Ultimate Human – A Review

“Redemption Story”

Written by: Warren Ellis
Art by: Cary Nord
Published by: Marvel Comics

Bruce Banner (the Hulk) and Tony Stark (Iron Man) are the “two halves of the push to post-humanity.” Both brilliant scientist, yet one has a lifetime mired in failure as much as the other has had success. So, in Ultimate Human, Bruce Banner has come to Tony Stark in the hopes of finding a cure for his condition. Warren Ellis begins to do for the Ultimate version of the Hulk what Peter David did for the mainline version of him – explore what truly makes him the Hulk, psychologically and physically.

“I’ve been sick my whole life and had to fight for everything I ever wanted. And never got it. Never.” –Bruce Banner

Like Bruce Banner, part of us realize that we live in a “failure condition.” We largely sleepwalk through life, wondering what’s it all about, why we are here, what we’re supposed to do and be. The idea reminded me of the book New Way to be Human by Charlie Peacock and how we all begin with a Story, a Story that God steps into. The story has four major arcs:

Creation – The story of all that is right and good about people and the world. We were created in His image, related to God, in right relationship with Him, under His rule and agenda. We were his servant-representatives in the world, responsible for one another and stewards of creation. Made for community and unbroken relationships, we were also created not only with intelligence, but also with a free will to choose.

Fall – The story of what went wrong, what is wrong, with them. With our ability to choose, we were intolerant of mystery and the gaps in our knowledge. So we sought our own way, disconnecting ourselves from the rhythm of life set out by God, becoming alienated not only from each other, but God and creation. This turning away from God to your own assumption of living life is the very definition of sin.

“Save me.” –Bruce Banner

Redemption – The story of the mission to restore. God unfolds His relational Word, in conversation, in Laws, in history, and, ultimately, in Christ. He seeks to rescue His people and usher in His kingdom, a new way of living.
New Creation – The story of the completion of that mission. One day we’ll see the end goal of perfection, of new heavens and new earth. That is the hope in which we live.

So being the ultimate human begins with repentance, exchanging your old way of life for a new way. One where we know the story and then live out the mission, centering around one simple idea: “”Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40).

Being the ultimate human is to participate in the story, embracing all aspects of life, but living with the goal of loving everyone and everything with holiness and imagination. It should impact how we work, how we play, and how we relate to one another; finding our redemptive mission in continuing the work He began to reconcile all of creation to Him.

Warren Ellis is great at playing in other people’s sandboxes. He respects the characters and fleshes them out even as he explores them in dark turns. The ultimate versions of these traditional heroes allows him to play with his full palette of science fiction tricks and jargon. The art mirrors the cinematic style that Ellis worked with during his run on The Authority, except this time it comes at the hands of a very capable Cary Nord. The book, like much of Marvel’s comic line these days, has the heady aroma of marketing opportunism (look for the trade paperback of this mini-series to come out in time for both the Iron Man and Hulk 2 movies), but Ellis keeps the story both interesting and relevant to the rest of the Ultimate universe.


Hulk – A Review

Written by : Jeph Loeb
Art by: Ed McGuinness
Published by: Marvel Comics

“IncREDible Anger”

Coming off of the World War Hulk comic event, the Hulk is popular enough for Marvel to attempt to have him sustain a couple titles, not including She-Hulk and other “Hulk Family” books. Say what you will about World War Hulk, it gave fans what they wanted, plenty of “Hulk Smash!” action (with enough semblance of a plot to string together issue after issue of said mindless smashing). Jeph Loeb (Supergirl) and Ed McGuinness bring us the Hulk, or more specifically, begin the mystery of who is the red Hulk?

The Hulk persona has undergone many transformations over the years, especially during Peter David’s epic run. It was like a split personality, originally appearing as gray during the first issues of the original title’s run (a personality revisited often by Peter David) and with varying degrees of intelligence. The promotional ads of a red Hulk has fans busy trying to figure out what the latest implication means. And this issue is more set up of the story than any sort of explanation.

