Sunday, January 17, 2010

Hero of the Week 2010 #2: Hulk

HULK (Marvel)
Real Name: Dr. Bruce Banner
First Appearance: Incredible Hulk #1 (May, 1962)
Group Affiliation: Avengers (former)
Gaming Credentials: Questprobe featuring The Hulk (1984); Incredible Hulk (1994); Marvel Super Heroes (1995); Marvel Super Heroes: War of the Gems (1996); Incredible Hulk: The Pantheon Saga (1997); Fantastic Four (1997); Marvel vs Capcom 2 (2000); Hulk (2003); Incredible Hulk (2003)Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction (2005); Marvel: Ultimate Alliance (2006); Incredible Hulk (2008); Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2 (2009); Marvel Super Hero Squad (2009)
Infinite Wars Cumulative Ranking: #6

In 1976 the impossible happened -- Superman met Spider-man!
Twenty years after that landmark crossover, expectations were further defied by the announcement of a DC versus Marvel crossover mini-series! Against all odds, the two comics giants would surrender control of some their most popular characters, to allow fans to vote for the outcome of battles between their heroes! Marvel won the 1996 clash as determined by popularity of the time, but the great irony of the event was that it documented some of the most amicable days shared by the two rival companies.

It's unsurprising that there would be a sense of rivalry between two companies who dominate the space of a particular medium, friendly, or not. Until recently, Marvel had spent the majority of the modern age of superhero comic books reeping the benefits of a domination of the top ten sales month to month. That came to an end, however, in October 2009, when DC captured six of the top ten comics -- a first for the company since the sixties!

Ordinarily the HOTW is inspired by something positive in cross-media adaptations, or significant comic book developments. There is something like that contributing to this week's Hero, but I'm inclined to say the Hulk isn't the only green-eyed monster motivating this week's feature.

It's impossible to deny that DC have spent the best part of 2009 in the control seat. Successful marketting of the Blackest Night, Flash: Rebirth, and Batman: Reborn events helped propell them to the top of the sales charts, while creative vision ensured there was enough substance behind it all to make them worthy of the praise.
It wasn't necessarily their best year. Honestly, I would claim that DC have been on a creative high spanning the best part of the last five years, while Marvel have been scattershot with their ideas, struggling to find diversity and the hits to balance their many creative misses.

During the week, Marvel renewed hostilities by announcing a trade scheme being offered to comics retailers that would allow them to exchange the removed covers of select DC issues for a limited edition variant cover for their event mini-series, Siege.
The DC titles targetted were tangential issues of the Blackest Night event, each of which came with promotional plastic powerrings upon release a few months ago. For retailers, the attraction of this offer would be the potential to sell the variant Siege cover for a high price, whilst sacrificing the relatively low income the back issue market now represents, on issues that might've been over ordered in accordance with the powerring promotion.

On his Twitter account, Marvel editor, Tom Brevoort, plays it innocent in a string of posts, offering an open palmed suggestion (on raised hands) that retailers send the innards of DC's issues to soldiers overseas. It smacks, however, of a hollow gesture of phony goodwill coming from a company that's inciting the destruction of competition product in favour of very, very unremarkable replacements. It could be argued that variant chase covers create a false economy, harboring the kind attitude which turned a booming multi-million dollar print industry sour in the early nineties. Brevoort sniped, presumably with a hint of knowing irony, "We're doing this because we're in the business of selling content rather than Cracker Jack prizes. And we need retailers..."

The skeevy move feels in keeping with the character Marvel have developed over the past few years as slightly juvenile, and slightly antagonistic. High prices, unremarkable releases, cheap gimmicks (as opposed to the fun and clever DC powerrings), and a string of dud storylines, have helped create an aura of negativity around the once proud House of Ideas. Fortunately, it hasn't all been bad, with some of their mistakes being smoothed over with small victories, such as the recent spike in quality of Amazing Spider-man comics, which had been shedding sales after deleting twenty years of history with their One More Day storyline.

The fight between the two major companies continues in other mediums, extending to DC's triumph in 2009 with Arkham Asylum, and the 2008 battle between Iron Man and The Dark Knight in the cinema. "Planet Hulk" marks one of Marvel's final animated gestures before their purchase by Disney instigates what will surely be a renewed effort -- one more likely to challenge the animated powerehouse of DC's feature and serialized productions.

Planet Hulk adapts the 2006 story of the same name, which saw the incredible Hulk propelled into space by a collective of heroes known as The Illuminati. Mr. Fantastic, Iron Man, Dr. Strange, and all of Earth, ultimately felt the full brunt of Hulk's rage as he returned to the planet with alien allies and a new penchant for strategic warfare. World War Hulk was the slightly more inclusive follow-up to Planet, and may yet be a future project to spin-out of the animated escapades of the green goliath on other worlds.

The legacy of these events continues to be felt in the comics, where life isn't getting any easier for the Hulk!

After spending the past year competing for attention with a Red Hulk, a Red She-Hulk, his son Skaar, and a slew of other characters, the entire Hulk family will now come under threat from a collective of Marvel's deadliest and most brilliant villains. Dr. Doom, MODOK, the Red Ghost, the Wizard, and more will wage war on the Hulks to end their violent lifestyles once and for all!

All of this makes Hulk a very worthy HOTW.
That, and the whole "green-eyed monster" motiff sat rather well with Marvel's latest stunt...

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