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Trouble with Comics

Daily Breakdowns 093 - Old, Red And In The Way

Hulk #23

Writer - Jeph Loeb

Artists - Ed McGuinness, Sal Buscema, Ian Churchill, Mike Deodato, Tim Sale, John Romita, Jr., Herb Trimpe, Dale Keown, Leinil Francis Yu. 

Publisher - Marvel Comics

It’s bad critical practice to think about how someone else might think about a book, I guess. I should just worry about my own take on it. Still, I wonder how this issue would go over to, say, a younger Hulk reader who doesn’t realize it features art from a number of past Hulk artists, some of whom have been part of important runs. Without that background, this probably looks like kind of a mess, though individually I enjoyed most of their efforts. Heck, in this context I just realized that Ian Churchill draws an interesting, very human Thunderbolt Ross, and I have never been a Churchill fan. 

So, yes, the issue maybe works a little better for me because I’m happy that Sal Buscema and Herb Trimpe got some 2010 Marvel money. I couldn’t really figure out what Trimpe did, but Buscema’s work is nice. Still, I think it ultimately failed because it was an oversized issue that was nothing but exposition and flashbacks leading up to something that I didn’t find all that earth-shaking when it was first revealed: Red Hulk is really General Ross, and now Loeb is going to fill in the missing details on why he would ever team up with villains The Leader and M.O.D.O.K. and subject himself to the Cathexis Ray to become a creature so like his bitterest enemy. 

And, you know, it’s not that hard to understand. Loeb, somewhat charmingly, really seems fond of Ross, giving him lengthy eulogies in his “funeral” issue when readers thought Red Hulk had murdered him (a Life Model Decoy, it turns out. Yawn.), and now giving him a youth as an air show biplane pilot, paralyzed in a crash and teaching himself how to walk again. Or maybe Peter David came up with this stuff, I don’t know. But bottom line: Ross has decades of comics showing that he’s a kook who will stop at nothing to capture/kill The Hulk, including creating monsters or arming himself in order to take him on. He has no ethics and no restraint; turning himself into Red Hulk isn’t a surprise, and indeed the animosity Red Hulk had for Bruce Banner made Ross the most likely suspect. My only complaint is that I have to tell my kid that cool action figure he has is really an old man with a gray moustache.

So the issue is not just a collection of old flashbacks with Ross narration to try to let us in on his obsession, it also appears to be not so much a jam issue but the equivalent of a TV clip show. It looks like in at least some of the cases, the art may be from older comics with the narrative captions added. The Tim Sale art seems to be taken right from Hulk: Gray. Other than the admission that Ross was envious of The Hulk’s power, there’s not much here that really ennobles the man or even ties all his various acts together into a cohesive, dramatic whole. In fact, the time he seemed to die in the arms of daughter Betty looks like it was the right exit for him, so having him go on and touch on several more years of continuity is just an unfortunate reminder of how corporate comics work.

Superman #700

Writers - James Robinson, J. Michael Straczynski, Dan Jurgens

Artists - Bernard Chang, Eddy Barrows, Dan Jurgens

Publisher - DC Comics

It’s my fault.

I have a soft spot for anniversary issues and despite decades of disappointment, more often than not, I expect that the standards will be higher than for a “regular” issue. The recent Batman #700, with Grant Morrison writing several connected stories for various artists, worked pretty well. It wasn’t his best work but fairly successful, with good art, and it was satisfying by itself even if it tied into an ongoing storyline involving Bruce Wayne’s resurrection.

So that’s kind of what I was hoping for here. I guess I’m happy that the reunion scene I was expecting at the end of War of the Supermen ends up here. This issue marks the end of James Robinson’s run as (co)writer of Superman-related books, and it makes sense that he gets to return things to status quo with lots of conversation between Clark and Lois about the various events that have happened while they were separated. Although Lois calling Clark, “Baby,” multiple times was a little disconcerting, I liked the romance of it, even if some space was wasted with a pointless sequence with The Parasite chasing Lois before Superman shows up and gives him one of his fastest defeats. Bernard Chang’s work is limp and just not good enough for this anniversary issue, but I suppose it’s appropriate they let him finish his run as well. The limpness extends to the overall story, though, as Robinson is content with just the conversation and expressions of love and doesn’t pull it into any sort of meaningful structure.

Curiously, the issue is padded not with pinups or anything like that, but rather an inconsequential story by Dan Jurgens that could have come from a drawer locked since 1990. It’s a little thing about the Dick Grayson Robin defying instructions to stay home and do homework, instead going to stop an arms deal before Superman steps in to save him and then try to cover up his involvement so Dick doesn’t get in trouble. It’s cute, well-drawn and the most complete, entertaining story here. It’s just not much of a Superman story, and doesn’t have much reason to be here aside from the fact it eats up pages and Jurgens did some nice Superman stories 20 years ago.

JMS and Eddy Barrows start their run on the book here with a prequel story to the “Grounded” story Mark Waid quipped about last week. Although that was a great line, I don’t think having Superman travel across the country to reconnect with the people whom he’s sworn to protect is a bad premise at all. I think it’s in taking it to that “Grounded” extreme of having him not use his powers that might take JMS into ludicrous territory. Superman has incredible powers. He needs them to protect these people. Pretending he doesn’t have them is just denying who he is, and it’s not going to help the people. Not much happens in this story aside from a nice scene where a woman blames Superman’s absence for her husband dying of a brain tumor. If Superman was there he could have helped, and she wouldn’t be a widow. Obviously Superman can’t be everywhere, but he’s the only one aside from The Flash who can come close, and naturally being the good soul he is, he’s stung by the attack. It’ll be interesting to see how Straczynski handles the hazards of the story.

—Christopher Allen