"Scorched Earth, Part One: Singularity"
Writer: Jeff Parker
Artists: Gabriel Hardman, Mark Robinson & Terry Pallot
Colorists: Bettie Breitweiser & Antonio Fabela
Letterer: Ed Dukeshire
Production: Irene Lee
Associate Editor: Nathan Cosby
Editor: Mark Paniccia
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Well, it's here. The era of writer Jeph Loeb and artist Ed McGuinness is passed (even though Ed's still rocking it on covers!), and the era of new writer Jeff Parker and artist Gabriel Hardman has begun. After ex-General Thaddeus Ross' defeat by the original incredible Hulk in last month's climax to "World War Hulks," where can we go from here? The answer is, we apparently begin the long, bumpy road to redemption, courtesy one former shield-slinging Avenger, and the man whose invention of the G-bomb made it all possible, that's what!
Unequivocally, this series has changed drastically, and has done so overnight. The changes Jeff and Gabe have made from the previous team are so jarring, they may alienate the fans of the slam-bang storytelling style that was the title's hallmark for the last two-and-a-half years. Gone is the scripting that half the time reads as an afterthought, replaced by actual, meat-and-potatoes, literate storytelling. Gone too is the fluid, kinetic, cartoony art style that was an obvious draw. The question remains--is the sum total any good?
Having dispensed with the main thrust of the title--"Who is the Red Hulk?"--now we've got General Ross on a mission of redemption. Jeff Parker plays up the most interesting aspects of the character here, and it's in no way disappointing. Ross is the military man without a mission, which already casts him in a far different light than Bruce Banner. Thanks to Banner, in fact, he can never return to his old life, because the world believes him dead. Unlike Banner, whose secret was revealed to the world quite early, no one outside a select few are aware that Ross is the Red Hulk, which adds an additional layer of complexity. Plus, there's the ever-reliable plot trope of having heroes under the belief that the Red Hulk is still a bad guy, which leads to a key complication in the first issue's narrative (for which you need look no further than the cover).
The story itself works well to advance Ross' character, wisely centering on his newfound association with the foremost "military man" of the Marvel Universe, Steve Rogers, as well as his always-tumultuous relationship with his son-in-law Banner. The doomsday scenario created by the Leader and M.O.D.O.K., aptly titled "Scorched Earth," is examined in exacting detail, yet it doesn't feel laborious. In fact, it sets up multiple storytelling opportunities, which I'm told will play out in books like Thunderbolts over coming months, as well as in the Rick Jones "A-Bomb" backup tales that begin this issue. Interestingly, one of the things that made the General Ross Hulk unique is lost in this issue. I can see why Parker did it, but still, it makes the Red Hulk even more a slavish copy of the green Hulk, at least in terms of power. However, the rest of the story more than makes up for my disapproval, and Iron Man is handled appropriately (as he wouldn't remember fighting Red Hulk previously--see recent issues of his own mag) and well included in this technological threat Ross faces.
If Jeff Parker's writing advances the narrative itself beyond adolescent smash-'em-ups, then artist Gabriel Hardman's work is near-revelatory in propelling the book into ultra-modern superheroics. It's scratchy work reminiscent of draftsmen like Michael Lark and Alex Maleev, yet filtered through the more action-oriented sensibilities of Sal and John Buscema. Add to it the muted, but no less powerful color palette of Bettie Breitweiser, and you've got a book that looks nothing like the McGuinness riffing of previous issues.
The Rick Jones "A-Bomb" story follows on one of the threats introduced during the main story. Also written by Parker, it's more lighthearted in tone, a combination of the character of Rick Jones as well as the artwork of Mark Robinson, which is very expressive. There isn't much story here, yet, but the further adventures of Rick as A-Bomb should serve as a much-needed, fun counterpoint to the irascible General Ross as Red Hulk in months to come.
The first issue of the new Hulk under Jeff Parker and Gabriel Hardman is a solid success in my book, balancing strong characterization with all that's needed to come in fresh to this series after the departure of the previous team. Hardman and back-up artist Robinson fill their roles especially well, and Bettie Breitweiser shines with her color work. I'm saddened to see these fine folks leave the amazing Atlas, but on the strength of this issue, I don't want to see them leave Hulk anytime soon. The Red Hulk is here to stay, and I never thought I'd say this, but he's finally got a stellar, if less than high-profile, team behind him. I can only hope this series is the one that brings Parker, Hardman and Breitweiser the commercial success to match their critical reception.
Rating: Highly Recommended!