Wednesday, 11 February 2015

A single Hulk preview

As is becoming a standard, whenever I complete a full set of Essential volumes for any particular series and character I take a look at any later issues reprinted in other volumes. For the Hulk there is just one such issue.

Hulk (volume 1 or 2 *) #8 written by Erik Larsen and drawn by Ron Garney, reprinted in Essential Wolverine volume 7

(* Or 1999 depending on how we're supposed to differentiate these things these days. With the series's title subsequently changing about it's hard to keep track of these things.)

Incredible Hulk was a victim of Marvel's late 1990s obsession with relaunching series from issue #1 for no particular reason. Previous renumberings had been tied to big events such as Heroes Reborn/Return or a restructuring of the Spider-Man titles, but now a title was renumbered for nothing more than a new writer. John Byrne may have then been enjoying a return to glory with Marvel with the Spider-Man relaunch (although fan reaction was not exactly wild) but even he thought his return didn't merit renumbering Incredible Hulk but the only mitigation he could secure was a modification of the title to Hulk (though this was later changed back). Byrne wrote seven issues and one annual (Hulk: Chapter One, perhaps the best proof that his Spider-Man: Chapter One is not the worst origin retelling ever) and then he left the book. This is the first post-Byrne issue with Larsen filling in before a permanent writer took over.

This story is clearly a homage to Wolverine's first appearance as once again a government agency sends him to deal with the Hulk in a rural wilderness. The issue is mainly a protracted battle between the two, with odd moments such as Wolverine actually blinding the Hulk with his claws, but a gamma enhanced healing factor means it doesn't last long, and the Hulk taking a fifteen year old girl as a hostage. During part of the battle Tyrannus takes control of the Hulk's mind, but it appears that this only comes after some of his more out of character moments. This is either a terrible example of story layout or else the Hulk has gone even more savage than usual.

On its own this story feels very much like an issue of Wolverine guest starring the Hulk rather than the other way round, a not unsurprising result given that Larsen was the regular writer on Wolverine at the time. This shows most directly in that the story is basically told from Wolverine's perspective with the Hulk's actions initially an unexplained mystery to the readers, an inversion of the normal style of guest appearances. The issue is also clearly part of Wolverine's 25th anniversary celebrations, coming out the same month as a Marvel Milestone reprint of Incredible Hulk #181 and just before the big anniversary issue. It's understandable that Wolverine would revisit his roots in such a year, but he didn't need to take over the Hulk's series to do so.

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