I can’t say that I go out of my way to read and of the Hulk titles. I sought out World War Hulk because it sounded fun (and it was, though also mostly forgettable), and I don’t actively avoid the character – but there usually has to be an additional reason for me to read a book featuring a Hulk character. Red Hulk was in Avengers vol 2 which I recently reviewed, and that was enough to pique my interest – though again, it wasn’t so much that I was looking to seek out all the prior books featuring the character (I think he was introduced just after World War Hulk). But, when my search for titles featuring Thor or Iron Man brought up this Red Hulk collection, that was enough for me to give it a shot.
Scorched Earth is a failsafe built by M.O.D.O.K. and The Leader (two long time Hulk villains) that should either of them be incapacitated (which apparently recently happened) would initiate various world threatening protocols. The theory here was, if THEY can’t rule the world, might as well burn it down. It starts with a techno-organic plague being released, one which mutates anyone it comes into contact with and turns them into a uncontrollable living weapon. The action moves into outer-space with a pair of comets directed towards Earth to create an Extinction Level Event; under the sea where a pair of irraditated leviathans threaten to poison all the water on the planet; and finally to a lost island inhabited by giant creatures intent on razing the world.
Steve Rogers and Bruce Banner look to rehabilitate Red Hulk – who’s own existence is due to M.O.D.O.K. and The Leader – by allowing him to work with other heroes and undue this threat. Unfortunately for Rulk, this normally means a beat-down with said hero before moving on to the imminent threat. In all cases though, Rulk proves his worth, as Iron Man is not immune to the powers of the virus, Thor cannot handle two simultaneous threats of this magnitude, and Namor can’t see beyond his own arrogance to think through the situation.
This is a nice companion piece to Red Hulk’s appearance in Avengers vol 2, it obviously comes right before that story as Steve Rogers is testing Rulk to see if he’s ready to be invited to join the Avengers (as that team has always been about inviting members who are looking to atone for past sins). It’s also a great jumping on point for this title – not only does it have a nice summary on the first page bringing readers up to speed on what’s happened just prior to this, but the rest of the book continues to provide pertinent information throughout about Red Hulk’s origin and how everything fits together. I also thought it was a great use of the backup stories provided in the first few issues (featuring Rick Jones in his new/current Superhero guise) ultimately linking into the main Red Hulk story – I wasn’t too sure of the purpose of those backups at first, and the art was so cartoonish that I thought perhaps they were going for a comedic unrelated side-story. But when it all came together in the end, I was sold, and it even teased the return of a character that made me want to seek out future Red Hulk books. My only complaint is the final issue collected in this volume – it’s a standalone where the Impossible Man sets up a battle between Red and Green Hulk and Xemnu the Living Titan. Impossible Man is one of those “comedic” characters who’s usually anything but, and it seems like the purpose of this issue was solely to make good on a prior comic cover showing one half of the Hulk’s face in Red and one half in Green – by merging the two Hulks together briefly, because of course that’s the ONLY way they could ever hope to defeat Xemnu. Obvious really after everything Rulk has managed to overcome in the past story arc.
So ignor the last issue in this collection and read the first five, knowing that you need not read any prior Red Hulk stories in order to enjoy this rather different take on the “Team Up” book. It was fun to see Rulk get beat up by each hero before doing the team-up thing, interesting to see a character who hasn’t yet earned the respect of anyone, featuring a number of villains I don’t really know much about. It was like a whole little corner of the Marvel Universe I haven’t really had much chance to explore, and I relished the opportunity. If that sounds like something of interest to you as well, I can highly recommend Scorched Earth.