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Comics You Should Own – The Incredible Hulk #454-467

Yes, it’s the end of Peter David’s epic run on this title. And yes, I skipped some of his run. Sorry, they’re just not ones you should own!

The Incredible Hulk by Peter David (writer), Adam Kubert (penciler, issues # -1, 454-456, 458-460, 462-464, 466-467), Joe Kubert (penciler, issues #456, 464), David Brewer (penciler, issues #457, 461, 465), Mark Farmer (inker, issues # -1, 454-456, 458-460, 462-464, 466), Cam Smith (inker, issues #457), Andrew Pepoy (inker, issues #457, 461, 465), Bud LaRosa (inker, issues #459, 463), Dan Green (inker, issue #463), Jesse Delperdang (inker, issue #463), Lovern Kindzierski (colorist, issues #454, 457, 460), Digital Chameleon (colorists/separations, issues #454-465), Dan Brown (colorist, issue # -1), Igor Kordey (colorist, issue #461), Matthew Paine (colorist, issue #463, 465), Steve Buccellato (colorist, issue #466-467), and John E. Workman, Jr. (letterer).

Marvel, 15 issues (#-1, 454-467 of “volume 1″; the -1 issue comes after #454), cover dated June 1997-August 1998.

A few SPOILERS below, but nothing you probably don’t already know, even if you’ve never read these. And remember that you can click on the images to giganticize them.

After Gary Frank left The Incredible Hulk, Peter David seemed to flounder a bit, not helped by Marvel’s general editorial direction in the mid-1990s. For 30 issues after Frank left, the title wandered around aimlessly, as whenever David seemed to fix an idea in his mind, something would come along to upset it. Liam Sharpe obviously could not keep up a monthly schedule, as his art began to look rushed almost immediately, and when he left the book, David abandoned the “monster in the swamps” theme he was going with. The “Ghosts of the Future” story arc, probably the best story during these years, wasn’t helped by truly atrocious Angel Medina art, which is a shame as Medina’s art on Dreadstar, another collaboration with David, was wonderful. Then the book ran headlong into the Onslaught mess, which became the Heroes Reborn mess, and presumably it was selling well enough that Marvel didn’t cancel it along with the other comics that got the axe, but how can you recreate the Marvel Universe without the Hulk? So Bruce Banner was sucked away into Franklin Richards’ “pocket universe,” became the Hulk there, and then we had a bunch of different Hulks running around … I really don’t want to waste this much brainpower or typing on what a clusterfuck mid-1990s Marvel was, so let’s just say it was a clusterfuck. Mike Deodato’s artwork wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t great. And then Adam Kubert came on board with issue #454.

Kubert seemed to rejuvenate David, and even though he needed help with the schedule (the most issues he drew consecutively were the first four, and he needed help from his dad on one), one wonders if he and David could have had a nice long run like the other four great Hulk artists to work with the writer. Marvel put the kibosh on that, of course, dictating a direction for the title that David didn’t like, and issue #467 was his final one (until his return years later for a short stint) after, unless my math is wrong, 137 issues (he skipped two issues but wrote the -1 issue and the Hulk/Hercules special). His final story arc on the title was therefore truncated, as just when he seemed to starting to gear up for yet another new direction in Banner’s life (at the end of issue #465, Bruce gets a job with the government as an “agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” an idea too awesome for Marvel to deal with, apparently), it’s snatched away. Betty dies, the Hulk goes nuts, and David leaves. The title did not long survive his absence.

