Hulks and Heroes

Excelsior, as Stan the Man might have put it.

Three more offerings from Marvel’s House of Ideas.

Red Hulk – Hulk of Arabia

Written by Jeff Parker, illustrated by Patch Zircher

Back when I was reading the comic the Hulk was green, and he still is in the films, but this iteration of the character however is red. In fact he is Bruce Banner’s old nemesis General Ross, who got himself all hulked up to take care of the green menace, only to find that things aren’t quite that simple. Subsequently, as close as I can figure, he has become an agent of the US government under the supervision of Captain America, but is still inclined to go off the reservation when it suits the plot for him to do so, and that’s what happens here. When an old friend from the military is killed by terrorists/freedom fighters in Arabia, redskin sets off to tear some new arseholes, a quest that takes him to the newly founded state of Sharzhad, whose head honcho is Dagan Shah, the Sultan Magus. The Secret Avengers intervene to focus our hero’s anger, and with Machine Man as an ally he investigates the nature of Shah’s power, finding that it is based on access to Rigellan technology, along the way clashing with local super hero the Arabian Knight, before the politicians rein him in. And reading this what occurred to me first and foremost is what a complicated place the Marvel Universe has become in my absence, with a plethora of alien races and new characters. The story here seems highly contrived, and personally I had a problem with Red Hulk haring off to avenge a mercenary, even though he himself had criticised his friend for taking that career path. The Arab characters look like refugees from an Aladdin panto, though the subtext about foreigners interfering in the Middle East rings heartfelt and true, and I found myself sympathising with Dagan Shah and his apparent success at making the desert bloom and providing peace for his people. The ending feeds into this, with the UN’s acceptance of Sharzhad, though I suspect in the long run Shah’s use of alien technology will damn him and Red Hulk, who wants to take the guy out, will be vindicated. Visually the book is impressive, with some striking imagery and solid use of colour. It is however a minor Marvel, rather than major.

Red Hulk – Fall of the Hulks

Written by Jeff Parker, illustrated by Carlos Rodriguez & Fernando Blanco

Now here is where it all gets just a tad too complicated. Red Hulk, who may or may not be General Ross this time around, joins forces with a Blue Abomination to invade an A.I.M. base where they empower a robot Hulk. The original Hulk is supervising in his Bruce Banner role, and there’s also reference to a Cosmic Hulk, and maybe one or two more Hulks (you need a score card). Overarching all this is a plot by the Leader and M.O.D.O.K. to take control of the world for the greater good of humanity, and helping them forward this agenda are a number of super villains whose motives may not be quite as pure. Oh, and Thundra from the future gets involved, as does her She-Hulk offspring. Everybody fights everybody, with bonus material in which Red She-Hulk battles first the She-Hulk, and then a tag team of Elektra and Domino. And, in case you haven’t guessed, it all left me feeling a bit confused, not least because the characters are continually referencing stuff that took place in other storylines. It is, to be blunt, a total mess, one where the reader struggles to keep track of what is going down and why, a struggle that most of the time I felt I was losing. This is the Marvel Universe getting too top heavy for its own good, and the more Hulks you throw into the mix the weaker it all becomes. The artwork is excellent, but in this case that seems to be nothing more than a consolation prize. Call me old fashioned and backward looking, but I much prefer the days when Bruce Banner’s alter ego was green and one of a kind.

Nova – Realm of Kings

Written by Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning, illustrated by Kevin Sharpe & Mahmud A. Asrar

I remember reading and collecting the old Nova comic, but this version of the character takes Nova back to his cosmic roots as commander of the Nova Corps (an intergalactic law enforcement outfit, similar to DC’s Green Lantern Corps). Briefly, Nova and his cohorts and various allies, including Mr Fantastic, are sucked into a virtual universe as part of the Sphinx’s plan to revitalise himself and take control of reality. And when that’s done, Nova and Darkhawk must return to Earth to fight a rogue Quasar and prevent a many tentacled alien monstrosity from breaking through. As side issues we have the escape from captivity of Ego, the living planet, and Nova defying natural law by returning his dead love Namorita to life (you know that one is going to go sour). It’s all golly gosh, wow stuff, packed with sensawunda and enough fight scenes for a third world police action. While I can’t quite convince myself that the Nova uniform is anything but silly and impractical, and the character little more than a cipher with never clearly defined powers, there is no denying that the book delivers in cosmic terms and is a thoroughly entertaining read. And all that blue sky plotting and space adventure is the prompt for some gob smacking artwork, with each page a treat for the eyes as you drink in the wide open vistas and myriad colours out of space. I just wish the characters had been a bit easier to identify with and care about which, actually, is true for all three of these books. Creating convincing people used to be Marvel’s strong point, but it seems to be a quality that’s been held in abeyance for these books. Nuff said!

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