March 27, 2009

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World War Hulk

Written by Greg Pak
Illustrated by John Romita Jr. and Klaus Jansen
Marvel

So I finally manged to get my hands on the main part of the World War Hulk crossover, after quite a bit of waiting. Greg Pak writes the story of the Hulk's revenge for the death of his planet, ripping the Warbound right through damn near all of Marvel's heroes, referencing past Hulk stories in his acknowledge continuity but don't be a slave to it manner along the way.

Soon, the Hulk is in control of everything--but the earth has quite a few cards left to play. They escalate the battle, calling on everything from Ross's military might to Dr. Strange's most dark incantations to the Sentry himself.

But are the cures worse than the disease? Would stopping the Hulk once and for all mean the destruction of far more? When war escales to this level--how do you stop? Can you stop?

Well, since this is the Marvel Universe, there has to be a stop or you can't make movies anymore, so we do get an ending that seems a bit odd, given that it could have been tried from the get-go. But Pak gets to make a statement about the nature of vengence inside a slam-bang crossover, and there's really nothing wrong with that.

John Romita, Jr is the artist for this one, and I have to admit, it's an odd choice. Yes, JRJR is one of the biggest artists in the Marvel stable, but he's also far more suited for drawing people than monsters. You get great emotion in the faces of Ross, Richards, Rick, and others, even people whose names don't start with R. But the large fight sccenes with the Hulk against ever-larger foes, just don't have the power that, say, David Finch (of the cover above) can bring. I do like that Romita opted, wherever possible, to use his artistic strengths to great effect, such as bringing the action closer to the reader where his emotive abilities shine. The condemnation of the Illuminati scenes are particularly good at this.

Pak's story is an interesting look at the escalation of violence in comics, while at the same time, escalating the violence--these battles basically take out New York City in a way that would have seemed inconceivable after 9-11. I guess six years is long enough to wait before destroying iconic buildings again. (See also the Watchmen movie.) There is a lot of commentary that borders on meta--the characterization of Strange, Stark, and Richards, in particular. (T'Challa telling Reed he made this the world's fight was particularly strong, I thought.) I also like how well Pak ties things into other doings within the Marvel universe without dragging us so far down we need to be reading all of them.

This book reads pretty well as a stand alone, not requiring you to have read all the crossovers to know what's going on, though I pretty much have by this point. He keeps the action on-panel for the most part and doesn't waste too much time summarizing the past (a few pages explain Planet Hulk, and a few panels take care of other things we need to know, like the Civil War status quo or doings with the Inhumans). It should hold up fairly well if read years later.

The only real weakness I saw is the ending. I am not a big believer that the Hulk has almost limitless, godlike power. The idea that he could threaten the world on his own is rather out there. It does ding the enjoyability down a bit for me. Hulk is amazingly powerful, yes, but is he on the level of Galactus? I don't think so. (There's also the matter of major villains like Doom being completely ignored. I hardly think Victor would just let the world burn around him. And the chance to defeat the Hulk and one-up Richards would just be too much to resist.)

Old-school Hulk fans probably wouldn't like this one and I'm almost sure those who only consider David's Hulk to be the defining one would probably hate it, as there's no psychological doings here--it's all about the rage. But if you're looking for a good story about the difficulty in drawing the lines between good and evil when you reach a certain escalation point. Though the execution is not perfect (I'm not convinced all the heroes would toe the Stark line given we are just past Civil War here), World War Hulk is a fun time.