With the recently announced new Defenders series, I’ve been feeling anxious to dig into stories featuring this eclectic Marvel team. Between that and my recent foray into Red Hulk territory, I thought I’d give a try to this volume from earlier on in Loeb’s run on the title.
I didn’t know exactly where this story fell in terms of the Hulk timeline when I started reading it, but as it turns out that’s on purpose. First we see events harkening back to Planet Hulk – when Hulk was married, before he lost it all. The current “dumb” Green Hulk wakes up as if from a dream, but is offered an opportunity by a cosmic being known as Grandmaster to see his dead wife again, to have her returned to him. All Hulk must do is play a game – gather a team and compete in a grand battle against their opponents; the winners to be granted the wish of seeing their loved ones again.
Hulk is then sent on a quest to retrieve the heroes he fought alongside in the Defenders, to different points in their timelines – where they had experienced the same loss as Hulk has, and would have the most to gain from trying to win in the contest. Of course, it doesn’t really occur to Hulk that if these heroes he gathered from the past had succeeded – wouldn’t their loved ones be with them still? If you’re starting to get a sense of foreboding, you’re thinking along the right lines.
Meanwhile, Grandmaster’s adversary (and his brother) The Collector, has likewise assembled a team of Offenders – led by Red Hulk. Now the members of both teams are paired up and put in unfamiliar environments, to let the mayhem begin. As a one-on-one battle royal, this book does a pretty decent job of delivering – though the focus moves squarely onto Red Hulk for most of the issues. Despite the reader not knowing who the man behind the Red Hulk’s face is at this point in the comic, it is interesting to watch him fight his way through the ranks of the Defenders. Sure, you could say this is a case of proving the new character is better by beating all these other tough guys, but really most of them are very early in their careers and so it should come as no surprise that Rulk takes them each out. It’s the twist ending to this first part of the book that I alluded to above that really helps turn the story around though.
After that, the book moves onto to separate stories, which seem to be trying to fill in the time of what happened to Hulk after World War Hulk. First he was captured by General Ross, but no one seems to be able to find him now, and She Hulk is worried about her cousin. So she tasks Ben Urich (reporter for the Daily Planet) to try and uncover what happened, and Peter Parker tags along for the ride. They discover Bruce Banner in the hands of MODOK, who is experimenting on him, but just as they are about to rescue him – Red Hulk appears. Red Hulk intends to make sure Banner can never become the Hulk again – by draining all of the Gamma energy out of him.
Which he succeeds in doing, setting up the final story in this collection, called Hulk No More, where Bruce has to come to grips with the fact that he can no longer turn into the Hulk. I might have been more invested in this story, but obviously it takes place before the Defenders story told earlier in the book, so here’s a case where we already know he’ll be able to turn into the Hulk again fairly soon – which leaves me scratching my head as to why it was included here (other than that this is the order in which these comics were released, and as I said, it appears the writers were trying to fill in some missing gaps in the story).
All in all, the Defenders story didn’t do much to whet my appetite for the new series, though it did provide an amusing diversion in the battles it portrayed. This isn’t the kind of book that new readers should go to as a starting point, but for readers who want to see some of these heroes mix it up for a bit, it proves adequate.