How did I wind up with two volumes of this series in my “To Review” pile? Well, vol. 7 spent most of last year either out of stock, or not on sale for a significant discount at my preferred retailers. Then, a little over a month after I finally picked it up, vol. 8 came out and it was on sale for a significant discount at one of my preferred retailers. The end result is that I got to read about the Hulk’s big, glorious moment in the sun, and then see how it all goes to hell in relatively short order. Yes, we’ve reached that point in the Ewing/Bennett run if you’re assuming that they plan to wrap things up by issue #50. The good thing is that even if these volumes work together to show the title character at his lowest point, getting there and past that point is a lot more entertaining than you’d think it would be.
That’s especially true with the three issues that kick off vol. 7 Hulk is Hulk as he takes on Xenmu from the Magic Planet. What’s his deal? That’d be weaponized nostalgia, which is built up as a threat and played off quite well in this short space. Of course, there are always consequences to be had when you go messing around with Hulk’s mind and it comes down to “Hulk Classic” (or “Salad Brain” as Joe Fixit likes to call him) to find a way to save the day. It’s a great, cathartically dumb sequence that really gives artist Joe Bennett a chance to show off as everyone storms Roxxon Tower. This does wrap up all of the business with Roxxon as well, with Dario Agger finding out there are some forces you just don’t mess with. While there is some in-story gloating over his fate, the person doing it winds up taking all the joy out of the act.
This would be because he’s one of the Hulk’s oldest enemies and he’s finally making his move. The rest of vol.7 has separate issues dedicate to writer Al Ewing retconning the character’s history to fit with what he’s established here, and showing how everyone loves the Hulk after he took care of Xenmu. Though I’m not 100% familiar with the character’s backstory to say how well the retconning works, it’s still a decent story which sets up the character’s motivation very well, and the art from Butch Guice is appropriately sinister with all of its detail. As for the final issue, it’s nice to see the Hulk finally get a break after everything he’s been through up to this point and Mike Hawthorne’s clean artwork accentuates these good vibes. Too bad that it’s done in a way where you’re expecting the other shoe to drop at any moment. When it finally does, I was glad that I didn’t have to wait too long to see what was going to happen next.
Which leads us to vol. 8 The Keeper of the Door and Rick Jones is in a very bad way after how the previous volume ended. So is most of the town Hulk and co. were in, which has Gamma Flight showing up to take him down. This, of course, was all planned on by Hulk’s above-mentioned enemy who has also found a way to infiltrate Shadow Base as well. Oh, and Hulk’s mind as well. Which means that he’s either really confident in his plan, or incredibly dumb. Because the Devil Hulk is still there and he takes it knid of personally when people try to hurt Banner and Classic Hulk.
The best part about this is that it’s not a straight path down for our protagonist and his friends. While the villain may have done his best to cover all the bases beforehand, he can’t quite account for everything. Like Titania noticing how one character is smiling at a time of crisis. Or Doc Samson knowing when to swing a piece of rebar. Or understanding that when he gets mad enough, the Devil Hulk doesn’t have any limits. There’s a real sense of struggle throughout the volume and that made what Ewing and Bennett were trying to sell here go down a whole lot smoother than if the characters had lost on the first page and kept losing until the end.
Instead, we get something that leaves the primary cast in the lurch, but with enough hope that the people still running around will find a way out of it. Especially since one of them is named Joe Fixit, and if there’s one thing he’s been shown to be good at, it’s getting out of situations where he’s completely outmatched. Which is good because the final few pages let us know that one of the Hulk’s longtime rivals has come looking for him to get some payback after the last time they met. It’s not going to go well for one of them, but another good Thing about this volume is that I can’t say for sure which one that will be.