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Jason Aaron’s Run on The Incredible Hulk – Vol. 1-2 (Review/Retrospective)

To get ready for Iron Man 3, we’ll be taking a look at some Iron Man and Avengers stories, both modern and classic. We hope to do two or three a week throughout the month, so check back regularly for the latest update.

Of the major writers currently working at Marvel, Jason Aaron seems the best fit for the Hulk. Aaron has an undeniably charming pulpy style, an approach to mainstream superhero comics that has given the creator enjoyable and engaging runs on characters like Ghost Rider or Wolverine. As such, Aaron would seem to be the perfect fit for a character who likes to smash things. Aaron’s run isn’t perfect. It’s too scattershot to really offer an insight into the character, too short and all over the map to be a “definitive” take on the Hulk.

However, the run consists a fun and amusing set of comic book stories, where thoughtful high-concepts combine with absurd set pieces to create something the feels quite unique. While certainly not the strongest one there is, nor the best run for character or author, there’s a wit and a charming energy to Aaron’s run on The Incredible Hulk.

Green with envy...

Green with envy…

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Kurt Busiek’s and George Perez’s Avengers – Avengers/JLA (Review/Retrospective)

April (and a little bit of May) are “Avengers month” at the m0vie blog. In anticipation of Joss Whedon’s superhero epic, we’ll have a variety of articles and reviews published looking at various aspects of “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.”

Read our review of The Avengers here.

Avengers/JLA is about as nerdy as a comic book crossover can get. Really. It takes two teams of superheroes which were both formed to allow existing heroes to team up… and then teams those two teams up. It’s pure geek chic, after all. I have no shame in admitting that I enjoyed on a purely fanboyish level, my inner eight-year-old ecstatic at the idea of taking so many toys out of so many different boxes and bashing them together which such delightful cheer. It’s not an essential story, nor a brilliant one, nor a creative one – but it does exactly what it says on the tin. It gives us a gigantic crossover between two of the more recognisable Marvel and DC superhero teams.

The very definition of awesome...

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Marvel Crossover Continuity

In August, I decided it would be… interesting to take a look at the event-driven storylines that Marvel was producing between 2005 and 2010. So, for sixteen weeks (and more, if you consider the occasional bonus back-up feature), I reviewed one of the many “events” Marvel produced during the period. I’ve grouped the particular strands of continuity together below for easy of browsing (also providing the original date of publication). I hoped that exploring this particular aspect of the medium might grant me some insight into why big events like this continually upset on-going stories being told by writers in individual characters’ books. It was an interesting experiment, even if I doubt I’ll be engaging with the core of the Marvel Universe so thoroughly any time soon.

Note: It is incomplete. I had planned to follow The Avengers through to Siege, but it looks like my reviewing schedule caught up with them – for the same reason I haven’t got around to The Thanos Imperitive yet. I will return to this thread in the future.

Avengers-Based Continuity

It was a good decade for The Avengers as a franchise, with Marvel consciously pushing the franchise to the forefront – not just in comics but in other media as well. If the nineties and early naughties belonged to the X-Men (with X-Men: The Animated Series on the airwaves, Bryan Singer’s X-Men in cinemas and crossovers like Age of Apocalypse in comic books), this was very clear attempt to take that back. Brian Michael Bendis was tasked with turning the Avengers into Marvel’s prime franchise and succeeded – most of the “big” comic book events of the decade revolved around them. That said it was certainly a controversial restructuring of the book, with a line-up crafted to feature more popular characters like Spider-Man and Wolverine instead of more obscure characters like Quicksilver or the Scarlet Witch.

The Avengers branched out into other media too. Iron Man demonstrated that Marvel’s “big three” could hold viewer interest in cinemas, and promised a series of crossovers on the big screen that would see The Avengers assemble under the direction of Joss Whedon. As a brand, Marvel made sure these characters were everywhere.

The stories featuring these characters over the decade form something of a larger meta-story which seems to reflect on the superhero genre as a whole. Although Bendis’ New Avengers opens with a supervillain breakout, the characters spent more time fighting each other than bad guys (Civil War, World War Hulk). When they did fight bad guys, they were more often than not corrupted mirrors of themselves, be it the Skrulls who had managed to so perfectly imitate heroes despite being villains (Secret Invasion) or government-sanctioned psychotic “Dark Avengers” (Siege). It was a story about how difficult it was to be a hero in the last few years – in the wake of the “dark age” of comic books – and a deconstruction of the effectiveness of a group of individuals like this to actually make a difference. You could even argue that this was a grim reflection of real world political and social uncertainty – particularly mistrust of authority (it’s telling how much time these heroes spend going “rogue”). Of course, this is open to interpretation, and many fans were less than pleased with the execution of this particular tale.

“Cosmic Marvel” Continuity

Marvel’s Cosmic Universe got a much-needed revitalisation this decade, offering perhaps a better-plotted and more straightforward avenue for Marvel’s crossover events. Although Jim Shooter had done great work with many of these characters in the nineties (with Infinity Gauntlet and so forth), they had mostly remained in relative obscurity before the relaunch.

