The Cinema King]
I should begin by saying that there isn't technically anything wrong with Fall of the Hulks, the fifth and penultimate volume of Jeph Loeb's run on Hulk. The action is compelling, the super-villain team-up tantalizing, and the promise of the next volume enticing. Unfortunately this volume feels a bit too much like a prologue -- a brief and slightly repetitive one, at that.
Fall of the Hulks opens with a bang -- Thunderbolt Ross is dead, killed in combat with the Red Hulk and (more surprisingly) at the behest of Bruce Banner. There are more surprises in store for the world of the Hulk: Betty Ross is back from the dead, as is one-time beau Glenn Talbot.
But the Hulk alliance has bigger problems on the horizon. The Intelligencia (a collection of second-string but super-intelligent villains like MODOK, the Wizard, the Leader, Mad Thinker, and Red Ghost) is kidnapping the world's smartest heroes -- Reed Richards and Doctor Doom disappear first, but Black Panther, Hank McCoy, and even Bruce Banner are all on the list. It falls on the Red Hulk, who designed this scheme in the first place, to prevent his former allies from executing their master plan, with a good bit of personal vengeance for the betrayal from Hulk vs. X-Force.
And in the back matter, the Lil' Hulks jump in puddles, catch a cold, make snowmen, go camping, and house-sit a cat. All incredibly delightful, still courtesy of Audrey Loeb, with Blue Hulk always getting the last, non sequitur word.
With Fall of the Hulks you really get the sense that Jeph Loeb has been telling one long story all along (a la Grant Morrison on Batman), with callbacks and flashbacks to indicate the scope of the Red Hulk story, and with this volume it starts to come to fruition. But the problem is that it merely starts. We already know that a team of super-villains has betrayed the Red Hulk, and by the end of this volume we know who the players are and what their goal is -- something that might have been accomplished in half the issues it takes here. Again we have a small set -- only four issues -- compounding the prologue problem.
And it's not that these are bad issues, per se. The chapter on Thunderbolt Ross's funeral is stellar, especially for a Marvel newbie like myself. John Romita Jr. is a pleasant change-up from Ed McGuinness, who takes over the rest of the volume; Romita's pencils are much softer and look just like his work on Kick-Ass, although his rendition of The Thing looks a bit too cuddly for my tastes (maybe it's the tailored suit). And the two chapters where The Intelligencia kidnaps their prey play out very well, but they're extremely repetitive: attack as distraction, enter Red Hulk, kidnapping, head-scratching. It seems like a last chance for McGuinness to play in the Marvel sandbox with characters he hadn't gotten to, like Storm, Black Panther, and the Fantastic Four, but the story doesn't go anywhere.
Fortunately the last chapter closes strong and sets the stage for the next and final volume. Here McGuinness shines as the entire Marvel Universe descends on the Intelligencia as their master stroke is delivered, leaving Red Hulk alone to fight off the hulked-out Avengers and Co. If the last two chapters stalled a bit, Loeb revs up here and does a first-rate job getting me excited for the final volume of the series.
More good news: although this volume collects only a small portion of the "Fall of the Hulks" storyline (a full hardcover collection is coming), the story doesn't feel like it's missing anything. Near the end, there's one panel which shows Bruce Banner in the clutches of the Intelligencia, but that's the only moment when it seems the story is happening somewhere else. I'll be curious to know if the same is true of the three-issue World War Hulks, which makes me curious about Marvel's collecting strategy here (something I'll detail at greater length in the final review).
While I can't say that Fall of the Hulks is a bad volume -- indeed, there's much to love in this trade -- it's not enough for me. Maybe I've been spoiled on DC's six-issue trades, but Fall of the Hulks isn't big enough to justify its $15 price point.
Zach hungry for more.
In my next review, Red Hulk revealed! Green Hulk return! HULKS SMASH! [And be here tomorrow as we kick off the DC New 52 Collected Editions-style with our review of Justice League: Origin. See you then!]