Monday, August 1, 2011

X-MAN & THE INCREDIBLE HULK ‘98 - August 1998

Call of the Wild

Credits: Terry Kavanagh (writer), ChrisCross (penciler), Caesar, Keith Williams, & Hector Collazo (inks), Comicraft (letters), Mark Bernardo (colors)

Summary: Still enraged after the death of Betty Banner, the Hulk tears through the Southwest until he reaches the Grand Canyon. Simultaneously, X-Man reaches Stonehenge while touring Europe. Both hear messages from Thanos, who is trapped in another dimension. X-Man uses his telekinesis to reach through the dimensional gap and strike Thanos. Hulk, who’s considering Thanos’ partnership offer, jumps through the dimensional breach and attacks X-Man. When Hulk realizes that Thanos always intended to double-cross him, he joins forces with X-Man. United, the heroes send Thanos back to his shadow dimension and return home.

Review: Another forgotten team-up annual, this one pairs the post-Peter David/killing-time-until-the-John Byrne-relaunch Hulk with…X-Man. Sure, why not? Before Kavanagh gets to the plot, he spends several pages establishing the respective status quos of the heroes, which is rare for an annual, since scheduling demands usually force them to use “light” continuity. As Kavanagh is the regular writer of X-Man, and Incredible Hulk is stuck in filler mode, this story doesn’t have to take place in a generic “recent past,” because Kavanagh has a pretty good idea of what will be going on when the issue is released.

Kavanagh doesn’t give the Hulk a lot to do -- he talks to Rick and Marlo, gets mad when he thinks about Betty, then jumps around for a few pages -- but in one poignant scene, Kavanagh does toss out the idea that the Hulk is starting to forget Betty’s face. This isn’t the dumb, childlike Hulk who might forget those details, this is the Hulk who…well, no one seemed to know how to define the Hulk after Betty’s death. He appears to be the surly, angry Hulk of the early issues, with Banner’s intellect perhaps subdued by the rage he feels following Betty’s death. However, he’s still able to make jokes, which isn’t indicative of someone blinded by anger. (I don’t think Hulk’s state of mind is conclusively dealt with until Paul Jenkins’ run, over a year later.) X-Man, meanwhile, is bumming around Europe, dealing with the loss of his telepathic powers. These scenes are surprisingly readable, considering how poorly the idea was conveyed in the monthly series. Instead of throwing X-Man into pointless fight scenes, Kavanagh spends some time exploring how X-Man gets around Europe without his usual tricks -- instantly translating everyone’s speech and telepathically sneaking his way past the border guards. He also has to wonder now if everyone’s secretly laughing at his hair.

When the story really begins, we’re expected to believe the Hulk is willing to join forces with Thanos in order to gain control of the vague “power” that’s being offered to him. Presumably, he wants to use this power to revive Betty, which would work as an understandable motivation. The story never explicitly says this is his goal, though, and based solely on Thanos’ spiel, it could be interpreted that Hulk is joining him on a “rule the world” quest. Either way, the Hulk looks foolish for siding with him. When X-Man senses Thanos’ evil, he’s adamant that the Hulk can’t join him, which leads to the obligatory hero vs. hero fight. This lasts until the Hulk realizes that Thanos was using him all along (!!!!), the heroes team up, and the bad guy is defeated. No surprises there, but ChrisCross’ kinetic art suits the fight scenes perfectly, and I have to admit that I like the sheer ridiculousness of X-Man creating “psionic armor” for the Hulk during the final battle. Clearly, this isn’t profound, but it works as a “big fight” comic, and the artist is perfectly suited for the material.

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