We have Doc Samson (the Hulk’s gamma-powered, one time psychiatrist), She-Hulk, and General Ross investigating the latest outburst of violence, presumably from the Hulk, like some sort of gamma-specialized C.S.I. team. All evidence of the rampage points to the Hulk, with the disturbing revelations that 1) the Hulk is red and 2) it’s not Bruce Banner.

The Hulk persona is no more than a “rage-aholic,” someone addicted to anger and rage. Be it some biochemical switch or the inner undisciplined tantrum-ing two year old of frustrated want, he simply wishes to rage. A lot. Everyone gets angry, many of us even let anger often get the better of us and do things we later regret. What separates us is how we choose to deal with those impulses of unchecked aggression. Some of us struggle with rage, either bottling it up, acting it out, or repressing it. That unpredictable behavior, that inability to express ourselves short of “Me Smash!”, be it verbally or physically, shatters relationships like so many buildings on a Hulk rampage.

We continue to burn with hatred and murder in our hearts and suddenly a just and wrathful God who would smite loathsome man with pain, suffering, humiliation and eventually death and eternal punishment makes sense to us. As if that was the end of the story.

Like an addiction, we must find a way to contain our inner Hulk, as it were. Wrestle with the underlying demons that undergird it, find appropriate ways to express that anger, or abstain from angry behavioral outbursts. Ultimately, we need to put aside our rage and hatred, to lose that trust in ourselves and our way and find somewhere else to place it.

We must continue to examine ourselves, acknowledge our mistakes and sins and hopefully realize that we don’t want to be that raging monster, hurting those in our path. Maybe realize that the path we are on wreaks destruction wherever we go. Maybe realize that we’re not smart enough, courageous enough, self sufficient enough or good enough to make up the rules as we go along. And as the journey of Bruce Banner/the Hulk demonstrates, this is easier said than done.

The issue looks great, something you’d expect from Ed McGuinness. There’s the obligatory gratuitous battle with the Russian version of the Avengers, the Winter Guard where he gets to shine. Loeb does his job by leaving all sorts of questions dangling without answers: is this Rick Jones? What happened between World War Hulk and now? However, this is by-the-numbers story-telling. We’ve seen this story done a bunch of times and just because the Hulk is red doesn’t mean much besides having a new action figure to market. Hopefully Loeb is setting us up for a major payoff, if not, well … meh.

World War Hulk – A Review

Written by: Greg Pak
Art by: John Romita Jr.
Published by: Marvel Comics

Not So Jolly Green Giant

During Peter David’s classic run on the Incredible Hulk, he had the Hulk give this prescient warning that for every time he was moved against, he would level a city. Here we are, many years later, and the Hulk prepares to do just that. Not that he hasn’t had sufficient provocation. Reminiscent of the events of Incredible Hulk #300, just prior to the Civil War, the Hulk was deemed too great a threat to be allowed to just wander about at will, so a group of individuals Dr. Strange (conductor of the aforementioned issue #300 debacle), Black Bolt (leader of the Inhumans), Iron Man, and Mr. Fantastic (leader of the Fantastic Four) decide to jettison him off into space. This led to the events of the Planet Hulk storyline (familiar to any long time readers of the Hulk. See: Jarella): he ends up the planet Sakaar. He rises to the top, falls in love, loses it all, and returns home. Now joined by warbound, sworn soldier allies/his personal army, he’s what you call, let me search for the technical language, pissed.

“You say you’re his friend, but all you’re doing is dragging him straight to hell.” –Rick Jones

On one level, World War Hulk is about consequences. Everyone wants to be redeemed, to have some meaning attached to their lives. Hulk found his at Sakaar and it was taken away from him. No matter how bad the life one has lead, they can always make a break and start anew. However, even if they are forgiven their past, there may still be consequences for that past – in this case, for the Hulk as well as for those responsible for his situation.

