Alpha: Fall of the Hulks

Posted by on February 4th, 2010 at 9:00 AM

Marvel. Written by Jeff Parker, drawn by Paul Pelletier and Vicente Cifuentes; colored by Guru eFX, cover by Ed McGuinness; $3.99

Issue Highlight: See a man lost in the curving lineup of fists.

We catch Egghead struggling to do his part on the cover of Alpha, the lead-up, or half the lead-up, to a 10-issue crossover event limited to Marvel’s stable of Hulk titles. The other half of the lead-up, Gamma, gives the heroes’ side. Alpha is the villains. They’re assembled on the cover in a classic falling-away crest, one guy with cocked elbows and then another with cocked elbows, and so on into the near distance. They’ve all got their eyes locked on the falling-away crest of heroes positioned on the cover of Gamma, as shown by the Fall of the Hulks checklist page. In the villains’ crest, Egghead is the big loser. De-Kirbyfied, he reverts to being a little man in a 1950s-lab-coat cartoon. If you let your eye rest on him, the mismatch becomes a bit unsettling, an alienation effect. Everyone else is doing the full Kirby, and he’s being whimsical and puny. He doesn’t even have his hand right.

The series — what do you call a crossover when it’s inside a stable? — is an attempt to do some market-building. Two established titles, Hulk and Incredible Hulk, join forces to sell two miniseries, Red Hulk and Savage She-Hulks. The bower-building crossover, or whatever you call it, involves a lot of preliminary milling about and shuffling of properties into place. As I count it, 14 pages of Alpha are just tableaux with retrospective narration, the kind of thing that might have been two panels in The Avengers when Roy Thomas was writing it: a melee of figures fixed into position while a caption floating above would recount the contents of issues from the recent past. Exposition illustrated by action figures, and more a regrettable necessity than something to be striven for. Opera had recitative, Roy Thomas and Steve Engelhart had tableaux. In Alpha, the recited tableaux goes on and on, for half the issue. I don’t suppose that’s a record, but it’s the most I can remember seeing. Talk about superhero decadence: when “But then came the conflict” captions take over an issue.

Wasn’t there a Gray Hulk? He doesn’t show up for the Hulk-derived heroes collection. They’ve got plenty anyway: two distinct green-skinned Hulks, plus Doc Samson, the regular She-Hulk, and the two newcomers, meaning Red Hulk and Red She-Hulk. Red Hulk was invented by Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness as an event that was supposed to get some bounce off the second Hulk movie, or so one reads. Red She-Hulk was also invented by Loeb and McGuinness, presumably because Red Hulk was a success. She looks a lot like Lobo, judging by her Wikipedia page.

Red She-Hulk does only so-so in the heroes’ falling away crest on Gamma. With both crests, heroes and villains, it’s remarkable to see how the aggressive, dogged detail of the characters looming in the foreground gives way to the sketchiness of the smaller characters; the arc seems to get woozy as it travels into the background. Regular She-Hulk has the profile of a character done as a bakery product. Red She-Hulk, a few feet up-camera from her, has more presence but becomes strange and clean-lined, abstract. The colors and her abstract lines and the shape of her hair make it look like Peter Max had tried to paint Elsa Lanchester just when her hair style had collapsed, undergone photographic inversion, and begun shooting streaks of fire. Yet she’s being drawn by the man who invented her.

Treated harshest of all is Egghead. He does all right while inside the comic; he’s got his rock-like chin and clenched fists, holds his place in group shots with the other villains. But on the cover he blips into a different reality. Maybe after doing MODOK in the high foreground, everyone experienced a spiritual revolt and cleansed their souls of super-Kirbyism by executing an homage to playful mid-century cartoons.

MODOK is a problem. Alpha and its series are all about gathering up a bunch of villains and dropping them into action. The drop can be performed most efficiently if the villains remain a clump, which they do throughout Alpha and its trundling together of story elements for Fall. But MODOK is not designed for hanging out with others, especially if the gang has to make a tour of the Marvel universe. (Captions: “The sovereign nation of Latveria. Castle Von Doom” and “The nation of Wakanda. Three month, eleven days, 3.871 hours later.”) Three pages after the centerfold splash, which is of the Hulk during a rampage, there’s a one-page splash of MODOK investigating Atlantis with the other super-villains. It’s one of the saddest things. He’s got up like the other super-villains in glossy, purple-grape scuba gear, but his gear has to be foreshortened and squeezed wide to fit him, and we see how distorted his frame is. The poor creature is deformed, but he’s in there with the gang, making like he’s got his end up, one arm thrown heroically in a lead-the-way Karate chop that ends at the length of a flipper.

Swimming MODOK is so dear, and you wonder at the cruel God that threw him into such unequal terms with life, designed him for one thing and made him perform another. How did the poor fellow wind up here, paddling through deep ocean as part of a moving pack of old Hulk villains? Who thought this would be a good idea?

 


All images ©2009 Marvel Characters, Inc.

 

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