Tuesday, May 02, 2006

So-ooo… The Civil War is officially kicking, and I’m gonna tell it to you guys the way Ralph told Ronnie, Bobby, Ricky and Mike: You got to count me out.

When I came back to comics last year after a decade in the wilderness, one of the key terms and conditions of my return was:

“Under no circumstances will the Undersigned purchase, read, or otherwise fuck with any comics that can be characterized as (i) Crossovers, (ii) ‘Events,’ or (iii) Multipart Saga Extending Across Several Titles and Promising to Shake the Comics Universe to Its Core With Shocking and Permanent Changes (Which the Contractor Reserves the Right to Reverse Within the course of Six Months).”

Now granted, in a few moments of weakness I might have slipped off the wagon and found myself indulging in that sordid business we call Infinite Crisis, but that long, lost weekend is over and no mas. I’ve learned my lesson. I’m ready to straighten up and fly right, so if you guys call yourselves my friends you’ll not act as enablers.

Don’t talk to me about the latest 279-part crossover event. Don’t tell me to check out Annihilation. Don’t keep me up to date on the progress of Son of M. If you come to me talking about “Civil War,” the earth-shattering conclusion to your saga for damn sure better go something like this:

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All that being said, though: New Avengers Special: The Illuminati was a pretty intriguing book, wasn’t it? I wanted to review it when it first dropped but it sold out at my store and I didn’t get to read it for a few weeks. By this point, I’m pretty sure you all know what it’s about so I’ll spare you the synopsis and get straight to what is so damn intriguing about it.

well… Maleev and Bendis, obviously. Especially Maleev showing that straight superhero work might not be beyond the realm of his ken and getting me even more excited about the upcoming Spider-Woman series. And Bendis ain’t nothing to sleep on here either; he does the thing that Bendis does best.

By the way, just in case you were wondering what it is “that Bendis does best,” it is not his much-vaunted dialogue, which I’ve decided is actually pretty bad, despite being enjoyable to read for its naturalistic rhythms. But just read Bendis’s Daredevil back-to-back with Brubaker’s and it becomes clear how flashy but ultimately ineffective the periphrastic rambling really is.

What Bendis excels at, the one true gift he has brought to the comics world is the phenomenon of “ground-level” superhero storytelling (Was he the one who originated that? Powers was the first time I took notice of the approach and it’s since spread throughout the industry). Bendis more specifically calls his style "Behind the Music" storytelling, and was often the case with that VH1 guilty pleasure, we all too often learn that behind the masks, our heroes are mostly dicks.

Even more intriguing than that is the manner in which Bendis deals with the Hulk Problem.

What exactly is the Hulk Problem, you ask? Well, basically the problem with the Hulk is that he’s a really stupid character who I’ve never liked. Sure, at the best of times ol’Greenskin’s been a pretty cool modern take on the whole Jeckyl & Hyde thing, but even when I was seven years old I found something incredible infantile about a superhero whose main power was that he got mad and wrecked everything in sight as he grunted monosyllabically.

I mean, it’s interesting the first couple of times, but eventually it just becomes monoto—


Hello there, boys!

(What’s that you say? There’s a girl or three amongst you? My apologies, ladies! I didn’t realize how much things had changed since the days when I would interrupt young Affy’s little comic coffee klatsches to bring him and his friends some milk and cookies! Back then? Total sausage party!)

Anyway, I don’t want to take up too much of your time except to poke my head in and inform you that my son is a god-natured boy, but he’s really a big liar.

Sure, he’ll want you to believe that he’s into really “smart” comics and is above the primal exhilaration of watching a man throw a tantrum, throw green and lay waste to a city. Oh, but if you could only see him throwing a tantrum and holding his breath till he turned blue in a supermarket checkout line one night many, many years ago when I refused to buy him the magazine pictured below.

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I was a bit hesitant at first (the “Lesbian senator” story seemed a bit racy for a boy his age) but in the end I relented and bought my son his first “adult” magazine.

I’m aware that he also peacocks around on that www.Okayplayer.com site acting like a serious music snob who was collecting Blue Note originals when he was 5. I bet he never told you that the first record he ever owned was this one. (Or, for that matter that on the same day he wanted to get this one.)

Even when he was in high school and college, I recall him buying issues of The Incredible Hulk and speaking enthusiastically about his fondness for “PAD” (which was, I admit, a tad disturbing; his comics habit made some of his peers view him as less than macho, and I hoped that he hadn’t actually been driven to buying feminine hygiene products!)

So take everything he says with a grain of salt, will you?

