My unexpected love affair with the Hulk continues on through these two volumes of Red Hulk written by Jeff Parker. Like with most of my reading of this series since a few years ago when Jeph Loeb took over, I’ve been getting these trades here and there when I can find them either on Sequential Swap or cheap on Amazon. So, while I haven’t actually read War or Fall of the Hulks, I am reading these two books that take place after those other stories.
The basic idea is that, after running around causing all kinds of trouble throughout Loeb’s run, Red Hulk (who was finally revealed to be General Thunderbolt Ross, something I’d known from working at Wizard a year before the book even launched) got captured and started working with Steve Rogers and some of the other Avengers to show he’s not such a bad guy. What this series winds up doing, in addition to explaining away or building upon some of Loeb’s wilder ideas (punching the Watcher), is making the Red Hulk more of a character instead of the trademark force of nature status Hulks tend to wind up with.
The Scorched Earth of the title refers to a contingency plan by MODOK and the Intelligentsia (the bad guys of Fall of the Hulks) to destroy the world in various ways. Red Hulk gets recruited by Steve and Iron Man to help put a stop to them because, basically, he’s responsible. These adventures bring him into conflict with giant monsters and techno zombies, but also into battles with Iron Man, Thor and Namor. The beauty of a Jeff Parker comic like this comes from the balance between awesome battle scenes (which it has in spades) and more personal moments. There’s something sad about watching the strangely honorable Ross hanging out in a base inhabited by only Life Model Decoys so he can’t hurt anyone. There’s also a few back-up stories, one involving Rick Jones (aka A-Bomb) on Monster Island that eventually leads into the main story and Uatu the Watcher going bug nutty and telling another Watcher about how this thing called Omegex is going to kill all life on Earth, but that’s a matter for the next book.
The collection also contains Red Hulk #30 which is about as bonkers as it gets with Red and Green Hulk teaming up both together and in the same body going up against the Impossible Man, Xemnu The Titan, Woodgod, Kluh and a bunch of monsters that look like Jack Kirby creations. It’s a fun romp and it’s all drawn by Ed McGuinness doing what he absolutely does best.
While Scorched Earth set up a status quo and did a little clean up with previous stories, this collection of shorter stories did a little of that, revisited even older stories and blazed even newer trails. This is the kind of thing that can be tricky/bad for me as a reader, but Parker’s a very skilled writer and walks that balance between familiar and new very well.
With the looming threat of Omegex, Red Hulk takes on a few other threats. First up, a soldier who used to work with Ross and idolized him is after Red Hulk because he thinks the Crimson Crusher killed Ross and wants revenge. He’s got a new team of Hulkbusters and planted micro mines in Rulk’s brain that will go off when he transforms back into Ross. That’s just such a great superhero comic dichotomy going on there paired up with a flip of the norm established in the previous arc that I can’t help but love the development.
There’s also a growing group of baddies lead by someone called Zero/One that would take quite a while to explain, as would her team. Needless to say, they’re from earlier issues and wind up being both scary and threatening. Seeing how their mission winds up mirroring the new Hulkbusters is another interesting balance.
From there, Rulk gets his own Planet Hulk experience and it’s cool seeing Carlo Pagulayan returning to some of the ideas he and Greg Pak tackled the first time around. Just when I was getting a little bored with this, it’s revealed why Ross has this experience and I was back on board. The book ends with Rulk taking on Zzzax and also taking on the new MODOK who appeared in the previous book in a pretty fantastically gross and awesome way.
What I enjoy about Parker’s characterization of Rulk is that he’s both deviously conniving, but also has a moral code. There’s a dual nature there and it’s interesting to see how this character reacts to certain experiences and how they differ from Banner/Hulk’s responses. I wonder if the stories would be as interesting for someone who has not read those other stories, but I would guess they still would be because Parker’s a solid, creative writer who always keeps me interested in what’s happening next and why.