Retro-Review: Peter David’s Incredible Hulk

He’s big and gray and mean. He’s the incredible Hulk. And I’ve never really read his adventures before. Oh, I have a few issues of the Hulk: some from the late ‘90s that received as free give-a-ways and a couple I had read as a child guest-starring the Soviet Super Soldiers. But I can’t say that the Hulk is a character I’ve followed or ever cared all that much about.

He’s bald and white and funny. He’s Peter David. And I’ve read plenty of his adventures before. In this case, I’m talking about the adventures he’s written. His Captain Marvel was one of my favorite titles at the time. I loved his Young Justice, admired his Spider-Man 2099, enjoyed his Spyboy and still love his X-Factor right now. But I had never read the run that had earned him more accolades than any other: his work on the Incredible Hulk.

A couple of weeks ago, I saw a row of Incredible Hulk trades on a library book shelf. And, right in the middle, I saw a half-dozen volumes of Marvel Visionaries: Peter David. I decided to take the plunge. I grabbed the first three volumes (2-4, as number 1 wasn’t there) and figured I could come back later for the rest.

First things first: I liked them. I enjoyed them enough to set any other comics aside for
a couple of weeks and plow through these instead. I even took one volume on vacation
with me and read it at a friend’s house. If the point of a comic book is to entertain, Peter David’s Incredible Hulk succeeded.

So what did I like about it? And, if I’m being honest, what didn’t I like about it?

In volume 2, I liked the structure. I liked that there was an over-arching story- the Leader manipulating the Hulk- while each issue still had its individual battle as the Hulk fought the Leader’s minions in succession. The structure made sure that each individual issue (or, in the case of the trade, each chapter in the story) was satisfying while also giving you a reason to keep on reading.

(SPOILER ALERT)

I liked that the Leader was able to pull off his plan. It’s not often that you see a villain
succeed. Two-thirds into this volume, the Leader successfully completed his plot and
exploded a gamma bomb. I like the resolution even better. Peter David gave us a great done-in-one story as Rick Jones, Clay Quartermain and others dealt with the fall-out from the explosion (pun intended, I am reviewing a Peter David book after all).

I liked the abrupt change in status quo. After that, we were introduced to an all-new Hulk as he assumed the identity of a Las Vegas bouncer named Joe Fix-It. The sudden shift kept the title fresh and interesting. I understand that’s one of the hallmarks of Peter David’s work on the Incredible Hulk, and a major reason why he was able to last so long.

(END OF SPOILER ALERT)

I also liked the Todd McFarlane art. I realize that may be heresy in these parts, but I did. The Hulk’s body was bulging all over the place, like his skin couldn’t contain him. He looked like a clay monster, a golem, something simultaneously more and less than human. It was great. I also liked his exaggerated features for the Leader and most of the human cast. Ironically, the only depiction I didn’t care for was Bruce Banner. Banner was so exaggerated- with huge glasses and big bangs- that it was difficult to identify or empathize with him.

That’s not to say that volume two was perfect. I didn’t like that some of the Leader’s scenes were long-winded. I didn’t like most of the villains. We had Wolverine at the beginning (yay!) and Absorbing Man at the end (hooray!) but it was a league of losers in between.

However, my biggest problem was with the Hulk himself. It’s not entirely Peter David’s fault. The Hulk was created to be a Jekyll-and-Hyde character, two distinct personalities sharing one body. I happen to think that Wolverine is more interesting as an anti-hero, knowing that the demons he fights are part of who he is and not some other. But David didn’t help himself either. Triggering the change by the moon instead of by anger
separated the two halves even further. We weren’t reading about Bruce Banner as the Hulk; we were reading about Bruce Banner and the Hulk.

In volume 3, I liked the situation. The idea of casting the Hulk as a Las Vegas bouncer
was brilliant. It gave him motivation beyond smashing things for the sake of it. He had a
job. He had a reason to beat people up. He had a boss, co-workers, rivals and a potential
girlfriend. And he had a secret to protect. The set-up had been established in volume 2
and came to a head in volume 4. In volume 3, it was the background yet it still added to
the story over all.

