Review: Hulk Vol. 2: Red and Green hardcover/paperback (Marvel Comics)

Monday, December 26, 2011

[Guest reviewer Zach King blogs about movies as The Cinema King]

Continuing my romp through Jeph Loeb's Hulk collections, I found the second volume, Red and Green, to be somewhat less entertaining than Red Hulk but still with enough to enjoy in this fairly brief (three issues) installment of the ongoing saga of the Red Hulk.

In Red and Green, Hulk fans get two doses of gamma-ray action in two separate stories which originally ran as co-features but are presented here as united halves of this volume. The first, "What Happens in Vegas," is essentially the "Green" half of the book, in which Bruce Banner roadtrips to Las Vegas in search of the cannibal werewolf Wendigo creatures. Vegas unleashes Gray Hulk "Joe Fixit" as Batman Moon Knight, Ms. Marvel, and others join in.

Then comes "Hell Hath No Fury," in which She-Hulk and her Lady Liberators take on the Red Hulk. This "Red" half has much more in common with Red Hulk, with Red Hulk taking hits on all sides from the likes of the Invisible Woman, Storm, Valkyrie, and S.H.I.E.L.D.'s deputy director Maria Hill.

The division of this volume very neatly in half is a bit jarring compared to the previous volume's single unified storyline, but it reads a lot better than I assume it did in single issues. Rather than bounce back and forth between Green and Red, the book ties up Green before picking up with Red. Unfortunately, Green's storyline -- even with the inclusion of Mr. Fixit -- is nowhere near as compelling as Red Hulk's. It's strange that this new character is stealing the spotlight so blatantly from the titular hero, a little like giving Doomsday the spotlight instead of Superman.

Maybe it's a matter of personal taste; I've never found the angsty Bruce Banner too appealing, running away from his powers in every incarnation I've seen, and on top of all that the Green story here isn't terribly compelling. Hulk chases Wendigo to Vegas, Hulk fights Wendigo, Hulk becomes Wendihulk, and other heroes join in for no apparent reason. And unfortunately the more sinewy pencils of Arthur Adams aren't as much to my liking as Ed McGuinness's work in the previous volume.

On the whole "What Happens in Vegas" feels a bit like filler; it's probably a fine Hulk story, but being thrown into the middle of a larger story accentuates the story's own irrelevance. Conversely, "Hell Hath No Fury" is exactly the kind of story arc the larger narrative needs, continuing from the events of Red Hulk and moving forward without losing sight of the main storyline. And it's more entertaining, feeling a lot like the Marvel team-up Gail Simone never got to write with enough action handled deftly by Frank Cho (whose "tough girls" work looks like a blend between Adam Hughes and McGuinness).

This volume, unlike its predecessor, features the use of Jeph Loeb's trademark "narration boxes" which step inside the head of a character and provide internal monologues for important characters. Here we're treated to the reflections of Bruce Banner and She-Hulk Jen Walters, but the narration is inconsistently deployed, often receding altogether to give the main focus to the action on the page. This is a wise choice but a distracting one; for such a stylistic mainstay, Loeb's irregular use of the narration is more puzzling than anything else. Ultimately the narration doesn't do anything for the story and so it isn't missed in its absences, but because Loeb is so well-known for it (Superman for All Seasons and the precedent set by his Superman/Batman), it simultaneously seems like more is both expected and needed.

But Red and Green's biggest shortcoming is quite literally its brevity. The trade collects three issues, a throwaway back-up biography of the late Abomination, a few variant covers, and more delightful "Mini Marvels" by Audrey Loeb (here the Lil' Hulks tussle with Spider-Man, Iceman, and airport baggage checks). At a list price of $15.99, this is a steal -- on Marvel's part. At six dollars an issue, Red and Green simply isn't worth it. While the lightness of Red Hulk was mitigated by six issues full of action, Red and Green just isn't enough. It's good, but I can't help but wonder about the collection practices at play here.

Zach torn.

In my next Hulk review, coming up in a few weeks, the return of Ed McGuinness as Hulk and Red Hulk duke it out in a cosmic game before a game-changer takes one Hulk out of the equation -- for good.
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