3.9.11

Farewell, Greg Pak (An 'Incredible Hulks' #635 Review)

Yes, due to family issues, and other stuff, I haven't been able to post my overview of the work that's gone unreviewed (Skaar: Son of Hulk and Incredible Hulk #601-609). But at the very least, I owed it to you guys to make the review of Incredible Hulks #635 as timely as I could. And I've failed at that, too! Alas, good things come to those who beg, snivel and cajole. Without further ado...


The Incredible Hulks #635
"Heart of the Monster" Part 6


Writer: Greg Pak
Artists: Paul Pelletier, Tom Grummett, Danny Miki, Cory Hamscher & Scott Hanna
Colorists: Morry Hollowell & Jesus Aburtov
Letterer: Simon Bowland
Production: Irene Y. Lee
Assistant Editor: Jake Thomas
Editor: Mark Paniccia
Publisher: Marvel Comics

"It hurts to set you free
But you'll never follow me
The end of laughter and soft lies
The end of nights we tried to die
This is the end."

--The Doors, "The End" (1967)

After five-and-a-half years and eighty-six issues (excluding variant covers), writer Greg Pak has left the building. He's written more of the Hulk's adventures than any other writer save Peter David. That he'll be missed goes without saying. But did he go out on a high note? That is the question.

After reading issue #635 on Wednesday evening, I think the answer has to be a resounding "yes!" The finale of the six-part storyline, "Heart of the Monster," is about as fulfilling a story as there could be given the circumstances. We already know, for example, that Bruce and Betty were seen together in Marvel's Fear Itself event, wherein the Hulk becomes Nul, Breaker of Worlds and begins a rampage not even Red She-Hulk can stop. We also know that Jennifer Walters, aka She-Hulk, appears live and well in the Fear Itself: Fearsome Four limited series, so she must regain her lost powers before this series' end. And news broke last week of Fred Van Lente and Kyle Hotz's miniseries event Destroyers, which will feature both She-Hulk and A-Bomb, indicating Rick Jones wouldn't be cured, either. But really, are any of the above facts a surprise, given that Marvel and Disney are developing Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H., starring all of the gamma-irradiated heroes so prevalent in the last two years, as an animated series for 2012?

Alas, I've gotten ahead of myself. This issue features two related stories: the twenty-page, actual sixth part of "Heart" by Pak and the regular art team of Pelletier, Miki and Hollowell; and the ten-page epilogue by Pak and his "Spy Who Smashed Me" art team of Grummett and Hamscher (with Scott Hanna) that caps not only the current storyline but serves as a coda for everything since Incredible Hulk #92. Pak contributes an afterword dedicated to eighties Hulk writer Bill Mantlo, and the book ends with a pair of bonuses including a five-page "exit interview" and a cover gallery including almost every Hulk-related story Pak's ever written.

The lead story picks up where the previous issue left off, with Hulk and Red She-Hulk locked in battle in Umar's Dark Dimension. No sooner do they kill each other and everything else there with their power than is everything reincarnated so they can live to punch and hit anew. It's the Hulk's dream come true, inadvertently brought him by the enemies that wished him harm. The "Wishing War" begun when A.I.M. Scientist Supreme Monica Rappaccini turned Tyrannus' Fountain of Youth into a literal wishing well has reached its apex, and nobody is safe. That the Hulk is so at home, where he needs not worry about harming anyone, least of all the woman he loves, is awfully telling of the character's psychology. As one of this blog's readers noted, the Hulk seems to make a correlation between sex and violence--first with Caiera and now with Betty--and it all comes back to how his father used to abuse his mother. When you take that aspect into consideration, the relationship between Bruce/Hulk and Betty/Red She-Hulk becomes especially creepy, no?


Of course, an eternity of the Hulks smashing each other would quickly become repetitive, so Tyrannus must escape the Dark Dimension with Fin Fang Foom to begin the end run. They arrive at the government's not-so-secret stash of Gamma Bombs in Yuma, AZ, long ago thought destroyed in the wake of "Gammagate" during Peter David's epic "Ground Zero" storyline of 1988. Ol' Foomy munches as many as he can, and soon he can launch them out his mouth at his foes. Guess who has to return to Earth to save the day?

The story carries to an epic conclusion all of the Silver-Age silliness that Greg Pak has ably handled since he and Jeph Loeb teamed up on the uber-events "Fall of the Hulks" and "World War Hulks." "Heart" in particular--with its physics-defying wishes, impossible displays of power, and villains from across the Green Goliath's storied history--acts as an refreshing, insane counterpoint to all the "serious" Hulk tales out there that have cropped up ever since Bill Mantlo revealed the Hulk as victim of child abuse. What's more, Greg Pak accomplishes all this while acknowledging the character's terrifying history, his tragic self-loathing, and his propensity for emotional extremes. For, as the writer notes, when the emotional stakes are at their highest, that's when Hulk smashing is most satisfying.

