As Avengers Vs. X-Men continues on and on, Brian Michael Bendis falls back on one of the things he does best, and that is introspective, character-centric stories. This time our star is the Red Hulk, and I have to admit it is one of the best issues starring the character that I have read.
What this issue reminds me of is what Bendis had to resort to last year with Fear Itself. The event dragged on too long and gave tie-in writers so little to work with, so Bendis took a narrow focus on his characters, fleshing out little beats into full on character stories. Well, Avengers Vs. X-Men has gone on for quite awhile now too, and what else can Bendis really do? Fortunately, this kind of storytelling really plays to his strengths.
Truth be told, I’ve had a mixed history when it comes to Red Hulk. Originally, I really didn’t like the character. The overpowered nonsense of him fighting and beating various Marvel characters one by one was too childish for me. And for the life of me, I will never get over the mustache thing. It is truly stupid and insulting. Jeph Loeb used the disappearing mustache to create an artificial mystery, because General Thunderbolt Ross being the Red Hulk was immediately obvious in every other way. But eventually, and thanks to Jeff Parker, I came around to appreciating the story of Ross walking a mile in the Hulk’s shoes. For a while. Now, I think Ross has walked more than that mile and is just meandering about as the Red Hulk longer than he should.
But hey, we got an issue like this out of it.
For the most part, I haven’t liked Red Hulk’s presence in the Avengers, largely because I never thought Bendis handled the character very well. So it’s a surprise that this issue turns out to be so good. It is told almost entirely from Red Hulk’s perspective as he takes off on his own initiative to commit an act that is very believable coming from the man who is really General Ross. It’s an act that would make for an interesting enough story in its own right, but Bendis puts it over that top by narrating it through Ross’ internal monologue. He really is an outsider to much of what is going on, so his point of view has some really intriguing observations to it.
The way that Ross sees it, Cyclops needs to die. It’s a very military-minded solution to the current crisis. When confronted with a superior force, eliminate the leader. You then immediately descrease their effectiveness and create cracks that can be exploited. It makes sense that this is how Ross would see the situation. Now, this plan neglects to consider that Cyclops is also the one holding the other Phoenixes back. But Ross isn’t a perfect man. He wouldn’t be interesting if he was.
Now, I should say that I am not particularly enjoying the Avengers Vs. X-Men event, especially since the Phoenix Five took over the show. It goes beyond my dislike for what characters were chosen for the Five too. Really, their overwhelming power and the obvious effect it has on their minds leaves me feeling cheated out of a more legitimate conflict between the X-Men and the Avengers. I feel like the more natural conflict that has been built toward over the years, namely the fate of Scarlet Witch for M-Day, has been swept aside to play with the Phoenix Force, which has always been a storytelling crutch Marvel has used too many times. At this point, I am really just waiting for the event to finish and watching out for whatever crumbs of good little stories fall out of it.
Like this one.
This is easily Walt Simonson’s best issue so far out of his collaboration with Bendis. I actually like his scenes with General Ross much better than the Red Hulk ones. The pages of Ross silently infiltrating Utopia are really well laid out and make for some great storytelling.
It’s a simple issue and unlikely to be an important part of the overall Avengers Vs. X-Men event. But at the same time, it’s a pretty good issue. Bendis keys in on a cast member of Avengers that has gotten the short end of the stick for most of the series so far and shows a really solid grasp of that character. For Hulk fans, this is definitely one worth reading. I hope Bendis continues with similar character-centric tie-in issues, because they’re honestly the best parts of these prolonged events.