Incredible Hulk #603 / Wolverine: Origins #41
We're long past the point where anyone gets any credit for pointing out continuity gaffes, and hopefully most of us are adult enough to not really care. (Except I do, sort of, when the gaffe involves a comic I like or remember fondly.) I do not like either of these comics, and think they are both pretty terrible, but when taken together they do something rather interesting: they tell the exact same story, only different in such a way as that they are 100% mutually contradictory. To wit: the first meeting between the now Hulk-less Bruce Banner and his son Skaar, and Wolverine. Wolverine "meets" Skaar for the first time in both books, under different circumstances. In one, Bruce Banner throws Skaar at Daken in the name of socializing his giant mutant bastard offspring; Banner and Wolverine also share a beer. In the other, Wolverine tracks Banner and Skaar to a junkyard where, somehow, Banner managed to set himself up with a temporary job as a scrapheap operator, and then Skaar drop kicks Wolverine onto a tree a few miles off. Both comics work pretty hard to make Bruce Banner a monumentally unlikeable character. I will reiterate that neither comic is very good at all, but it's still pretty remarkable how they managed to sneak onto the stands on the very same day. It's like they're just trying desperately to see if anyone is awake at this point. It takes a lot of work to make Jeph Loeb look like Proust, but I'll be damned if his Red Hulk book isn't eleventy-billion times better than any of this shit.
Incidentally, the current plotline in Incredible centers on Bruce Banner training his son to be really good at fighting so that he can kill the Hulk (or, more, specifically, his sort-of evil "Green Scar" personality) when he resurfaces. This plotline was set into motion when Banner got a big bear-hug from the Red Hulk that rendered him unable to turn into the Hulk again. However, Banner is certain that this is only a temporary solution (as it has proven to be all the other times Banner was "permanently" cured of the Hulk), and that he will inevitably become the Hulk again in time. Wouldn't it still be a lot easier to just put a bullet in your head? I mean, that's why Banner could never commit suicide, right, because the Hulk would take over and heal whatever injury Banner inflicted on himself? Well, if he can't turn into the Hulk at present but is sure he will again someday, why not take advantage of the temporary reprieve and just embrace the suicide solution?
When Tom Brevoort's asserted that the "old school" Avengers weren't coming back anytime soon because the "New" Avengers had become far more popular than the old status quo, I didn't see anyone point out that this book pretty much is the "old school" Avengers. Sure, there are lots of new faces, but most of the new characters - like the Young Avengers, Amadeus Cho - still have family or kinship connections to the team's classic iteration. Most importantly, you've got Hank Pym, the Vision, Jocasta, Hercules, Quicksilver, US Agent - all long-time Avengers. I know there are some out there who think this is something of a misfire, but this book puts a big smile on my face month in and month out.
Some have asserted that it's somewhat odd that people would feel so much in the way of proprietary interest in the continuation of one particular kind of Avengers comic book, considering how elastic a concept the Avengers really is - just a group of super-heroes who get together to fight huge threats, right? But that misses the point. For old-school fans - such as myself - the Avengers isn't just a loose concept on which to hang any number of different types of stories, in the same way that, say, the Justice League or even the X-Men are. The Avengers is a team book concerned with a loose-knit family of characters - a large family of characters, a family that's always adopting new members and seeing old members come and go, but a family nonetheless. There needs to be some kind of continuity with the ongoing saga or it really isn't the same family. There was a point in the last couple years where the New Avengers iteration didn't have a single member who had not been an Avenger prior to Bendis' relaunch (not counting Spider-Man, who had been a reserve member since the early 90s but who had never served on an active roster) - Luke Cage, Iron Fist, Doctor Strange, Echo, Wolverine. It didn't hurt sales, but it was nonetheless slightly surreal to see an Avengers comic where there was no connection at all to the team's history. For me, that's what the Avengers is, and why it was always one of my very favorite books growing up: history. That's the essential ingredient of the Avengers above and beyond any specific matrix of characters - the sense of history. That's why certain iterations "feel" like the Avengers when others don't.
It's nice to see Hank Pym and Hercules and Quicksilver in the same pages again; it's awesome that someone thought to remember Quicksilver and US Agent's long-standing antagonism; it's cool that they're seamlessly folding the Young Avengers' saga into the ongoing tapestry. Because this is a book that actually feels like its connected to the core strengths of its franchise - or, at least, the core strengths of the franchise if you grew up reading the Avengers from a very young age. Tom Spurgeon recently asserted, in response to Brevoort's comments, that it was a slightly quaint and revanchist notion to imagine that "a specific line-up of muscled superheroes [might be] the correct way to bring into some creative reality a really loose concept with thousands of possible variations". I can see the wisdom in that statement on the face of it, but it discounts the possibility that the idea of the Avengers might have legitimate meaning to longtime readers outside the very loose requirement of a bunch of superheroes getting together to fuck shit up. I think it's not unreasonable to define the Avengers franchise as having some intrinsic connection to the abovementioned sense of shared history. It's like saying concept of Superman boils down merely to a super-strong alien with a secret identity, and discounting the importance of seeming secondary concerns such as Lois Lane, Lex Luthor and Smallville. You have to be careful when you're cutting ideas to the bone that you don't accidentally remove something you thought was vestigial but turned out to actually be essential.
True, this kind of shared, oftentimes choking history is precisely the reason the franchise had to be rebooted in the first place. There are many different kinds of Avengers comics that could be made, and there's no argument that the "New" type of Avengers comic is far more successful than the "Old". Mighty doesn't sell near as well as New or Dark precisely because it is very much plugged into the old, supposedly discredited storytelling engine. But thankfully we live in a world where old farts like myself can be flattered with secondary spinoffs that appeal to our sense of history. In other wordS: This is basically what I always wanted superhero comics to be like when I was ten, and that is awesome.
Quick reminder: this book still sucks. But lets run the numbers quickly, just to be sure: You've got Man-Bat and Killer Croc teaming up after randomly meeting in the swamp - Batman's two least interesting villains, I'm sorry but it's true. You've got Katana (might as well be wallpaper), the Creeper (how can you make the Creeper boring? by drawing him to look less like a terrifying creature of random chaos and more like a sarcastic drag queen) and Halo (who actually comes off as the most interesting character here, which is really saying something). I will say, however, that I was wrong to dismiss artist Fernando Pasarin so brusquely when I discussed the last issue of this title: he's actually not a bad artist, with a solid grasp of storytelling basics and an occasional eye for interesting layout. His characters have a solid weight to them and his faces are distinctive. The problem is that it would be impossible for even the best artist in the world to make anything of this bland hash: it's Katana, Halo and the Creeper wandering around the swamp looking for Killer Croc and Man-Bat. Perhaps the least promising set-up for a comic since, I don't know, Geo-Force and Metamorpho decided to deliver a lengthy exegesis on the many varieties of mud found on coal minders' boots.
I'd say Pasarin was good enough that he deserved a better assignment than this dreck, but knowing DC, their idea of a higher-profile gig might consist of drawing chapter 7 of "The Hunt for Reactron."