Sunday, June 17, 2007

World War Hulk #1

World War Hulk #1, August 2007, Marvel Comics
by Greg Pak, John Romita, Jr., Klaus Janson, Christina Strain
letterer: Chris Eliopoulos
assistant editor: Nathan Cosby
editor: Mark Paniccia
EIC: Joe Quesada

Forget his producers, sponsors, financial investors, and fans. Michael Bay owes a great deal of thanks to Old MacDonald. Let me explain: the "summer vacation" as we know it is a result of America's rural roots, when kids took the season off from school to help their families on the farm. For some reason, this schedule stuck even after the Industrial Age, and a century later, Hollywood has established a rich tradition of offering its grandest projects, like, say, Michael Bay's forthcoming Transformers, when children have the whole day to kill. It's an entirely different kind of crop, that's for sure. So, what does this analogy have to do with Marvel's latest crossover World War Hulk? Well, based on its first issue, this epic is being produced with the vigor of a cinematic masterpiece; further, Romita, Janson, and cover artist David Finch bring an Ocean's Thirteen stardom to the series as Marvel's top artistic talent. Yet, with so many World War Hulk tie-ins slated for July and August, the Marvel Bullpen is truly paying homage to Old MacDonald and utilizing its families talents, presenting an event many fans may prefer even over its real cinematic offering, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer.

At least I didn't have to wait in line for this one. The question is, would it be worth the wait . . .?

In a word, based on this inaugural effort, yes. Though, the description "inaugural" is a misnomer, since this story began over a year ago, when Marvel's super-powered elite, Mr. Fantastic, Iron Man, Dr. Strange, and the Inhumans' Black Bolt, decided to rocket the Hulk into space, where he landed on a savage planet that eventually dubbed him its ruler. Now, I didn't read Planet Hulk, but World War Hulk #1 does a succinct job in wrapping up past events, and in establishing ol' Jade Jaws' rage. Dr. Strange puts it best: "He's never been angrier. So he's never been stronger." And the Hulk doesn't disappoint; he makes short work of Black Bolt, who had apparently beat Greenjeans before, and warns the Inhuman's peers of his eminent revenge. The Hulk isn't void of his inherent heroism, though, as he gives heroes twenty-four notice to evacuate New York, an effort that precedes his anticipated battle with Iron Man, which culminates in and brings down the Sentry's Watchtower. As the Avengers gather around the towers ruins, a sole figure emerges -- yes, the Hulk. He's just getting started.

The very pacing of this issue asserts its cinematic potential, not just as the first of a five-part miniseries but as a story in and of itself. For example, the first page is a darn near ethereal list of its creators, the print equivalent of a film's opening credits. Then, the brief flashback, the Hulk's return to our solar system, and his landing on the moon from both the residing Inhumans' and the Aerospace Space Station's respective perspectives eased us the audience into the full breadth of this adventure. From Black Bolt's defensive attack to the Avengers' evacuation of the Big Apple, the action is grand but muted, seemingly reserved until Iron Man answers the Hulk's call and eventually gets his red and yellow butt handed to him. Although I suspect that another hero was inside the iron armor, and I'll spare you the spoiler in case I'm wrong, Iron Man was a worthy first line of offense, and while the confrontation was climatic for this issue's sake, we can be sure that the best is yet to come. And, of course, that the real Mean Green/Stark face-off has yet to come.

My only concern is that Marvel might substitute substance for unnecessary supply. World War Hulk is but a five issue miniseries, but counting all of the supplemental issues on the WWH checklist, readers need thirty-seven comics to read the whole story. I haven't jumped aboard a crossover like this in a long time, perhaps since DC's similarly titled Our Worlds at War, and while we old vets know that not every issue is critical, Marvel must anticipate that eager collectors will cough up the over one hundred and fifty bucks for the whole campaign. Back-up features like blatant advertisements for other Hulk graphic novels and a shameless "buy more" essay from EIC Joe Quesada only prove my point, especially considering that those extra pages could've offered more Planet Hulk flashbacks, or, heaven forbid, more story, via Daily Bugle editorials or other such text-intensive devices, akin to The Watchmen's supplemental features. Nothing sells me more on a story than its ability to consume me completely, and with the pathos behind the Hulk's return, extra material shouldn't be too difficult to create. I mean, what's The Irredeemable Ant-Man #10 really contributing that a Doc Samson psychological profile wouldn't?

Artsitically? Romita, Jr. and Janson turn in some of their best work to date. Romita's square-jawed heroes are reminiscent of Kirby's style, that which defined drawing comics the Marvel way, and the page layout and characters' blocking are absolutely perfect, both establishing setting and background and almost focusing on the in-the-moment details that make this story the real character study that it is.

Indeed, though World War Hulk is a multi-title crossover like many other stories from the past two decades, Marvel dares to put its heroes' moral compass into a tailspin once again -- first in the political saga Civil War, and now but posing the unasked question to its readers: Were Mr. Fantastic, Iron Man, Dr. Strange, and Black Bolt right in sending the Hulk into space? Though they sought to spare Earth the Hulk's destructive rampages, their friend Bruce Banner remains inside the behemoth, and their actions brought danger and tragedy to another world's population. Is this collateral damage acceptable to our heroes? While they strive to defend innocents from the Hulk's revenge, Jade Jaws' mission is really one of avenging his fallen alien friends . . . and the queen that carried his child. If such a fate befell any other hero, would we the readers judge them? Honestly, what draws me to this series is the Hulk's righteousness; though his wayward heroism has been recklessly dangerous in the past, his cause is just now, and I'd like to see his mission smash Marvel's heroes both physically and ethically.

Plus, was that Rick Jones watching the news in Las Vegas? Will he finally take the Hulk's side once again? How long has it been since he's been around? Also, how will the Hulk react to Captain America's death? Will it affect him, or will he shrug it off as one less cape to crush?

Yes, World War Hulk has planted some seeds of thought for this reader, and I trust future issues will harvest these impressions into an equally poignant resolution. School may be out for summer, but the lessons are just beginning in the Marvel Universe . . . and I wouldn't be surprised if, by the time this all ends, somebody else buys the farm. Old MacDonald would be proud . . .

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