Okay, I’ll be leaving now. Have fun! I hope you all call your mothers more than my son does. You really should. Or better yet, get up, go upstairs right this minute and go say hi to her. Believe me, she will appreciate it!

Okay, so maybe I haven’t always hated the Hulk.

In fact, I don’t even really hate the Hulk right now. At the heart of things I think he’s a brilliant character; a logical progression of the ideas of duality explored in the mythos of the first superhero of the modern era, Superman. But like Superman, he’s a character who works best in his own continuity – or at least relatively insulated from other superheroes – and probably as a fable. Once you introduce them into a shared universe full of metahumans of all stripes… Well, they become a little problematic.

The big problem with the Hulk is that I’ve never been completely sure of why he’s considered a “good guy.” Unlike other Marvel Age characters like Spider-Man, Daredevil and Dr. Strange, his heroic career is not based the decision to use his power for good. This is a guy – a monster, actually – who’s got the ability to level a city block with his bare hands, the communication and comprehension skills of a three year-old and the rage of Barry Gibb.

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Why isn’t he considered a villain in the Marvel Universe? Sure, he’s kinda got a good heart, but hey, I’ve heard that Super-Skrull devotes a lot of his free time to rescuing homeless kittens… Does that make him okay, too?

Not only do they not deal with Hulk as the menace to society he occasionally is, but at various points they have made him an Avenger. AN AVENGER, for Chrissakes! Banner has got to have that HOT weed connection, because otherwise I cannot think of why they keep him around.

I think what has always subconsciously bothered me about the Hulk and made his exploits so unsatisfying for me is the fact that while the Marvel Universe that was supposedly built around the idea of portraying the real-world consequences of super-powered beings in the real world, a lot of effort was expended on avoiding showing what the Hulk’s tantrums really mean. This panel from the classic Incredible Hulk #332 (1986) is an example of how writers have traditionally skirted this issue.

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Yeah, thank goodness the people all got out in time!

For my money, the best and most logical rendition of the Hulk has been Mark Millar’s, in The Ultimates. If his Banner is an extreme portrait of male spinelessness, his Hulk is an over-the-top parody of macho excess: he grunts and smashes shit, he drinks beer, he’s hornier than a two-peckered billy goat, he smells bad, and he’s terrified of being thought of as a “sissy boy.” And when he goes on a rampage through Manhattan, it’s presented as an analogue for 9/11, complete with massive losses in human life.

Bendis follows this track in Illuminati: The Hulk goes wild in Las Vegas and kills twenty-six people “this time.” This time. Meaning that he’s killed more people over the years. (Meaning that the Avengers have been palling around with and protecting a murderer all this time.) And it’s decided that finally, something has to be done with him.

Of course, in the recent She-Hulk #4, Shulkie states that she’s sure that the Hulk has NEVER killed anybody, and that her cousin Bruce would surely have killed himself if his Hulk rampages had ever lead to anybody getting seriously hurt.

This discrepancy can probably be (and kinda has been) explained away by saying that Jen just didn’t know that the Hulk has killed (but come on… How could she not know that?) More than likely, this confusion is a result of the shoddy editorial work that has marred the Quesada regime and the seeming carte blanche awarded to Bendis to rewrite Marvel history at will.

I wish it were less mundane, though: Wouldn’t it be so much cooler if this were the beginnings of a true philosophical schism brewing within Marvel? Not just Dan Slott vs. Bendis, but what their individual approaches to superheroes represent: A relatively innocent Marvel Universe where we recognize the heroes because they are the ones who are, at the end of the day, fundamentally good… Or a darker, morally complicated world in which the heroes except for Spider-Man are essentially assholes with better press agents?

See… Now that is a civil war that I’d pay to watch play out…


Kwasi said...

I actually stayed away from most of Infinite Chrisis for that reason. Same with House of M, which I only read because my brother buys them, and its aftermath.

I'm moving more and more to the less mainstream books that tend to have good writing anyway. Black Panther, Gotham Central(RIP), Birds of prey, Ex Machina etc....

Melanism said...

I always thought it was naive to think that no one died during Hulk's early rampages.

C'mon you mean to tell me that all those times he was throwing tanks, planes, Thor, The Thing or Abomination through those houses and buildings that NO ONE WAS HOME.

What about all the soliders that have been after him all these decades? They are all alive with simple broken bones and bruises?

When they said he killed 26 people "this time" in the Illuminati special, it didn't faze me.

I always assumed if Hulk was coming to your town, people were dying.

With all that said, I am all aboard with Civil War. Letting Mark Millar have control of Marvel's finest has got my mouth watering...but I'm avoiding any tie-in that doesn't involve a book I was already buying.

