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I’ve been enjoying the work that Jeff Parker and Gabriel Hardman deliver on “Atlas,” and had read they would be taking over a Hulk book. Then I heard it was the Red Hulk book and my heart sank a bit as the Red Hulk is a character I truly couldn’t care about, let alone pay to care about. Sure, the story Jeph Loeb had told was bombastic and loud. I found them entertaining, but not something that I needed to continue reading nor even wanted to continue reading when it came down to fitting rising comic prices into a shrinking comic budget. My inner comic buying conscience decided to chirp, “But it’s Parker and Hardman!” OK. I bought it.

I’m glad I did.

Technical difficulties take what should have been a begrudging team-up and make it a full-fledged failure to communicate that involves the Red Hulk fighting Iron Man, like a summer blockbuster flash-frozen and stapled together for continuous enjoyment. Parker continues to dazzle me with his ability to step into the skin of any hero (or anti-hero in this case, I suppose) in the Marvel catalog and to find that character’s voice and speak for that character. There’s a little Bruce Banner in this issue, a little green Hulk, a little Steve Rogers, some A-Bomb/Rick Jones, Iron Man, and, of course, Red Hulk and General Thunderbolt Ross. Every one of these characters comes to life through Parker’s story.

It gets better from there as Hardman will make you believe a General can be broken. Hardman is given a challenge and a reward in this book in that he has to draw everything from a science lab that constructs “aware alloy” synthetic limbs to the poor victims whose “aware alloy” implants take on a life of their own. The art is gritty and real, tangible and strong. Amazingly, Hardman delivers it all without coming across as a photo-tracer. His work is inspired and crisp. That is nicely balanced by the energetic animated-style artwork Mark Robinson provides in the A-Bomb back-up story. Robinson’s stuff is sure to appeal more to fans of manga, while Hardman’s art is more along the lines of art from Alex Maleev or a very early Bill Sienkewicz.

As much as I enjoy the work from Parker and Hardman on “Atlas,” this book really surprised me. I’m not a true-blue (true-red?) Red Hulk supporter now by any means, but Parker does make the case for the Red Hulk to be a much more compelling character in this first issue of what projects to be a long run. I’m impressed with what I’ve seen to this point, and with this creative team in place, I plan on seeing more. This is a nice surrogate for that “Atlas” fix I’m going to be needing soon.