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GRAPHIC NOVEL AND TRADE
PAPERBACK (TPB) REVIEWS

by The Masked Bookwyrm


THE HULK ~ Page 1

"Caught in the heart of a Nuclear Explosion, victim of Gamma Radiation gone wild, Doctor Robert Bruce Banner now finds himself transformed in times of stress into...the most powerful creature to ever walk the earth..."

Back to other GN and TPB reviews

For other Hulk appearances, see the mini-series Hulk: Nightmerica; Son of Origins (Avengers story); Daredevil: Marked for Death; Essential Fantastic Four 2; Essential Iron Man 2; Essential Spider-Man 2; cameo in Essential Captain America, 2; others

The Incredible Hulk is published by Marvel Comics
 

Banner 2001 (SC TPB) 108 pages

cover by CorbenWritten by Brian Azzarello. Illustrated by Richard Corben.
Colours:Studio F. Letters: Richard Starkings and Wes Abbott. Editor: Alex Alonso.

Reprinting: Startling Stories: Banner #1-4 - with covers (2001)

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

Number of readings: 1

"Startling Stories" was an umbrella title Marvel used for a few out-of-continuity projects featuring their characters that seemed to range from "what if..?"/Elseworlds style re-imaginings...to things that were only slightly at odds with the regular comics. It was a concept that either didn't fair well, or otherwise lost the enthusiasm of the editors, as it only produced a very few projects before being mothballed.

Banner was the first of the projects and was presumably sold as allowing "A list" creators artistic freedom. It's about Bruce Banner/the Hulk, but though not quite adhering strictly to the "reality" of regular Hulk comics...it's not really that different from them, either. Which, as they say, is the rub.

Part of the gimmick is to present a slightly darker, grittier Hulk story, where instead of the Hulk rampaging through a city and having it be that most people managed to get out of the way, or have that office building he knocked down fortuitously be deserted, here the aftermath of the Hulk's rampages are likened to war zones, casualties are high, and bodies dragged from the wreckage. Pursuing the Hulk is the usual army types, headed by Doc Samson, but here portrayed as slightly more sinister than usual, with a creepy, enigmatic grin constantly plastered on his lips. So as I say, it diverges a bit from the "normal" Hulk comics...but not a whole lot.

Underplay the references to the fatalities caused by the Hulk, substitute for Samson another character, and this really could've been any of a zillion Hulk comics -- or a two-parter. Unfortunately, it's four issues. And once again we have a comic undone by its very length.

There are some good things about this. The opening issue is quite strong, if generic, dealing with the aftermath of a Hulk's rampage, as Bruce Banner stumbles through the carnage and is picked up by an emergency medical team that have set up a tent city hospital on the outskirts of the destruction. There's some nice mood, and writer Azzarello does a good job capturing Banner. Richard Corben's art is, as always, a strange concoction, with squat, cartoony figures, that nonetheless having a kind of weird 3-dimension to them, and which he dresses in effective shadows. It's a bit like looking at stills from a moody stop-motion animation Hulk movie. (Anyone else think Corben might be an interesting choice to illustrate a story of the original Captain Marvel?)

The next issue has the usual Hulk-in-the-desert-battling-army-helicopters scene -- y'know, the sort of scene that's kicked off a zillion Hulk comics over the years. But instead of just being an opening couple of pages...here Azzarello and Corben devote a whole issue to it.

And that's the problem. For all the pretence of this being an off-beat take on the Hulk, it's a largely generic Hulk story with a paper thin plot, and little characterization. Other than Banner, Samson, and General Ross, there are barely any characters in it! Maybe if they had tossed in Betty, there could've been a little more emotion/pathos to the proceedings. Presumably the point was to really delve into the sense of guilt someone like Banner might feel if he really did periodically turn into an unstoppable monster -- but again, this is all part of the normal Hulk series. At best, Azzarello might accentuate it a bit more. And what characterization there is is kind of vague, even inconsistent, like Samson being kind of creepy and cold-blooded...yet then being empathetic toward the end.