Reading these issues in hindsight, the specter of David’s departure seems to haunt them, even though David presumably didn’t know until very close to the end that he was no longer going to be writing the book. But even the -1 issue (for those who don’t know, Marvel did a line-wide “negative one” issue in the spring of 1997, the idea being that these stories would take place before each title was officially launched by Marvel; of all the -1 issues that I read, David’s one was the best) seems to wrap things up that David had been flirting with for years, as we finally learn that Bruce was directly responsible for his father’s death (he punches his dad, who falls into a tombstone, cracking his skull open). David gets Bruce back in issue #460, but before he can really get started again, his stint ended. In issues #454-459, David still seems to be waffling a bit (with the exception of the -1 issue), and only the first and last issue of those are noteworthy: In issue #454, the Hulk ends up in the Savage Land and fights Ka-Zar and Wolverine, while in issue #459, he battles the Abomination. Both issues are better because Kubert kills on both of them – the first is his breathtaking debut on the title, and he revels in the action scenes (this also features the Hulk making fun of Wolverine’s bone claws, speaking for the entire Marvel audience). Kubert dazzles in the -1 issue as well, taking a simple four-grid page (which he often uses during the run) and turning it into a tour-de-force, a hallucinatory turn through Bruce’s psyche that breaks panel borders and then switches to thinner panels to increase the pressure on the Hulk and Bruce. His Stan Lee is like Puck, teasing and taunting Bruce/Hulk until the revelation comes. Issue #459 begins with a horrific vision of the Abomination in a double-page “landscape shot,” and when we get to the pages where the Hulk is pinned under an airplane (on which he had been traveling in the previous issue and which he helped land after Mr. Hyde tried to crash it), Kubert slowly turns the page from landscape to portrait as he shows how the Hulk is slowly going mad, mostly from the effects of what he learned in the -1 issue and from the fact that he’s still separated from Banner. As the Hulk walks, dazed, through New York, Kubert gives us a stunning full-page picture of a truck smashing into him. Mercy, the alien who grants suicidal people their wish, still can’t figure out why the Hulk never gives up. She puts him into conflict with the Abomination, and Kubert is magnificent with the fight scene. This issue features the famous beating on the Abomination, as David writes: “For two solid minutes, his own body the only source of light, the Hulk pounds on the Abomination. And if two minutes seems a short while … Count it out. A second … at … a … time.” It’s this kind of writing on the Hulk that makes David’s run so devastating, because he understands the horror of the Hulk even as he made him many different things, including a pseudo-family man. The Hulk should be terrifying, and David makes him such without devolving into “Hulk smash!” clichés.

David regains his footing with issue #460, in which Bruce returns. It’s a magnificent issue, as David and Kubert both shine. The actual “reunion” of the Hulk and Banner takes place in a different comic (the “Heroes Reborn” mini-series, presumably, although I haven’t read that), but David summarizes it fairly quickly and then gets on with the story, which takes place on two levels of reality – the world of the Marvel Universe, where the Hulk slowly recovers from the trauma of the reunion, and in Bruce’s mind, where he’s tormented by past and future demons like his father, the Leader, and the Maestro. David splits the comic into two levels – the upper level on the page is the Hulk at ground zero of the gamma bomb explosion, trying to recover his health, while the lower level on the page is Bruce navigating “hell,” which is where his father tells him he is. David takes him through this psychological journey until Bruce is able to reject his father and reach out to the “light,” symbolized by Betty. It’s not the deepest Freudian examination of Bruce’s psyche, but it does allow David to set up the new direction he had in mind. Kubert, meanwhile, is amazing, both in the way he draws the Hulk, but also in the way he shows us Bruce’s mind. The little artistic touches are wonderful – the Maestro appearing on the side of the carton of milk with the proclamation “I can see you,” the Hulk in Brian Banner’s eggs, the Leader chopping up a rabbit (blocking it with his body, of course, because this is a mainstream Marvel book). Issue #460 sets up a new status quo for the book, and it would have been nice to see what David would have done with it.

