The Concept: A new Hulk has emerged, one who is red-skinned, brutally intelligent, cheerfully merciless, and just as tough as his predecessor ( if not tougher ). Little is known about him, but he utterly hates the original Hulk and will stop at nothing to get revenge. If you thought that Bruce Banner's life was just one endless conga line of tragedy and degradation, this confirms it.
The Authors: Jeph Loeb ( writer ), Ed McGuiness ( main penciller ), Dexter Vines ( main inker ), with guest art by Arthur Adams, Frank Cho, and seasoned Hulk veteran Herb Trimpe.
The Assessment: The internet has recently spawned the word " gar ", which describes a character of such overwhelming masculinity that even the most culturally respectable of heterosexual men fall for them, a giggling schoolgirl by contrast. Urban Dictionary gives us a better definition, and the Red Hulk gives us a good example.
" Rulk " ( as he's more commonly called ) is gar incarnate. Every act he makes is a feat of ridiculously over-the-top masculinity. In his very first appearance, he kills the original Abomination with a handgun sized proportionally to massive Hulk hands. And that's just the start of his frenzy of hilarious beatdowns upon hero and villain alike. When he fights the Silver Surfer in an alternate universe, he drains the guy of his cosmic power, breaks his neck Steven Seagal-style, and flies away on his surfboard. And when the omniscient cosmic being known as the Watcher is drawn to observe Rulk's actions, Rulk punches the guy out to spare us his hypocritical speech about never interfering with the events around him.
If that paragraph has not convinced you that this makes for an entertaining story, there's nothing else I can say.
Characteristic to contemporary comics written by Jeph Loeb, the plot to Red Hulk is either thin or outright absent. If the rule of drama contradicts the rule of cool, the rule of cool wins. Why does Thor appear to battle Rulk? So Rulk can pull him into outer space and beat the shit out of him with his own magic hammer. Why does She-Hulk form a new " Lady Liberators " of superheroines to take down Rulk, when a unisex team would do just as well? So we can get Rulk battling a bunch of women in colorful tights ( though to Loeb's credit, this is not played for T&A, but as an opportunity for uncommonly-seen superheroine girl talk ). And why is there a story arc where cosmic gamesmasters reunite the original Hulk's old team of misfits, the Defenders? So Rulk can form his own team of villains, predictably called the Offenders. There's an ongoing plot about where the Rulk comes from and the larger gamma-science conspiracy behind him, but that's just window dressing for seeing a big red jerk beat up guys in tights while offering goofy banter.
There's little to nothing in the way of intellectual stimulation here. Fortunately, the series compensates in many other realms. It's got very funny dialogue, especially when the Green Hulk appears to offer his third-person sentence-fragment wisdom; you feel like the various Marvel guest stars are subconsciously aware of the absurdity this story has, and are acting accordingly. It has slapstick violence to the point of resembling an old Tom and Jerry cartoon, in an era where most superhero comics favor horror-movie levels of blood and guts. And it's got the perfect art; Ed McGuiness already skews entertainingly towards the cartoony, and the adventures of irradiated steroid freaks fit right into that category. Guest artists in Volume 2 Adams and Cho also get the memo to go as ridiculous as they can.
There's not much in the way of drama to Rulk-- which isn't to say that there aren't poignant moments ( the Green Hulk especially is portrayed in a sympathetic light, since while he's not much for brain power, he is treated as a genuinely good-hearted monster ), but that it's used as an inverse of comic relief ( since this is such a ridiculous story to begin with ). But if you want something that's silly-- and that's something that everyone needs sometimes--you can hardly do better. And for the heterosexual males who enjoy the Rulk's escapades-- he proves that male sexuality is a moving target, and that's okay.
Strongly recommended if you're reading with a sense of irony, mildly recommended if you're not.