“Who is the Hulk?”
Definitely one of the top storylines of the year, regardless of how it ended, "World War Hulk" kept comic fans salivating and wanting to see the smash. "World War Hulk" was a great lesson in character development and evolution. Greg Pak did a fantastic job with the character and ultimately steering an intriguing new direction for the big green… or the big red. Ever since the promotional image depicting the Red Hulk debuted a few months ago, fans have been in a frenzy trying to figure out who and what this new Red Hulk is. With Bruce Banner locked away deep under the desert, the mystery deepens and Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness return to Marvel to bring Hulk onto shelves.
“Who is the Red Hulk?” This issue most definitely does not answer that question, but it does set in motion an odd chain of events that set-up the future of this title’s first story-arc. I’m not going to lie, this issue does the same thing that Jeph Loeb’s first issue of Ultimates 3 does: it sets-up a certain type of story, but it doesn’t explain what has transpired between "World War Hulk" and this issue. The issue opens with Doc Samson and She-Hulk investigating an incident that seemingly involves the Hulk. Of course, with Banner locked up the probability of this being the case is very low. My problem with this scene is not its execution but the tone. It is very “matter of fact” like the Hulk or a Hulk being on the loose isn’t that big of a deal. The idea of Doc Samson playing out the scene of the crime is very cool, but the dialogue is drab and out of place. From a reading standpoint I had a bit of trouble getting into the story with little mention of what has happened since "World War Hulk."
Everything in the beginning of this story happens so fast and magically Iron Man, Maria Hill and General Ross appear to join the investigation. The victim, a very high profile Hulk villain, has been shot and apparently killed by a Hulk sized gun. I feel like the new Hulk, especially with the running theory of it being Rick Jones, would be going after the Warbound from "World War Hulk." However, Jeph Loeb makes little reference to "World War Hulk" and that only adds to the “matter of fact” feeling surrounding this issue. Loeb also tosses in a completely random battle with the Russian version of the Avengers, the Winter Guard. However, this is not the same Winter Guard that appeared during the 1990s; Ursa Major and Crimson Dynamo are now members of the group, and the two “original” members have new secret identities. I hope they get involved in the search for the Hulk because their role in this issue is nothing more than to engage in a mindless battle with Iron Man, Doc Samson and She-Hulk. This fight scene loses any sense of drama and suspense by a small square panel with Maria Hill holding her hand to her face and saying “Oy.” I mean let’s be serious, there’s no need for this fight perhaps other than to show that Samson is not the new Hulk because he gets pretty mad.
The general belief about the “Red Hulk” is that it is Rick Jones. This theory is blatantly teased with poor expositional dialogue and a scene that nearly deliberately throws it out there. If Rick Jones is now the Hulk, Loeb has a great deal of explaining to do. How did it happen? Why did it happen? How did Rick survive being impaled at the end of "World War Hulk"? How long has Samson been on his trail? Why isn’t Samson working with S.H.I.E.L.D.? Just like Ultimates 3, Jeph Loeb leaves a great deal of questions to be answered by the time this issue ends. Adding to the things that need explanation are the little things that bother me like the front gate guard at the Gamma Base. I just don’t really understand what’s going on besides a new Hulk being on the loose. I also have to disagree with Loeb’s choice at the end of this issue, bringing in a certain character happened much too early and I don’t believe General Ross would be looking to that person for help so soon.
While the story leaves a great deal in question, Ed McGuinness delivers some of his finest work I’ve ever seen. McG, Dexter Vines and Jason Keith do a spectacular job with the artwork throughout this issue. McG’s style usually features the overly muscular and anatomically exaggerated, but his style in this issue is perfect. Faces look great; his style is so unique and so consistent that it’s difficult not to appreciate the spectacular work put into drawing this issue. Vines and Keith run excellent support on inks and colors respectively, and the artwork is definitely the highlight of this issue.
I’m a fan of Jeph Loeb, and I really enjoy a lot of his past DC Comics works. However, I’m a little wary of where this story is going and how Loeb will execute the events that will transpire and also the effects that have transpired before this issue. As for now, I’m along for the ride as it is a bit difficult to judge a title’s direction based on the first issue. However, there’s nothing truly Earth-shattering about this issue and the same questions that have been looming for months still linger.
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