But, of course, we’ll never know what he planned to do. Thunderbolt Ross, back from the dead, wants to make peace with the Hulk. President Clinton is convinced to look the other way with regard to what Ross is planning with the Hulk, thanks to the Hulk’s “saving” his daughter in issue #463 (which he doesn’t really do, as Armageddon’s robots just happen to be hanging around Stanford, so naturally everyone thinks they’re attacking Chelsea), and we get a coda to the “Troyjan War” story arc in issues #413-416. By issue #465, the Hulk has his job offer and he’s made amends with Betty. But by then, David knew he was off the book, so at the end of issue #465, he gives Betty radiation poisoning. This allows he and Kubert to end with two more amazing issues: in issue #466, Betty dies while Ross and Bruce argue about whose fault it is (David does a nice job showing us that they’re not being jerks, they’re just overcome with grief), and in the parallel story, Marlo reads Betty’s new autobiography. Kubert is fine when drawing the story of Betty’s death, but when he draws the “autobiography” – Marlo reads the scenes from Betty’s life and Kubert draws them as if she’s imaging them – he changes his style, softening the pencils to make it more ethereal and contrasting the triumph of Betty’s life – she’s gone through so much and come out alive – with the starkness of what’s happening to her in the present. It’s a great technique and shows how talented Kubert can be. Then, of course, we get issue #467, which takes place in the future and features “Peter” interviewing an old and bitter Rick Jones (we never see “Peter,” so it could be Peter Parker – he writes for the Bugle – or, of course, Peter David himself). Rick tells the story of what happened after Betty died, and it’s a tragic tale of a man who tries to kill himself but can’t, because the Hulk won’t let him (David revisits this in The End book he wrote years later). It’s a harrowing story, because David makes Bruce something we’ve never seen – truly insane. Sure, he’s been a bit crazy over the years, what with all the different personalities, but in this issue, it seems like he’s completely sane … except when he talks. In previous incarnations, he could manage his personalities for any number of reasons – there’s always another fight, he had a Pantheon to lead – but he always had an anchor, and that was Betty. In this issue, Bruce – not the Hulk – becomes truly frightening. He can change into the Hulk with no shift in demeanor at all, and the Hulk has finally learned why being human is important, but it’s too late. Kubert pulls out all the stops, too. The issue is a visual feast, from Rick’s living room and all his memorabilia around him, to the way the issue is laid out – the left-hand column on each page is blank except for text and Rick’s cigarette smoke winding its way through the book, and the visuals stretch over the staples to form double-page spreads on each page. Kubert gives us Bruce, surrounded by all his enemies and allies (as we see on the cover, although inside it’s Bruce, not the Hulk), and when the Hulk looks at Rick for the last time, it’s a beautiful and tragic moment. Betty’s funeral is stunning, with Thor creating a small ray of sunshine in the rain, and Bruce’s last meeting with Rick is terrifying. David, of course, ends with a metafictional reference to his time as writer, which he’s earned. If it’s not a completely satisfying ending to his time on the run, it’s still a stirring way to bring it to an end.

Of course, David is the kind of writer who seems he would stay on a comic until it’s pried from his cold, dead fingers. Marvel wanted to go “in a different direction,” and David didn’t want to go that route. I don’t know what the sales figures were like pre-David and then during his run, but it seems like he took a moribund title and completely revitalized it, so maybe Marvel should have continued to let him do what he was doing. Considering they cancelled the book not long after David left the book and it only regained some of the buzz he brought to the book when Bruce Jones took over (and his early issues were quite good and very “un-Hulk-like,” meaning they were vaguely reminiscent of what David did on the book) and then when Greg Pak took him off-planet, for crying out loud, maybe David knew what he was doing. But that’s neither here nor there. David left a difficult legacy for future Hulk writers. It’s not so much that he killed Betty (the preview of the following issue shows that she’d be back), it’s that he did so much with the character that, despite building on what had come before, was fresh and new, that there was little left to do. Since David left, writers have either gone “back-to-basics” (with middling results), aped David (Bruce Jones tried this), or been forced to remove him completely from the Marvel Universe. None of them have been completely successful. Over a decade on, writers are still having trouble dealing with the Hulk and his place at Marvel.

David didn’t quite go out the way he wanted to, and this brief run isn’t quite as good as issues #331-426. There’s still a lot of editorial interference evident, perhaps not as much as the Onslaught period, but it’s still there. That makes these issues less important Comics You Should Own than the earlier David work on the title, but still ones that are worthy of your time. While David’s overall direction at the end of his run is a bit meandering, some of the individual issues are extremely powerful. Kubert has a great deal to do with this, as I would argue he’s never been better than these few issues. His work prior to this was a bit raw and too “Image,” while his work following this has become more slick and has lost some of the crazed stylistic touches he uses in full effect on this book. Perhaps David brought out the best of him. Mark Farmer certainly has something to do with it. But this comic is one of the few times that a Kubert son holds his own with the Kubert father (as we can see when Joe steps in to assist on this title), and much like the story, one wonders what David’s new story would have looked like drawn by Adam Kubert at the top of his game. Alas, we have only these 12 issues to tease us.

These issues have not been collected in trade paperback; Marvel is releasing David’s run as part of their “Visionaries” collection, so perhaps these are slated to be collected at some point. The nice thing about these issues is you really don’t need to pick up the 30 issues that come before them, even though David wrote those. You can pick up the story easily enough, and David refers mainly to arcs he wrote prior to issue #426, when the title’s quality went sideways. So you can just skip the ones in the middle. Of course, you already own issues #331-426, because I have already written about those and you rushed out and bought them, right? And you can always consult the archives for more suggestions. I am going to fix the dead links; please be patient!

25 Comments

Loved these issues, although I really would include the Deodato issues. In my opinion, that’s when the title really started to pull itself back together. I will agree, though, that there was substantial improvement from Deodato to Kubert.

