Zach King, concluding his look at Jeph Loeb's Hulk. Zach blogs about movies as The Cinema King]
With World War Hulks, Jeph Loeb's six-volume run with the Gamma Green Giant and his Crimson Counterpart comes to a close, and it accomplishes everything a conclusion should in an ongoing title. It isn't perfect, and it's far from Loeb's best work (for my money, The Long Halloween), but there's enough here for comics fans -- myself included -- to enjoy.
[Spoilers ahead -- it's impossible to discuss this volume without assessing the revelations behind Red Hulk and Red She-Hulk's identities. Then again, maybe everyone already knows those secrets.]
World War Hulks wraps up Loeb's Red Hulk plotline but opens with the moment we've all been waiting for -- Red Hulk stands revealed as Thunderbolt Ross, and Red She-Hulk admits she can't kill him because she's his daughter Betty. It's as unambiguous a resolution to that mystery as Loeb could deliver, but it's not the central plot. Red Hulk still has to face the Hulked-Out Heroes of the Marvel Universe (including Thor, Storm, Captain America, and The Thing), The Intelligencia and their attempt at a hulked-out military coup to overthrow the U.S. government, and the return of Hulk himself. Green and Red collide in a final battle to determine which Hulk is the "strongest there is," but as we've been reminded throughout this is a conflict about who's smarter, not who's stronger.
Loeb wisely doesn't break any of the toys he's created but leaves open the possibility for future Red Hulk stories, doing so with a nice callback to the story's first issue. In the back matter, we get a very interesting interview with Loeb on his collaboration with all the artists from the final volume, as well as three more of Audrey Loeb's Lil' Hulks tales about sharing blankets, shopping lists, and chemistry.
As I've said before, I had the ending spoiled for me and it was difficult to read this volume not knowing that Thunderbolt Ross was the Red Hulk; fortunately, I didn't have the Red She-Hulk bit ruined, and so I took more pleasure in that reveal -- especially in the way Loeb pulled back the curtain on both reveals in the same splash page. But having this information in my pocket let me step back and notice how well Loeb was running this mystery. Despite red herring after red herring, Loeb clearly knew what he was doing; as the interview points out, it would have been impossible to write the story without the ending in mind, and I had a great deal of fun tracing the clues (i.e., Red Hulk's constant references to military policy and his long-standing hatred for the Hulk).
But those are all general comments. I really enjoyed this last volume as a single entity because it effectively concludes the story with enough action that I could almost overlook the slim page count. (Almost.) Picking right up from Fall of the Hulks, World War Hulks opens with a classic slugfest and never really lets up. Even the middle chapter, a retrospective look at Thunderbolt Ross's life from his own perspective, doesn't feel like filler, in part because of the "jam session" artistic rotation of major Hulk pencillers past. No, this volume is all adrenaline.
As before, though, my principal complaint isn't with the story collected but the manner in which it's been collected. At three issues, this is once again another very small trade. (Ironic for a Hulk book to be too small, eh?) Collecting the Red Hulk chapters of Fall of the Hulks and World War Hulks might have made for a more enjoyable reading experience, giving a more totalizing sense of the story without the unnecessary division -- the same complaint, for example, I've made of Tarantino's Kill Bill.
Also as before, there's a bit of a sense that important parts of the story are happening in other trades -- a cheat that could have been mollified by, at the very least, a prose page of exposition. While I'm perfectly content to have the "Hulked-Out Heroes" spinoffs in their own collection, I'm miffed by the fact that Green Hulk returns to the action without any explanation as to how he regained his powers; when last we saw, Red Hulk drained Bruce Banner of his gamma energy and effectively killed Green Hulk. But here he is again, in prime clobberin' mode. While the story only takes a moment to reintroduce Hulk, it's a moment that distanced me from the story I was reading.
Quickly, though, World War Hulks throws itself back into action mode without ever feeling like it's merely filling pages (a complaint I've had about previous trades). In the end, I can say that I enjoyed Loeb's run on Hulk, for all its inconsistencies and collection problems (brevity being chief among them). A few "deluxe edition" volumes or even a single "Omnibus" might have mitigated those complaints; while not Loeb's finest work it's still a smashing good read.
[Thanks to Zach, and also to Doug and Damien for their contributions. Coming up next week, it's the Collected Editions review of Judd Winick's Catwoman: The Game (get ready, I kind of liked it) and Geoff Johns's Batman: Earth One. There's sure to be lots to talk about -- don't miss it!]