Editor's Note: Ultimate Wolverine vs Hulk #1 arrives in stores tomorrow, February 4.
Editor's Note (Part Deux): The below review was originally posted on January 6, 2006. Aside from some different advertisements, this week's Ultimate Wolverine vs. Hulk #1 reprints that three-year-old issue in its entirety. David Wallace has added comments to original review in the form of footnotes.
Opening with a bang, this latest in a long line of Ultimate mini-series kicks proceedings off with a showstopping few pages which throw the reader right into a hair-raising Wolverine/Hulk showdown, before rewinding to get everyone up to speed on the gift of a storyline with which Mark Millar's work in the pages of Ultimates 2 has provided this book: the Hulk is on the loose, having escaped his execution for the murder of hundreds of civilians in the first volume of Ultimates, and someone needs to bring him in before the world finds out that the monster is alive*. And guess which X-Man is going to be the guy for the job?
Despite the ubiquitous nature of this issue's big splash page (which shows Wolvie getting handed his ass – almost literally – as he is ripped apart by the Hulk) in Marvel adverts and online, it's difficult to ignore its impact in this issue. Damon Lindelof – a new writer to the medium – and Leinil Francis Yu use this single image to set their stall out early, satiating those readers who want their bloodlust satisfied within the pages of the first issue, and promising more of the same in future installments. However, once that tease is out of the way, the writer provides a surprisingly involving flashback to S.H.I.E.L.D.'s recruitment of Wolverine, as a couple of guest stars from Ultimates – as well as a character making her Ultimate Universe debut – give Logan a rundown on what to expect from his mission.
I really enjoyed this briefing sequence, as Lindelof provides some excellent reasoning to explain how Nick Fury became gradually aware of the fact that Bruce Banner had survived his execution, as well as letting us in on exactly why Logan would be the best man on the planet to undertake this little covert operation for him. The motivation given for Wolverine's decision to accept the task is priceless, and Nick Fury's reaction to it shows a solid appreciation of the almost-crazy extreme nature of these two characters as well as giving a sly nod to some of the more cliché and overused motivations given to Wolverine in the past. Lindelof keeps things simple but shows a surprisingly strong grasp of his key players, as well as some of the smaller supporting roles (even if Betty Ross seems a little less cold-blooded here than she did under Mark Millar's pen). However the writer chooses to pace the rest of this series, I'm hoping that he resists the temptation to bring in any other extraneous elements from the Ultimate Universe as there's definitely enough in this issue to provide the meat for a very tight little miniseries.
I was also pleasantly surprised by the artwork of Leinil Francis Yu, who is a new name in comics to me**, although I know he’s been around for some time. Even if it isn’t exactly stylistically similar, his Japanese-influenced angular and slightly scratchy take on Wolverine reminds me of the strong work of Tsutomu Nihei in the character's recent Snikt! miniseries***, only slightly more grounded and realistic, in keeping with the tone of the Ultimate Universe. I really enjoyed Yu's (and Lindelof's) take on Logan's dogged and only mildly-miffed indefatigability in the opening pages, and how can one not warm to that hand-drawn sound-effect which closes the issue? I also love Yu's larger-than-life Hulk, who seems far closer to his regular Marvel Universe incarnation than he does to the grotesque grey mass-murderer of Mark Millar's Ultimates. Part of this is undoubtedly due to the as-yet-unexplained switch back to a green-skinned Hulk (Ultimate Hulk first appeared as green in Ultimate Marvel Team-Up before reverting to grey in Ultimates****), and I am interested to see if Lindelof can create a compelling reason for the oscillation between the two.
Whilst there's a palpable sense of unabashed hyperbolic fun in some of the artist's bigger images of the issue (the shot of Wolvie being ripped in two and the reveal of the Hulk's über-pimp status in his girl-infested Himalayan hangout both spring to mind), Yu also imbues his characters with layers of subtlety which aren't always to be found in the text. Jennifer Walters' introduction, in particular, benefits from a vibrant sexuality which lurks beneath her librarian's exterior and gives the scene between her and Logan a tension which makes the characters' feelings towards one another very clear. Whether or not an Ultimate She-Hulk does eventually make an appearance in this series, the dynamic between Walters and Wolverine is an interesting one, and foreshadows a deeper relationship further down the road which I'm eager to see develop sooner rather than later.
However, first things first; Lindelof has to do enough to make us buy into the core premise of this series before the details get fleshed out. It's a strong enough opening issue to make me want to pick up the next, and even if we only get a taster of what to expect from the showdown between the two characters, it's enough to whet your appetite for the kind of thrills we could expect when these two creators really cut loose. Detractors of Marvel's decompressed house style may bemoan the lack of any real action in this issue, but personally, I could see other high-profile writers only just managing to introduce the characters within this first issue; here, the creative team juggles some fan-satisfying moments with some deft exposition, sows the seeds for some interesting mysteries (what has the Hulk been doing since he escaped from S.H.I.E.L.D. custody?) and sets up a compelling clash between two characters who could risk coming off as overly simple and two-dimensional in less able hands. This first issue has definitely exceeded my expectations for the book. Whilst not a perfect comic, it's a promising start for an untested writer which reaches way beyond the boundaries of a basic slugfest to provide a fairly interesting story as well as a visually exciting playground for the series to push ahead next issue. I'll be there.
* Of course, now that Ultimates 2 is long finished (and you thought that that book suffered from delays), we know how the Hulk's story ends up. But, for the purposes of this series, let's pretend we don't.
** Of course, I now know Yu's work a lot better from his run on New Avengers and Secret Invasion. However, I still think that the artwork contained within this issue might be of a higher quality than both of those subsequent projects. It'll be interesting to see whether there's a noticeable shift in style when the long-awaited third issue of Ultimate Wolverine vs. Hulk appears.
*** Well, it was recent in 2006.
**** Of course, Ultimate Origin has now muddied the waters even more by showing the very first appearance of the Hulk as grey. Hmmmmm.
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