 are few and far between, from his time in "Ghost of the Future" masquerading as the Maestro; to Apocalypse's selecting him to be his Horseman, War; to the actual Maestro; to today's Fear Itself event.

We might as well start asking now what happens at the end of Fear Itself to trigger a fight between a new team of Mighty Defenders and The Strongest One There Is.

And we better also start asking whether this is the Loeb/McGuinness super-project. (I'm hoping not.)

What the heck does "Onyx" have to do with the Hulk, anyway?

More thoughts soon. What d'you think, sirs?



Picking Up the Slack: Ruminations on Red She-Hulk

Yes, yes, I've been taking a bit of a break from posting. Blame it on family obligations, blame it on house hunting--just know that I'm back, and I'll be posting some fun stuff over the next few weeks. This particular nugget couldn't wait. I'm sure you've all seen the following illo making the rounds on the comics news sites on Wednesday, hyping Marvel's December series/event/launch/whatever. (Fair warning: here there be SPOILERS. Avast, ye mateys!)

Marvel has been releasing these promos every day this week, with the first character obviously being Iron Fist (one of my favorite characters--Matt Fraction and Ed Brubaker's run being brilliant, and Duane Swierczynski's not lagging too far behind, even though I'm a sucker for Chris Claremont, Mary Jo Duffy and Christopher Priest/Jim Owsley). The second character was indubitably Doctor Strange (who's yet another of my favorite characters, from the Lee/Ditko days on through the Thomas/Colan/Palmer heyday, Englehart/Brunner, Roger Stern and just about everyone, on and on through today).

And now, they throw in Betty Ross.

On the quality of the characters involved in this thing alone, I'm hooked. Maybe Bendis writing the project would leave me apprehensive, but I hear the San Diego Comic-Con panel where we'll get some revelations about just what "The Mighty" is will involve Incredible Hulks writer emeritus Greg Pak and FF scribe Jonathan Hickman, so I'm hoping at least one of the two will be involved to a significant degree. Could be wrong.

One thing is certain: I think Marvel is proving, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the timeline between the current "Heart of the Monster" arc in Incredible Hulks and the concurrently-running event series, Fear Itself. "Heart" runs first, and then Bruce and Betty go onward into the event where Hulk is now traipsing around as Nul, Breaker of Worlds. This version of events lends credence to Marvel Senior VP of Publishing Tom Brevoort's recently revelation that the September-shipping Fear Itself: Hulk Vs. Dracula limited series was originally to have been Incredible Hulk #636-638 before the publishing plan changed. If we're seeing Betty as Red She-Hulk in promotional materials for product dated December, then obviously she can appear as Red She-Hulk in Fear Itself if it takes place following the end of Greg Pak's tenure.

I'm with Greg Pak, who in a recent Comic Book Resources interview stated the appeal of Betty as a She-Hulk character: "Of all the characters in the Hulk's orbit, Betty is the one who has probably eaten the most anger over the years. She's the one with the most repressed rage because she's had to deal with these men in her life that all have these ludicrous anger issues: Bruce Banner, Glen Talbot, her father Thunderbolt Ross. These are not men with a great deal of impulse control. She's been put into this role of being this mediating presence in their lives. That will eat at you. It made perfect emotional sense to me that Betty, once she got the chance to finally bust out, was going to bust out big. So now we're left with the ultimate questions is the true Betty Red She-Hulk? Is this really who she he is now? And was this nice girl the front?" That's about as solid a summary as any I've seen, and it works, it really works.

So, now you know--Betty's going to join this new group called "The Mighty" that's going to form near the end of Fear Itself, and as result she'll either get her own series, or be in a new miniseries or some other spinoff event come December. Meanwhile, there's no green-skinned Hulk in sight, folks.

Interestingly, the fate of Red Hulk is also in doubt. In the "may be nothing, may be something" department, Gabriel Hardman has confirmed via Twitter that issue #41 is his last issue of Hulk. Whether this event merely suggests an artistic change or a radical change in the status quo, nobody knows, and nobody's really talking. I suppose, however, we'll see in a week or so when Marvel's October solicitations become available. It's a shame, in any event, that Marvel's intent on breaking up the Jeff Parker/Gabriel Hardman team supreme when they've done such a bang-up job with the red-skinned rampager this last year. You really have to admit, however, that the new twice-a-month schedule on Hulk has to really hurt. There isn't an artist in the world that fast...well, unless you count Jack Kirby and Sal Buscema's output from the sixties and seventies. Godspeed in your new gig, whatever it may be, Gabe--even if it is Manhunter 2070.

