This is probably the most pure fun you’ll have with a comic book all month.
Jeph Loeb has created a ridiculously delightful scenario in “Hulk” #10, and he gives Ed McGuinness room to draw gorgeous double-page spreads a’plenty. “Hulk” has been a dumb, silly adventure since the first issue, but the dark mystery story of the opening arc — and the sinister slugfest of the three fill-in issues — has been followed with a cosmic love story in the tradition of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. This series just keeps getting better.
What we get here is a spiritual sequel to “Contest of Champions,” but with more gloriously bombastic art and more potential for explosive action. “Hulk” will never be accused — at least not in this incarnation — of being a thinking man’s comic, but it doesn’t aim to be. It aims for pure comic book energy, for the giggling madness of four-color fantasy, for the epic splendor of titans tussling. I’m starting to sound like Stan Lee myself with all this hyperbole, but that’s the kind of mood this comic puts you in. It’s all about the visceral thrills of seeing the Defenders vs. the Offenders, the battle we’ve all been waiting for.
“The Offenders?” you ask. Yes, the logical antithesis of the classic non-team finally arrives in these pages. And maybe you didn’t know that you’ve been waiting for the Offenders your whole life, but who else besides Red Hulk, Baron Mordo, Terrax, and Tiger Shark could possibly hold their own against the Hulk, Dr. Strange, Silver Surfer, and the Sub-Mariner? Still puzzled? Wondering if perhaps some or all of those characters are supposed to be dead and/or missing these days?
It doesn’t matter, because Jeph Loeb has constructed a story that gets around any messy continuity problems. He has the Elders of the Universe on his side, and when the Grandmaster wants to play a game with the Marvel heroes as his pawns, he can just pluck them out of the time stream. And the genius of this story — yes, I said “genius” while referring to a Jeph Loeb “Hulk” story — is that the main characters (that would be the Defenders, obviously) are plucked from time in their moment of greatest sorrow. They are each just about to lose, or have already lost, their greatest love. And they would do anything to save their loved ones.
What are they going to have to do defy the cruel hand of fate? Punch some bad guys, probably. Those Offenders are just asking for it, plucked, as they were, from the time stream with smug looks on their faces.
Loeb and McGuinness don’t unleash the battle just yet — this first installment is just the prelude to the coming storm of smashing — but it’s a joyous start. “Hulk” #10 won’t win any awards — it doesn’t take itself seriously enough for that — but it will charm you if you let it. It’s classic Marvel fun, wrapped up in a beautiful Ed McGuinness package.