Reviews of trade paperbacks of comic books (mostly Marvel), along with a few other semi-relevant comments / reviews.

24 February 2009

Essential Hulk, v. 5

Collects: Incredible Hulk #171-200, Incredible Hulk Annual #5 (1974-6)

Released: November 2008 (Marvel)

Format: 616 pages / black and white / $16.99 / ISBN: 9780785130659

What is this?: Hulk smash! as usual, all around the world, vs. supervillains, Commies, and puny Banner.

The culprits: Writer Len Wein (and others) and pencilers Herb Trimpe and Sal Buscema

The Marvel Essentials line concentrated, in its early years, on the company’s Silver Age core and a few later classic titles, such as Uncanny X-Men and Wolverine. (Yes, I know Wolverine’s not really classic, but work with me here.)

Most of those Silver Age titles have wandered into the ‘70s. Overall, the ‘70s were a fallow time for Marvel; yes, X-Men were picking up steam with Chris Claremont and Captain America had some well received stories, like the Secret Empire, but the big titles — Fantastic Four, Amazing Spider-Man, Avengers — were not at the creative peaks that preceded and followed the Me Decade.

Essential Hulk, v. 5 coverWhich brings us to Essential Hulk, v. 5. For most people, Incredible Hulk didn’t really get memorable — from a story perspective, at least — until Peter David took over the title in the ‘80s; it’s the TV show, with Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno, that draws the attention before that. But I admit to a fondness for the Hulk title. As I mentioned in my review for the previous volume, all that mediocrity really doesn’t matter.

The Hulk fights supervillains. He travels the world. He gains friends, loses friends. He’s always wandering, getting out of stuffy New York to see the world. The only thing casual readers have heard of from this volume is the debut of Wolverine in #180-2, but the Hulk is not just doing the same things over and over again.

Roy Thomas wrote #171-5 (and plots #176), followed by Gerry Conway for three issues. Thomas, being Thomas, couldn’t resist bringing back forgotten or stranded characters, like the Juggernaut and the Cobalt Man. Conway got to write the results of the first time a group with Black Bolt shot the Hulk into space for his good and the good of society; it didn’t work either, but it was a lot less destructive to society than Planet Hulk and World War Hulk. (The first outer space exile is a boring story set on Counter-Earth, where Adam Warlock gets to play a very obvious golden-skinned Jesus. Don’t ask. Just … don’t, OK?)

Then Len Wein settled in for a long run, running through the end of the volume. Wein introduced Wolverine, which is one of the most significant moments in Marvel history, but most of the book is uneventful. I am fond of some bits. I enjoyed the return of Glenn Talbot, which included saving a nonplussed President Ford from a bomb and a breakout from a Soviet prison that featured a talking, rhyming orange dinosaur named Droogi. The Russians aren’t paper enemies; they manage to deal the imperial running dogs a good deal of damage, even taking out the Hulkbuster base and its commander. The story with the Shaper of Worlds, in which he and his protégé create a paradise for the Hulk that is ruined by the Toad Men and the Hulk’s own demands that “if paradise is not real … then it is not paradise!”, is touching.

The less said of Hulk vs. the Loch Ness (sorry, Loch Fear) Monster, the better. The same holds true of the two-issue story featuring Man-Thing and the Collector. Yes, calm down, form a line — there are copies enough for everyone.

The art comes from iconic Hulk pencilers Herb Trimpe and Sal Buscema, with Trimpe providing the work for all the stories up to #193 and Buscema doing the rest. Personally, I prefer Buscema, who is my favorite Hulk artist and one of my favorite comic artists of all time. There’s something about his ability to get across the Hulk’s power and frustration with a world that makes no sense. Trimpe, though, has a memorable Hulk, even if he does have a fondness for oddly shaped heads. As I mentioned in the review for v. 4, you can see a big difference in Trimpe’s work depending on the inker. I prefer the inking of Jack Abel, who worked on #171-81.

My recommendation for this title is the same as the previous volume: I like this volume because I like this style of Hulk. It’s occasionally strange, not infrequently boring … but it’s rarely the same for more than two issues. It’s like the weather; if you don’t like it, wait a while. That being said, I’m deducting a half point because of the “Adam Warlock as Messiah” thing.

Rating: Hulk head Hulk head Half of a Hulk head (2.5 of 5)

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