Sunday, December 11, 2011

Hulk: The End (comics)

Writer: Peter David
Artists: George Perez, Dale Keown
Collects: The Incredible Hulk: Future Imperfect #1-2, Hulk: The End

For those not in the know, at some point years ago, Marvel decided it might be a good idea to put out some comics centered around the end of a given superhero. Obviously, "the end" in superheroics means death, since they're not going to stop fighting until they croak, and that point is not one superhero comics tend to go to. Even if they did kill off a hero, it would be in the more likely outcome of dying in the line of duty or something similar. It can be powerful, of course, but in a different way.

Marvels answer was "The End", a line of books centered chiefly around the possible end of a given hero. Each book was its own thing, not tying to any greater events. The line had no continuity between the books; Marvel simply rounded up the iconic creators of a given character and asked them to put together an "end" to that hero as they envisioned it. The Hulk was the first hero to get the treatment and they tapped Peter David for the project, since he's one of the few definitive Hulk creators.

The result is striking and it becomes clear pretty quick this isolated form was the right way to go. It allows Peter David to go back to the core concepts behind the character to fashion his "end", as it were. Hulk was, of course, a product of the Atomic Age, with all the fears and problems that came with it. Obviously, the Cold War came and went - and while the possibility lingers in our worst nightmares, the probability of that terrifying "World War III" coming to pass is very low - but even today the spectre of nuclear radiation and the damage it can do hangs over us like a Damocles sword. Japan can attest.

Well, in this reality, that dreaded World War III came to pass and humanity is gone. Bruce Banner and his alter ego are the only ones left. It's the loneliest of lives, Banner struggling to keep his sanity while wanting nothing more than to die, but with the Hulk refusing to allow him that peace. Banner is left to wander the wasteland, looking for perhaps some sign that something has survived. But it's a sign that never comes.

Peter David brings us right back into the thick of the Jekylll and Hyde dynamic that sits at the heart of the concept. Banner is weary and wants nothing more than to join his loved ones - Betty, Rick, the whole nine - in the aftermath. But the Hulk is our dark side personified, here more than ever. He's selfish, crude and hateful. Everything is out to get him, of course, even when the only thing left to attack him are cockroaches. Rather than deal with the last remnants of humanity - who, when you think about it, Banner could probably have helped if Hulk let him - he walks away, leaving them all to die to seal himself in a cave so he doesn't have to hear them die. So he can be alone.

Peter David is in top form here, if you ask me, putting forward a story that perfectly suits the Hulk. There's a reason David is considered one of the definitive Hulk creators; he gets the character and everything that goes with him to a tee. His long run on the book proper attests. Here he's distilled it all down to a grim, unsettling portrayal of the last days of the Hulk. The Hulk is the monster personified and when he finally gets what he wants, we start to see that one chink; maybe, just maybe, he was always fooling himself.

Hulk: The End was a one shot. As you can guess, that's not going to fill a trade, not by a long shot. Luckily, Marvel pulled the shrewd move of packing in another classic from David. The two oversized issue miniseries "Future Imperfect" that Peter David had done with George Perez. Man it's great.

It hits some - but not all - of the same themes as The End. It's another possible future for the Hulk, only this time, when the bombs dropped, humanity survived and Hulk turned into a vicious ruler of all known as The Maestro. It is, again, the worst of the Hulk to the extreme, now ruling over a rotted, dystopic, seemingly hopeless future.

It's a classic for a reason.

If there's a downside, it's the future lingo. This is always such a dicey proposition. On the one hand, lingo is going to change in the far future, but making it feel organic or outside of the realm of completely goofy is a challenge. David doesn't quite nail it. Still, it's not too difficult to get past, at least for me. It's ignorable, at any rate.

What puts it over the top is the art by George Perez. Man, can that guy draw. Perez has always been able to pack in so much detail in his work with excellent figurework and storytelling. Perez is one of the greats of the business, for sure, so having him on a project is a definite boon.

The Score: 9 out of 10

This trade is fantastic. Both stories are great reads and well worth the time. Great stories, great art, great package. Definitely pick this up if you like the Hulk. It's a worthy addition to the bookshelf.

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