Current Reviews


Sunday Slugfest - World War Hulk: Front Line #1

Posted: Sunday, June 24, 2007
By: Keith Dallas

Writer: Paul Jenkins
Artists: Ramon Bachs, Matt Milla (colours)

Publisher: Marvel Comics

Editor’s Note: The first issue of the World War Hulk: Front Line limited series appears in stores this Wednesday, June 27.

Average Rating:

Michael Deeley:
Luke Handley:
Chris Murman:
Dave Wallace:

SPOILER WARNING: The following reviews discuss plot developments of the issue.

Michael Deeley

Ben Urich and Sally Floyd have started their own independent newspaper called “Frontline.” They’d just run out of money when a mysterious man representing an unnamed benefactor offered them all the resources they’d need to compete with the big rags. Because taking an offer from Deep Throat and his Shadow Cabal is better than being owned by a publicly traded corporation.

The Hulk issues an ultimatum to the entire planet to turn over Reed Richards, Iron Man, Black Bolt, and Dr. Strange in 24 hours, or else he and his army will take them by force. Several hours later, representatives of Hulk’s army, including Korg and Arch-E, land in Central Park to negotiate a peaceful occupation. New York officials oblige, fearful of an all-out war. “Frontline” is the only paper with pictures of the landing. They’re bout to get an even bigger story. Danny Granville, Sally’s boyfriend, has been assigned to investigate the murder of Arch-E. With Hulk and Iron Man already fighting, this could lead to a full-scale invasion.

Couple of things going on here: The Hulk’s arrival is being treated like an alien invasion. We see the mundane yet dramatic details of protecting the populace and negotiating the tricky politics of extra-terrestrial visitors. Korg’s landing has all the drama of The Day the Earth Stood Still. There’s some heavy-handed commentary with the poor and black neighborhoods not being evacuated. And the title-specific sub-plot of “Frontline’s” new backers. They should be revealed by the end of the series. Add in the alien murder mystery and you’ve got a decent sci-fi story with social commentary. Of course, Civil War: Front Line started out promising too.

Unfortunately, this Front Line series will also run multiple stories in each issue. In addition to the lead story with Urich and Floyd, Granville’s investigation will get its own feature. A third story will also be included in each issue, with a humorous story in issue #2. All of them will be written by Paul Jenkins. I don’t object to the Arch-E murder getting its own feature; it could be an interesting side story that would fit in any other series. And that’s exactly the kind of story Front Line should tell. But looking at what Jenkins did in the last Front Line, I’m afraid these stories will ultimately turn mediocre with little significance to the main crossover.

I can only describe the art as “lumpy.” Heavily inked potato-faced people stumble around a generic city. And it usually works. Occasionally people have raccoon eyes. Sachs could have used less ink throughout. But you can still tell people apart, follow the action, and it’s not ugly to look at. The overall style reminds me of Richard Corben.

Although I give this issue a slightly above average rating, I believe future issues will not be as good. The anthology format is difficult to pull off. And based on Jenkin’s last series, he needs more writers working with him. There could be some good stories in this series. But judging the series as a whole? I’d suggest reading this first before you buy. No one wants to get screwed over like with Civil War.

Luke Handley:

The Marvel Universe has another War on its hands, so it’s time for another Front Line series from Paul Jenkins offering us the “man on the street” view as the clash between super-beings takes place. The last series, set during Civil War, failed somewhat in this endeavour. The story quickly moved away from chronicling the effects of the War on the life of the average inhabitant of the Marvel Universe to instead focus on the protagonists, investigative reporters Sally Floyd and Ben Ulrich, trying to uncover the real reasons behind the super-hero confrontation. Also, each issue contained up to four different stories, detracting from the main focus and purpose of the book. Luckily, with its first issue, WWH: Front Line appears to be headed in a clearer direction.

