Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Graphic Lit: World War Hulk

“Puny humans. I’ve come to smash.”

That priceless bit of dialogue comes about one third of the way through the first issue of “World War Hulk,” Marvel’s latest summer blockbuster event and a follow-up to the recent “Civil War” brouhaha.

I always greet these big “everything will change,” universe-shattering events with a mixture of apathy and apprehension, as such things always seem geared more toward empty hype than an actual interest in producing something worth reading (“Civil War” was especially guilty in this regard).

It’s like the carnival barker promising you sights that will amaze and astound, and you go in the tent and see a papier-mache figure glued onto a fish.

The good news is that “Hulk” promises to be a real hoot, at least based on the first issue. Written by Greg Pak and drawn by John Romita Jr. and Klaus Janson, the comic delivers just about everything I’d want from a series like this, which, to be completely honest, isn’t very much.

Before I delve into the issue though, a bit of back story is in order (though the comic nimbly provides plenty of exposition for those who haven’t been following the Hulk’s adventures lately).

About a year or so ago, a group of superpowered potentates — Dr. Strange, Mr. Fantastic, Iron Man and the Inhuman known as Black Bolt — decided the Hulk was too dangerous to be allowed to roam freely on earth and decided to shoot him out into space.

They wanted him to land on a peaceful celestial body, but instead he ended up on a barbaric planet, where he became a gladiator.

Being the Hulk, he fought his way to the top and eventually became literally king of the world (all this is retold in the “Planet Hulk” saga, now out in collected hardcover), with a beautiful alien queen at his side.

As always happens in these types of stories, though, the Hulk’s happiness is short-lived. The spaceship he came in unexpectedly blows up, killing his wife and unborn child and about a million other folks.

Now really ticked off, the Hulk grabs a group of surviving warriors and heads back to Earth, eager for some payback, which is where “World War” picks up.

It should be noted that this Hulk isn’t the pea-brained gentle giant that many readers no doubt remember. This Hulk is a lot smarter and speaks in complete sentences, though he’s obviously not above using phrases like “puny humans.”

As you might expect, a certain amount of disbelief must be willingly endured while reading (New York City is evacuated in only 23 hours? Uh-huh.). But once you’ve dialed your brain down a notch or two, the comic offers a number of pleasures, most of them involving brightly costumed people thrashing each other incessantly.

While there are certainly numerous emotional and political hooks that Pak can latch onto, he wisely chooses to keep such elements simmering in the background, preferring instead to focus on slam-bang action, all the while keeping a delicate tongue-in-cheek.

Which is exactly what the 5-year-old in me wants from a book of this nature. Save the soap opera heroics for the main titles, please. I just want to watch the Hulk smash things up real good.

Thank goodness that Romita is on the job, then, as he and Janson do an excellent job choreographing the action for fullest effect, giving weight and realism to the characters, but not at the expense of fantasy.

The series will run for five issues, with plenty of tie-ins and related miniseries produced.

Of course, there are plenty of opportunities for this “epic” to fall flat on its face, but I remain hopeful that the succeeding issues will fully exploit the goodwill engendered here.

Yes, “World War Hulk” is silly and cartoonishly violent, but gloriously so. In a summer when Hollywood’s big blockbusters reek of desperation, here’s one that actually entertains.

Copyright The Patriot-News, 2007



At 3:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's interesting reading your thoughts, but personally I found World War Hulk to be even more pointless than Civil War. I just wish that Marvel and DC would do more events like Infinite Crisis (genuinely great) and less like House Of M (Horrid horrid horrid).

Great blog by the way...

At 4:15 PM, Blogger Chris Mautner said...

Well thanks Mikey, I appreciate the compliment.

I hated Infinite Crisis though.


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