Rampaging Hulk 1998 1-6

Written by Glenn Greenberg and Terry Kavanagh
Illustrated by Rick Leonardi, Luke Ross, Dan Green, and Tom Wegrzyn

I have a fair amount of single issue comics I haven't read yet, grabbed on the cheap for when I feel like digging through long boxes and bags. I used to do this a lot more often before I moved on to trades as my primary comic medium.

This ongoing series-turned-limited series just begged to be read one day, so I did. Set "about six years ago" in the Hulk's past, it coincides with the end of Peter David's Hulk run, which makes it even more puzzling.

Retro comics just don't sell very well, and I guess this one was no exception. It didn't hurt that the comics themselves are pretty badly written, with artwork that's just not very good. I'm not sure if it was the artist pairing or a deadline issue (I mean this thing needed a fill-in artist by issue 4!), but the usually solid Rick Leonardi (think Spider-Man 2099) is just all over the place here.

The stories are loosely connected, as the Pentagon sends a goon out to try and take the Hulk down once and for all while Ross and Company keep using wacky gimmicks to stop him. There's a lot of hay they could have gotten out of the idea of "just kill Bruce, but it's only hinted at. Instead, we get a lot of re-treading the same ground Stan Lee, Bill Mantlo, and others have already traveled, and with better effect.

Here's the plot breakdowns:

1) Bruce and the Hulk persona fight for control after another scheme of Banner's to free himself leaves him almost dead. Ross and Co watch helplessly while Betty angsts.

2) Bruce finds an old colleague who is only too eager to help, despite his frail nature. Soon, a new gamma-spawned menace is afoot. You can do the math. This time, Talbot angsts.

3) Big battle between the Hulk and the new menace, who looks and acts like a poor-man's Maestro (a letter writer even comments on this later). Hulk must save the lives of Ross and Co. against a greater threat. This time, General Ross angsts.

4) Fill in artist issue! Bruce, while running away, find another man running away from his own inner demons. With the pressure of ice building thanks to an avalanche, can Bruce save the man and his child? This issue's theme: The Hulk's inherent goodness. This issues's angster? The troubled man.

5) Guest-star issue! The FF go after the Hulk for the umpteenth time and fail to capture him for the Umpteenth time minus a few meetings. This time, Ben Grimm angsts.

6) Last issue, new writer. Kavanagh decides that what the Hulk needs to do is meet up with a lame Spider-Man villain, the Puma. Can stereotypical Native American culture save Bruce Banner? Nah, that would mean having to explore things beyond the status quo. Not going to happen in the last issue, and this time, the reader (me) angsts because I really hope I only paid a quarter each for these.

This series obviously was a nostalgia trip purposefully trying to ape the late 1970s and early 1980s Hulk comics, many of which I own. But the problem is that the voice is off and the ideas are too similar to what was already done (again, a problem in retro comics). It's difficult to set a story in a character's past, even for the best writers. Byrne can do it, Busiek can do it, Loeb can do it, but wasn't able to with Banner--his retro Hulk story is my least-favorite Loeb/Sale work.

Greenberg's stab unfortunately ends up falling short of its goal and since the plots are things I've read dozens of times over, I'm just not interested. Better to read some Essentials than a modern try at the same time period, unless the writing is excellent.

I'm not planning on keeping these issues, so if you're interested in giving them a shot, ping me.