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

07 July 2009

Incredible Hulk: Incredible Hercules

Collects: Incredible Hulk #106-11 (2007)

Released: May 2008 (Marvel)

Format: 152 pages / color / $14.99 / ISBN: 9780785129912

What is this?: Amadeus Cho, the seventh-smartest person on the planet, gathers a ragtag bunch to save the Hulk and prove he’s not a killer.

The culprits: Writer Greg Pak and pencilers Gary Frank, Leonard Kirk, and Carlo Pagulayan

The follow-up to Planet Hulk, which ran from Incredible Hulk #92-105, should logically run in Incredible Hulk #106-111. That just makes sense, right? Of course.

But Hulk: The Incredible Hercules, which reprints those issues, is not the logical continuation of the story. No, sir. That story is too big to be continued in Incredible Hulk, instead getting its own miniseries, World War Hulk.

So Incredible Hercules can’t tell the main story. What’s left for it to do? Tell a story in which the Hulk is a secondary character — maybe even tertiary. Bold! Daring! Perhaps incredibly stupid!

Hulk: Incredible Hercules coverThe protagonist is teenager Amadeus Cho, the “seventh smartest person in the world,” who can take out tanks with a pebble. Thanks to a chance meeting with the Hulk before Planet Hulk, Cho is certain the Hulk isn’t a monster; to prove it, he gathers a team including Namora and former Champions Angel and Hercules. They hie themselves to New York to stop Hulk from committing atrocities or maybe verify he isn’t doing so.

Writer Greg Pak has to be certain not to tread on the toes of the main story. He can reference Hulk destroying New York or capturing the heroes who shanghaied him to a gladiator planet or taking out Sentry, but he can’t delve into it as fully as one might want. He has to stay on the periphery of the story. Cho is his vehicle to do this, leading his team to prevent New York from blowing up and convincing the Hulk he’s not a monster. The estimate of Cho’s intelligence seems entirely too low; if he were a supervillain, he would be entirely too effective. Cho’s character is that of an irritant: he’s so smart he thinks he knows better than everyone else, and the most annoying thing is he’s right. It’s fun to watch him run mental rings about Angel; Hercules certainly thinks so too.

The pacing is entirely off. It takes Cho two issues to get to New York and confront Hulk, and the next (#108) is wasted on contrasting the attitudes of Rick Jones and Miek, the Hulk’s first and latest sidekicks. The issue feels like filler, a needless flashback, and it saps the momentum of the story: the conflict has been launched, and then Pak presents readers with two opposing visions of what the Hulk is, a philosophical argument in text boxes. Never mind that neither Rick nor Miek makes an important contribution to Incredible Hercules; their views are put forward as credible and significant. (NOTE: After writing this review, I learned the conflict between these two is important in the main World War Hulk story. Given that I had no idea about the tie-in, I have to feel this element of the story is a failure.)

The second half is divided between saving the collapsing rubble that is New York, Cho arguing with Hulk over the Hulk’s essential nature, and absorbing the spillover from World War Hulk. Either of the first two could have been an effective story, given the space and development afforded by this book. But with three issues to work with, and working with that spillover, there’s not enough room for any of those threads to support significant interest.

So the overall story is weak and disjointed. Does this work to launch the book in its new direction, a Cho / Hercules team up? Yes and no. Cho is definitely developed enough in the book, and although he’s an annoying little know-it-all, I could see him as a sidekick / partner in a book. However, Hercules is just one of his teammates, despite getting cover billing — perhaps the supporting character with the most screen time, but without anything other than a willingness to listen to Cho and an ability to believe the best in Hulk to distinguish him. This book doesn’t make me want to read a Hercules solo book. It doesn’t make me want to read a Cho book, for that matter; he’s just too annoying.

A sign of Incredible Hercules’s second-rate status is in the art: pencils are divvied equally between Gary Frank, Leonard Kirk, and Carlo Pagulayan. Marvel can’t even be bothered to make them in sets of two; Frank has the first two issues, then one by Kirk, two by Pagulayan, then the final issue by Kirk. They’re all good artists with connections to the characters — Pagulayan worked on Planet Hulk, Frank worked on several Incredible Hulk issues during the Peter David run, and Kirk is the definitive modern artist of Namora, given his work on Agents of Atlas. Still, three pencilers in six issues is never a good sign.

Despite the book’s many flaws, I can’t deny there are more than a few fun moments, with Cho’s calm contrasting against the panic of Angel and others. Although I don’t think Hercules is a strong enough character to deserve his name in the title, Pak does seem to have a soft spot for him, giving him the larger-than-life good cheer and brawling nature that has marked his appearances and adding a strong, stubborn streak of loyalty to both Cho and the Hulk.

There are some small gems in here. This story can’t support itself; to be mine those gems, you have to also read World War Hulk.

Rating: Hulk head Hulk head (2 of 5)

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