I think one theme you could have touched upon was of the Hulk’s anger. As I recall, your analysis of #401-426 covered the theme of the Hulk trying to use his anger for constructive purposes, namely in leading the Pantheon. In these issues, the Hulk is a strangely new grumpy-angry. Normally, the Hulk was angry due to unjust persecution: the humans hated and hounded him, and they had no good reason to. Here, the Hulk is angry, and even he can’t figure out why, just that he needs “more.” It climaxed in the “Heroes Reborn: the Return” series (which arguably should count as part of this run), in which the Hulk realized that Banner was what he was missing. The post-Onslaught separation forced Hulk to confront that he and Banner are part of each other, and really couldn’t live without each other. Banner’s problems, in his absence, were still Hulk’s problems: the army, Bruce’s dad, Betty, etc.

Similarly, the re-integration with #460 forced Hulk and Banner to deal with how they would live with each other. They formed an uneasy alliance during those issues, and PAD’s final issue implied that they formed an even darker one after Betty’s death. Things didn’t stay that way with Casey’s, Byrne’s, and Jenkins’ issues that followed, atthough Jones and Pak did follow up on some of those themse in their runs.

Anyway, I do love these issues. Since the PAD Visionaries are being released at a snail’s pace (Volume 7 IS coming in February!), I hope they’d do a Deodato Visionaries (#447-453) and Hercules Unleashed) and a two volume Kubert Visionaries (454, -1, and 455-467) in the meantime. How about it, Marvel?

I’ve read some of Bruce Jones’ Hulk arc, but I’ve stopped reading the Hulk since then.
One thing I’ve wondered is, has Marvel brought Betty back since her “death” in I.H. # 466?

I’m drawing a blank on the fourth of the “other four great Hulk artists.” I assume three of them are Mcfarlane, Keown and Frank, but can’t think of who #4 would be.

Probably George Perez, on Future Imperfect.

@Tom Fitzpatrick:

I only restarted reading Hulk during Planet Hulk and it seems that she’s still dead.

Betty was brought back during Jones’ run, but that was later retconned, so she’s still “dead” (but come on, talk about a glaring “we already have a way to bring her back” setup).

I agree that Kubert’s arrival seemed to rejuvenate David, as these last two years were incredibly strong – they still suffer a bit from the aftereffects of Marvel’s earlier tinkering. Kubert’s art on a lot of these issues is just phenomenally good. I would have included the “Ghosts of the Future” arc in this list, though some of the stories between the two, like you say, suffer too much from editorial tinkering.

And I might be a minority of one in this opinion, but I;’d count Jeff Purves as one of the great hulk artists. He actually made the Hulk look like an UGLY, very large man, like he was intended to in the early Kirby issues. Not 12 feet tall, just a ridiculously huge dude. It worked well in the context of those stories.

Omar Karindu, with the power of SUPER-hypocrisy!

September 29, 2009 at 1:54 pm

Ah, Bruce Jones…something clearly went very wrong by the midpoint of his Hulk run, and his work since hasn’t been much better.

jazzbo: Number 4 is definitely Jeff Purves. Good stuff!

Adam: Good points about the Hulk feeling out of sorts without Banner. I suppose I should read the Heroes Reborn mini-series – I have the first issue, but I’m not sure why I never got the rest.

The issues just prior to these, with the Hulk taking over the Florida Key, aren’t bad, but I chose not to include them because they seem to suffer from the same thing that the rest of the post-426, pre-454 issues suffer from: David would get a good idea, and then simply abandon it. “Ghosts of the Future” is a classic example of this – there’s a lot he brings up, but then he never follows through. Again, I assume it’s because of Marvel editorial interference, but that means that, as entertaining as some of the issues are, they’re just not great.

Hmmm. I didn’t realize that Betty was still dead. I read Jones’s run, and I don’t remember them changing it back when he was writing it. That’s kind of amazing that Marvel has kept Betty dead, considering that it feels like David only did it to piss them off because he was leaving the book.

I read Jones’s run, and I don’t remember them changing it back when he was writing it.

I don’t blame PAD, because it clearly was editorially mandated, but during a short stint by PAD he effectively retconned Jones’ run as a dream.

I believe PAD’s official position is that he left it up to the reader whether Jones’ run is still in continuity or not.

Note that at the end of PAD’s “Tempest Fugit” arc, Betty shows up alive AGAIN. It was a very weird appearance that punctuated a very weird story, so it’s not clear whether Betty is alive via either Jones, PAD, or Superboy punch.