Have I covered all the news that's fit to print? Let me know what you want to see here! (Also, for those of you wishing to join me over on Google+, click the link: http://gplus.to/garymiller!)

More to come!



Review: Hulk #36

Hulk #36 - Marvel Comics, $2.99
By Jeff Parker, Patrick Zircher & Charalampidis

While investigating an apparent accident with his LMD companion Annie, "Thunderbolt" Ross once again encounters MODOK, one of the villains who made him the Red Hulk he is today. But he also encounters another face from the distant past, one which foreshadowed the obsession with ultimate power.

I've got to hand it to regular series writer Jeff Parker: he's made me a believer in the Red Hulk during this last year. During "Fall of the Hulks" and "World War Hulks"--in fact ever since I concluded Ross to be the face of the Red Hulk--I often wondered whether any light would be shed on the character's previous flirtation with power on par with the Hulk's. Now, with this issue, the answer's arrived.

Eagle-eyed Marvel fans will remember that in late 1986, when writer/artist Al Milgrom brought back the original, grey-skinned behemoth and turned Rick Jones into a new green Hulk, he also sent disgraced General Ross on one final mission to stop the Hulk. To do so, SHIELD helped him siphon the power of the Hulk's longtime foe, the electrical monstrosity known as Zzzax. The two beings joined as one with Ross in control, and together they nearly killed Rick Jones before realizing Banner wasn't the monster they were fighting, and before Ross realized what the depths of his own hatred for Banner had driven him to do. Zzzax and Ross separated, but Ross retained some of Zzzax's power, using it a short time later to save his daughter Betty--and Banner--from another threat, sacrificing himself in the process.

Parker may not go into as much detail as I just did, but the point remains that Zzzax returns in this story, and the writer took full advantage of his previous relationship with our crimson protagonist. Although he plays fast and loose with history--Ross was never in uniform during the original storyline, and he paints the Zzzax operation as a military one instead of SHIELD backed, just so he could involve then-Major Fortean in a cameo--there's enough attention to the original storyline to satisfy me as a longtime reader and fan. The history bits also aren't too intrusive as to alienate anyone who might not have been reading Hulk comics over two decades ago (although one footnote wouldn't have killed anyone). Involving Zzzax's unique relationship with Ross in the story's denouement is also a truly clever bonus of which I wholeheartedly approve.

The words on the pages aren't the sole recipient of my praise, as I have many more such accolades for one of my favorite, vastly underrated artists, the versatile Patrick Zircher (here called "Patch"). I've followed his work for a long time--since the days of his and Evan Skolnick's New Warriors--and he's always impressed with a look that is both modern and traditional. Here, his art is no exception. Seeing him cut loose on a Hulk story--with villains as big and bad as MODOK and Zzzax--was a dream come true. His Red Hulk is powerful, his Zzzax is even more powerful, and his MODOK is delightfully sinister. The artwork is full of Zircher's traditional flair even as he's adapted somewhat to the tone regular series artist Gabriel Hardman set. It's only enhanced by Jim Charalampidis, whose talent has developed well since his last efforts over Hardman in #30.1.

So, what do we have in this story? A few terrific Hulk villains from the past with rich ties to the protagonist, and some ongoing moments of peculiar humanity between Red Hulk and LMD Annie. While I'll never enjoy the adventures of Thad Ross as much as those of Bruce Banner, the book is still in good hands and continues to impress on the same level it has since Parker took the reins. It's true the book has suffered when guest artists have come out to play (c.f. the last two issues), but this issue is a definite exception to the rule.

Quick Verdict: Buy It!



Better-Late-Than-Never Reviews: Alpha Flight #1, Skaar #4

While I'm prepping some new articles of real industry relevance--a review of one of Gene Colan's seldom-seen works and an essay about the perils of too much continuity--I thought I'd shoot you a few quick reviews of books that came out last month. You'll also see a full review of the Spider-Man/Deadpool/Hulk crossover "Identity Wars" this week!