After quitting their respective jobs at the end of the previous series, Floyd and Ulrich are now writing for the own paper, named interestingly and rather provocatively, “Frontline.” In this era of easy access to information, it takes more than an inquisitive mind and a will to ask tough questions to make it in the media world. Enter mysterious financial backer who offers them an office, a salary and the means to get their version of the news out there. Since there was a shadowy individual who lurked around in this title’s previous outing, I can’t say I’m over-enthused to have another one introduced straight away. But this could be interesting, especially if this guy turns out to be the same person as the previous one.

Giving the protagonists the same resources as the “Daily Bugle” gives the writer the means to really explore all the different angles and implications of WWH, and this before the first shot has even been fired (sure, Black Bolt’s been beaten to a pulp but given that he’s currently considered a terrorist by the U.S., this probably gives them cause for celebration). We get a look at how the inhabitants of Manhattan react to the arrival of the aliens, their forced evacuation and a glimpse at the economical and political implications of such an act.

The issue also introduces a whole new concept to WWH: the idea that the Hulk has brought refugees from Sakaar with him to Earth and that they plan on making themselves at home in New York. I didn’t follow “Planet Hulk,” but I have read all the WWH issues thus far, and this is the first time I’ve come across this. It ’s an intriguing idea and does add more depth to the overall story, making it more than just “Hulk Smash!” Korg, the big rocky dude from Hulk’s Warbound, is in charge of assuring the aliens’ adaptation into human society. Detective Danny Granville, Sally Floyd’s new lover, is made to cooperate with the big guy when one of the Hulk’s party is brutally murdered. I find this a welcome addition to the overall WWH tapestry. Where the investigation goes from here is anyone’s guess, especially after the opening of hostilities between Hulk and America’s superheroes, but Granville is worthy of a bit more panel time, and I’m looking forward to seeing one of the Hulk’s allies doing something other than smashing.

There is, however, a bit of a clash between how the 24 hours countdown to the Hulk’s ultimatum plays out in this book compared to World War Hulk proper. The fact that no one even mentions Korg’s little excursion party and the occupation of Manhattan in any of the other books is slightly odd. Also, in WWH the evacuation procedures appear to still be in full swing when the Hulk returns and confronts Iron Man, whereas in this issue one gets the impression that Manhattan is already all but deserted.

If it’s Paul Jenkins writing Sally Floyd then you can bet that Ramon Bachs won’t be far behind. After Generation M and Front Line, Bachs once again lends his unique pencils to this issue and produces his best work yet. At times in the past, his characters have looked a bit like caricatures, but that’s not the case here. His art successfully captures the feeling that though super-beings are relatively commonplace and a constant background feature in New York, they live on a separate level to the average citizen.

This issue of WWH: Front Line is an immediate improvement on the previous series. This time around, Jenkins doesn’t need to waste time setting the scene and introducing his cast and can jump straight into the main story. This series looks like it will be about more than just reacting to the destruction caused by the Hulk and the murder investigation will hopefully allow for a closer interaction between “normal” humans and the alien invaders. Here’s to hoping that Jenkins can make this series work more smoothly than its predecessor.

Chris Murman:

Not that I’m in a position to make demands where Marvel is concerned, but let’s say their people care about what I write. Marvel, you either do two things: One, let Paul Jenkins write the parent title for a change. (Trust me the story will end up in a better place in the end.) Or two, make Front Line an ongoing. I’d drop one of my DC titles in favor of that.

I’m not so high on everything Mr. Jenkins puts on paper, mind you. His humor, regardless of the acclaim it carries, often leaves me wanting to put the issue back on the shelf. I’m lukewarm on his Wolverine work, same goes for the Sentry (especially during his rebirth in New Avengers). However, if you take an already established story and tell it through the eyes of two newspaper journalists, it’s gold every time.

In my reviews of Civil War: Front Line, I was very keen on the development of the main story through Ben and Sally’s eyes. By far, it gave a much better ending than Millar’s parent title and certainly added the depth the Tony Stark character needed. We see more of the same from their perspective of the occupation of New York by Hulk’s Warbound brethren.

