Review: Hulk: Skaar - Son of Hulk trade paperback (Marvel Comics)

Thursday, December 09, 2010

[Guest review by Damien Lockrow of the Damien's Omens blog]

Covers are far from the most reliable way to tell what's going to happen in a given issue. At times their purpose isn't much more than to look pretty, but sometimes they get it right. This is one of those occasions. Just from looking at the cover of Hulk: Skaar - Son of Hulk, it's hard not to think, "Holy crap, they painted Conan the Barbarian green" which would be a pretty accurate assumption. The high concept at play here is "What if the Hulk's son was Conan the Barbarian?"

Now, I don't know about you, but that's just awesome enough to grab my attention.

[Contains spoilers]

Skaar - Son of Hulk picks up not long after the events of Planet Hulk, which I have not read. The Hulk himself has already come, conquered, lost it all and gone back to Earth seeking vengeance by the time this book starts. When his wife was turned to ash in the explosion of the ship that brought him to the planet Sakaar, his sons egg survived, bouncing away, straight into a lake of fire; unbeknownst to Hulk, of course, who was so busy practicing his imitation of Ash William's "NOOOOO" that he didn't notice, despite it falling inches to the left of his knee. Some time later, the son emerges into the broken world his father left behind and, like his old man, he's usually pretty pissed off. An old mystic takes the boy -- who names himself Skaar -- under his wing and begins to guide the jade barbarian towards an ancestral power. Naturally, it's time to toss our thinly veiled Conan analogue at dragons, axemen and other foes ripe for dismemberment.

This trade is relatively simple in basic premise. The main story -- the six issues of the ongoing, not including the "Shadow Tales" backups -- is pretty straightforward, basically amounting to "there's a prophecy that this green dude is totally going to save us, so we need to get him to a place that will make him even stronger" -- not that such exactly worked the first time with Hulk himself, but then some of these guys aren't too swift, especially considering how quick they are to declare Skaar dead every time he so much as gets a hangnail.

It's more an action comic than anything else. There are no underlying themes here to pick apart or mysteries to follow along on, just a simple comic with lots of severed limbs. Whether that's the kind of thing you like or not likely depends on personal preference; if you're not down with seeing a jade giant gut a dragon, this probably isn't going to do it for you. This also isn't a trade for people who hate decompressed storytelling; the six issues of ongoing present here could probably have been cut down to three or four issues without losing anything of importance or worth.

Son of Hulk is written well enough, but it's not without its problems. For one thing, it wavers in structure quite a bit. Either the book is primarily concerned with action -- the main story is a pretty light read because of this -- or it kicks the exposition into overdrive. Many of the "Shadow Tales" backups have the latter problem. Most of the time, they are removed from the main story -- usually following this slave boy named Hiro-Kala, who I guess this book is trying to make out as important in some fashion -- and makes gratuitous use of flashbacks. The result is quite a bit of infodumping, which is a jarring pace change from the main comic; either someone is trying to convince Hiro-Kala that Hulk did more harm than good or a character is taking the time to monologue his backstory to a kid with a poisoned knife.

It's borderline ridiculous at times, especially considering the story of Hiro-Kala and Skaar intersect at no point during the course of this volume; I really think this book might have made for a smoother read had the "Shadow Tales" backups been removed from their place between issues of Skaar and spun together in the back of the book as a side story.

Another problem I had was that I came into this story cold. As I mentioned earlier, I haven't read a lick of Planet Hulk, so I wasn't exactly familiar with the trappings of the book. The first several pages are a quick recap of the important bits of the aforementioned story, so it does make a point to let you know how we got here. But for a new ongoing, it's not exactly as accessible as it should be. There are several points in the course of the story where things just went right over my head; some of the lore and events that are made reference to here are things that I assume would mean more to me had I read Planet Hulk. The story doesn't make much of an effort to explain any of it either. It's not always necessary for a new ongoing to explain everything, but when you're playing off the sort of backstory that Son of Hulk does, it's best to re-introduce a concept.

Working both for and against Son of Hulk is the art. It's generally nice to look at, but all too often there are storytelling gaffes or images that are difficult to suss out. For example, early in the first issue we get a splash page of the young Skaar attacking a dragon-esque creature. One arm has hold of its tongue, but figuring out what the other hand has done isn't quite so easy. It looks like he's ripped something out of the monster, but the blood trail leads back to it's eye, which shows no sign of damage, much less like part of it has been ripped out.

Another time, a priest has a goon stab a bug; but when Skaar gets pissed and attacks the goon, he passes the priest to get to the goon, which is kind of difficult to imagine considering we had literally just seen that the priest was standing just to the left of the poor sap. Other instances see Skaar have a sword one moment, it disappear the next, only to have it return. On top of all that, sometimes the linework just gets downright sketchy, especially on panels where we're zoomed out from the action.

Added to this is that many of the Shadow Priests and the red skinned characters look alike. This poses a problem, because they can seem to blend together at times. In fact, unless you pay close attention to the facial tattoos, you might be hard pressed to figure out that one of the figures we see in each "Shadow Tale" is the same person, as he is not named as Hiro-Kala for the first time until very late in the book.

On a positive note, one thing I do like about the art is that it's colorful. I admit I'm a sucker for comics with bright colors. Also of note is that while there are art screw-ups about, some of the fights seem to flow particularly well. Said fight scenes are generally easy to follow from panel to panel, which helps make up for the inconsistencies I mentioned earlier. The importance of this shouldn't really be understated, because if you're doing a comic with a lot of action, it's generally a good idea to have an artist who can tell a story with their art. Otherwise, what's the point?

[Contains full and variant covers, sketchbook section.]

As a whole package, there is good to be had in Skaar - Son of Hulk. I found I enjoyed it despite its flaws, but it's not exactly deep reading much less something I'd recommend over another book. If you read and loved Planet Hulk, you might get more out of it. For anyone else it's worth a look, but probably not a purchase. The premise of a barbarian Hulk, however, is still cool as hell regardless.
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3 comments:

  1. I didn't read Planet Hulk just because the story sounds familiar-a guy who can't fit on earth goes to another planet who worships him and has a happy life there-that was done before, in the early 80s with Lex Luthor & the planet LEXOR. Can whoever who's read both storylines say that the Hulk story has anything more to offer, in which case I'll go ahead and have a look at it.

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  2. I'd heard a summary or two of Planet Hulk in the past and it sounds kind of like Gladiator starring the Incredible Hulk. Dunno if that's an accurate description, but it was what came to mind.

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  3. Planet Hulk is very much Spartacus/Gladiator and not so much 'worships him and has a happy life there'. Despite the similarities, Planet Hulk is a gorgeous book, emotionally charged, and filled with action. Highly recommended.

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