Red Hulk Trade Post: Scorched Earth & Planet Red Hulk

Red Hulk: Scorched Earth (Marvel)
Written by Jeff Parker, drawn by Gabriel Hardman, Ed McGuinness, Mark Robinson & Ben Oliver
Collects Red Hulk #25-30

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.

Red Hulk: Planet Red Hulk (Marvel)
Written by Jeff Parker, drawn by Gabriel Hardman, Carlo Pagulayan & Pat Zircher
Collects Red Hulk #30.1-36

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.

Jeff Parker Trade Post: Agents Of Atlas Turf War & Mysterius The Unfathomable

Agents Of Atlas: Turf Wars (Marvel)
Written by Jeff Parker, drawn by Gabriel Hardman, Carlo Pagulayan, Dan Panosian & Paul Rivoche
Collects Agents Of Atlas #6-11

In an age filled with comics that mine past characters and stories like blood diamonds, Jeff Parker’s Agents Of Atlas is one of the best. Maybe it helps that I don’t have an incredibly deep knowledge of characters like Jimmy Woo, Venus, Gorilla Man, The Uranian (formerly Marvel Boy), Namora or M-11, but it almost doesn’t matter because Parker is a master of giving these characters amazing personalities and back stories that I am completely absorbed by.

I’ve written about the volume before this one already, but not the original on the blog. I actually first wrote about it for Wizard as a Book of the Month and it was a pleasure. One thing that I’ve thought from the very beginning, though, is that this should have been presented as a series of minis like B.P.R.D. instead of this strange stopping and starting that happens because, unfortunately-but-not-surprisingly, the comic book market can (or will) not support a quirky fun book like this that offers tons of entertainment, but doesn’t necessarily drive the overall story of the Marvel Universe, though it does play well within the bounds of things like Dark Reign.

Anyway, the story itself revolves around the continued adventures of the Agents as they support Woo in his efforts to change the evil Atlas organization into one that does good. This involves their continued ruse to Norman Osborn that they’re still bad guys as well as some scenes between Namorita and Namor in an attempt to have their two kingdoms join forces, but the real meat of this volume comes in the form of a war between Atlas and another similar organization that’s headed up by Jimmy’s ex girlfriend. Here’s another thing that Parker excels at: mixing legitimate character beats and overarching plots with the kinds of things that are awesome but can easily be handled poorly, like M-11’s upgrade or the dragon fight (or lack thereof). In the hands of a clumsy writer these could have been groan-worthy, but I was so invested in these issues and characters that I was full-boat in. BLOW EM UP, M-11!

On the art side of things, this collection definitely has a solid group of pencilers like Gabriel Hardman, Carlo Pagulayan, Dan Panosian and Paul Rivoche. They each have a fun, dynamic style that fit their individual issues, but I have a pair of minor complaints. First, I wish there was a list of which artists drew which issues somewhere in the collection. I also, as much as I like the individual artists, prefer for series’ like this to keep a consistent look throughout. Really, any one of them could have done it, but I get a little thrown when I’m constantly noticing the differences from issue to issue and I can’t easily look and see who did what. Again, that’s not a huge complaint and it didn’t bother me a ton, but it’s something I noticed that took me out of the story just a bit. Otherwise, though, I think Agents of Atlas is one of the best damn superhero comics around and should be read by everyone, superhero fans and not, alike. I need to get the rest of these collections.

Mysterius The Unfathomable (Wildstorm/DC Comics)
Written by Jeff Parker, drawn by Tom Fowler
Collects Mysterius The Unfathomable #1-6

Mysterius is the first non-Marvel comic of Parker’s I’ve ever read. I was a little worried because sometimes writers work really well within the world of the Big Two but don’t when allowed to write whatever they want. Thankfully, that is not the case here and Parker produced a fantastical action drama starring Mysterius, an immoral magician/conjurer and his brand new assistant Ella who goes by the alias Delfi at Mysterius’ behest as they encounter a demonic version of Dr. Seuss, a man trying to become a god at Burning Man and even more craziness all woven together into not only a great example of episodic fiction, but also overarching storytelling.

