Tuesday, September 18, 2007

World War Hulk #4

Each issue of this summer’s big World War Hulk crossover has carried something of a theme within its pages. The first explored Hulk’s sudden, violent arrival and the shockwaves it sent throughout the community. The second examined the majority of the battle – Earth’s heroes throwing everything they had at the invading forces, ultimately in vain. Issue three displayed the last gasp of the resistance, as the military joined the fray and Dr. Strange took a desperate gamble to finish the fight. In issue number four, it’s time for the heroes to take their medicine. The entire mini-series has been building to this moment, or at least the revelation of how far the Hulk is willing to go for justice, so buckle your seatbelts.

Much of what I’ve loved about Greg Pak’s story so far is the way he’s managed to maintain a certain degree of balance and rationality within each side of the battle. This isn’t a blind fight between the forces of good and evil, it’s two sides of the same coin. Neither group is without blame, nor are they without justification. The Hulk has a natural need to blame someone for what he’s been through, while the Illuminati never intended for their actions to result in innocent deaths.

This story is a good continuation of the groundwork laid by Civil War, the concept that nobody is without fault and ultimately even the best of friends wind up disagreeing from time to time. Of course, when they take place during such stressful, dramatic circumstances, the consequences of these differences in opinion will typically take place on a very large scale, potentially spoiling life-long friendships. The Hulk feels deeply betrayed by his comrades, just like the members of the resistance felt during the Civil War, and the betrayal of a close friend is often twice as painful as that of a hated enemy.

Much like the three issues that came before, this chapter of World War Hulk feels like a segment of a good summer blockbuster. There’s an awful lot of action, but it’s backed up by a story that sufficiently provides motivation for these battle scenes. It’s not swords, laser blasts and shouting just for the sake of a good visual. And, even though there’s a lot going on throughout the tale, I never felt overwhelmed by detail. It’s a nicely refined story, every aside serving a purpose, never lingering on any scene for too long, and when the last page rolled around I felt like I’d got my money’s worth.

The same goes for John Romita, Junior’s artwork. While I did find a few panels that felt a bit more hurried than usual, his compositions are strong enough to pick up the slack. Romita tells a story like few of his peers – his understanding of a writer’s methods and a reader’s needs is top notch, no doubt enhanced by his years and years of constant production. His renderings are detailed when they need to be, clean and simple when they don’t. I’ve never been much of a Dr. Strange fan, but when Romita shows his ultimate power and Pak emphasizes its effect on his enemies, it really opened my eyes to the character’s potential.

Marvel’s really done a good job of tickling their fans’ imaginations and shaking up the status quo over the last year or two. They’re beginning to understand and exploit the potential of a more wide-open, anything goes universe. No longer do these stories need to wrap up into a neat little package and reset the players when they’re finished. As the latest major tale to enjoy that kind of liberty, World War Hulk is a great example of how much power this kind of story can truly convey. I don’t know how any of the major characters involved in these proceedings can ever go back to the way they were before, and I don’t know that I’d be interested in seeing it, either. This is a rarity, a major summer crossover that’s definitely worth buying.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 9

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