I learned to appreciate “Hulk” once I realized that it was Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness just coming up with the biggest, dumbest, craziest stories they possibly could and then exploding them across the page. It’s not a super serious series (although try to say that five times fast), but it’s silly and slightly mindless violence. Unfortunately, I don’t think that Ian Churchill and Mark Farmer are the right choice to pick up the art for the current story, because he’s drawing it a little too straight. And if taken seriously, “Hulk” completely falls apart.
When McGuinness (and to a lesser extent, Arthur Adams or Frank Cho) draws “Hulk,” it’s in an exaggerated, exponentially over-the-top manner. It feels satirical, that Loeb and McGuinness are seeing just how far they can push the comic. At a casual glance, I think it would be easy to assume that Churchill’s new art style is in the same vein. Unfortunately, it’s not. They do both share the same clean line, but Churchill’s seems to draw from a different well, the same classic animation look-and-feel that artists like Bruce Timm gravitate towards. It’s a nice style, and I think it’s the best art from Churchill I’ve ever seen. The terrified look on Domino’s face (shown in the recap page) as she cries out, “I can keep a secret!” shows that he can still make his characters expressive while stripping down the characters to their basic components. It’s a good direction for Churchill, and I hope he sticks with it.
What this art isn’t, though, is over-the-top. So when X-23 and the Punisher start stabbing and clubbing each other, it doesn’t feel like a combination of slapstick and satire, it’s just a grim scene with art that would be more appropriate to an all-ages book. Elektra kicking Domino in the head (sending her flying across the room) just feels wrong, and Warpath and Deadpool’s fight is lacking the humor that the dialogue is trying to bring across. This is a script that under McGuinness would have been more amusing, but it just isn’t firing on all cylinders here.
I do also start to worry a bit that this book isn’t going anywhere. After fifteen issues (plus the side-trip into “Incredible Hulk” #600) it feels like the book hasn’t progressed beyond its initial set-up. Sure, there’s a new surprise character revealed on the final page, and one of the characters starts wondering if this entire fight is a set-up for something much greater. But whatever that greater moment is, readers are going to need to see it and soon. There’s only so much teasing and hinting a reader will take before they’ll want to get a payoff, and it’s a payoff that has yet to show up. Can we get a substantial change to the status quo soon, please?