If you've never read a "regular" Hulk comic, this might be sort of interesting. But otherwise, it just seems the same old same old...without even much of a plot.

I mean, how did Azzarello even pitch this to an editor? "See, it's going to be about the Hulk." "Great...and?" asks the editor. "And he smashes things!" "And?" "And he fights the army!" "Uh...and?" "And Banner is depressed and full of angst." "Um...yes, but...and?" "Well, that's about it...I see it as a mini-series!"

I've complained before about minor stories stretched out beyond their needs to justify the TPB collection. I suppose that's because, with modern comics creators enjoying residuals from reprints, the creators themselves earn more that way. I mean, for the good things about this, the mood, the off-beat visuals, and the -- vaguely -- interesting climax, this might've made a decent one-shot. But maybe Azzarello and Corben refused to do it unless there were enough pages to justify a TPB collection which, then, would stay in print longer.

But as it is, the plot is so thin I hesitate even to call it a "plot", and Azzarello brings next to nothing fresh to the Hulk concept. The few -- minor -- quirks he might add are pretty trite...and still don't really add to the actual plot, per se.

The result? "Full of sound and fury"...but signifying, well, very little. Too bad.

Cover price: $__ CDN./ $16.95 USA.


Essential The Rampaging Hulk 2008 (SC TPB) 576 pages

cover by Ken BarrWritten by Doug Moench, with Jim Starlin, John Warner. Illustrated by Walt Simonson, Keith Pollard, Ron Wilson, and Jim Starlin, Herb Trimpe, Sal Buscema. Inks by Alfredo Alcala, and various.
black and white. Letters: various.

Reprinting: Hulk stories from The Rampaging Hulk #1-9, The Hulk #10-15 (1977-1979) and five pages from The Incredible Hulk #269 (1982)

Rating: * * * * (out of 5)

Number of readings: 1

The Hulk had long been the star of his own, regular comic when Marvel decided to try a second title as part of their magazine line -- black & white, larger dimensions aand page count, and sometimes with more "mature readers" content (though that's not as evident with the Hulk as it was with some of Marvel's other magazine size series).

Written by Doug Moench, the first nine issues (after beginning with a brief recap of the Hulk's origin) form "The Krylorian Conspiracy" arc in which the Hulk gets caught up in a covert alien invasion of earth. Not that each issue furthers an overall plot. It's more a series of episodic stories (and a couple of two-parters) as the Hulk finds himself, sometimes by accident, sometimes by design, battling the same aliens...or menaces peripherally connected to them. And it's pretty goofy, light-weight stuff.

Which is kind of the point.

Moench attacks the material with a certain tongue in cheek, intending it mainly as a fun romp. Even the aliens, the Krylorians, seem like a pretty minor adversary, despite their technology and shape changing abilities allowing them to masquerade as people. I think the intent was to evoke some of the gee whiz fun of a less self-important comics era, as Moench throws in dedications to Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, and drags out a few Hulk foes not seen since his earliest adventures (even the Krylorians seem reminiscent of the infamous Toad Men he battled in his second issue!). It's a retroactive continuity implant set in the earliest days of the Hulk's adventures. We're even told the story takes place in 1962, a kind of unusual thing to do in comics where time is usually less explicitly acknowledged -- after all, was Marvel really acknowledging that over fifteen years had passed for Banner in his colour comic since he became the Hulk?

There's little of Bruce Banner's soul searching angst, as he remains the Hulk for extensive periods, letting the responsibility of herodom fall more on the shoulders of the Hulk's 1960s sidekick, Rick Jones, and Bereet, an alien Krylorian woman (and "techno-artist") opposed to her people's plans. The two of them desperately trying to keep the rein on their erratic emerald ally. Other supporting players like Betty Ross and General Ross appear only briefly at the beginning.