Before getting into more of the story details, I have to take a moment to sing the praises of Tom Fowler. Bangarang, this is a nice looking book that wavers between pretty and ugly in all the right ways. I’m sure I’ve seen Fowler’s art before, but this was the first time I really found myself drooling over his pages. There’s a cartoony style to this comic, that works so well, balancing the dark real world moments in the first few pages to the completely bonkers world and demons found in the Dr. Seuss-type guy’s dimension. I was blown away by those pages and stared at them longer than a lot of pages I’ve looked at recently. So awesome, you guys. A lot of times, art in comics feel less important than the story–much like the visuals in some movies–but in this case, it’s equally if not more important. They seem to lift each other up, it’s great.

Storywise, Parker pulls a bit of a trick on the readers by getting us to think the book is initially going to be a series of vignettes, but winds up connecting all the different elements to create a satisfying combination of–and I’m starting to sound like a broken record here–the episodic and the long range ways of telling a story. Plus, the very idea of a Dr. Seuss-like writer putting demonic incantations into his books is ingenious. There’s a lot more going on, but that is easily my favorite part of the book.

I actually tweeted to Parker how much I enjoyed the book and asked if there are plans for more stories to which he replied that he and Fowler “badly want to make more.” You can add me to the list of folks on that list as well. We need more Mysterius in our lives.

Comic Book Vs. Movie: Planet Hulk

I’ve been looking forward to the Planet Hulk dvd for quite a while. I first posted the Alex Ross DVD cover back in October, then I did interviews with some of the people behind the movie for Marvel.com and even mentioned how hopeful I was for it in a list over at Topless Robot. Plus, the comic is one of my all time favorite Marvel runs of all time, so, needless to say, I was really hoping the dvd feature wouldn’t disappoint me. And thankfully it didn’t.

What I liked about the comics is that the story by Greg Pak took a character who generally seemed to be a plot device and turned him into an actual down-to-Sakaar character who you were rooting for. There was an epic nature to that tale, taking the Hulk from stranded and betrayed to revered royalty. I didn’t like World War Hulk because, let’s face it, the premise itself just wasn’t going to happen in the regular Marvel universe. Hulk was never going to come to Earth and kill the guys who sent him there. I know that ended up not being the point of the story anyway, but that was the bill of goods we were sold heading in the project. Anyway, as a collection, the hardcover is one of my favorite because it includes so many extras and just looks damn nice on a shelf.

So, what about the movie? I think they did a helluva job interpreting it for the small screen. Sure, it could have been longer and covered the entire run of the book, but I like where it left off, even if I wasn’t expecting it to end so soon. Consider this potential SPOILER territory if you haven’t seen it. The movie covers the first 2/3 of the comic basically, with Hulk and the Warbound overthrowing the Red King and Hulk becoming the new king. So, you don’t get the spaceship blowing up and a vengeful Hulk ready to smash the Earth, instead it ends on a happy note with Hulk and his lady celebrating. It was kind of a nice change. Plus, it leaves plenty of room for a sequel that can go right into World War Hulk if they think that will work.

And, while many of the story points were compressed and combined, I didn’t feel like anything huge was left out. There were some changes seemingly made based on the rights to certain characters. For instance, the Warbound does not include a Brood, presumably because she’s part of the X-Men license which isn’t held by Marvel Studios presumably. The same goes for the lack of Silver Surfer who showed up in the comics to fight Hulk and company. This time it’s Beta Ray Bill who first pops up in Korg’s Thor-based flashback and then fights Hulk. I’m guessing this is the same thing, considering Fantastic Four characters fall outside of Marvel Studios’ purview currently. It was a change I liked, I mean, how can you not like seeing ol’ Horseface fighting Hulk?

Which brings me to the fight scenes. Man are they cool. I don’t think I’ll ever get sick of Hulk throwing down with robots, pink zombies or dudes in armor. Those were the best parts of the Incredible Hulk movie, which I really didn’t like, but luckily, the story here is a lot tighter and makes more sense. The pace is rapid, but not without character moments and all around a great piece of work by everyone involved. Two thumbs way up.

EDIT: In a conversation with my buddy Ben, I was reminded that Marvel Studios does the Wolverine and the X-Men cartoon, so they obviously do have the rights to do Brood. Maybe they didn’t because they’re gross.