Saturday, June 07, 2008

I read a comic book

Giant-Size Incredible Hulk #1
Marvel: July, 2008
Roger Stern, Writer;
Zach Howard & Cory Hamscher, Artists

I was killing a little time in the LCS the other day when I saw this book on the rack; the cover was compelling. I hadn't read any Hulk books in at least a decade, but here he was, on the front of a comic, beautifully drawn (by cover artist Gary Frank), and in classic form. I had seen covers and illustrations of Hulk over the past few years in a t-shirt, a tuxedo, a gladiator outfit, and who knows what-all. To see him in the traditional ripped purple pants, thooming his way through what could easily be Monument Valley, brought back fond memories, and the book didn't seem to be part of any bigger saga (it even said "one-shot" on the cover). I flipped through it: the art didn't suck and there was a reprint in the back. I bought it, even at $3.99

It was totally cool.

I don't know if this is some kind of under-the-radar tie-in to the new movie or what, but the story is an episodic overview of Greenskin's career and would completely fill a new reader in on the character; for me, it was more of a refresher course and a current-continuity-check. I don't know how much they're left out, but it sure reads like 1978 wasn't thirty years ago.

Stern, who was a Hulk writer back in the day, gives us a framing sequence courtesy of Fred Sloan, an ex-hippie writer who was apparently a temporary part-time Hulk sidekick at some point when I wasn't reading the series. While researching his second book on the Hulk, Sloan encounters minor characters from Hulk's past adventures, each one providing a different perspective on both the myth and reality of the Green-skinned Goliath. Meanwhile, Bruce Banner is having his own current adventure, hulking out during a restaurant robbery and encountering plenty more action afterwards. Stern ties the two threads together very satisfactorily and gives us a final scene that captures the essence of what the Hulk TV series did best: portray the haunted journey of Bruce Banner. The narration from the three final panels is as touching and apt a description of that Jekyll-Hyde relationship as any I have ever read.

But as textured as the writing is, Stern doesn't leave out that all important Hulk Smash! action. In the present day, we get to see Hulk make quick work of armed robbers, scare a bear, smack a Winnebago, destroy a logging operation, punch a van, and leapfrog from the mountains to the California coast; in flashbacks, he smashes a statue, smashes a jeep, fights a bunch of soldiers, saves a school bus, and beats up some rednecks.

Through it all, Hulk displays the personality I remember best: not too bright, generally good-willed, but proud, easily annoyed, and quick to anger.

The art by Howard and Hamscher can be a little dicey at times, with some odd proportions and perspectives, but they have a great design sense: the flashback scenes are not only colored differently (kudos to Lovern Kindzierski) but also rendered differently, with thicker outlines and some Kirbyesque touches that evoke the Silver Age source material perfectly.

All that would have been enough to make me happy for my four bucks, but I also got to read a Stern & Byrne Champions-era Hulk story, guest-starring two members of that team, Iceman and Angel. However competent a story this is (and it is), it was really nothing but a nostalgia-wallow for me, getting to see Warren Worthington with his gold chain and suave moves, Bobby Drake feeling and acting awkward, Doc Samson with Hulk on the couch, Hulk pounding Samson into the ground like a tent peg, Jim Wilson calming Hulk down, and all the heroes taking on a Sentinel (after the ol' get-Hulk-involved-by-pissing-him-off ploy).

As much as the back-up was a trip down memory lane for me, I really do think I enjoyed the main story on its own merits and not just for its evocation of the "the way things were when I liked them," although I am willing to admit to a strong bias in that direction. Nonetheless, I can state categorically that this is one of the few mainstream comics that I have looked at lately that I wouldn't be embarrassed to be seen reading: there's no gratuitously graphic violence, no objectification or T&A, no hard-ass grittiness to prove how "adult" the material is. And most of the people in the stories are regular folks - this isn't a cape-fest. It was just good funnybook material.

Incredible, indeed.

1 comment:

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