As previously indicated with my "Quick Reviews" segments, expect the below books to be rated Buy It, Read It, Skip It and Burn It.

Alpha Flight (Vol. 4) #1 - Marvel Comics, $3.99
By Fred Van Lente, Greg Pak, Dale Eaglesham, Andrew Hennessy & Sonia Oback

Last month,we saw the first effort of Herc co-writers Fred Van Lente and Greg Pak on Canada's premier super-team in Alpha Flight #0.1. That story (reviewed here) ably demonstrated their mastery of the team's history and powers. This story, "Pride of a Nation," wastes no time in upsetting the applecart, using an important foe from Alpha's past to bring forward a change in the status quo while at the same time making the saga fall in line with Marvel's summer "Fear Itself" event.

Attuma of Atlantis, who thanks to the aforementioned event has become Nerkkod, Breaker of Oceans, attacks Canada and Alpha Flight is there to fight him back. While it appears Attuma is everywhere during the event (he also is the main villain in Fear Itself: The Deep), his presence here makes sense to longtime Alpha Flight fans as he figured into a major storyline involving Marrina, a member that appears here. At the same time, the continuity is not so obtrusive as to take away from the story's momentum. Pak and Van Lente keep the pace brisk, using Attuma's attack to both further demonstrate the team's dynamics and set up the major conflict that will last through the remainder of the series, namely Prime Minister Cody's enaction of the Emergencies Act.

While the story is well told, building to a quite unforeseen conclusion that will require some explanation, it's in the art that the book shines. I've long enjoyed Dale Eaglesham's artwork, and he's in fine form here, right at home drawing characters from his native land of Canada. His depictions of all the main characters are spot-on, and I particularly enjoyed seeing his takes on Sasquatch and Marrina (the latter of whom has been gone far, far too long).

Overall, Alpha Flight is off to a fine start, and I can't wait for next month. I'm trying not to be overly enthusiastic, but the team really is hitting all the right notes from the start, and as a result, I strongly suggest you Buy It.

Skaar: King of the Savage Land #4 - Marvel Comics, $2.99
By Rob Williams, Brian Ching, Rick Ketcham & Guru-eFX

If I didn't know any better, I'd swear we were getting a Ka-Zar miniseries and not one featuring the son of the incredible Hulk here. In virtually every issue of the series so far, I've been of this opinion, and that hasn't changed here. In fact, the entire introduction here--the first six pages--are wholly devoted to Kevin Plunder the jungle lord, and much of the issue's ending involves his possessed wife, Shanna, and Ka-Zar himself, with Skaar only playing a bit part in the middle, when he discovers a secret, heretofore lost society alongside Ka-Zar's son Matthew, who often acts more maturely than the titular character. The other guest stars, including Devil Dinosaur, Moon Boy, Phantom Eagle and an older Kid Colt, are similarly relegated to bit-part status, sticking around only long enough for us to be reminded they're in the story at all. And with other guest-stars peppering the story and more apparently involved in next month's conclusion, I'm afraid Skaar will be crammed out of that tale as well.

Try as he might, writer Rob Williams can't write Skaar as anything more than a bit player in a drama that is all about Ka-Zar and the newfound problems in the Savage Land, and that's the series' biggest problem. The script is capable, but as stated before, this series has really been a Savage Land story guest starring numerous unrelated characters for shock value. The tale's sole saving grace has been Brian Ching's inspiring figure artwork, as he loves, and I do mean loves, to draw dinosaurs. Unfortunately, that means he skimps on backgrounds, with page after page having computer-colored/Photoshopped vistas that easily distract from the story being told.

If this series proves one thing, it's that Greg Pak's special touch allowed Skaar to prosper during the last two years, first in his own series and recently in Incredible Hulks. Without his vision, and surrounded by the overwhelming character of the Savage Land, he's just one more generic character in Marvel's tapestry of wild men. While this series started off on solid footing, it headed at increasing speed for a cliff, and now it's jumped off. Proceed at your own risk. Or, in words I thought I'd never have to say during a review, Burn It.