There’s something about the “Hulked out Heroes” concept that, to put it bluntly, rubs me the wrong way. I find myself getting annoyed that the completely fictitious and illogical rules for how gamma-irradiation works in the Marvel Universe are not being properly followed.
I am not blind to the ridiculousness of this fact.
I only mention it because I want to give a sense of precisely how much irrational bile needed to be overcome for me to buy, read, and review this comic. However, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to see what Kieron Gillen, the man who wrote the best Marvel comic no-one read (I, of course, mean “S.W.O.R.D.”) would make of Spider-Man, even if it was a hulked-out smash-happy version of the character. Could he turn the one-joke concept of strong, dumb versions of Marvel characters into something fun and interesting that didn’t confirm my every prejudice?
Well, yes, actually. This comic doesn’t just surpass expectations, it grinds them into a fine powder beneath several tonnes of hulked-out bodyweight.
The book begins with the pair already in combat, transformed into Hulked-out versions of themselves — but of course, a childlike, id-driven version of Spider-Man doesn’t want to fight. He wants to see the dinosaurs in the natural history museum. As comic fans, we all know exactly what horrors can be witnessed if you get in the way of a several hundred pound nerd, and it’s a lesson Thor learns first hand.
What could have been a simple vehicle for a hero-vs-hero smashfest is transformed into a more artful character study by the use of flashbacks. Recognizing that the Hulked versions of Thor and Peter have been regressed to a more childlike state, Gillen brings in scenes of their actual childhoods to inform their present-day actions. You can see why Spider-Man would rather read than fight. And why Thor would rather fight than read. And you are invited to contrast the two viewpoints on your own. And it’s funny. Properly, actually funny.
In addition, artist Jorge Molina does a top-notch job with his Spider-Hulk, giving the character a spidery demeanor and creepy posture that suggests Ditko without directly evoking it. He’s not just a lump of muscle in a Spider-Man suit.
If there’s any problem with the issue, it’s that in throwing the reader straight into the action, the wider story isn’t clear for those who haven’t been following the main Hulk series. Admittedly, there’s probably a recap page which I skip on principal, and the majority of readers will be reading the Hulk series too, but still, it could be a concern.
In any case, it’s still a far better comic than one could have ever predicted. Whether the concept will hold out over a second issue could be debated, but after an opener that strong, I’m more than willing to stay on board well beyond the opener.