Comics Review: The Hulk & Superman
The early fall is always a busy, stressful time for me as school kicks back in to gear. And what do I do when I get stretched thin? I seek out stories. Fiction has long been a coping strategy for me, and I take it in nearly any form. This autumn, that form has been comics. I’ve always loved comic books, but the combination of a new shop within walking distance and a nerdy new boss has ramped up my graphic reading a bit. Thus, I thought it worth reviewing a few of the trade collections I’ve blown through in recent weeks.
Hulk, Vol. 3: Hulk No More & Hulk, Vol.4: Hulk vs. X-Force
Even at the teenage height of my comics reading, I never read the Hulk. Oh, he would turn up in a Spider-Man book every now and again, but I never really knew that much about him as a character. These two volumes did little to grow that knowledge. They did enough to hold my attention but not much else. They are rife with plot holes. Action and significant background definitely took place in other books, and the story at hand suffers as a result. If you read comics long enough, especially the major superhero titles, you get used to this sort of thing. It’s always tough to keep up with the plot lines as they cross from one series to another. In this case, there was just a great deal about Bruce Banner/the Hulk which I didn’t get. As Vol. 3 opens, Banner is somehow in control of the Hulk and about to be married to a green woman who is not a hulk herself. Apparently, however, this is of little consequence. All of the sudden, this giant immortal dude swoops in, switches Banner back to the dumb Hulk, and makes him fight a red Hulk. There was also time travel involved for some reason. Vol. 4 is slightly better from a story perspective, presenting a much more tightly controlled, nearly self-contained narrative about the Red Hulk. Even here, though, a lot has clearly happened somewhere else in the story, which seemed odd since I went straight from Vol. 3 to Vol. 4. The last chapter’s focus on Doc Samson is definitely the strongest part, both in writing and drawing (although I think a lot could be done with the Red Hulk. He actually seems to have a unique, conflicted personality). For the most part, however, the best thing I can say about the art is that it runs entirely too cartoonish for my taste. In the end, I read these because they were a loan. I don’t regret it, but neither will I pursue the Hulk further.
Superman: H’El on Earth
Aside from the ridiculous title, this book isn’t half bad. The story is a cohesive narrative drawn from the new incarnations of Superman, Superboy, and Supergirl. In fact, this was my first foray into DC since they rebooted their entire universe. For all that I read about Superman going in a different direction, he seems exactly the same character I read in my youth. Sure, some of the details have changed, but he retains the essence of Superman in both look and language. Regardless, I was pleasantly surprised to be reading a story free of the sort of plot holes I saw in the Hulk books. Rather than a bunch of issues stapled together, this feels much more like a graphic novel. The story is clear, well-paced, and full of good dialogue. As a reader, I felt like I was getting to know and understand these characters as they exist in the new DC world. Nevertheless, I have two major gripes with the writing. First, I feel like the mysterious Kryptonian survivor trope has been done. A lot. For all the excellence of his lines, the fact the H’El is another wacked-out Kryptonian makes the character feel played out. Second, Supergirl is a gullible, petulant milksop. She gets played by H’El, ignoring painfully obvious signs of his malevolent nature. This is not helped, I should note, by the art. The drawing style varies from chapter to chapter, but I was consistently disappointed by the treatment of the female characters, especially Supergirl. There are some panels, especially when she faces away from the reader, which are just absurd. Then again, if I had that kind of permawedgie, perhaps I’d be more likely to believe psychopathic aliens too.
Superman for Tomorrow
Like the title above, this book is a cohesive, self-contained story from cover to cover. The plot has a cinematic feel to it, as it finds Superman aligning himself against the rest of the Justice League and, indeed, the rest of the world. This dichotomy is both highlighted and offset by a strong introspective thread present mainly in Superman’s conversations with the Catholic Father Leone. What sends Kal-El to begin his story, his confession of sorts, is the part which had me most confused. People all over the world have mysteriously vanished, and Superman played a role in the occurrence, although not intentionally. That role, however, the motivation behind that action, remains murky for me as a reader. Now, the story carries on at a good clip despite this hole, but that doesn’t minimize its existence. Once I understood the nature of the question (which took a while), it nagged me past the ending. For a minor character, you can get away with this, but Superman is never the second fiddle. The art, I think does as much to reinforce this as anything else. Led by penciler Jim Lee, the graphics are strong throughout and often downright stunning. The lines, especially on Superman himself, are hard, angular, and tough. There is a solidity and immutability about them which creates a concrete world that is completely suitable for the Man of the Steel. Where they let me down, though (as most superhero books do), is in the depiction of women. Lois Lane, for reasons which surpass understanding, is wearing this weird psuedo-Roman neglige that is downright preposterous. Even Wonder Woman, who does have a role to play, basically gets upskirted a couple of times. These panels are comparatively few, but they just put a sour spin on the whole book for me.