“Someday we warbound will pay for the rage in our hearts.” –Hiroim

In a lot of ways, the Hulk is dealt with as a force of nature, a green apocalypse. The angrier he gets, the stronger he gets – and he has never been angrier. He also has been portrayed as a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde sort of character. Bruce Banner, his sometime alter ego, engages in a battle against the enemy within, an impurity of men’s souls which, in his case especially, is symbolized by the destructive, self-defeating power of anger.
This corrupting nature brings with it a cycle of destruction, warping man’s sense of right and wrong, and spirals into a pattern of fear, violence, and death. The need to deal with this taint is one view of how redemption works. Sometimes this comes out as wrestling with the idea of man having a darker nature to resist, restrain, or kill; that we have a corrupted self within us (a sentiment that echoes Romans 6:6). We all need to see the need to walk away from our old lives and embrace a new one. We have to opt out of a worldview of selfishness, one that promotes the death cycle.

“I’m searching for a hero … the only one who can defeat and redeem the Hulk in the same instant.” –Dr. Strange

As Rick Jones reminds us, “A hero wants justice. Not revenge.” It’s a lesson we’re all waiting for the Hulk to learn because there’s no plot beyond the Hulk coming for his list of the four conspirators. Planet Hulk’s entire raison d’etre is to be a revenge movie. Not much of a plot, per se, only a countdown to the revenge moment in which we are invited along to enjoy the ride. It’s the plot of Kill Bill … in spandex, fight scenes strung together and about as satisfying. I’m reminded of the book The Punisher Kills the Marvel Universe. However, it was a one-shot compared to a drawn out 5 issue rampage. But at least you get to enjoy John Romita Jr. artwork.

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The Incredible Hulk

“Tempest Fugit” (issues #77-81)
written by Peter David
art by Lee Weeks
published by Marvel Comics

Peter David (Captain Marvel, Fallen Angel, Aquaman) returns to The Incredible Hulk after over a four-year absence. Originally, he explored the psyche of Bruce Banner/Hulk, adding many layers of depth to what had become a one note (“Hulk smash!”) character. One of the things Peter David accomplished during his tenure was develop the rich cast of characters surrounding the Hulk.

Then, after a 12 -year run, he was abruptly kicked off the book. Apparently Marvel Comics wanted to go in a different direction (next stop, Crap-ville). John Byrne took over the title for a while, beginning his “let me revamp books that don’t need revamping” phase of his career (Hulk, Wonder Woman, Doom Patrol). Eventually the book was handed over to Bruce Jones who turned the book into a Fugitive meets X-Files-styled romp. It was a critically overrated run, intriguing but without a good enough payoff. Atmosphere can only take you so far, especially when the title character so rarely makes an appearance.

The Hulk is commonly portrayed as a Mr. Hyde to Bruce Banner’s Dr. Jekyll, much like in the movie The Hulk, but Peter David had actually extended this premise to a full blown case of (super-powered) Multiple Personality Disorder (a surprisingly not more widespread phenomena considering the nature of super-heroes and their dual identities). Under Peter David, we return to exploring the fragile psyche that is Bruce Banner, not quite knowing where the Hulk persona begins and Bruce Banner ends.

This was one of the reasons why I always enjoyed the Hulk under Peter David: the complexity of a man struggling against himself, his worst nature, and trying to hold himself together, overcoming the psychological torment of his past.

“Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him” Colossians 3:9-10

This battle between the old man and the new man is exactly the type of war waged constantly in the mind of Bruce Banner. Obviously it’s a battle familiar to many of us. It reminds me of another passage, this one from Romans 7:15-24 (in the version of the Bible called The Message):

“What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. So if I can’t be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God’s command is necessary. But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time. It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge. I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question?”

Therein lies the perpetual dilemma for Bruce Banner. He continues his search for someone or something to make him whole, existing forever at the end of his rope. However, I look forward to seeing where Peter David takes him and the Hulk on their journey.