Jenkins, artist Ramon Bachs and series editor Mark Paniccia definitely learned their lesson from the first series as well. Gone are the meddlesome back up stories that wasted precious pages during Civil War. We have one, seamless story that follows our favorite newspaper sleuths, who now have a mysterious benefactor providing payroll.

I think what this story has established from the start is the good guys are definitely the ones from outer space. The occupation of New York was not to establish dominance but to provide shelter for the inhabitants of planet Sakaar. Remember: the Warbound claim their planet was destroyed by Reed, Tony, Black Bolt, Strange and the rest of the Illuminati. There was even a claim that the aliens were tipping their servers at local establishments.

Personally, all the rehashing that goes on in tie in issues is a necessary evil, regardless of my disdain for them. I don’t need a panel of Hulk tossing Stark in his Hulkbuster armor, but I understand if it has to be done. Just keep it to a minimum, Paul. I beg you.

The development of the two intrepid reporters from the previous Front Line series is also a welcome sign. Floyd’s now living with the cop she fell for during Civil War, and the “Front Line” newsprint is definitely making Triple J sweat through his thick moustache over at the Bugle.

Marvel better make this its own series after this limited series is done. I’m ready to start the petition here and now. I may even make that my platform when I run for Congress next year.

“I promise to make Front Line its own series and move Jenkins from the B-squad to varsity.” Got a catchy ring to it, right?

Dave Wallace:

Another big event so soon after Civil War gives Marvel the opportunity to resurrect the companion title which tied in with Mark Millar’s highly successful limited series. However, this time around, the book ditches the anthology format for a straight single-story approach, focusing all of its attention on Ben Urich and Sally Floyd, and their new internet news outlet, “Frontline,” playing out against the background of World War Hulk.

I wasn’t a huge fan of the original Front Line series, as I felt that it squandered the potential of a grounded view of the conflict in the Marvel Universe in favour of hollow conspiracies and unsympathetic characters who didn’t drive the story so much as they sat back to let things happen to them. Sadly, this sequel series looks to be making exactly the same mistakes – even down to the ill-conceived subplot which has Urich allow “Frontline” to be funded by a shadowy mystery man: a reprise of a similar thread from the last series, and one which seems at odds with Urich’s normally keen journalistic instincts. Yes, there’s an attempt to inject character into Ben and Sally’s relationship, but the clunky banter of the opening conversation about a free lunch and the subsequent forced conversation between the pair makes for an unconvincing and uncharismatic leading couplet. The soap-opera of Sally Floyd’s burgeoning relationship with a police officer isn’t given enough attention to make people care, and the importance of the “Frontline” news outlet is given short shrift by a quick recap of the website’s middling fortunes which doesn’t flesh out the concept enough to establish the series’ hook.

Also, most damagingly, there’s very little insight given into the events of World War Hulk. The events of the first issue of the core series are replayed from a different viewpoint, but very little is added to the story as a result, and a subplot which sees the Hulk’s “Warbound” alien allies attempting to work with the authorities to ensure a peaceful occupation of the evacuated New York seems so absurd that it feels like surreal comedy. There’s very little tension or drama, considering the impact that the Hulk’s arrival is meant to be making on the New York populace – and you’ve got to worry when your climactic ending is a billboard falling on top of a car. I can see how Jenkins is trying to show how the Hulk’s actions would affect the man on the street, but he doesn’t do enough to make it interesting, and unless you’re a rabid fan of World War Hulk, it looks like you’ll be able to make do quite happily with the main title alone. Original Front Line penciller Ramon Bachs continues to provide the artwork, and although it’s perfectly serviceable and does its job well enough, it doesn’t really feel like anything special.

Let’s be clear: this series would not exist if there wasn’t a big crossover event to tie it to, and that should tell you how satisfying it is as a story in its own right. It’s quite possible that Jenkins & co will overcome the problems of this first issue and ultimately craft a better series than the last, but there’s nothing here that makes me care enough to stick around and find out. If you read Civil War: Front Line, then you’ll know what to expect from this title. Unfortunately, for me that equates to “once bitten, twice shy.”

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