Particularly, I loved the way in which the Hulk's final wish echoed Banner's, but at the same time highlighted a key distinction between the two. While Banner wanted his "family" to be cured only because he didn't want them to be monsters like him, the Hulk's wish (and I won't spoil it here) showed a surprising selflessness that was touching. It made Betty's realization afterward, about the nature of Banner and Hulk's relationship, all the more poignant.

A few points just seemed to fall through the cracks this issue, and that's unfortunately to be expected when dealing with the larger, more important through-arc that concludes here. Tyrannus' defeat was glossed over, Fin Fang Foom was more a generic force of nature than an actual character, and we never do quite learn what happens to all of the bad guys left (or so it appears) in the Dark Dimension from last issue. Still, the emphasis is where it must be: on the Hulk and his relationship with Betty and the remainder of his "family." Is the main story perfect? No, of course not. But with the following ten pages, it doesn't need to be.

In "Hulk Out," Pak and Grummett use a conversation between Banner and Pak stand-in Amadeus Cho to put an exclamation point on the last five-and-a-half years. Cho says what many a fan has likely wanted to tell Banner for years. The results are engaging, but in the last few pages the tide turns again. Pak shows he's a big ol' romantic at heart, and gives Banner and his emerald alter-ego an honest-to-gosh happy ending that's quietly evocative of Peter David's Incredible Hulk #372. And while we know the happiness won't last, the last page--you'll know it when you get there--made me smile. And laugh. And maybe a tear dribbled down my cheek.

Quite the counterpoint to "The Lone and Level Sands" (in Incredible Hulk #467), that's for damn sure.

As for the artistic chores, I thought Paul Pelletier and Tom Grummett served admirably in this finale. While nowhere near the heights of, say, Incredible Hulk #611 (still the high water mark for art since the book's most recent relaunch), Pelletier hit most of the right notes here, his layouts full of dynamism and power. On the other hand, Grummett's chapter relied heavily on emotion and body language. His was a quieter power, but the work was no less solid.

So, now that it's done, what does everyone think of The Incredible Hulks #635? Was it worth the hype? Was it all a final issue from one of the best Hulk writers could be? Sound off, Hulkophiles!

~G.

(P.S.: No, I didn't do an "exit interview" with Greg Pak, but that's because Comics Alliance columnist Chris Sims beat me to the punch. Check it out here! Alas, if I have my way, you'll see more about another new project coming soon. Stay tuned!)

9 comments:

  1. I had really enjoyed the rest of this arc, so I am sad to say that 635 was a bit of a letdown. For one thing, the art (particularly in the early pages) was muddled -- I had a hard time figuring out what was happening on the first two pages. Apparently Fin Fang Foom is still in the Dark Dimension getting killed and reborn while also already on Earth; at least, some dragon-like body appears to be zapped on the first page.

    I'm also not as keen on the writing in the conclusion or in the epilogue, which seemed to rely too much on knowing glances between characters than clear narration. I get what everyone's wish is, sort of, but would have liked more clarity. And I really could have done without Cho and Banner meeting at the Diner of Annoying People in the Middle of Nowhere. It seemed to pad out the epilogue without adding much to the narrative.

    Finally, I really wish Betty and Rick had been cured. I understand Betty remaining as RSH but have hated A-Bomb from the beginning. Liefelding Rick Jones isn't made any more palatable when Jeph Loeb or Greg Pak do it.

    So... yeah. It was a big letdown for me.

    One thing about Hulk's happiness in the Dark Dimension: as you note, he gets to be with Betty until the end without having to worry about killing her. But his other desire is to hurt (or at least beat the crap out of) her for the rest of time. It's an odd idea of how to be close to the ones you love, methinks.

    If memory serves, I'm more of a PAD fan than you are. In fact, I'd venture to say that I'm more a fan of PAD's Hulk than I am the Hulk in general (though I started with the character long before PAD's tenure began). Pak seems like PAD lite -- hits some of the themes but doesn't quite deal with characterization in the same way. PAD seemed aware of how Hulk reflected larger Western themes, whereas Pak is more limited in his approach. Some of Pak's issues were more fun, no doubt, but I never felt compelled to read the way I did (and do, when I revisit them) PAD's issues. Indeed, had this not been a conclusive arc, I probably would not have picked it up.

    It occurs to me now that I only post here to disagree with you; what an ass! Hope you realize that I do enjoy reading your thoughts and insights, even if we come at them from slightly different perspectives.

    --Deron

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  2. Deron!

    Man, you'll have to excuse me! I saw your post back on the "Planet Hulk" piece, but didn't click the profile link or otherwise make the connection. Your thoughts are welcome here anytime.