I liked the side-trip to Jarella’s world. It was funny seeing the locals treat the Hulk as
a god. It was even funnier seeing the Hulk’s reaction. It reminded me of some of the
great Conan stories in which the barbarian is baffled by the customs of civilization.
The Hulk’s reactions are just as surprising to the locals and the reader. It’s a great way
to keep things interesting. It’s a great way to include humor. And it’s a great way of
exposing the foibles of our own society.

I liked the developments with Marlo. She’s an interesting addition to the cast. I was amused by her infatuation with Mr. Fix-It and intrigued by her interactions with Bruce Banner.

Once again, I mostly liked the art. That was kind of a surprise to me. I wasn’t familiar with Jeff Purves and was expecting a bit of a let-down between the bigger names on the title. But Purves did a very good job. He was more consistent than McFarlane and gave the Las Vegas stories his own imprint.

But I didn’t like everything. Volume 3 had a very rough start with crossovers with Web of Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four. The stories were mediocre. Even the art was bad, and not just on the non-Hulk halves. Purves had trouble drawing Spider-Man, Dr. Doom and Beast (the last in a one-panel cameo).

In volume 4, I liked just about everything. I liked the progression of the relationship
triangle between the Hulk, Marlo and Bruce Banner. The web of assumptions,
expectations and deceptions was intriguing. It had humor, as Bruce had to keep
coming up with stories and excuses. It also had depth, as Marlo and her friend began
to fear that Marlo fell for an abusive boyfriend. Mr. Fix-It had never been rough with
her, but his tendency towards violence with everyone else was starting to scare her.
And it had pathos, as you really hoped that the Hulk would find happiness in love.

I liked the antagonists. This volume had the strongest cast of adversaries- even if some
of them were expressions of someone else’s power. The collection of Wolverines,
Things and other Hulks was fantastic. The battle with Iron Man was great. And the
unknown Ghoul was developed much better than foes from previous volumes. I even
liked the opponents from the short stories- Hulk Hogan (though David overdid it a
little with the “who deserves the name” argument) and a killer whale. Plus, there was a behind-the-scenes antagonist in Glorian. Like the Leader, he cast a shadow over the entire volume even though he rarely faced the Hulk directly. Unlike the Leader, Glorian was trying to save the Hulk instead of defeat him. It was a great twist, with a lot of possibilities and emotional conflict. There were a few duds in there- I think that Nightmare and D’Spayre are pretty boring as metaphysical threats but that can be blamed on guest writer Bob Harras.

I especially liked that Peter David addressed some of my earlier concerns. Marlo had a great speech in which she told Bruce that he and “his cousin Joe” had a lot more in common than they thought. Bruce had anger in him and Joe had sensitivity. They just didn’t like to show it. Though she wasn’t aware of it, Marlo spoke to the fact that the two of them were halves of the same person.

I’m looking forward to volume 5 and beyond.

Views: 976

Comment by Alan M. on September 4, 2010 at 9:47am
Great trip down memory lane, Chris! This is one of the few runs that I've gone out of my way to collect in its entirety after the fact — I collected it a bit in the late 300s, and then picked it up again in the mid-400s, and so had a lot of gaps to fill — so my perspective on it, like yours, isn't an as-it-happens response, but rather reading something that already has an established reputation. I'd say you hit all the strengths as well as all the weaknesses pretty well (it's been years since I've re-read this series, so I can't go into more specifics than that :-/ )

If my research is right, vol. 5 starts with the "Countdown" story, which is (in my opinion) when the book really started firing on all cylinders, and it's just a few issues after that that Dale Keown comes on, marking probably the most popular stint of David's run. You're in for some good stuff, my friend!
Comment by Jeff of Earth-J on September 4, 2010 at 10:26am
I liked the abrupt change in status quo. I understand that’s one of the hallmarks of Peter David’s work on the Incredible Hulk, and a major reason why he was able to last so long. The sudden shift kept the title fresh and interesting.

I have often postulated that PAD kept the book fresh for himself by shaking up the status quo every so often. The work can’t be fresh to the readers if it’s not fresh to the writer.

