23.Mar.2011 Hulk #31 [At the Mercy of The Crowd]

I love the Hulk!

Growing up, I was about a foot taller and around 50 to 100 pounds heavier than most of my classmates until I reached high school. Throughout elementary school and the first half of middle school, I was almost constantly speaking out of turn in class, gushing forth with a steady stream of jokes (some funny, some not) as part of my pre-teen and teenage verbal diarrhea. I also had a bit of a temper and was overly physical, earning technical fouls in fifth grade basketball leagues and earning the nickname “Physicality” from my younger brother—which sounds like a rad wrestling name but was his insult for me whenever he wanted me to leave him alone.

Long story short, I was a huge, hulking kid who couldn’t control himself. I was aware of this, but being a giant whose body was constantly changing due to the force of nature known as puberty, no knowledge of my Julk-state (Julk = Jim + Hulk …if you will.) could combat the hormones raging within my monstrous teenage frame. Like many of the other problems young boys face (Acne, how to talk to girls, etc), this dilemma seemed to slip away when I dove into the outlandish stories in my comic books. Despite all their webslinging warriors and laser-eyed mutants, comics excel at delivering general concepts that hormone-heavy kids can relate to.

Getting to my point, it’s for all these reasons that I’ve always felt a kinship to Bruce Banner and the Hulk. No matter how out there his stories got, The Incredible Hulk was always about the man and the monster. I got that. I loved that. Heroic in spite of himself and his shortcomings. It was a great comic concept to take solace in at the age, and still is.

This week for AtMoTC I picked up Hulk #31, as recommended by Andy Serwin.

Hulk #31 stars the Red Hulk, aka (Spoiler alert!) former Green (or “classic”) Hulk antagonist General Thadeus “Thunderbolt” Ross. When he was first mysteriously introduced, Jeph Loeb quickly dug a hole for Rulk (Red + Hulk = Well, you get it…) by completely diverging from Greg Pak’s wonderful, action-packed and poignant “Planet Hulk” and “World War Hulk” story lines. Pak had crafted a thoughtful epic for our beloved Green Genes with the type of destruction all good Hulk stories have coupled with some great character building and in depth storytelling. Loeb did a straight-up punch fest with the basic mystery of “Who is Red Hulk?” I get it, but didn’t enjoy it. He did the Transformers movie (summer blockbuster) to Pak’s Lord of the Rings Trilogy (a timeless and exhilarating action saga). The point of all this being… current Hulk writer Jeff Parker has a lot of work to do for a Hulk fan like me, as his main protagonist is already a turn-off.

But, after reading this issue I wonder, is it the character of Red Hulk that’s the real turn-off for me or is it the concept? For all intents and purposes, Hulk #31 is a good comic. Parker’s a good writer and his script is strong. We get some overarching plot movement and some good fight scenes against some fun punching bags. (Parker even has Red Hulk say, “Rock Soldiers–it’s brilliant!” A nice pat-on-the-back while giving the reader a knowing win, as well.) Gabriel Hardman’s art is great too! It’s got a modern comics meets ’70s action movie vibe that I really enjoy. However, despite a strong creative team, this comic is kinda “Meh” for me.

I think the best way to sum up my inability to get into this title is best explained by a seemingly extraneous bit of dialogue yelled in a crowd scene. As bystanders run screaming from Rulk, one yells “It’s a Hulk!” Not the Hulk, but a Hulk. Just another big monster, not the simple yet still complex hero that the original Hulk was and is.

Hulk is not a book about a guy who selflessly risked his life to save a random kid and is cursed with a great beast inside him and must learn how to deal with it. This is a comic about a guy who hatefully hunted a beast, then became that beast and is now being hunted. It’s a great plot thread in a Hulk book—there’s mileage here!—but not enough to need an entire comic about. Put this journey in a classic Hulk story as a subplot and I’m all about it. On its own, it just doesn’t grab me.

I related to Hulk, but Red Hulk? He was the cat chasing the mouse and now he’s the mouse. Sure, this mouse can punch the cat’s lights out, but this character doesn’t leave me much to relate to or sympathize with. Our main character hassled our hero true hero—Green Hulk—for years, now he’s getting hassled. Aside from what goes around coming around and the satisfaction for reader’s that comes with that, why do I care? I don’t like Thunderbolt Ross. He’s a single-minded villain. Should I like him now that he looks like my hero the Hulk? I’ve seen the shoe placed on the the other foot, but do I want to watch it walk for miles?

I missed the big Hulks crossover and I haven’t read any Red Hulk stuff for a while, so maybe I’m missing something. I think If any creative team can make me care about this character it’s probably Parker and Hardman, but although the writing is good and the art is good, this issue just confirmed the Red Hulk is a jerk. This issue failed to give me a reason to care about Red Hulk, aside from how he may ultimately affect Green Hulk. It ends up, to a degree, becoming a Hulk “What if…?” tale. An ability to do Hulk stories that couldn’t be done based on who the Green Hulk is as a character. That’s fine and that’s fun, but in the end, that’s not for me—not in an on-going series, at least. And yet, that all said, if it’s just a lead up to seeing Rulk get trounced by the one true Hulk… well, I can live with that.

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iFanboy ran an image from Hulk #31 that features the “It’s a Hulk!” yell. So, thought I’d drop it in here…

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