(Quick rant: during the “Offenders” arc on Loeb’s Hulk, Hulk was told that if his team beat Red Hulk’s, he could have Jarella alive again. However, Red Hulk won that fight. I’d REALLY hoped that Red Hulk would have been granted the wish to have someone be alive again, with his choice being Betty and further fueling the mystery of who Red Hulk is. That would have effectively brought back Betty, while making the PAD/Jones question irrelevant. But instead, we got Red Hulk on a surfboard. Sigh.)

By the way, did anyone ever resolve what happened to Janis Jones? She last appeared in PAD’s run when Rick was in the hospital, around #459. Never showed up again in Marvel to my knowledge.

What’s Marlo up to these days?

For that matter, where’s Rick Jones been lo these many years? (Post Captain Marvel and the brief appearance in Alias, that is.)

Probably still sulking, pissed off that none of the Avengers bothered to invite him to the post-Disassembled Wake thing. He only is the person who brought the team into being, after all. I know I’d view that as a direct personal insult in his place…

Jeff–

I believe Rick appeared in…what was it…the Loners? Whatever book convinced people that Katie Power was a lesbian. He also showed up at Captain America’s wake. Then he showed up in World War Hulk, and tried to talk Hulk out of beating up the heroes.

Now he’s a blue armadillo. Really.

Omar Karindu, with the power of SUPER-hypocrisy!

September 29, 2009 at 5:29 pm

As Adam alludes to (damn! that ended the alliteration), Rick Jones is a savage-Hulk-like gamma mutant called “A-Bomb” in the current Jeph Loeb Hulk title. Poor, poor Rick.

Adam Kubert’s Hulk is one of the best. I’m glad you included the scan of the transformation scene colored from his pencils; it’s one of my favorite two-page spreads. In a perfect world, David, Kubert, & Farmer got to continue the “Hulk: Agent of SHIELD” arc for a few issues (before it all went wrong, which is what always happens to the Hulk).

Post-David, some writers got off to good starts (Jones & Jenkins in particular) but either ran out of ideas or couldn’t execute their ideas in a satisfactory manner. I confess to enjoying the first 12 issues of Loeb’s Hulk (haven’t bought any since the terrible issue 600, haven’t missed it), but it’s more of a Marvel Universe story than a Hulk story. I haven’t read Skaar or the latest Pak issues, but I do know they’re not about the traditional Hulk. The Hulk is one of my favorite concepts, but really difficult to make interesting.

The current Hulk family of titles is great, in my opinion. Even Loeb’s work on Rulk has been more entertaining than not. I was never a Hulk fan (for instance, I have not read a single issue of PAD’s run), but since Planet Hulk I’ve been getting everything. Pak and Van Lente are doing great things with the group of characters. And now I’m buying the Essentials, and will get to the PAD stuff once the Essentials cover a little more ground. So I’m not only liking the current stuff, but it’s getting me into the good stuff of old, too.

“That’s kind of amazing that Marvel has kept Betty dead, considering that it feels like David only did it to piss them off because he was leaving the book.”

He’s said that he left the book because of the way Marvel wanted him to handle the book *after* her death, though (they wanted the Hulk to go on a berserk rampage, and he didn’t).

Ah, I see, Doug. Thanks!

Good comics.

Greg Burgas said:
…of all the -1 issues that I read, David’s one was the best…

I thought Thunderbolts -1 was fantastic. It does a lot in the way of making Baron Zemo II more than a Red Skull wannabe. Of course, Thunderbolts as a whole did that, especially when Fabian Nicieza came to the title.

Greg, I have really enjoyed your writeups of the Peter David Hulk. It’s one of my favorite runs of anything ever, and you really did it justice. Kudos.

Unless Marlo turns out to be the Red Hulk, Loeb doing himself a disservice in not using her in Hulk. Marlo, an ostensibly normal woman, trying to figure out what’s happening to Rick, the various Hulks, etc; would be a great setup.

It’s a lot easier to just buy the entire PAD run… there’s no real duds in it (completely subjective) and its possible to get it really cheap (objective fact… well apart from the Future Imperfect mini.)

“That’s kind of amazing that Marvel has kept Betty dead, considering that it feels like David only did it to piss them off because he was leaving the book.”

In Wizard Magazine, David has said the reason he killed Betty off was because he was having a difficult time with his marriage. He said that he often felt that Betty and Bruce were reflections to him and his own wife. When David’s wife left him, he killed Betty off.

Also, in another issue of Wizard, David said that he also wrote his final issue with the intention of showing how Marvel blew away years’ worth of stories.

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