Thursday, June 04, 2009

Ultimate Wolverine vs Hulk

Ultimate Wolverine vs. Hulk
Writer: Damon Lindelof
Artist: Leinil Francis Yu
Colourist: Dave McCaig
Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos
Editor: Ralph Macchio (#1-2), Mark Paniccia (#3-6)

And they said it could never happen. But here it is, three years late - the concluding issues of Ultimate Wolverine vs Hulk.

So much has changed while it's been away. For one thing, nobody gives a toss about the Ultimate imprint any more. In 2006, the Ultimate books were still doing pretty well. They were top 20 titles. And Ultimate Wolverine vs. Hulk was a big event - a big name writer in Lost's Damon Lindelof, a couple of popular characters, something Marvel could justify making a song and dance over.

Three years later... well, the Ultimate books has meandered so far off the rails that they're having to reboot the entire imprint. Nor do I hear that much about Lost, come to think of it. Admittedly, that might be because I'm in the UK, where the show airs on satellite, and will never get the audiences to achieve critical mass and become a phenomenon. But the tastemakers moved on long ago. For most of last year they were telling me that I Simply Must Watch The Wire. It's probably time for a new one by now. Lost? How... 2006.

Maybe it's different in America.

Still, this book is late in more senses than one. It's missed the boat somewhat. It stopped being part of the hypegeist, and became a mild embarrassment that Marvel got asked about at convention panels.

But what's it like?

Well, it's inane. Which is not necessarily a bad thing. I suspect Damon Lindelof wouldn't take that as an insult. After all, it's Ultimate Wolverine vs. Hulk. Not even regular Wolverine vs Hulk. Ultimate Wolverine vs Ultimate Hulk. The Mark Millar versions. What did you expect?

This is not a story that takes itself in any way seriously. If anything, the joke is to go through the motions of telling a proper story, but just do absurd nonsense instead. Characters get ripped in half. The Hulk has a harem. People fall from the sky after jumping from an aeroplane at a random point and land at Nick Fury's feet. It's idiotic. But it's also so obviously tongue-in-cheek that you can't entirely hold that against it. The book is so liberated from any considerations of sense or long-term planning that it can't help having a certain dumb charm. On a certain level, you've got to admire a book as audaciously, knowingly, moronically over the top as this. It almost gets away with it.

The problem is... well, actually there's two problems. The minor problem is Betty, whose appearance in this story veers between "bit of a cipher" and fingernails-on-chalkboard irritant. Mark Millar's version in Ultimates was one-dimensional, and a vaguely misogynist dimension at that, but at least she had one dimension. As the She-Hulk, Betty now has two personalities, neither of which has a personality at all. She's frankly rather boring.

The major problem is that there's no content here. It's just a string of flashy nonsense. That might have worked as a throwaway piece of fluff on a tight schedule, but it's not the sort of thing that stands up to a three year wait. That just magnifies its flaws. Yes, it's quite funny, but beneath the smoke and mirrors, there's nothing to it. There's no real tension, no drama, no pay-off, no story beyond a string of excuses to do more nonsense, no satisfying ending.

Which is fine, I suppose, if that's all you're looking for - but it's a rather empty read. Intentionally empty, to be sure. Amusingly empty, even. But empty.

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