By Jeph Loeb (writer), Ed McGuinness (artist), Mark Farmer (inker), Dan Brown & Chris Sotomayor (colorists)
“WHO IS THE RED HULK?! THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN IS GOING TO TRY AND FIND OUT! GREEN HULK! RED HULK! SPIDEY! SECRETS REVEALED! A STORY SO BIG IT CAN BARELY BE CONTAINED IN THE INCREDIBLE 600TH ISSUE OF HULK! ALL THIS AND A STARTLING SURPRISE ENDING TO TOP ALL THE OTHER SHOCKING SURPRISES THIS HULK BOOK IS KNOWN FOR!”
I wanted to include Marvel’s original solicitation for this issue to illustrate how marketing gimmicks like this are more evil and alluring than the Dark Side of the Force and never to be trusted under any circumstance. I also wanted to show you exactly what it was that sold me on the issue in the first place, a measly fifty-eight words that I will gladly kick my own ass for buying into when we’re done, here. The point I’m trying to make is that it’s all too easy to believe the hype surrounding special event comics like this, but when companies are raising cover prices to all time highs it’s these kinds of comics that need to be scrutinized most carefully; especially if you’re going to show how something like this fails to deliver the goods.
The heart of this massive tome is the story by Loeb and McGuiness, told from the perspective of Ben Urich, the only reporter alive in the 21st Century who refuses to use a typewriter. In a scene that would make Woodward and Bernstein fall to their knees and cry, Urich is called to a meeting by a thoroughly paranoid She-Hulk and charged with the task of discovering Who Is The Red Hulk? Remember this point, because it’ll be important later on. Urich and Peter Parker (did I mention that She-Hulk specifically asked Urich to bring along a photographer? Wow, how convenient.) join She-Hulk and Doc Samson to infiltrate a government facility called Gamma Base. There, the group discovers that Marvel’s favorite angry head M.O.D.O.K. has reactivated the terrorist cell A.I.M., and that he may be receiving help from General Ross. The revelation is interrupted though when Samson suddenly reverts to a Hyde-like version of himself and attacks She-Hulk. From there, things get complicated as Red Hulk suddenly appears from nowhere to beat on Spider-Man, while Banner suddenly awakens from his induced coma to turn into Hulk and throw down with his evil counterpart.
Sensing a trend here? Practically everything happens out of the blue for no apparent reason, other than Loeb wanting it to at that particular moment. He constantly fails to set up these moments in ways that justify their existence, and as a result they come off feeling shallow and self-serving. Remember how I said Urich’s goal was to find out who the Red Hulk was? Yeah, well, he suddenly decided not to. “If all you do is focus on the Red Hulk you’re going to miss the big picture”, Urich observes. Really? Looking at the solicitation, I thought the Red Hulk was the whole point! This discrepancy suggests that either Loeb deliberately misled his readers into shelling out five bucks for a cocktease, or he is losing the ability to tell cohesive stories that don’t rely on shameful misdirections and obnoxious slights of hand. Either way, your buying dollars would be better spent elsewhere.