Hulk #25–30 by Jeff Parker and Gabriel Hardman
I wrote recently about gambling on comic books, and these thoughts on this book can be considered a relative to that post. The reasons for buying this trade paperback are the creators: Parker is a good writer (Agents of Atlas was a wonderful series), Hardman is a good artist, and they make a good team. I had read good reviews for the book, I wanted to support these creators, so I bought it sight unseen. The set-up is strong: the Red Hulk, aka Thunderbolt Ross, who was created by MODOK and the Intelligencia (a super-intelligent supervillain collective), went berserk and had to be taken down. But now Bruce Banner and Steve Rogers are giving him a second chance – Rogers puts it best when he says that Ross is a military lifer who has no future once retired so doesn’t know what to do – by using him to clean up the Scorched Earth protocols of the Intelligencia, a set of plans to ruin the planet in case they didn’t get to rule it, which have now taken effect.
This is a strong idea – get Ross to help clean up the mess he was part of and give him a chance to redeem himself. All the while, the people he attacked during his bad times get their revenge by beating the hell out of him (Iron Man, the Watcher, Namor and Thor, who particularly enjoys getting his opportunity to hit Ross with Mjolnir). It’s a nice bit of justice for all the rubbish Jeph Loeb put them through when he was desperately trying to show how tough the Red Hulk was.
The book has back-up stories (drawn by a different artist in a more manga-influenced style) about Rick Jones, who is now a blue Abomination-style creature called A-Bomb, fighting sea monsters that lead him to Monster Island (unsurprisingly, it’s an island full of large monsters), which is another part of Scorched Earth, so these stories dovetail and the Red Hulk joins him in the main storyline. Except that he gets turned back into Ross when he reacts to the device that is driving the monsters out against their will to destroy all civilisation – at least Rick finds it funny because he points out a discrepancy: why does the Red Hulk not have a moustache when Ross does in his human form? In the story, we also find out the ‘ticking clock’ for the Red Hulk: his unique ability to absorb energy out of life forms of a certain power level will burn out either Ross or the Red Hulk, leaving only aspect for ever. In addition, the epilogues show the return of MODOK Superior and the Omegex, who is out to get the Red Hulk, as Parker sets up the next storylines for the Red Hulk (as a good plotter does). This is all good comic books, with really good art by Hardman, with his non-flashy, gritty yet clean style perfectly suited to the scope of the stories (mixing talking heads scenes and big fights between heroes and monsters) – except perhaps for the final issue in the trade (drawn by Ed McGuinness), which is a silly story with Impossible Man where the Red Hulk and the Hulk are merged and fight Woodgod (‘Get a haircut, hippie’) and Xemnu and various large monsters. So, what’s the problem?
My problem with the book is that the Red Hulk is a dick. I don’t care about him. I actively dislike him as a character. I don’t want to read any more stories about him, even when they are good stories written by Parker and drawn by Hardman. It’s not their failure – I blame Loeb for creating the stupid character in the first place. I find Ross and Red Hulk annoying and irritating and I don’t care if Ross is eventually redeemed: sod him, he’s a disagreeable pillock, and I dislike him even more because Parker is continuing to write his adventures and those are comics by a writer I like but don’t want to read.