    Definitely you're a bigger PAD fan than I am--with a few exceptions I lost interest after the "merged" Hulk stories began. Although I appreciate the stories, many of them don't seem like "Hulk stories" to me. Peter David always struck me as having a quiet grudge against the source material in spite of his repeated citations of "Incredible Hulk" #6 as primary inspiration. He seemed to always want to make the Hulk into something he wasn't, or at least, something that didn't fit my view of the character (as one weaned on the Mantlo/Buscema iteration of the early 80s). Maybe someday I'll blog on David's run, what I did and didn't like.

    As you hint, there's a very good reason that Betty remained Red She-Hulk as that's how she fits in the Hulk's world view according to Pak. It seems if she's not someone who has the physical power to stand up to him, he's not interested. (That point of view in the "adult" Hulk is quite the counterpoint from the savage Hulk's "puppy love" of Jarella, or the gray Hulk's happy fun time with Marlo.) Does the Hulk's view of Betty in "Heart" constitute a misogynist theme, or only highlight the characters' very complex, twisted psychologies?

    Rick, on the other hand, I agree about. Truthfully, between Red She-Hulk's announced appearance in the new "Defenders" series from Matt Fraction, and Rick's appearance in "Destroyers," it appears the Hulk family operates at the whim of editorial edict. Although Pak gave very clever reasons for not curing them, and tied those reasons into his psychologies of Banner & Hulk, I still feel at least Rick would be better served as a human only. (And now I hear that Marlo isn't cured after all, and will be the Harpy again in "Destroyers." Ah, well...!)

    Point taken too about the "knowing glances," although I'm assured there's a method to Pak's madness--as has been pointed out a few other places, Nate Cosby's blog for one (read the linked article for fascinating stuff). I'm sure every issue has been a struggle as to just how much of the characters' inner thoughts should spill onto the printed page.

    The interview at the end was quite illuminating, spotlighting Pak's idea that by trying to actively repress him, Banner was making the Hulk into the very kind of thing he despised: a monster. Only when he was forced to let him out for prolonged periods, like on Sakaar, could the Hulk properly develop into a character whose positive traits Banner could see, and view as not wholly unlike himself. Like the book ultimately concluded, Banner and Hulk really aren't so far apart as many would like to believe.

    Woo! Gone on a bit long. Feel free to quibble!

    ~G.

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  3. It could have been better, but I'm okay with it. I was hoping for an epic finale that was both action packed and emotional like the Hulk/Skaar confrontation in Incredible Hulk #611, but instead we've got an finale that is a bit disappointing and perhaps a little anti-climatic. Personally, if I've would have done it, here is what I would've done.


    First, I would not do the ridiculous giant Hulks concept, but I would instead have Hulk enter an even more powerful state of his World-Breaker power. Once unleashing this power, Hulk completely destroys Earth and the entire galaxy (killing all of his friends, heroes, villains, gods, etc.) and then... it shows Hulk survived the destruction of the galaxy, and in an act of sorrow, guilt, and selflessness, Hulk makes his last wish... recreating everything and everyone he destroyed/killed, thus returning everything and everyone back to normal.


    The rest I would have kept the same, like Betty/Red She-Hulk trying to make her wish and having it fail, but... perhaps I wouldn't have bothered with the conversation with Cho or the happy ending with Betty/Red She-Hulk. I would have ended it with Banner walking away, just like he did on that last page of Pelletier's artwork for Incredible Hulks #635. Now that is how it should have ended for Heart of the Monster.


    Not the greatest story, but it was still very entertaining, especially Incredible Hulks #630-634, which were the most entertaining of this story. However, it is not my favorite of Pak's work, but I am satisfied with what's been given to us. Could it have been better? Yes. Could it have been worse? Yes, again. Overall, it was an entertaining story that could have been better, especially if it were more than just six issues.


    Still, my all-time favorite Incredible Hulk works from Pak shall be these stories, which I have listed below.


    Planet Hulk


    World War Hulk


    Skaar: Son of Hulk


    Fall of the Hulks/World War Hulks (Incredible Hulk #601-611)


    It seems that after these titles, some of Pak's work involving our favorite Green Goliath has been rushed, but that doesn't mean that it was his fault. However, I would like to state what I would have done with Pak's other Incredible Hulk related stories. I think most will agree with me on this.


    Incredble Hulks #612-617: Dark Son- First things first, I would have not allowed that bi-monthly schedule, because I feel that it ruined the quality of Pak's Hulk work and made the stories rushed! Secondly, I would have given the story several more issues and have gotten Paul Pelletier to continue to be the artist.


    Incredible Hulks #618-620: Chaos War- Just like the previous story, I would have given this one at least three or four more issues, if only so that we could have more time for the other characters involved: Doc Samson, Hiroim, Jarella, etc.