The distinguishing aspect of these stories is the way that they are structured. Rather than a big event coinciding with countless tie-ins across countless books, most of these stories would open with a single prologue issue which would branch into a handful of miniseries running for a set number of issues, before dovetailing into a main series. This meant that every issue remotely connected with a series could be collected in a hardcover. Admittedly the titles become more entangled in continuity as they went on (with War of Kings tying in directly to Ed Brubaker’s The Rise & Fall of the Shi’ar Empire story arc in Uncanny X-Men), but by and large these series served to avoid pointless tie-ins and an exceptionally convoluted continuity (everything you needed was included in the books themselves).

They’re the best crossovers that you weren’t reading.

X-Men Continuity

The last decade has been an interesting one for the X-Men, as both the books and the characters have found themselves looking for purpose. Grant Morrison’s New X-Men posited a world where mutants would be the dominant species with a few generations and proposed to move the “mutants as oppressed minority” metaphor firmly into the twenty-first century, where the worries weren’t (at least for the most part) about government-sponsored genocide or legal rights, but cultural and social questions about the way that mutants and humanity live together. This was clearly a step too far, as Marvel decided to essentially wipe out the mutant population, feeling there were too many mutants in the Marvel Universe. This was done with three words from a psychotic Scarlet Witch rather than a more subtle approach (like simply reducing the number of mutants featured in various books).

Suddenly the X-Men found themselves facing extinction, and this became a driving narrative force for the book. It was as if the line was actively rebelling against the editorial mandate forced upon them. Instead of granting narrative clarity, the edict had instead complicated things. It also forced the X-Men away from their widely-loved position as a civil rights metaphor and towards a more straight forward “find the cure” narrative. It also served to isolate the franchise from the rest of the Marvel Universe (except for Wolverine, of course, who is everywhere) – the X-Men were always busy doing their thing and trying not to die out rather than assisting with Civil War or Secret Invasion. The solution to this narrative thread is entirely predictable, but it does offer a clear structure to the X-Men stories from the period.

It’s interesting to note that while all the major Avengers titles from this period (New/Mighty/Dark Avengers) have been consistantly collected, the X-Men books have not been. Ed Brubaker’s run is quite difficult to collect in one consistent format, as is Matt Fraction’s – and both are writing for what should be “the flagship book” of the X-Men publishing line, Uncanny X-Men. This makes it considerably harder to follow than the Avengers franchise, for example.

World War Hulk (Review/Retrospective)

This is the sixth in a series of comic book reviews that will look at the direction of Marvel’s continuity (and particularly their “Avengers” franchise) over the past five or so years, as they’ve been attempting to position the property at the heart of their fictional universe. With The Avengers planned for a cinematic release in 2012, I thought I’d bring myself up to speed by taking a look at Marvel’s tangled web of continuity. Get an overview of what I’m trying to take a look at here.

Forget sides. They’re all screwed when the Hulk gets back.

– a popular internet meme which puts Civil War in perspective

I have to admit, World War Hulk reads like something of a guilty pleasure. The fantastic artwork from John Romita Jr. (whose fantastical character designs work much better here than in Kick-Ass or even Enemy of the State) certainly helps, as does the relative brevity of the miniseries. It’s a relatively self-contained five-issue storyline, as opposed to the large House of M or Civil War which directly preceded it and Secret Invasion which would follow – it also helps that the tie-in issues seem a lot less essential (and certainly less omni-present) than they did for any of those series. World War Hulk is pretty far from perfect, but it’s an enjoyable little arc from a writer who is clearly familiar with the Incredible Hulk.

Hulk makes quite an impact...

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Planet Hulk (Review/Retrospective)

This is the second in a series of comic book reviews that will look at the direction of Marvel’s “Avengers” franchise over the past five or so years, as they’ve been attempting to position the property at the heart of their fictional universe. With The Avengers planned for a cinematic release in 2012, I thought I’d bring myself up to speed by taking a look at Marvel’s tangled web of continuity. We’re taking a bit of a detour this week, but it’ll feed into Marvel’s event-driven central narrative fairly shortly. Get an overview of what I’m trying to take a look at here.

Finally. Hulk knows who to smash.

– Hulk, less than ten pages into the event

Planet Hulk is perhaps a prime example of the type of event-driven storytelling that has become increasingly common at Marvel in recent years. It isn’t really an event of itself, but there’s a strong smell of editorial mandate behind the plot. The key objective – and one conceded by the powers that be – was to isolate the Hulk character from the greater Marvel Universe during the Civil War event (which he would arguably have considerably complicated) and position him for the follow-up event World War Hulk. As such, exiling the Hulk to a foreign planet and watching him play out his own version of Gladiator isn’t exactly the most fluid storytelling direction. However, it’s to the credit of author Greg Pak that the story works as well as it does.

A smashing good time...

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