Let me preface all of the following by saying that I haven't yet gone out onto the greater Internet to see what the range of opinions is on this week's twin "Fall of the Hulks" releases, Hulk #21 and Incredible Hulk #608. I didn't even speak with anybody at my local comic shop (this week it was All About Books & Comics in downtown Phoenix--click for the site)--I just grabbed my variants (the regular covers come in the mail next Tuesday) and ran. I read and re-read the books whilst waiting for my Toyota to be fixed (#$&@ recalls!), and now, finally, I'm home so I can let my thoughts be known.
The first thing I have to say is that these two issues, like the other two months' worth of adventures before them by Loeb & Pak, take place at roughly the same time, and in fact, they feature the majority of the same characters, with some overlap. I've always been a fan of this kind of storytelling device--using two books to tell two sides of the same story--and for that, I have to extend kudos. No, it doesn't matter which book you read first (and, for the record, Hulk #21 had that dubious honor for me). They both feature the key event at roughly the same place in both stories, from decidedly different angles. (SPOILER goggles on, henceforth.)
Both stories feature the grand assault on the Intelligencia's "Hellcarrier" (the SHIELD Helicarrier they stole after it crashed in Hulk #2, renamed by the that's-why-they-call-him Mad Thinker), with Hulk showing the Red Hulk's part of the assault (plus partner--more on him in a bit), and Incredible Hulk giving us Bruce Banner and his Avengers squad's side. The solicitation copy promised along the way we would learn Skaar's true motivations and the Intelligencia's true plan. I'm not sure this duo of issues showed either, I mean, I guess they showed the "what" of the Intel's plan, but the "why" has yet to be addressed, presuming it's anything other than the standard "bad guys want to rule the world" scenario.
Since I read it first, I'll go over the basics from Hulk #21 first also. The Red Hulk finds his way onto the Intel's Hellcarrier, huge duffel in tow, as he recounts how he and Banner first teamed up. The flashback and the ensuing monologue by the Red Hulk make it clear that their alliance began before Fall of the Hulks: Gamma, making it clear the two of them conspired to "kill" General Ross as their opening salvo against the Intel. Now, as most of you know, I don't think Banner would plot to kill Ross without Ross having done something absolutely dastardly (like commit murder), so I don't think Ross is really dead. (If you're asking, "So where is Ross?" I have to smack you in the forehead and refer you to my August blog post about Incredible Hulk #600 or my iFanboy.com article.)
After the flashback, the Red Hulk boards the 'carrier, but is ambushed by Awesome Andy--I mean, the Gammadroid, whom he defeats before being defeated by the Cosmic Hulk Robot (from the Eternals series as well as Red Hulk #1 and Incredible Hulk #606). MODOK reveals that he was duped all along. Originally, Red Hulk says, the Intel meant to use Banner to power their grand plan, since they already used him--together with the power of the Cathexis Ray that created Doc Samson--to create the Red Hulk. They also experimented on Rick Jones with the Cathexis Ray, producing A-Bomb (which almost-but-not-quite negates the theory about the ending of WWH directly producing Red Hulk, A-Bomb and Samson's new self, see later). Similarly, they needed Jen Walters (who was kidnapped in Incredible Hulk #600) as the power basis for Red She-Hulk. Now that Red Hulk absorbed Banner's Hulk, together with the energy he absorbed fighting Thor, the Silver Surfer, et al., the Red Hulk became the Intel's prime candidate to power the Intel's machinery.
What, then, is the Intel's grand plan? They use the power of the Cathexis Ray, turning it upon the Red Hulk, in so doing empowering not only a legion of A.I.Marines (another eyeroll-inducing name, courtesy Jeph Loeb) on an Arizona military base, and apparently another legion in Washington, DC, but also three teams of super-heroes invading the Hellcarrier with the ability to become Hulks. And Red Hulk states the Intel's plan is to use those Hulks to stage a military coup of the U.S. government.
