by Charlie Brooks, CMRO Contributing Writer
Written by Jeph Loeb, Art by Ed McGuinness
Published: August 2010
Hulk #23 begins the wind-down of Jeph Loeb’s run on the title, with the next issue being his last. While Loeb’s run picked up a bit during Fall of the Hulks, now it reverts back to the nonsensical mess it began as. The issue does give a nice recap of the career of Thunderbolt Ross, aka the red Hulk, but raises way too many questions if the reader actually puts some thought into it.
Last issue, Ross was at the mercy of the red She-Hulk, aka his daughter. Now, she’s nowhere to be found. Apparently she just left him there and ran off to get stabbed by Skaar over in The Incredible Hulk, then healed, then jumped out of the helicarrier in Fall of the Hulks: Savage She-Hulks, then…oh, who knows. Her absence here is never explained, and nobody on the Hulk team seems to have made the effort to explain how things are supposedly working out.
Ross runs across the cosmic Hulk robot, which had previously dominated him in a fight, but this time Ross Hulks out and defeats him easily. How is this possible? It just is. We’re never given any explanation at all.
Most of the rest of the issue is filled with flashbacks about Ross’ life. This is admittedly pretty well- done – Loeb has added some nice tidbits to the old man’s history, and the art is done by a variety of different artists to match the era the flashbacks come from. On the downside, these flashbacks retcon some things that cause other stories to make less sense. For example, it migrates Loeb’s Hulk: Gray miniseries into canon, despite the fact that the Hulk from there had gray skin but the child-like intellect of the classic green Hulk – a combination which never happens and which ignores pretty much every Silver Age Hulk story. It also establishes that Doc Samson has been in MODOK’s pocket from day one, which invalidates every heroic thing that character has ever done. As a fan, I think I’d prefer to just imagine that Ross is suffering some delusions due to blood loss rather than remembering things accurately.
Ross suddenly goes from being in the helicarrier to the White House lawn. How does this happen? Who knows? It never gets explained. Notice a pattern? The Leader is also there, for no explicable reason. Why the smartest man on Earth would put himself directly in front of his old foe without any defenses is also never explained. The red Hulk drains away the Leader’s gamma radiation, rendering him normal again. Why anyone thought this was necessary is beyond me. It would have made more sense just to have the Leader escape, because we know the next time he’s needed as a villain he’ll be brought back in full gamma-irradiated form.
Ross then kills the Talbot robot that is standing in the White House and delivering an address to the public about the country being put under military control. Again, this makes no sense for several reasons. The Leader states that they had to use the Talbot robot because General Ross was presumed dead at the hands of the red Hulk. Why, then, did they use a robot likeness of a man who had been dead long before that? Heck, his death even got brought up at Ross’ funeral, and Steve Rogers, the current head of SHIELD, knows he was dead. And then there’s the issue of why Talbot is a robot when Bruce Banner’s own tech confirmed that he wasn’t, but I’ve mentioned that plot hole repeatedly in other reviews.
The issue ends with the red Hulk declaring himself in charge, which marks the second time General Ross has committed treason. It’s also very unlikely that anybody is going to accept the rule of a giant red monster who is a confirmed murderer, but that’s to the side of the point.
This issue is a great encapsulation of Loeb’s entire run on this book, in that it only makes a single degree of sense if you completely turn off your brain and look at the pretty pictures. But if pictures
were the only reason we read comics, then they’d be books of art rather than sequential storytelling. Overall, while this issue does bring some resolution to the red Hulk’s storyline of the past few years, it does so in a spectacularly unsatisfying manner.