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Mopping up 7/18: Douglas on World War Hulk #2

Douglas Wolk

As Brian noted, it turns out the problem wasn’t “event fatigue”; it’s just fatigue with dull events. I hadn’t been following the Hulk for, I’m guessing, 15 years or more, and I’m now thoroughly drawn in by World War Hulk. The funny thing is that it’s exactly the kind of story I thought I was sick of–long-underwear types beating each other up for five issues straight, plus lots of tie-ins, while they speechify about how the enemy has never been so powerful and this calls for the greatest struggle ever and so on. But so far it’s actually fun and exciting and Very Good, and I’m really looking forward to seeing what happens next. Here’s why I’m enjoying it so much:

*There’s real dramatic force to WWH as an event, because both the fight and the story in general proceed entirely from the characters’ personalities as they’ve been established. The plot has nudged them into place, of course, but everything they do feels inevitable–not, as in Civil War and Identity Crisis and so on, as if they’re being frogmarched in some unwarranted direction. (The two-panel Reed-and-Sue scene this issue is a “yes, that’s exactly what they’d do” moment, as opposed to their Civil War headslappers.) We’ve been bracing for this since Namor’s line in Bendis’s Illuminati special about how “he’s going to come back and he’s going to kill you all.”

*The “crossover” elements have mostly been pretty well handled–there’s a very specific sequence of events that everybody’s been working with, and the multiple-angle approach of the various series tying in with it reinforces the sense that something massive is happening. Some of the crossovers are still pretty lousy, mind you, but at least they mostly seem to address legitimate story points, and I’ve liked a couple of them a lot, especially Ant-Man. And the way Greg Pak is handling WWH and the regular Incredible Hulk series at the same time is very sharp: Incredible concentrates on the supporting cast, WWH concentrates on the Big Fight, and in each of them the other story is mostly going on in the background.

*John Romita Jr. and Klaus Janson are exactly the right people to be drawing the main WWH series, because they’re really good at making stuff look BIG and DRAMATIC. Even the digital-blur effects in the Hulk/Thing fight make the scene more brutal and kinetic instead of cornier.

*Amadeus Cho. What a great character–even captions have more fun when he’s around. (“Jen’s total fave”!) Not that he’s really in this issue…

*As tired as I’m getting of the Sentry as the character whose powers are just about literally providing deus ex machina endings, I kind of love the idea of him helplessly sitting out the fight.

*This could very easily have been a gorefest, with rolling heads and blood in the streets; even though the initial premise of the Hulk being shot into space is based on the idea that his rampages kill lots of people, Pak and company are avoiding the cheap manipulation of on-panel ichor-spraying. (I’m kind of amused that all the characters keep using “smash” to describe what the Hulk’s doing.)

*Even though it’s obviously not going to be, it feels like a final Hulk story in some ways, with the whole supporting cast of the series returning for dramatic closure. Actually, I have no idea how there can be another Hulk story after this one, although Pak clearly knows where he’s going–Dr. Strange’s comment about redeeming the Hulk at the beginning of this issue points toward a potentially interesting angle.

The really smart thing about World War Hulk is that Pak has appealed to the standard line on what the Hulk is about–rage being something that makes you stupid and violent–and then flipped it over. The Hulk’s rage, this time, is righteous–which it’s taken two years’ worth of stories to set up, but now it’s very clear. The stupid, violent guy indisputably has a just cause for war, and it comes from the military-industrial complex, in the person of Iron Man et al., having done horrible and treacherous things, once again claiming–reasonably–to have been acting in the interest of public safety. The premise is not just “oh, crap, the monster is coming back from outer space to smash us all,” it’s “the monster is coming back from outer space to smash us all, and oh, crap, he’s kind of justified, isn’t he? But wait: we have a right to act in our own imminent defense, don’t we?”

So, as much as this is a story about a massive fight scene, it’s also a story about a drive for revenge that’s being characterized as monstrous; about the economic engines of war and industry, and the governmental apparatus that supports them in the name of public security, and the resentment they’ve built up coming back to explode in their face; about more or less legitimate ideologies that are more or less legitimately at odds clashing, violently, and bringing destruction to everything around them; about karmic payback. In other words, it’s a political story, about the present moment, maybe even more than Civil War was. But this one’s aiming for thrills rather than “importance,” and it’s much better entertainment.

ALSO: While I’m thinking of it, two of your Savage Critics will be appearing at Comic-Con International! I’m moderating three panels:

“Drawing Style and Storytelling”: 12:30-2 PM on Thursday (with Darwyn Cooke, Carla Speed McNeil, Colleen Coover, Cameron Stewart, and possibly a special guest; unfortunately, Brian Wood probably won’t be able to make it)

“Meet the Press: Writing About Comics”: 10:30-11:30 AM on Saturday (with Graeme as well as Heidi MacDonald, Nisha Gopalan, Tom Spurgeon and Tom McLean)

“Comics Are Not Literature”: 11:30 AM-1 PM on Sunday (with Cecil Castellucci, Dan Nadel, Austin Grossman, Paul Tobin and Sara Ryan)

And I’ll be signing Reading Comics on Thursday, 2:30-3:30 PM, and Saturday, 3-4 PM, at the Comic Relief booth, 1514-1523! Come say hi.

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