My long overdue concluding reviews and rankings of Marvel's Season One!
Hulk: (Fred Van Lente, Tom Fowler) Hulk SMASH in his Season One debut, written by Fred Van Lente and drawn by Tom Fowler. The story reworks Bruce Banner’s initial accident and Hulk’s first few… outings, let’s call them. Featuring such classic characters as the lovely Betty Ross, her father General “Thunderbolt” Ross, and perennial sidekick Rick Jones, Hulk’s origins are given a much more science fiction vibe than standard superhero fare.
Much like the Doctor Strange story (see below), this is a completely unique story drawing minimally if at all from the original source material. Hulk faces an organization known only as “THEM”, a precursor to A.I.M. perhaps, and a monster that can best be described as similar to a living cancer, absorbing the life out of everything it touches in a very eerie and rather disturbing manner. In addition to this, Bruce Banner must learn to balance his double life and keep his Hulk-ness a secret from those he wants to trust. General Ross is out for Big Green’s blood as always but has a new way of going about getting it, which I won’t spoil. Most of the characters are actually quite likeable in this adventure. Apart from them our secondary monster-villain, who is previously a jerk military man, and Rick Jones, who originally served as Hulk’s Jiminy Cricket, is now a troubled-teen stereotype.
Out of all of the Season One books, this book has one of the most unique art styles I’ve ever seen. Everything seems slightly melted somehow. It fits in very well with the science-fiction origins of our hero. Hulk is a big green ball of hurt looking forward to smashing everything he can. I like the look they’ve given him here. Something else that quite stands out in this book is the use of colors. Each setting is clearly defined through colors; the military complex is very sterile and neutral, the desert is rich with oranges and reds, and THEM’s headquarters is a creepy pinkish color. Another nice touch is the color choices during Hulk’s first fight. Everything is tinted with hints of green and purple, an obvious homage to the classic purple pants of Hulk’s early days. Say what you will, but I’ll always think of Hulk wearing purple pants. It’s a fun little science-y adventure; pick it up for something a little different.
Ant-Man: (Tom DeFalco, Horacio Domingues) Okay, I have a REALLY big problem with bugs, so doing this review was rather hard for me… As such, it’s going to be a bit shorter than the other reviews I’ve done so far. Just going to preface with that; nothing against Ant-Man, I just have problems with insects…
Tom DeFalco and Horacio Domingues present us with the origins of Henry “Hank” Pym, the Ant-Man. Through what I can only assume to be an entirely original story, we learn of Pym’s abilities and mastery of technology, his sorrowful family history, and his growing (no pun intended) paranoia. We even get to meet his “sidekick” of sorts, fellow scientist and future hero in his own right Bill Foster. Their obviously evil boss Elihas Starr, aka Egghead, steals their technology to communicate with insects, and all hell breaks loose.
I can only imagine that DeFalco had a hard time writing this story. Not only did he have to modernize a classic character, but he effectively had to “reintroduce” a character that not many people had been introduced to in the first place. As such, the story is fairly generic. Mad scientist boss whose intentions are quite obviously evil (but only our heroes notice this), revenge, big battle with villain who has abused his powers, Pym’s father being emotionally distant until it’s too late… There are quite a few clichés in this story, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Given the unfamiliarity of the character, I suppose it helps to use familiar story elements.
When it comes to the artwork of this book, one of the first things that came to mind was Sonic the Hedgehog, probably because Egghead looks like a shaved version of Dr. Robotnik. The characters all look like action figures, which I actually quite like. It gives the story an element of fun and humor, something that the writing also tries to play up. The colors are vibrant and bright, heavy on the primary colors if I recall correctly. You’ll have to excuse me as I’m doing this from memory. I just can’t stand to look at the closeups of bugs again. They’re quite well-drawn, but they also gave me nightmares. Yes, really. Apart from giving me trouble sleeping, it’s not a bad read, but not the best of the bunch either. Give it a whirl if you want to learn more about Ant-Man.
Doctor Strange: (Greg Pak, Emma Rios, Alvaro Lopez) Our final episode of Marvel’s Season One features the Sorcerer Supreme himself, Doctor Stephen Strange. The story involves Strange finding his beliefs in magic and the Vishanti, as well as how he and Wong became companions. Written by Greg Pak of Planet Hulk acclaim with art by Emma Rios and Alvaro Lopez, this book weaves a mystical tale of magic and mayhem. Famous surgeon Stephen Strange heads to the Himalayas to use the healing powers of the Ancient One, a wizard of the highest caliber. The Ancient One deems Strange unworthy of healing unless he trains at the temple. He is paired with another student, Wong. Their adventures lead to Strange gaining faith in the Vishanti and becoming worthy of the magic therein.
The primary plot is a series of vignettes involving magic rings which hold the power to contain the evil demon Dormammu, and Strange and his companions must retrieve them before the Ancient One’s traitorous protégé Dormo. Each ring teaches the group a different lesson in harnessing the magic; cunning, humility, and faith. One of the main points of the story is the developing relationship between Wong and Strange, which is actually told quite well. Wong has the belief in the Vishanti, but not the discipline; Strange has the discipline, but not the faith. The yin and yang of their pairing is written very naturally and builds at a realistic pace. They start off as foes, but they slowly realize that they need each other to balance their respective lives. Even if you were to be confused by the primary story (as I was at times), it’s easy to follow Strange and Wong’s partnership forming.
As for the art style, imagine if you put David Aja’s flowing kung fu from Iron Fist, John Romita’s (elder or younger) character modeling, and Edvard Munch’s palette in a blender, poured into a long, colorful glass, and garnished the cocktail with a hint of magic. The splash panels are quite detailed and pleasing to the eye, but they can be a bit cluttered in places. The overall style of the book is difficult to describe; it’s linear, but also fluid. The characters are angular, but the magic and environments are free-form and graceful. It’s really quite pretty, I can’t think of any major points against the art in this book. Definitely a good place to start for those curious in the mystic side of the Marvel Universe.
Rankings and final thoughts:
1. Daredevil (I may be biased, he is my favorite character after all)
2. Dr. Strange (Pleasantly surprised, quite enjoyable)
3. Fantastic Four (A nice update of Marvel's First Family, albeit a bit flawed)
4. Hulk (A new angle on Mr. Green-jeans, worth giving a look)
5. X-Men (A noble attempt at condensing the X-iverse, but still falls a bit short)
6. Ant-Man (The bugs, man... the BUGS...)
7. Spider-Man (Placed so because it didn't need to be made at all; it's not bad, it's just unnecessary)