June 7, 2010

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World War Hulk: Frontline

Written by Peter David and Peter Jenkins
Illustrated by Various Artists, including Lee Weeks, Sean Phillips, and Scott Hanna
Marvel

Once again in their crossover event, Marvel gives us the underside of the proceedings, as we track Ben Urich and a common cop as they try to untangle the problems inherent in an alien invasion. Plus, see how it all began, as Peter David brings his ability to tie everything together to start of World War Hulk. While Urich looks to see what the war does tothe common man, our cop must find an alien's killer--or die trying. Read what Marvel calls its "street-level view of World War Hulk here on the Frontline.

It's always fun to get Peter David back on a Hulk story, even if in this case, he's steadfastly refusing to go over his own history with the character. If you read his opening carefully, you'll see that while he's more than willing to show old Lee-Kirby fights and Iron Man's great power, or even some Bill Mantlo-Sal Buscema scenes, nowhere at all does David try to tie in his part of the Jade Giant's life into the narrative.

That's a bit odd, given how much of Hulk's history that David has written. However, even without it, the opening to this book is very good. David uses a dual narrative to show how we've gotten to the brink of war, and instead of just going with the "true" history of each event, he uses the unique (and biased) perspectives of Hulk and Dr. Samson to show that nothing is quite as we envision it. His style of using but not abusing continuity here meshes very well with Grek Pak and Fred Van Lente's work on the Hulk and its related books, which I appreciated a lot.

The dialog is crisp, and it's helped along by three artists who do a great job with their parts. Each captures the feel of what they are depicting, and despite the fact that they're all mixed in with each other, I didn't feel like I was ever jarred out of place. Week's ability to draw the classic scenes (I'm pretty sure those are his parts) is pretty cool, and reminds me favorably of Steve Rude's aping of past styles.

I'm not a huge fan of Paul Jenkins, but I think he did a pretty good job with this set of stories. Urich shows that so much gets lost in a war, as we get caught up in the big battles and famous names. As in all of his other roles over the years, Urich is shown to be the voice of reason in a world gone mad, and Jekins does that pretty well. It may be a bit heavy-handed at times, such as when Urich goes to an arena battle and finds that his fellow Americans want blood just as badly as those who are there to oppress them, but overall, I thought the effect was pretty good.

Jenkins' handling of Urich's partner, Sally Floyd, is another matter. She's given the task of showing the despair of those who feel that all is lost, and regresses pretty badly as a character, if you ask me. When J. Jonah Jameson is your moral anchor, there's a problem. (I'm sorry, while I like JJJ, I can never forget that his whole purpose as created by Stan Lee is to show the selfishness of a humanity that can't stand it if someone is better than they are.) Those sections are given too much attention, which takes away from the war itself. However, they're not so bad as to prevent the Urich half of that story to be unreadable.

The crime story involving the cop and the alien was a lot of fun. We're given a problem that makes sense in context, and must work along with the protagonists to solve the crime. The clash of cultures despite the same desire for justice works extremely well, and there's even a few humorous moments thrown in. I loved the ending, which shows that sometimes we are blinded by our biases.

The cop story, to me, shows that when he tries, Jenkins can write a really good comic that doesn't have to keep pulling on emotional strings. Whether it's Spider-Man pining for Uncle Ben or Sally wanting drink after drink, I sometimes feel like Jenkins can't write a comic that doesn't turn into a Lifetime Drama. As a result, this part of the trade was really refreshing.

Overall, as with most of the World War Hulk stuff I read, I was pretty pleased. Given the right group of writers, a crossover can be good. I feel like World War Hulk gets lumped in with some of the other stuff that's been going on at Marvel the past few years, but it's an unfair comparison. While there are some mighty modern failings in here, those who just like good comic stories that don't do things just for shock value should find World War Hulk Frontline an enjoyable read. With a few exceptions here and there, I know I did.