One could argue Moench was ahead of his time -- "retro" comics stories are common nowadays. But in 1977? I'm not sure if anyone had done that (the closest might be The Invaders, but even that's not quite the same). On one hand, Moench sets much of the action in Europe, as if maybe trying to deliberately isolate it from Marvel "history"...but on the other hand, he throws in guest stars, including the X-Men (in their original yellow and black costumes), the Sub-Mariner and the Avengers (before they had become the Avengers -- that is, Iron Man, Thor, Wasp & Ant-Man team up informally).

There's no doubt Moench is deliberately going for nostalgia at times (in the X-Men issue, we are treated to heavy handed thought balloons of Cyclops and Marvel Girl, each thinking how they wished the other loved them...just like the old X-Men comics did). But though there are moments of characterization, or flashes of thoughtful brooding, it remains largely superficial (as mentioned, Cyclops and Marvel Girl pine for each other in a panel or two...but it's not relevant to the plot).

But taken as a breezy romp...it can be surprisingly fun, and Moench milks humour as much as action from the Hulk's dimwitted belligerence -- and this despite the fact that the stoories are much longer than regular comics (30-40 pages). However, in an unusual retcon, this story arc was later revealed to be apocryphal -- simply a film made by Bereet on her homeworld (the Krylorians not really galactic conquerors after all). Whether this was intended as a criticism of Moench's tale, or a feeling that it raised too many continuity problems...or simply because then-Hulk scribe Bill Mantlo thought it'd be a novel springboard for a new plot (after all, he was re-introducing Bereet back into the comics himself) I don't know. But this Essential volume reprints five pages from The Incredible Hulk #269 that explain this idea.

The art on the Krylorian saga is handled by a variety of artists, with Walt Simonson and Keith Pollard doing three issues, and Herb Trimpe and Sal Buscema (both more associated with the Hulk) doing an issue each. But this is a title where the inkers dominate, definitely imposing their style on the pencils (particularly Alfredo Alcala). One of the weaknesses with other "Essential" volumes is that they reprint colour stories in black and white...but these first nine issues were black and white, meaning you get a truer presentation of the comics (albeit the magazine-size pages are reduced to regular comic book dimensions). This isn't just black lines devoid of colour, but shaded and grey washed.

That's the first nine issues (interrupted only by a Jim Starlin plotted and drawn filler -- beautifully finished by Alex Nino and scripted by John Warner -- that is kind of moody, even as it is pretty familiar Starlin territory...basically a dry run for his later Metamorphosis Odyssey, right down to featuring a bald, pointy-eared alien sorcerer).

Then there's a major editorial shift in the magazine (and a title change from The Rampaging Hulk to simply The Hulk). It became colour, and the tone of the stories changed. No longer a retro saga (good bye Rick Jones), the change was presumably to make it more in line with the then-popular TV series, and the magazine tries to straddle the two worlds of comics and TV. The focus shifts more to Bruce Banner, and some of the stories have a more realist menace that could've been intended for TV scripts (airplane hijackers) yet there are still more outrageous adventures involving robots and cyborgs. And the Hulk is the familiar comic book Hulk -- super strong and capable of speech.

(Just as an aside, the two recent Hulk movies have both proved, apparently, less than smashing at the box office, and I would argue it's partly because the filmmakers chose to emulate the TV series with an unspeaking Hulk. Without a Hulk that has speech and personality, the movies' long action scenes are basically just a bunch of computer graphics devoid of drama).

Despite this change in tone...Moench remains at the writing helm. And he takes the shift in stride. Indeed, it's the earlier stories that seemed atypical for Moench, as I generally associate him with more grounded, somewhat more pretentious material, such as his well regarded Master of Kung Fu run, or his Moon Knight stories (which were running as a back up to some of these Hulk stories). Moench remains a problematic figure in my mind...a writer often seeming desirous of putting more depth into his stories than simple action/fisticuffs, but not always pulling it off with the necessary deftness or maturity (sometimes, yes, but often, no). So despite more thoughtful, character-based tales, there still aren't any classics among them.

