The premise of the Hulk Smash Avengers limited series is summed up right in the title — it's five issues of the Hulk trying to smash the Avengers. Five different creative teams tackle the on again/off again relationship of the Hulk and the Avengers, with superhero smackdowns between the Hulk and various Avengers teams during different points in their history.
It's a simple enough concept (and one clearly meant to capitalize on the Avengers movie), but the problem with it may be that it's a little too simple. It's clear that the different creative teams didn't do any sort of joint plotting, and as such, the series itself comes out as a bit disjointed. It's not really a series in that it's several issues connecting to tell one story. It's instead only a series in that it's loosely connected through a common theme of the Hulk (or, at least, some Hulk) getting angry, mostly at the Avengers, and responding by smashing.
With different creative teams at the helm of each issue and different takes on the concept of the Hulk smashes his way through the Avengers and through time, Hulk Smash Avengers comes off as a series of hits and misses. On the whole, there's more good issues than issues that fall a little short, but it's the weaker issues that pull the series down. It starts out a little rocky in issue #1, with a story that feels more like you picked up an early issue of the first volume of the Avengers than a recently written comic. There's a lot of time spent making sure the reader gets a healthy dose of exposition, including multiple reminders of the same event. (If this comic were a drinking game where you took a shot every time someone mentioned Bucky's death in WWII, you'd be at least a bit tipsy by the end.) The bulk of the story is just what the cover advertises — Hulk fighting the Avengers — but those battles are full of exposition-heavy dialogue that adds very little to the comic as a whole other than to make very, very sure that a reader who wasn't reading Avengers comics in the 1960s knows as much about them as can possibly be crammed into one comic. In the end, there's a strong scene between the Hulk and Rick Jones that shows a more intriguing, human side of the Hulk, but seeing as it comes on the last few pages, it's too little, too late to make this first issue all that intriguing.
The second issue doesn't do much better, and again feels more like picking up a back issue and trying to read it out of context than reading something new. There's again a healthy dose of exposition to make sure readers who were not around to read Avengers Volume 1 (or simply need a refresher course) have a firm grasp of what point in Avengers continuity this story falls. However, some of this exposition is completely and totally superfluous. There's a scene between the Scarlet Witch and Vision that may have had a purpose if this were indeed a scene in Avengers #180.5, but since it isn't, it comes off as having absolutely no point since it doesn't play into anything else in the comic. It's two pages of space spent telling a part of a story that isn't this story, and it comes off as disjointed at best. This was my least favorite issue of the series, both for the way it felt more like a piece than a whole (and not a piece of the series it's actually a part of) and the distracting, distended art, that comes across a bit Edvard Munch and a bit "rage face" meme, the Hulk himself excluded.
It's in the third issue that the series begins to pick up some strength. This is the first comic that feels like a story that can stand on its own, and not a random grab from the back-issue bin. While we have exposition to set the reader firmly in the time period its set in the form of Monica Rambeau's recent addition to the team and her search for Avengers history, it's exposition that serves a purpose to this issues and adds a sense of time and place as opposed to just an info dump that the issue could've still made sense without. There's also the use of the frame story with the painter arguing with a man on the street outside the Avengers Mansion that helps to round out the issue and give the reader a clear picture of the Hulk's place in the history of the Avengers, not just as an antagonist, but as a founding member who, try as he might, can never fully escape the idea of "once an Avenger, always an Avenger."
The fourth issue continues the momentum picked up in the second, as it shows the Hulk alter-ego "Mr. Fixit" squaring off against the recently formed West Coast Avengers. Like issue three, there's again an effort made to keep the exposition down to useful facts that help set the stage and not a litany of details that the reader doesn't need. It lives up to the title's promise of a good Hulk versus Avengers smash-off — this time, in Vegas — but it also doesn't rely only on action. The real strength of this issue is the verbal confrontation between Mr. Fixit and Tony Stark in the desert that, like issue three, shows the bonds between the Hulk and the Avengers as much as it does the fractures in their relationship. Despite any bad blood or past "smashes," Bruce Banner is someone who Tony Stark trusts enough to see as a fellow hero and is willing to give the benefit of the doubt, and it's that connection that rounds out this issue and gives it a point. Despite the series title, the best moments it offers are the ones where the Hulk is not smashing the Avengers, and issue four is a strong example of that.
Where the series started off a little weak, it does, however, manage to finish off strong with issue five. Like issue three, we're given a frame story, this time with two "communications majors" riding into a restricted zone to try to get footage of the Avengers fighting Red Hulk. We're given a view of a Hulk verses Avengers fight through the eyes of outsiders, and it makes for a compelling story, injected with a nice dose of humor. While the Hulk doing the "smashin
g" is not the same one who was once an Avenger himself, the real "battle" of this issue is the one of wits between Bruce Banner and Tony Stark, giving us the second strong Stark and Banner scene of the series. It accomplishes exactly what this series should do to be good — offer a strongly written, engaging snapshot of a moment in the history of the Avengers and the Hulk. It's a compelling read, and one that can easily be picked up as a standalone and enjoyed.
Overall, Hulk Smash Avengers is a fun limited series that while starting out with more of a rumble than a smash, gains momentum as the series continues. It would've benefited from being less loosely connected and offering more of an overall arc, but the better issues are worthwhile standalones that give good insight into the Hulk, the Avengers and their long and complicated relationship.
Sara McDonald started reading comics in the third grade, and now puts her English degree to good use talking about them on the Internet. She currently resides in Western Massachusetts with a roommate, three cats, and an action figure collection and spends the time she isn’t reading comics working for a non-profit. You can visit her blog at Ms. Snarky’s Awesometastic Comics Blog.