I also liked the Todd McFarlane art.

McFarlane gets a bad rap, but his art on Hulk (and Batman: Year Two over at DC around this same time) was probably the best of his career. His very early art (on Infinity, Inc. and Scorpio Rose) was “artsy” but not strong on traditional comic book story-telling. I think his editors at this stage of his career forced him to concentrate on story-telling and panel-to-panel continuity. What we now think of as McFarlane’s style is, I think, an amalgam of these two periods.

I liked the developments with Marlo.

PAD’s original intention was for Marlo to be a hooker, but that idea was overruled by either Marvel editorial or the CCA. The dialogue was changed to make her… what was it?… an aerobics instructor?… but take another look at the way she and her friend are drawn in those first panels.

Purves did a very good job.

PAD wrote the K’ai story because Purves wanted to drawn castles and stuff.

I’m looking forward to volume 5 and beyond.

And I hope you continue to blog about them, Chris. My personal favorite stories of PAD’s run are still ahead of you.
Comment by Cavaliere (moderator emeritus) on September 4, 2010 at 10:49am
Alan and other-Jeff are right, Chris. You've read some good stuff so far but the best is yet to come.
Comment by Rob Staeger (Grodd Mod) on September 4, 2010 at 12:08pm
I really dug lots of Peter David's run -- but I hadn't realized how much of it there was before I started reading it regularly! I have a couple McFarlane & Purvis issues, but had no idea there were 4 trades worth of books before I put it on my pull list.

But yeah -- the best stuff is right around the corner! Enjoy!
Comment by Alan M. on September 4, 2010 at 12:34pm
I was just looking on Wikipedia to see what was collected where, and with 7 vols. (so far) of Hulk Visionaries: Peter David, they're not even halfway through his run. It really does boggle the mind when you think just how long he'd been working on that title.
Comment by Rich Steeves on September 5, 2010 at 12:46pm
I felt it got better at this point, and maintained a high level for quite a while...
Comment by Figserello on September 7, 2010 at 11:48pm
Great that you've got into this great run, Chris. I think it is a factor in our hobby these days that there is a little less interest in what's coming out right now because there is so much great stuff already out there that are worth a look, or a second look.

We had a long discussion about this run up as far as issue #350, which may be round about where you break it off here.

On the old board. I always wanted to continue that discussion, but it ran out of juice along the way.

It is fascinating how PAD kept changing the status quo to keep the show on the road. I pointed out in the old discussion that it was particularly apt for the Hulk, as he is the personification of transformation, change and growth. My trouble with that plan might be that although PAD seemed to shake things up before it got boring for him, it often meant that the story lines he was laying out didn't get a proper ending, they just ...stopped. To be replaced by the next set of storylines.
Comment by Chris Fluit on September 10, 2010 at 10:36am
I think it is a factor in our hobby these days that there is a little less interest in what's coming out right now because there is so much great stuff already out there that are worth a look, or a second look.

I don't know about that. I'm enjoying the things I'm buying right now, too.

It is fascinating how PAD kept changing the status quo to keep the show on the road. I pointed out in the old discussion that it was particularly apt for the Hulk, as he is the personification of transformation, change and growth. My trouble with that plan might be that although PAD seemed to shake things up before it got boring for him, it often meant that the story lines he was laying out didn't get a proper ending, they just ...stopped. To be replaced by the next set of storylines.

It wasn't necessarily that things were getting boring for him. Peter David has written about this. He had contacts in the subscriptions department (where he used to work before he broke in as a writer). He would often be informed when the sales first started to slip and make major changes in order to keep things fresh for the audience.
Comment by Figserello on September 10, 2010 at 6:55pm
I'm enjoying the things I'm buying right now, too.

Well, then, if they are good, those books in turn will be a distraction to people 5 or ten years down the track.

He would often be informed when the sales first started to slip and make major changes in order to keep things fresh for the audience.

Ah. That explains my problem then. Its not a great reason to change everything in mid-flow, in terms of an overall plan, and a well constructed over-arching story. It's a reason external to the story itself.

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