But like the earlier, more goofy stories, there's still a reasonable level of entertainment, even if the plots don't seem significantly more sophisticated than what you might expect in the regular Hulk comic. (And any "mature readers" material is minor: a story where we can infer Bruce sleeps with a woman, another where the racially loaded "N"-word is used...albeit by a black character). Though I might quibble and suggest Moench never fully nails the Hulk's "voice".

Among the highlights are a carnival story, which most seems to try to get away from the "super heroics" in a tale that doesn't even have a "villain", per se. Oh, there are bad people, and conflict, but not a straight forward criminal. It also has a sub-plot involving a mistreated child which, though well intentioned, is resolved rather simply. Another good TV-esque one involves a hi-jacking and crash aboard an airplane -- it works well as a page turner, even aas it doesn't develop the cast beyond the essentials.

For these issues, Ron Wilson is settled in as regular penciller -- Wilson being a capable if workmanlike artist. Again, it's the various inkers that dictate the visual flavour, and the art varies from story to story (but is never less than decent). These colour stories are reprinted here in black and white, but unlike most Essential volumes, instead of reproducing them from the original black and white plates, it's copied from the finished, coloured art, so that the stories still have a richly shaded and modelled look, that both maintains a consistency with the earlier issues, and that means the work of the colourists (including Steve Oliff and Marie Severin) is a least acknowledged.

It also means this is arguably one of the most visually attractive of the Essential books, being more than just black lines on white pages.

The Hulk magazine featured back up tales, but this collection only re-presents the Hulk tales, so these aren't the complete issues -- except for #15. That's because, in addition to the main Hulk story, that issue also had a second Hulk tale and a Moon Knight tale which were meant to play off of each other. They are included and, funnily enough, are among the best of the tales. Maybe it's because of the brevity (two ten page stories), or the beautiful art combo of Bill Sienkiewicz (back then using a more realist, Neal Adams-like style) and inker Bob McLeod, or maybe it's because the very simplicity of the tales (moody, yet light) are appealing. Either way, it's a nice cap to this collection.

So, in 500 hundred some pages, you get a lot of variety for your money -- some goofy, sci-fi adventures with Rick Jones along for the ride, and some brooding, more sober tales of Bruce Banner at war with his alter ego; plenty of super hero guest stars...plus plenty of solo Hulk tales as well. There's even a short all-text story! To be brutal, there's nothing that stand-out here. Even when Moench is going for the thoughtful he can be hampered by clumsy dialogue and simplistic plotting. But the advantage to these Essential collections is no one story is really required to carry the tome -- and as a collection of Hulk stories that run a stylistic gamut, there's a little something for everyone here.

Cover price: $__ CDN./ $16.95 USA.

Pocket Book Reprint / Marvel Illustrated Book
cover by Bob LarkinThe Incredible Hulk
Published in 1982 by Marvel Comics - in Colour

Reprinting: The Avengers #88, The Incredible Hulk #140, 142 (1971)

Written by Roy Thomas. Art by Herb Trimpe, Sal Buscema. Inked by Jim Mooney, Sam Grainger, John Severin.
Colours: unbilled. Letters: Shelley Leferman, Artie Simek. Editor: Stan Lee.

Rating: * * * (out of 5)

One of the pocket book sized reprints Marvel and DC used to occasionally put out in the 1970s and early 1980s, where comics were reprinted a couple of panels per page (with some occasional editing). Usually they were black and white -- occasionally, as here, they were in full colour.

This collection of three stories is a little odd in its very eclecticness (although all stories were published in the same year). The first two are interconnected (with a plot credit going to critically regarded author, Harlan Ellison), but the first is an Avengers story where the Hulk spends the entire issue comatose; the second has the Hulk in a sub-microscopic world; while the third is mainly a satirical piece. Not exactly a collection of stories representative of the series overall, eh? Which may've been the point.

The first story is an enjoyable enough Avengers adventure, as the team finds a voodoo cult that leads to a tropical island and a strange being attempting to siphon the Hulk's power. The Hulk is accidentally shrunk in the ensuing fight...leading to the next story. It's decently illustrated by Sal Buscema and Jim Mooney. The story also boasts cameos by Mr. Fantastic and Prof. X.