AFKAP of Darkness said...

hey Kwasi... so you're still onboard Black Panther? (well, i know you're probably not reading it right now, but you know what i mean...)

well, i'd expect you to still support the book, but do you actually still like it? especially with all the Storm business?

AFKAP of Darkness said...

and yeah, mel... if there's any reason that i might even peek at Civil War it will be because i'm pretty impressed with Millar's rendition of the relationships between Marvel's heroes in The Ultimates

KangolLove said...

I'm not getting CW or any other crossover because what I promised myself is to quit longboxes. No more single issues. Can't do it. People can say I'm destroying comics by waiting for the trade or whatever. I just can't afford to go to the comic shop every week and I don't have enough room. Comic boxes & record crates are taking over my space like Tribbles!

And I guess now we know who was behind that crappy "AFKAP's Mom" alias on OKP. Always the one you least expect!

DrNO said...

Yeah, I have to say I forgot about the whole Hulk business in that issue. So maybe we can assume that the implications won't be developed at all in the main CW storyline (isn't Hulk on Planet Hulk?).
And how can they go so crazy about Hulk killing people when Wolverine does it everyday? He does only kill bad guys but killing people in Vegas is ultimatley a public service.

JRennoldz said...

The Hulk has killed tons of people before and yes, The Avengers and Illuminatti have "harbored" a murderer. If the Hulk hasn't killed anyone other than the 26 in Vegas the Marvel Universe is a very desolate place. There sure are ton of "soundstages" there ie. people build towns but no one lives there. Give me a fucking break!!!!!!

And no, Bendis is not a savior. Check the bullshit HOM saga. With that said, I will be reading Civil War (only Millar's books) because I am a sucker for brawls and real world applications to comics. Buck the tie-ins though...

(Awesome blog Afkap!!)

Brother Afron said...

Well I typed up a long response about how the Hulk gets a bum rap but apparently the server ate it, so here's a snippet rewrite:

Thor/Thing/Any powerful hero gets in a fight, buildings fall, cars get tossed, streets cracked. No big deal.

Hulk gets attacked or fights, buildings fall, cars ger tossed, streets cracked. "Just another Hulk rampage."

I always wanted to see someone address that within the books. Its quite similar to the "looting" verses "finding" issue.

But then again that just might be why so many writers have those issues where they make sure that a town is deserted when the hulk rolls through. If the Hulk, who used to heavily chill in New Mexico was tallying up a kill count from his battles, then realistically all the shit that goes down from other super hero battles in NY would be on those super heroes heads.

Or would they? Like stated above, is Dr. Doom attacks the FF and a building gets destroyed, its Doom's fault. If the Absorbing Man attacks the Hulk and a building is destroyed, its Hulk's fault. You asked why he's considered a hero. As far as the populace and most super heroes are concerned he isn't.

AFKAP of Darkness said...

Hulk gets attacked or fights, buildings fall, cars ger tossed, streets cracked. "Just another Hulk rampage."

I always wanted to see someone address that within the books. Its quite similar to the "looting" verses "finding" issue.

Good point.... i've often thought about that myself. it would be interesting to see some writer address it, but i doubt that it's gonna happen anytime soon.

justinshock said...

uh, what was that first album?

Kwasi said...

Yaeh AFKAP, I'm still on board for BP, even with the whole Storm thing, which really isn't as bad as people are making it out to be IMO.

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Melanism said...

Thor/Thing/Any powerful hero gets in a fight, buildings fall, cars get tossed, streets cracked. No big deal.

Hulk gets attacked or fights, buildings fall, cars ger tossed, streets cracked. "Just another Hulk rampage."

Well, in an issue of She-Hulk they kind of dealt with it as she went to help repair a town she destroyed when she was on a rampage during the Avengers.

JRennoldz said...

BWAHAHAHA! Even the PENISMAN has an opinion.

ctoole said...

Big crossovers don't bother me so much. I buy the books I want to read, and fill in the holes later. When I first started with comics, my folks wouldn't buy them and I couldn't afford them and that was when they were around a dollar. That said I'm looking forward to Civil War. Just wish I had the patience to quit single issues and wait for the trades.

AFKAP of Darkness said...

LOL penisman really needs to get his own (Garth Ennis-penned) series!

and oh yeah, to answer justinshock, my first album was an Incredible Hulk record that was released in 1978... it had 4 Hulk stories on it.

i still have it, actually... the sleeve is kinda beaten up but the record still plays.

M Belle said...


Tell your Mom that I don't live with my mom. She lives with me! Yep, I'm paying the rent here.