    Incredible Hulks #621-622: God Smash- This one really should have been six issues at least! Furthermore, I would have Hulk fighting all the Gods and defeating them one at a time before confronting Zeus. Then, I would have shown that Hulk was too physically powerful for Zeus to overcome in direct conflict, thus resulting in Zeus using his powers to their fullest limits to battle the Hulk. In my opinion, the battle could still have ended with Zeus victorious or at least have the conflict end in a standstill between the two, thus giving equal respect to Zeus and Hulk... much in a similar manner to the fight between Thanos & Odin.


    Incredible Hulks #623-625: Planet Savage- Once again, this one could have been a lot longer and better thought out, and I still say Paul Pelletier would have been better than Dale Eaglesham... no offense.


    Incredible Hulks #626-629: The Spy Who Smashed Me- Once again, needed to be longer. Other than that, nothing else.


    Just my opinions, fellow Hulk fans. All in all, it's a great review, Gary! I hope for some more Hulk related articles from you soon. Until then, take care!

    GreenScar1990

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  4. Who the frak is demanding that the stories be padded?

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  5. I personally enjoyed the story. I think Greg Pak gave the Hulk a happy ending (which we all know never lasts) which as you previously mentioned Gary fits in with the current MU continunity.

    I wish Greg pak success in all his future endeavours and hope that his successor Jason Aaron finds success on his new title.

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  6. I am splitting my comments up into two posts.

    To Greenscar1990

    I agree with most of what you say. The only thing is the ending you have in mind does not appeal to me.

    Also the Hulk family concept had potential. The reason it did not work is because the characters participation in the story was uneccesary. If the stories dealt directly with the She Hulk,Rick, or even say Korg it would have worked. The way it was done you could have replaced them with almost any other hero and it would not have made a difference. The best way I can put it is saying they should have involved in the story on a more personal level.

    I totally agree with you about the stories being rushed. This is something I have said many times. It also left endings to were too sudden. This is true with the first two story arcs. The series should have focused more on seeing his mother and father again and how that affected Hulk and Banner. It was totally forgotten about not even mentioned again. If this is what defines who the character that is just doesn't work. More on this in another post.

    The Zeus/Hulk fight was violence for the sake of violence. It was not even believable in motivation. Yes he was mad but the whole thing was over the top. Those two issues seem to exist to shock readers. The vulture trying to tear out his eyeball was also in poor taste. In fact I think it was taken from a Tales from The Crypt episode in the early 90s. Does anyone remember that? There was more they could have done with the Prometheus analogy.

    Also Pak's left too many loose ends that could have been covered in his final issue.

    That is enough for now.

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  7. Gary,

    I agree with you that there are things about Peter David's run that were and maybe still are overrated. I liked the Merged Hulk era more than you. Perhaps that is because of the Pantheon. That group still has a lot of potential in terms of storytelling.

    You probably like the Mr Fixit stuff more than me. The early Grey Hulk stories were good but having him as a bodyguard in vegas just did not work. There is a dour fatalistic tone to that entire year that rub me the wrong way. That also includes the only time we see any incarnation of the Hulk kill a innocent animal. He did in 314 but there he was virtually mindless and unaware. This was something that did not make sense terms of characterization and if not plain bad taste.

    I would like to hear more of your comments about Davids' grudge against the source material. The idea of merging the personalities is perhaps one of the things you are thinking about? While the idea is interesting David did go about it in a clumsy way. Yes,there are alot of people who will disagree with me on this.

    Tell me what you think

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  8. Those last few comments should have come under Zeno instead of anonymous.

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  9. Hey Zeno,

    Most of the points you raised, I'll be addressing soon, most likely in a post all about Peter David's Hulk run. I do think the beginning (pre-#377) and end (post-Onslaught) of his run were by far the best portions, and the Pantheon played about as large a part in that as David's own conception of what a "merged" Hulk would be like. Also--and this is going to sound funny coming from an avowed liberal--I feel that David really let his political views get in the way of some good stories throughout that period.

    And yes, I like the gray Hulk who will forevermore, it seems, be pigeonholed as "Mr. Fixit" from that year-long stint as a Las Vegas legbreaker. Wow, do I have a bone to pick with Marvel (and I suppose, especially, Paul Jenkins) about that! Hrrm, we're talking about the "death" of Glorian, that was never intended to be permanent and which capped the plotlines of the Hulk's Vegas friends and precipitated the end of that phase of his life? Got some thoughts on that, too--up soon. (Or are we talking about the Ghoul? Whee.)

    Back from Vegas now! Party, party, party...

    Okay, so I was at the Colosseum at Caesar's, not the Coliseum owned by Berengetti...but that still counts for something, right?

    ~G.

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I can never tell if two comments from "Anonymous" are really by the same person, so please, especially if I know you from other websites, leave a name or alias or something! Thanks!