The follow up story has the Hulk in a sub-atomic world. Nowadays, the story isn't that significant, but at the time, it introduced Jarella, a beautiful green-skinned woman who Hulk would pine for for many issues (and years) to come. I actually had some trouble with this story when I read it years ago, as Hulk/Banner falls in love with Jarella...even though his lady love was supposed to be Betty Ross. If you're familiar with the controversy over Harlan Ellison's classic "Star Trek" script, "The City on the Edge of Forever", you'll know that Ellison has maintained that no one should be able to say how a character should or shouldn't behave (his Star Trek script was re-written because the producers felt Ellison had Capt. Kirk act out of character). I don't exactly agree with Ellison's attitude, and I kind of wonder if that attitude is reflected here -- he wanted to plot a romance, so he did, even if it contradicted the character. To be fair, I may be way off base, because I realize Banner/Hulk refers to Betty having been turned into crystal (!) so maybe the relationship was already, y'know, on hiatus.

Anyway, when originally reprinted here, this was a "classic" story. I had a few Hulk stories from later where Hulk would be fruitlessly searching for Jarella -- unaware she existed in another dimension -- so that it was neat to finally read the story behind it all.

Another, at the time, curious notion was that part way through the story, Bruce Banner's mind ends up in control of the Hulk's body -- not a radical idea now, but at the time, I don't think anyone had done it before. At the same time, it adds a certain poignancy to the Hulk's later questing for his lost love -- when you realize, it wasn't really the Hulk Jarella loved, but Banner. Although the alien environment, and the court intrigue Hulk/Banner find themselves embroiled in, isn't the Hulk's usual beat, it's a briskly paced, entertaining enough fantasy-adventure.

The final story borrows its concept from author/journalist Tom Wolfe's book, Radical Chic, lampooning society soirees thrown as fund raisers for radical causes -- why such a thing should be lampooned, even if the hosts are a tad hypocritical, is a debate for another day. Still, writer Thomas runs with it, as a couple of shallow society types decide to throw a fund raiser for the Hulk -- with Tom Wolfe himself appearing in the story! Eventually a fight ensues between the Hulk and an irate feminist, imbued with powers by the villainous Enchantress. The story's a bit dated in that respect. Thomas, like a lot of guys at the time, seemed decidedly ambivalent about Women's Lib (likewise, his derogatory characterization of voodoo in the first story seems a tad insensitive) -- though he outgrew that attitude. Still, it's amusing in spots, with just a touch of the usual Hulk pathos, and the Herb Trimpe-John Severin art team was one of my favourite Hulk combos. Though at the time, it was a tad confusing, as the Enchantress transforms the feminist into the Valkyrie -- the same look that would later be used for the Defenders' character, but I never did figure out the connection.

Ultimately, I can't say this is a must read, certainly not for someone looking for archetypal Hulk stories. And the relevance -- such as the introduction of Jarella --- has definitely been muted by the passage of time. At the same time, the stories are briskly paced, with Thomas writing in that snappy, wry way popular at the time, throwing in hip references and literary allusions (lots of Harlan Ellison titles are worked in, and more than a few Captain Marvel/Shazam references, including one about statues in a subway tunnel and two sub-atomic wizards named Holi and Moli) -- you got to love a supposedly "juvenile" art form where characters drop references to Norman Mailer and Truman Capote. And Thomas makes full use of text captions to really flesh out a scene. The Radical Chic homage dates the story, which will turn off some...but I actually kind of like reading stories that reflect their time and place.

Entertaining, just not essential.



Hulk, vol. 2  2003 (HC)

Reprinting: Hulk #44-54

Additional notes: intro by Jones; afterward by Andrews about the creation of the cover for #50; sketches, page breakdowns; and promo art.

Since this collects the stories reprinted in the separate TPBs Transfer of Power and Abominable, I've reviewed them under those titles.



 
 

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