Deadpool unzips himself from the duffel Red Hulk brought on board, having been brought there as Red Hulk's "Plan B" to stop the Cathexis Ray, but it's too late--all hell has broken loose. He does manage to sidestep Samson and free Red Hulk, but also manages to transform into--are you ready for this?--Hulkpool. (Yeah, I rather thought you were.)
Incredible Hulk #608, on the other hand, shows things from Banner's perspective. First, there's a rescue mission on an Arizona military base, where Banner apparently tries to rescue his wife, Betty--and runs into the believed-dead Colonel Glenn Talbot, who his BannerTech tells him is not a robot. At the same time, as the Intel watch the footage of the event, they are attacked on board the Hellcarrier--by Banner and his Avengers! Amadeus Cho has been using an image inducer to pass himself off as Banner...and, of course, Betty (who prefers "Miz Ross" to "Miz Banner) clocks Amadeus anyway, escaping with Talbot, who locks her into a secure bunker meant for the President before teleporting himself away. While trying to open the door, Cho talks with Bruce--who also states Talbot should be dead--and Cho refutes that he heas found evidence of Talbot being part of a black-ops program, but doesn't complete the thought. In short order, Bruce meets with Lyra, making it clear she's on his side (but where is Jen?) and Skaar confronts Bruce about working with Red Hulk. Bruce explains that he's deceived and used everyone--the Avengers and Skaar--in order to save the world and Betty--"because if any of you knew all the different angles I'm playing...you'd never trust me again." He also states that if his plan succeeds, Skaar will get his chance "to get the only thing [he] ever wanted from [Banner]."
Then, of course, the excrement hits the fan: Red She-Hulk shows up, attacking the Avengers and impaling Skaar with his own sword. Bruce manages to disconnect Reed and the others from the Liddleville device. He expects the Intel's plan to fail, but then the Cathexis Ray goes operational, transforming the A.I.Marines into Red Hulks, ready for their march on Washington. Skaar attempts to round up Bruce and escape but is thrown clear of the Hellcarrier, and Bruce sees mutated, Hulkish versions of Wolverine, Namor, War Machine and Captain Marvel...before everything fades out, one year later, and...well, my spoilers are just going to have to stop there!
There's not much to tell about the Red She-Hulk backup, except to say that, in the words of MODOK, "[A]s long as [the Red She-Hulk] remains under our control...we have nothing to fear from Bruce Banner...or the Red Hulk." Doesn't that seem to imply she's someone important to both men? Hmmm....
I do think the storyline is getting slightly silly (okay, maybe more than slightly), but it does seem we're going places. As both events occur at the same time, I think it's quite safe to state that Talbot is not the Red Hulk (unless the one seen with Cho and Betty is some kind of doppelganger that an EMP can't incapacitate, which I doubt). However I'm happy to say it still seems possible that Betty is the Red She-Hulk. It's only once she's seen for the final time, locked (?) in the bunker, that Red She-Hulk appears. Yes, it may be a false lead (She-Hulk, I am loath to admit, was nowhere to be found in either issue), and we may be picking up on exactly what Greg P. wants us to pick up on, that's true. But who makes a better fit for the Scarlet Smasherette at this point? Especially when considering what MODOK's said in the backup feature.
At this point, yeah, I'm asking "What now?" and "What the #@!&*?!" as well as "Why does Deadpool have to be in absolutely everything?" There were some strange pieces to this story...was Banner in a part of the ship immune to Hulkification? And why were the Intel draining the collective smarts of everyone? How much did they succeed? For that matter, why tease the eight smartest if they only used six? Bottom line, I do want to see how everyone gets out of this situation, and that, I suppose, is "mission: accomplished" for "Fall of the Hulks."
Now, on to "World War Hulks"...with, of course, a few more parts of "Fall of the Hulks" coming at us over the next month and a half to finish things up.
What do you think, sirs?