I used to think Marvel was, consciously or unconsciously, driving its readers to quit serial comics and start reading trades. As evidence, there's the standard list of complaints: inflated pricing, ads that don't seem to generate any revenue, trade-ready scripting, variant covers, irregular but accelerated publishing schedules, etc.
The Marvel NOW! initiative has me starting to rethink that, however. See, I've been trade-waiting a lot of the Marvel comics I read, including the Jason Aaron-written Incredible Hulk. The first trade paperback collection of his run, which began in 2011, was released in late December. I just read it this week. And, of course, Marvel relaunched the Hulk with a new writer, new direction, new title and new numbering with Indestructible Hulk #1.
That's one of several Marvel NOW! relaunches that happened almost on the heels of the previous relaunches — Wolverine went 17 issues in its new renumbering, the just-relauched Captain America was only on Issue 19, the similarly relaunched Thor on Issue 22 — and it was the first time I can remember reading a new trade that's contents were made completely obsolete (from a keeping-up-with-the-goings-on-of-a-superhero-universe perspective only, of course) before it was even published.
I imagine a lot of the new NOW! premises won't be around more than a year or two — Captain America can't stay stranded in a different dimension forever, the Fantastic Four have to come back from space eventually, the original X-Men can't be time-lost indefinitely — so I suppose this sort of thing could be happening on a more frequent basis. So if you trade-wait, maybe you're waiting too long!
So, what did I wait for?
The title of the first collection of Aaron's short run on The Incredible Hulk is a nice example of the gradual but persistent elevation of writers over artists at Marvel. It's called Incredible Hulk By Jason Aaron Vol. 1. Obviously writer Aaron didn't also draw the book, but it's easy to see why Marvel went with that title instead of trying to include the artists (Marc Silvestri and Whilce Portacio do have their last names on the cover, just as Aaron does).
Here are the art credits for this six-issue collection:
Once you get past Mike Choi's four-page prelude, the credits are a mess. In fact, they are so complicated I could not make sense of them: I stared at them and tried to figure out who did what for a while, but a minute or two later I got bored trying to do that, so just moved on to reading the actual comic.
"A mess" is the best I can come up with to describe the credits. Thankfully, the actual art isn't as messy as the byzantine credits. The first three issue, for which Marc Silvestri's name is bigger than the nine other artists credited, all look like they were drawn by one person. The last three issues, in which Portacio's name is the biggest of the 10 others, are a lot less consistent, but flipping through casually, it looks as if there were two artists involved: one pretty good, the other much, much less so.
Aaron's storyline is another variation on the seemingly ever-shifting status quo of the Hulk and his relationship to Bruce Banner; it begins with Banner waking up next to the Hulk in the desert, with the Hulk bounding away. Somehow, the Hulk had a mysterious someone split them into two individuals permanently, and he wants them to go their separate ways.
The Hulk goes underground, where he stops shaving and lives with a lost tribe of Moloids (which, disturblingly, include "sexy" Moloid women with bodies like Silvestri's Betty Ross and typical Moloid heads). Bruce Banner goes full-on mad scientist, finding a lost island incredibly well-stocked with animals of every type (African warthogs and gorillas, Asian tigers, etc.) that he can experiment upon, turning them into Hulks in an attempt to re-Hulkify himself. Because he's crazy now.
Meanwhile, Amanda Von Doom, who heads up a special government black ops team that hunts and kills mad scientists (which Aaron refrains from giving an acronym, slightly differentiating it from S.H.I.E.L.D., S.W.O.R.D. and A.R.M.O.R.) wants to recruit the Hulk to stop Banner.
It's pretty good stuff, and pretty much exactly what one might want from a Jason Aaron-written Hulk comic. Lots of big, Silver Age-style crazy moments, played straight and slightly dark, so there's Mark Millar-style action beats and Warren Ellis-style dialogue (Amanda Von Doom seems to be visiting from an old Ellis comic), and a rather tight plot that binds it all together and makes it about the Hulk, Banner and their relationship -- while still allowing for giant green Hulk sharks, Island of Dr. Moreau riffs and so much punching.
It's a pity about the art. The first half of the book is a bit spare and reliant on long shots and splashes, but the rendering is quite nice, and everything stays consistent-looking. The back half of the book, however, is consistently inconsistent.
There's a hunchbacked character who serves as Von Doom's lieutenant who is initially introduced with blond hair and a mustache. Throughout the book, he's drawn differently on different pages: His hump comes and goes, his height, posture and clothes shift. Sometimes he has a mustache and sometimes he doesn't. Sometimes the colorists make him blond, other times he has brown hair. I suppose that's what happens when you have roughly one artist for every five or six pages of a comic.
The coloring, mostly by Sunny Gho, isn't so hot, either. There is, obviously, a lot of green in the book, but the colors are generally rather washed out, resulting in green monsters that look brown.
Overall, it's a pretty fun comic, but also a pretty ugly one. The climax is pretty potent — after being driven mad, Bruce Banner dies! — but obviously gets reversed somewhere in the second half of Aaron's run, in time for the launch of Indestructible Hulk.
I don't know how effective a sales pitch "Don't wait for the trade, we'll be relaunching shortly!" would be, but in some cases it's accurate.