Tuesday, September 18, 2007

World War Hulk – Front Line #4

Unlike its Civil War precursor, World War Hulk: Front Line feels more like the personal story of two journalists set against the backdrop of an alien invasion of New York City. Where Paul Jenkins took the opportunity to explore the civilian ramifications of the heroes’ war against one another in CW: FL, a lot of that element has been lost in this follow-up. But honestly, I think that angle had been abandoned by the later issues of the first series, as well. I definitely noticed a drop-off in quality towards the tail end of its run.

Yet, strangely, the storytelling isn’t the problem here, so much as the vague association with this summer’s big crossover is. Sure, the Hulk’s return to the Earth is the big story that Sally and Ben are chasing, but it always feels like window dressing. Sally strolls by decimated tanks and overturned cars on her way to a bar, but the story’s emphasis is more on the mysterious identity of her wealthy benefactor than on the ramifications of what she’s documenting. It feels like a missed opportunity, as even when they’re right in the heart of a crucial moment in the World War Hulk story, (as Ben is in this issue) the journalists are too hung up on their own internal monologues to take in what’s happening around them.

Ramon Bachs has an artistic style that’s tough to put a label on. He’s typically at his best working with civilians, which makes him a good fit for the more pedestrian story presented here. His characters have a lot of personality, but they aren’t always that consistent. He’s great when working with a crowd, but his cityscapes, heroes and animals could use a lot of work. When he’s illustrating a battle between a lion and an alien monster, the lion looks all wrong, like he’s got a human body. Every time the artist’s take on the more mundane characters starts to draw you in, he’ll illustrate something so glaringly incorrect that it pulls you right back out again.

One of the unique things about the format presented by the Front Line books is a shorter main story in favor of a rotating cast of brief backups, each written by Jenkins. It gives the book a lighter feel, and ideally allows for a few different perspectives on the big picture. This month, for instance, we get a chapter in the ongoing investigation over what happened to the Hulk’s robotic spacecraft pilot (who was found at the center of an explosion downtown) and a comedic two-page fluff piece. The comedy piece isn’t much to write home about, but the detective story is much more in-line with what I was expecting out of the book.

Shawn Martinbrough is the artist for that tale, and brings a very clean, simplistic style that provides nice contrast to Ramon Bachs’s more line-heavy approach. His light-hearted approach works nicely with the Odd Couple story Jenkins has laid out. No-name detective Danny Granville teams up with one of the Hulk’s more outlandish warriors, Korg, (think of the Fantastic Four’s Thing as a Conehead) in a tale that works as a non-vital expansion of the World War Hulk main story. At the end of the day, it’s not really going to make a difference what happened to the Hulk’s cybernetic pilot, but that’s not the real selling point of this story. While they’re constantly working to solve that riddle, the main focus of the story is the cultural differences between Korg’s species and our own. As a front-and-center story, I don’t think this would fly. It’s lacking the depth I’d expect from a full-price title and doesn’t have much in the way of consequence. As a supporting story, though, it feels just right.

This book just doesn’t feel all that necessary any more. While it’s nice to see some attention paid to a newspaper that isn’t the Daily Bugle for a change, the subject doesn’t captivate me enough to justify its own monthly title, even if it is for a limited time. Both tales would make for an interesting side-story in a monthly Spider-Man or Hulk book, but I can’t recommend you do more than just flip through it as a standalone.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 4

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