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Reviews Old and New

July 20, 2001

Something New

In Avengers 43 writer Kurt Busiek continues to amaze readers with his larger-than-life plots. This current storyline involves far too many characters to mention, and I guess that is my biggest gripe with Avengers and Kurt in general. There is just too damn much going on. While Thor, Captain America, Quicksilver, Firebird, and The Black Knight try to stave off dozens of “radioactive freaks” in Khystym, The Scarlet Witch, Jack of Hearts, Triathlon, and Yellow Jacket battle the giant Torg on Prince Edward Island. Simultaneously in Wuwei, China, the Vision, She-Hulk, Warbird, Black Widow and Silverclaw fight a group known as the Deviants. The action jumps from scene to scene every few pages, with Kang and Marcus witnessing the global events from their orbiting space station. The book is not without drama, certainly the final page of the issue is a mouth-gaper, but Kurt’s attempts at any “real” characterization fall way short of their mark. A page is spent in which the Vision tries to ascertain Warbird’s emotional state, only to have Warbird cryptically tell him that she’s fine. Alan Davis, through his illustrations, makes it apparent that all is not well with Warbird, but Kurt holds off on the payoff; the dialogue exchange will inevitably surface in a few issues, meanwhile, I'm just left thinking, "who cares?" I sure don't. Likewise, the sarcasm spoken by Triathlon when Jack of Hearts is welcomed into the Avengers fold is brought to the surface and just as quickly forgotten about. Still, it is difficult to fault the creative team involved on the book; they are trying to tell earth-shaking stories and, in a collected edition, the present storyline will no doubt be much more user-friendly. New readers, however, could not pick a worse time to jump onto this series. A "role call" is very much needed. As an on-again/off-again Avengers fan, I found much of the story confusing and the battle sequences a bit tiresome. With the announcement this issue that artists Alan Davis and Mark Farmer are departing the book, fans are left with yet another lengthy Marvel story arc that will not have the continuity of a single artistic vision. I doubted that any mainstream artists would have been able to fill the shoes of George Perez when he left the series, but Davis and Farmer did more than fill Perez's loafers, they busted them open. I have reservations that their successor will do likely.

”Hulk smash! Um, let me put that another way...I intend to cause destruction of an utmost terrifying nature.”

A few weeks ago I discussed the works of Bill Mantlo and his many contributions to the Marvel machine in the 1970s and '80s. I’ve recently stumbled across a few more of Bill’s works including the Vision and Scarlet Witch mini-series which I will be reading in the near future. I’m still working at completing my collection of Mantlo-written Incredible Hulk comics, and this week will put issue 278 under the microscope.
In previous issues of this series, the Hulk was pretty much a rampaging beast whose dialogue was limited to the likes of, “Hulk smash!” and “Hulk want Super-Size order now!” Several issues prior to 278, Banner found that he could retain his intellect when becoming the Hulk. Somewhat later, a battle with the evil foursome known as the U-Foes was televised world wide. As the Hulk triumphed by outsmarting his enemies (and concurrently saved the world), the time was right for Banner to head to New York and try to reconcile his otherwise traumatic life. The short end is this: The Hulk and a cadre of Marvel’s finest heroes (circa 1982) all journey to Washington, DC, to the White House lawn, where attorney Matt Murdock stands with a rather large petition, presumably signed by the collected heroes; the petition is in hopes that the Hulk receive a presidential pardon for the carnage he had wrecked on New York and other cities over the years of his troubled existence. Suddenly, a faux alien invasion ensues, and the Hulk ultimately saves the day, at which point President Regan (watching from the Oval Office with Thunderbolt Ross) concedes as the Hulk is carried away on the shoulders of The Thing and the mighty Thor.
The concept of an intelligent Hulk, although attempted previously at the House of Ideas, had always been short lived and didn’t really explore too deeply the consequences--both internal and external--that a smart Hulk/Banner would be forced to confront. Mantlo expertly addresses each of these, and the feelings/conflicting emotions of the supporting cast members--i.e., Rick Jones, Betty Ross, and General Thunderbolt Ross. Jones, who has heretofore made a profession of being a side-kick, has himself, suddenly taken the proverbial kick to the side as his Hulkish pal is suddenly no longer the brainless brute who refers to him as “friend Rick.” Banner’s longtime love interest, the forever uninspiried Betty Ross, feels the jilt of a lover spurned. Betty has waited desperately for some cure to save Banner from the curse of the Hulk. She just wanted to live a normal life with Banner and that life seems even more like a wish upon a star. Her father, General Thunderbolt Ross, perhaps suffers the greatest indignation, as the President himself tells Ross that the Hulk will be granted an official pardon. So yeah, there is a lot going on here, but it all flows quite flawlessly. Furthermore, the subplots (one of which in this issue involves the long-time Hulk adversary The Leader) are consistently well-defined and smartly done.
My complaints about this issue are more from a sense of practicality and do not deter from my enjoyment of the book. First, the Hulk arrives in New York and heads straight to the HQ of the Fantastic Four. He reaches the quartet’s living quarters without so much as tripping an alarm. Believing they are under attack, the FF engage a brief conflict before realizing the Hulk is not visiting them with hostile intentions. While I initially pondered how the Hulk could enter the building unnoticed, Bill does mention in the text that the FF are cleaning up the wreckage following an attack on their HQ by Terrax, which, come to think of it, explains entirely why the alarm systems would be disabled. I should be writing for a No-Prize, but alas I’m 19 years too late.
Second, there are a lot of heroes standing around on the White House lawn with the Hulk, including many heroes who cannot fly. They are all in costume, of course, but the question I keep asking myself is: How’d they all get there? It is conceivable to think that they all piled onto an Avengers quinjet, or that the FF had some type of transport available for a large number of individuals. But it’s the kind of thing that you could get away with in the 60s, 70s, or 80s. Readers just accepted stuff like that. And I can accept it as well, I just am curious as to whether a bunch of the Defenders and Spider-man walked to their local Avis rental center and got themselves a passenger van. I know, I think way too much about the particulars...

Akin and Garvey

Who are they? Where are they now? I know the answer to the first question, but I’m trying to answer the second. If you have any info let me know. Meanwhile, I’ll talk more about these gentlemen next week and why you should know their names and their work. "Amazing craftsmen" does not even begin to describe their combined talents.

NEXT: More fun than watching an ice cube melt.

Comments are always welcome. Write to: David
to voice your opinion.

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