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A Pair of Superhero Comics
posted August 21, 2007

imageWorld War Hulk #3
Creators: David Finch, Greg Pak, John Romita Jr., Klaus Janson, Christina Strain, Chris Eliopoulos
Publishing Information: Marvel, comic book, 48 pages, August 2007, $3.99
Ordering Numbers:

My favorite part of World War Hulk #3 involves a nod in the direction of Iron Fist's improved status within the Marvel Universe. It's not that Marvel's blond-haired kung fu master gets to do anything now that he's in his own, well-regarded comic, it's just that before he gets punched into subconsciousness he's allowed to get a nice shot in and some complimentary dialog from one of Hulk's allies. For those of us old enough to remember Wolverine getting knocked out by one of the Ani-Men years before popularity demanded the character become the best there is at he does, it's nice to see another character start a slow climb up the asskicker charts. This issue of WWH also features an amusing scene with a superhero called Sentry, who I take it is essentially the Marvel formula turned up to 11: he's not just superpowered, he's the most superpowered; he's not just saddled with a few personal shortcomings, he's a screaming basket case. What's worth noting about the scene is that it's played for humor, and since there's a Harvey Kurtzman and Will Elder feel to the Sentry, I don't see any other way to use him.

This issue's plot continues to follow Hulk through the latter portion of a combined superhero and armed forces assault against his person and his partners involved in an intergalactic invasion of Earth, an assault caused by the green behemoth being exiled to another planet a while back by a superhero cabal working Star Chamber style. Although I thought him dead, Thunderbolt Ross kicks off this issue's installment by doing his Coyote chasing the Roadrunner impersonation, as the Hulk smashes all of his no-doubt ACME purchased artillery. Luckily, the good General hangs in there long enough to grunt out some needed back story. Dr. Strange takes his best shot at trying to calm the Hulk down, gets tricked by the fact the Bruce Banner side of Hulk's personality is on board with the Hulk's current round of smashing, and then rallies in good form against an otherworldly mystical assault. Throw in a couple of pages of the Hulk preparing I think Madison Square Garden for gladiator fights, and that's about it. It's really one big fight scene and a couple of down moments reasonably well portrayed by the writer and artist, if you're into that kind of thing.

Now that we know the deaths of a few thousand people and the destruction of several city blocks can change world history, I'm not always certain how Marvel keeps a straight face when it asks fans to believe in thrice-yearly Armageddons like the emptied and blasted-out New York the Hulk's forces have taken over here. Still, the House That Jack Built is outfitted with some pretty sturdy shoulders when it comes to making an end of days work as many times as editors feel necessary to keep the sales figures juiced. World War Hulk #3 is light on events, and in that way is sort of like a half-hour TV show pumped up to 90 minutes to fill a post-Super Bowl slot. As the key moments seem less about continuity and clumsy metaphors and more about doling out the beatings, at least I'm not baffled by its popularity.

imageBooster Gold #1
Creators: Geoff Johns, Jeff Katz, Dan Jurgens, Norm Rapmund
Publishing Information: DC Comics, comic book, 32 pages, August 2007, $3.50
Ordering Numbers:

I can't tell if this first issue of a new Booster Gold mini-series is just sort of aimlessly bad, or reflects a reading experience focused on DC continuity issues that requires proclivities I no longer have. I suppose it could be both. In Booster Gold #1, the brightly-colored publicity hound superhero from the future gets a new set-up as a custodian of DC's continuity, which makes him the first superhero that's sort of like a comic book editor. Seriously, though, I guess the appeal is you stick a relatively benign and lighthearted superhero and give him a monumentally important, even cosmic task and see what frictions develop. Booster's new charge will no doubt involve time travel, appearances by other DC time travelers like this issue's Rip Hunter, some portentous hints about future plots in other books, lots of people misunderstanding our hero's motives and a Fantasy Island episode's worth of guest stars from issue to issue. My guess is that it will also be an abbreviated mission, although stranger things have happened.

What it isn't is fun, at least not this first issue, I think mostly because the narrative resembles an editorial meeting rather than an action-adventure story. An opening fight with the Royal Flush Gang (who deserve better on the basis of their killer design alone) is more significant for the fact that it allows some superhero to subsequently pull out a bit of Booster Gold trivia than for any drama inherent within the tussle itself. You see where this is going. I felt more like I was sitting through somebody's barely-disguised seminar about recent superhero plot developments than something that was its own comic with drama and meaning. Booster Gold feels so tied into recent DC comics events that one can imagine copies ceasing to exist if walked 200 yards away from other comics. It frequently seems comics like this exist to supply the two or three sentences of plot description that are part of the real entertainment -- tracking the convoluted plot of the wider, fictional universe.

The comic also fails on levels of basic execution. Booster is one dull dude, although long-time fans might be able to fill in the blanks when it comes to providing his empty suit a personality. The supporting characters are equally boring -- one or two sentences of cliche in goofy-looking, skin-tight costumes -- and all speak in approximates of the same voice. The art drops a lot of backgrounds for storytelling's sake, lending Booster Gold #1 a generic air, without the usual compensations in flow. There are also several strange feats of anatomy on display, mostly in the way people flex and strain while the story indicates they're probably just standing around. There's a view of Superman's neck that looks like the fleshy horrors Manhog might encounter in a Jim Woodring story. The staging within scenes could also use some work, which is surprising given some of the veteran creators involved. A conversation between Booster and someone more obscure than Booster features the figures placed in a way that makes it look like the pair was talking by ramming their heads together and then leaping backwards across the room and into a semi-crouch.

All this comic made me feel is so divorced from my own childhood and my enjoyment of such comics that I can't even get upset about it anymore. I mean, I know I don't care if DC's continuity has a costumed defender and is well taken care of, but now I can't imagine why anyone would.