Thursday, August 7, 2008

Hulk #5 Review

Writer: Jeph Loeb
Penciller: Ed McGuinness

I haven't seen many comics raise quite the amount of ire as Jeph Loeb's current Hulk run. There are literally pictures of people burning it on one of the comic book forums, with many other comic fans cheering on the book burner. This is partly a spinoff of the of anger at Loeb's disastrous Ultimates 3 series. Loeb has taken two of Marvel's most successful titles, Ultimates and the Hulk, and has created arcs so goofy that it is unclear whether or not they are intended as satire. When critical success turns into goofy but dark camp, one can see how people might become very upset.

Stepping back from Ultimates 3 for a minute, how does Hulk #5 work as a comic book? That answer is: not very well. It is a great big fight between Hulk and Thor, full of "Kraka-Booming" lightning and a lot of threats to kill one another. It feels like it should be a silver age romp, and I have no problem with that at all. In fact, I love retro romps and goofy comics, especially when they are done well.

However, this book comes across as extremely mean. Since we don't understand this red Hulk's motivations at all, or even whether it is in fact Leonard Samson (the summary page at the beginning hints that it might not be), an extremely articulate Hulk that is systematically trying to kill people isn't fun. I believe this issue is trying to be funny when the Hulk beats up Thor, but is about as funny as a bully picking on another kid or someone ripping the wings off of a bug. Instead of being thrilled by the action, we are supposed to be thrilled by the violence and malevolence of the Red Hulk but they're not thrilling, only disturbing. The anger of the green Hulk is sometimes cathartic because it is a pure expression of rage by an irrational being; the red Hulk is simply to intelligent to be cathartic.

There are other problems with the book. A major one is the art. There are no backgrounds to this story. Thor and the Hulk fight on a bridge, and we only know that because the bridge is seen dimly every three pages or so. The art in the book feels incomplete and seems to be almost an attempt to create a series of pinups of Thor and the Red Hulk fighting. I almost want McGuinness to go back and finish up his artwork.

I don't have the same dislike of the idea of the red Hulk that many other comic book fans do. I am assuming that there is a reason why the red Hulk is so powerful that he can beat up Watchers and gods with very little effort. Once this is revealed, assuming it is done well, I have no problem with his level of power. One of the interesting things about the Hulk is that his power level is literally infinite, in the sense that there is no limit to his power so long as he is angry enough. That he was so angry during the World War Hulk story gave it much of its plausibility, and if the Red Hulk is somehow a side of Bruce Banner (which I'm hoping it is), then it might make sense.

However, Loeb has to get on with it. This book isn't really a mystery, since we haven't even been given enough clues to have any idea why this new Hulk is so powerful. What we have so far are five issues of fighting which are not fun and which need to be brought into focus very quickly, or this book will lose all interest. The book isn't funny as satire, engaging as a mystery or dramatic in effect. I'd call it a mess, but it's not complex enough to be a mess.

The scene between A-Bomb (ugh) and the green Hulk is actually bordering on offensive. Having two characters with the low intelligence of the green Hulk speak to each other in a way that is intended to be funny seems to have its humor rest on people finding conversations between two mentally disabled people funny. Some people find the Hulk's speech patterns intrinsically offensive, but I've always thought they sound more childlike than anything and as long as they aren't supposed to be funny, they are not done to mock the disabled. However, the A-Bomb-Hulk conversation is an example of how the Hulk's speech patterns can be used for tasteless and offensive humour at the expense of the disabled.

So far, Loeb's run on the Hulk is a disaster. I think it's supposed to be either satire or a silver-age adventure, but it's failing on both counts. It's too bad, because either a satirical Hulk or a silver-agey Hulk could provide an interesting story. This isn't as bad as the Ultimates 3, but that's pretty much the only positive thing to say about it.