Now that everyone has heard enough of my nerdity.....::clears throat::..
WORLD WAR HULK #2
Writer: Greg Pak
Artists: John Romita Jr., Klaus Janson & Christina Strain
Editor: Mark Paniccia
Cover Artist: David Finch
When we last left our intrepid and doomed heroes, the Hulk spake, "Two down, two to go!" (Well, not really, but he had just taken down Iron Man, the second of the four Illuminati members whom he came back to punish for exiling him to an alien world.) From across the way, in the Sanctum Sanctorum of Dr. Strange, Iron Fist recaps what has happened so far, and wonders if the heroes can stop the Hulk. Strange says that he and the other Illuminati may just deserve the Hulk's wrath, but that with luck, his spells will enable him to locate a being who will "defeat and redeem the Hulk in the same instant...but my spell will only work if he lets me in...and he hates us so much." Gee, can we say "Bruce Banner"? Where does Banner stand on the matter of the Hulk's latest rampage? An intriguing question, to be sure, and one that we'll answer in-depth in, you guessed it, Part 3.
For now, we go back to the scene of the battle, the rubble of the Sentry's aerie, where the Hulk roars as the heroes assemble, ready to take him on. After all, he's only one monster, right? Wrong! As if on cue (no, really, Luke Cage makes mention, then...), the Hulk's Warbound companions drop from the sky, again doing that slightly annoying roll call thing the Hulk did last month. (Is it me, or does Hiroim the Shamed look like he has vampire fangs in the big panoramic establishing shot of this group?) To their credit, the Warbound don't immediately rush into battle: they instead offer membership to their ranks to the heroes assembled, by way of the Warbound oath (see The Incredible Hulk v. 3 #93 & 99). Ares of the Avengers prepares to charge, disregarding Hiroim's request, raising his axe, but She-Hulk stops him, trying to engage her cousin in dialogue, offering to help. Miek, the Hulk's first friend from Sakaar, asks if she can bring back those who died in the explosion. (Hulk's expression on this panel...and I wish I could post it...is particularly haunting to me.) The Hulk urges his cousin to walk away, but she will not, believing everything will be fine so long as nobody on her side throws the first punch.
The Hulk narrowly misses hitting She-Hulk, and she connects with his face with her next two punches. The battle is joined. Hulk hurls She-Hulk into the pavement, then dodges Ares' first blow, crushing him as well. Everyone is at each other's throats in a terrific two-page spread that shows the immensity of the conflict. The key words here are spoken by Spider-Woman: "The Hulk's stronger than he's ever been, and each one of his buddies is almost as strong as he used to be--we can't beat them trading head-on punches like this!" Indeed, that's the point that has been lost on some fans accusing Marvel and Greg Pak of "jobbing," i.e. using weak writing to make characters lose who "ordinarily" should win. Fact #1: it's been clearly shown during "Planet Hulk" that each one of these characters is a match for the Hulk. Fact #2: The Hulk's base strength level is 100+ tons. Fact #3: some of the Warbound, i.e. Hiroim and Korg, have fighting skills the Hulk does not, giving them additional advantages. Put it all together and I honestly believe even the weakest among them can be a match for Earth's mightiest heroes.
While the Warbound soundly defeat the Avengers, Reed Richards and T'Challa, the Black Panther, collaborate on a new invention to stop the Hulk. (I'll admit freely...shouldn't Reed have more than one plan at the ready?) The new Fantastic Four (six?) engages the Hulk and the Warbound, and Storm uses her command of the elements to topple the Hulk into the ground. Once there, the Human Torch unleashes near-nova flame directly onto the behemoth. It burns and burns, and everyone must avert their eyes, but when the smoke clears, the Torch's flame is extinguished, and the Hulk is victorious, his skin nearly untouched. Of course, that urges Aunt Petunia's favorite nephew into action, as the mighty Thing declares, "It's CLOBBERIN' TIME!" The two trade blows for minutes, but he too cannot withstand the Hulk's newfound strength. Before the Hulk can land a killing strike, a bright light appears. The Hulk begins to speak just like his childlike incarnation. "Golden Man?" Has the Sentry finally appeared to calm down his friend, to prevent further damage? No, it's just the device that Reed invented, whose purpose was to siphon off the Sentry's energies which historically calmed the Hulk. It doesn't work, Hulk snaps out of it, and before Reed can employ another plan, he's forced to defend himself. His wife Sue helps, but the feedback from the Hulk's punishing blows upon her invisible force shields weakens her, and Reed's rubbery body cannot stand up for long. Sue finally radioes the real Sentry, and says they've failed. He remains in his apartment still.
The next phase of the Hulk's invasion of New York happens when Rick Jones arrives, (presumably) fresh off a flight from Las Vegas. He sees the Hulk and his Warbound dragging the unconscious carcasses of the Avengers and Fantastic Four through the streets, and immediately approaches his old friend. Hulk is just about speechless when Rick tells him that Captain America is dead. Rick then fills the Hulk in on what has happened while he's been away, noting that "You may go nuts, but nine times out of ten, you seem to hit whoever needs hitting. And those guys sure needed it. But not like this, Hulk. Not like this." He looks plaintively at the Hulk, who returns the glance and puts his hand on his shoulder. Can it be over this way? Not if Dr. Strange has anything to say about it! Strange senses the opening and exploits it, but Hulk will have none of it. He leaps away, crashing into the water, in front of the Renegades (from The Incredible Hulk v.3 #107, also written by Greg Pak). S.H.I.E.L.D. decides to intervene, but before they can do so, one of the Hulk's oldest foes arrives. The stupid heroes have had their chance....now it's time for Gen. Thaddeus E. "Thunderbolt" Ross to take charge and wipe the Hulk off the face of the Earth.
Anticlimactic? Maybe. The Hulk has already captured three of his four intended targets, with the most personal--Dr. Strange--still left standing. The "body count" of those the Hulk and his crew have defeated is quite high here, perhaps justifiably so, perhaps not. I do think kudos have to go to JRJR on this one because of the strength and fluidity of the fight scenes. The man knows how to choreograph fights, and he should, as a 30-year vet in comics. This is how a Hulk book should look. It's the kind of storytelling Jack Kirby would be proud of. As for the story, Greg Pak is serving admirably, giving all the important details. Some short shrift is given to the Warbound, as without the benefit of "Planet Hulk," we really know nothing about the characters from this issue, other than Hiroim's apparent chivalrous nature and...something about a few of the rest of them. Then again there isn't really time for characterization when the book is essentially an issue-long fight scene.
But is the Hulk too powerful, and is an all-powerful character (at least compared to the rest of the characters in the book) boring? I don't think so. I think the Hulk's utterly convinced of the righteousness of his actions, and that makes him more dangerous, more powerful, more unbeatable than ever. And if he's wrong, there's surely going to be some (nuclear) fallout. You can certainly understand where he's coming from, even if you may doubt that he knows what "really" happened.
The highlight of this issue, amid all of the thrilling fights, is the arrival of Rick Jones. As the Hulk's oldest friend, he understands ol' Big Green, and you get the feeling something big might have happened if not for Dr. Strange's meddling. I've always liked Rick, and it's great to see him here, contrasting with the Warbound. For a great comparison between Rick and Miek, check out The Incredible Hulk v.3 #108.
Next: Bruce Banner at last, the Sorcerer Supreme, and some guy named Thunderbolt. Be here!