Ruby Nation

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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Red Hulk Volumes 1-3 Review: Gar for Rulk

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.




  2. Fortunately, the red Hulk doesn't need to attack the readers themselves; they got enough mood whiplash from the change in tone between WWH and this title.

  3. Red Hulk's book is a fun comic. There, I said it. It's dumb, silly fun, and sometimes that's what you need in a comic - people in funny tights thumping each other.

    Comic snobs who insist that every story should be "worthwhile" or "thought-provoking" are missing the point. There is no point, except to have a big red angry guy punching things.

    It's dopey. But I like it.

  4. If you're a hulk fan, or mildly retarded you'll love it. If you're a Hulk fan AND retarded you'll get wood. Everyone else will wonder how it made print. Probably the worst title......ever.

  5. Dear Anonymous,

    If you can't state your views without using the R word, get the hell off my blog. I'm not going to facilitate ableist hate speech here.

  6. On the one hand, I did read the first few issues of Rulk and enjoyed it at an ironic distance. On the other hand, buying the comic does tell Marvel that we want more Jeph Loeb comics, which is part of how he gets assignments like Ultimates 3.

    I'm all for ironic fun, but there's a difference between mocking Manos: The Hands of Fate with the MST3K guys and commissioning Hal Warren to do monthly installments of it.

    And really, even the ironic fun wears thin after awhile, especially now that they're belatedly trying to inject plot for the Fall of the/War of the Hulks crossover. (And again, by buying lots of Rulk, fans told Marvel -- give us a Rulk-centric crossover!)

  7. Omar-- couldn't that be flipped as Marvel injecting Rulk into Greg Pak's mega-arc that's been going on since Planet Hulk? I haven't been reading the current stories, but for all his merits Pak has given the Hulk a convoluted identity not seen since Peter David gave him Banner's brain, and at least with Rulk I'm not having to keep score as to what personality or combination of personalities the protagonist is currently using ( with Loeb, Hulk is the Savage Green Hulk of the 70's, and Rulk is...well, a big red jerk who likes beating up heroes. )

    And Ultimates 3 is totally the kind of comic I would have loved when I was 11 years old, so it also passes the irony test.

  8. I really don't know what Marvel was doing by launching Rulk and then tying it in with Pak; I suspect we're both right, and Marvel is trying to make Rulk an even bigger publishing event by giving it plot, and to boost Pak's extended and convoluted Hulk arc by transfusing it with Rulk's popularity. My suspicion is that we're seeing Pak's endgame on the title here, precisely because he's spun the thread out too far. As a corrective, though Rulk seems mismatched, and suddenly asking us to care about the plot for whatever reason will undermine exactly the sort of enjoyment you're describing while making the plot look ridiculous to boot.

    And really, I don't think Loeb's stuff is as good as, say, Nextwave or Secret Six. part of this is that "gar" is just a lot less capable of hitting the outright surreal sorts of beats, and part of it is that Loeb seems bent on explaining the joke after he tells it...and before he tells it. And during.

    Honestly, I'm not too interested in reading more than half-a-dozen issues of something like Loeb's Rulk for the lulz. My inner 11-year-old wears me out after awhile now that I'm an old geezer. After a while, a work built on Rule of Cool alone just makes "cool" seem insubstantial unless the irony is in the work, not just borrowed from my personal supply.