Posted by: Brian Hibbs on November 19, 2007
Yes, WORLD WAR HULK #5 is disappointing, and I say that as somebody who waved the flag pretty hard for the early part of the story. Here’s what I’ve got against it:
*The Sentry as deus ex machina. Being the big gun who springs into action at the end of the story and fixes everything is literally the only thing the Sentry ever does; even if he had to do it here, it might’ve been nice to see him fix the problem by some means other than being a golden god, you know? Or at least a resolution that comes naturally out of the characters, since the rest of WWH has been remarkably character-driven for a big punch-up event? It’s not as if anyone acts out of character or, you know, Skrully–Greg Pak knows how everyone here talks and acts–but the character beats aren’t the story beats. (The other thing that fixes stuff abruptly in Marvel comics these days, which also happens here, seems to be Tony Stark coming up with some kind of magnificent machine that can resolve the plot. See below.)
*The premise that the Hulk actually hasn’t killed anybody, ever, with a few exceptions that Pak explained weren’t really his fault (over in Incredible Hulk). It’s a clever idea that Banner is actually so smart that he can make sure the Hulk’s freakouts are limited to property damage… but the premise of the lead-in to “Planet Hulk” was that his rampages did kill people, which was why it was so important to get him off-planet, right? This is the “well, at least no one was hurt” problem: the elephants fight, and no grass gets trampled. Honestly, I’m starting to think that DESTROY!! and Miracleman #15 defined two magnetic poles so strong that almost no superhero comic since has figured out how not to get stuck to one or the other.
*The total abandonment of the political dimension of the early parts of the serial. WWH started out as a story about blowback, political power, private interests betraying a public trust, etc.–it had resonance beyond people hitting each other on the page. The conclusion is just a story about the Hulk.
*The big death scene, which serves a formal purpose for the story, but somehow isn’t at all dramatically effective. Especially because I can’t imagine the dead entity will be dead long.
*The corny-ass sound effects–especially the ones that were obviously done on a computer. Hand-lettering sound effects makes all the difference. (There’s one double-page spread whose effect is SPAKOOOM!, and all three Os have precisely the same “ragged” effect. Why is this a problem? Because it takes the reader out of the story to notice it.) Also, a number of people have noticed the one that goes GRGPAKK!, and I was particularly annoyed by the one that goes JRJRKJCSSSSS (the artists’ initials)…
*The ending, which provides a meaningless existentialist pseudo-profundity in lieu of a conclusion–what happened to Miek, for instance?–and, in particular, the last page, which made no sense until I saw Pak’s explanation of it over on Newsarama.
Even so, I thought this issue was pretty Good, and here’s why: The Romita Jr./Janson/Strain artwork is fantastic. Christina Strain’s coloring is particularly impressive here, especially the way the line art “heats up” from black to the brown range and into hot reds as the fight goes on. (Best bit: the end of the Hulk/Sentry scene, as the line color cools down again and the molten mass of force cools down to two ragged, exhausted-looking guys whacking each other with frail human fists.)
And the fight scenes are incredibly effective. Is a great fight scene in comics the same as a great mad scene in opera? This one really does seem like the laws of physics are being smashed before our eyes (that’s a good thing)–there’s something enormously satisfying about seeing those pieces of Janson ink-shrapnel flying off the points of impact. On the strength of the visual stuff alone, this issue rewards slow reading, if maybe not rereading–I wish a lot more mainstream comics had this much energy and flair.
And in the department of issues that require multiple readings to fully comprehend, we’ve got NEW AVENGERS #36. I’m really enjoying following Brian Michael Bendis’s New Avengers/Mighty Avengers/Illuminati serial, even when individual parts of it are dissatisfying–he’s very good at the “same story approached from multiple angles” trick. But the erratic schedule of the three titles has really been kneecapping the progress of the plot (the scene this issue with Carol et al. in the Avengers’ HQ, with the Sentry icon still on top of it, in the middle of an un-destroyed Manhattan–guess everything’s still happening before the first issue of World War Hulk six months ago!–looks like it was flown over from Mighty Avengers just so the story could move onward, and reveals what should’ve been a major plot point in an oh-incidentally way). I sort of wish he’d stop overextending himself with stuff like Halo and just write a weekly series instead–that’s the direction his pacing is heading, and having to read episodes out of their intended order is frustrating.
I do really like the fact that Bendis is trying to give every issue a slightly different narrative tone lately, like making the first half of this one–including the big Venom fight–told as a conversation between Luke and Jessica. (And as redundant as the thought balloons in Mighty Avengers have become, they’re useful to the Secret Invasion plot: if we can see characters’ thoughts, we know their Skrullitude isn’t hidden from us.) Unfortunately, the fight scene recapped as pillow talk doesn’t work: the huge conflict he’s been teasing for two issues is wrapped up in six pages, thanks to the now bog-standard “Tony Stark whipped something together and…” Which raises the question of how the Hood plot has anywhere to go. Iron Man vs. everybody in New York turned into Venoms: Iron Man wins! So the Hood and a bunch of other creeps vs. Iron Man + the Sentry + the Silver Surfer + Howard the Duck + about 20 others: how is that a cliffhanger? (I’m betting most of the characters on display on that last page are a Dr. Strange illusion, but still.)
This issue’s skin-baring-woman-menaced-by-guy-with-sharp-blade scene (Wolverine confronts Jessica Drew while she’s taking a shower) is considerably less self-congratulatingly button-pushing than last issue’s. I still find Leinil Yu’s storytelling a little glitchy, though–the beginning of that scene is sequenced in a way that doesn’t quite make sense. Here it is:
Can anybody explain why the last two panels wouldn’t be in the opposite order?
Yu is great with individual images, though–there are some fantastically evocative panels, like a silhouette of the team jumping across some rooftops. (The same page, unfortunately, shows Wolverine talking to Echo while he’s behind her–artists seem to keep forgetting that Echo can read lips but can’t hear.) Most of this issue is drawn with short, wide panels, which are fairly unusual in superhero comics–they’re great for talking-heads scenes but terrible for establishing shots, since people are taller than they are wide, so it’s hard to most artists to convey a sense of scale with wide “slivers.” They also force action to proceed from left to right in each panel even more than it usually does. Yu still pulls it off by varying his perspective constantly, and even manages to give a sense of right-to-left motion in a couple of sequences. So a Good issue, overall; I just wish the pulse of this story were a little more regular.