Somerset Holmes (1983-84)

Somerset Holmes

In his foreword, writer and publisher Bruce Jones talks about his goals for Somerset Holmes. It’s a lot of text and a lot of ego, but I think the point is he wanted to go to Hollywood and thanks to Brent Anderson’s amazing artwork, he was able to get there on Somerset Holmes. Though I’m sure, given the ego, there’s a lot about his writing and publishing.

And Jones isn’t wrong. Somerset Holmes is pretty awesome. It gets long in places, but once Jones has established his style–even if the comic is supposed to be cinematic, his narrative plotting is so episodic each episode has a different guest star, you can wait it out. You can just look at the art a little more. You can wonder who had the forethought to put the little bowl under the leaky stop valve in the scummy small town bar where the pig bartender wouldn’t lend the distressed lead a dime to make a phone call.

Somerset considers.

Because there’s always at least two things going on with Somerset Holmes–Anderson’s exceptionally thoughtful artwork; Jones might think it’s cinematic or whatever but it’s beyond cinema, it’s comics, it’s sight gags, it’s understanding how a reader processes information. And it’s raw. Anderson’s experimenting, often because Jones has such “movie” moments, so he has to change the visual tone immediately. It’s awesome.

The other thing always going on is how every guy in Somerset Holmes is kind of a complete scumbag. Or insane. Because the introduction of the book isn’t the eventual action thriller it becomes, it’s a psychological horror thriller. In the context of a comic book issue, it might seem a little less weird–Somerset Holmes originally had an Al Williamson serial backup, which maybe sort of could affect how the feature reads after a certain reveal–but in the Graphic Album? It’s relentless. Jones is positively cruel with how naively he portrays the protagonist; even her daredevil prowess, which saves her life multiple times, is derided. The supporting cast treats it like a disability. It’s heavy.

Somerset’s eventual traveling companion, Barbie, finally gives the book an honest relationship.

Because the book is called Somerset Holmes. Okay, it’s called Somerset Holmes: The Graphic Album, which is appropriate, because it’s see Brent Anderson draw Somerset Holmes. Occasionally too much of her because it’s an early eighties Bruce Jones production and there’s going to be some cheesecake only it gets to be a little much in the collected setting. Especially after the bisexual prostitute she ends up partnering with scopes her out. Somerset Holmes passes Bechdel with flying colors, only it then turns around to be really homophobic but in a “sexy” way since it’s ladies after all.

And then they walk some of that back and they get away with it because Brent Anderson. And also because, even though there are literally men speaking exposition all the time–some of it just dangerous nonsense (Somerset Holmes would be great if Jones weren’t just a pragmatic writer)–Jones does work on Somerset’s character development. It’s “on page” but it never gets the dialogue time it deserves because there are all these dudes explaining, lying, or apologizing. Usually the same dude. The sidekick.

Somerset. Okay. Let’s talk about Somerset first, then deal with the sidekick situation.

Brett Anderson doing nine panel for “cinematic” pacing… in 1983.

The comic opens with a woman getting hit by a car. She’s walking down the road, gets hit by a car. Beautiful art, setting expectations high for what Anderson is going to do. The comic becomes about whether or not it’s always going to look so amazing, as well as Somerset. The two things are tied, especially since Anderson is so careful with her presentation. She’s the visual star of the book, even when the dudes are talking. She’s navigating through their noise. And word balloons.

Over the course of the story, there are all sorts of revelations–including some where Jones doesn’t even slow down to look at the connotations (though it turns out the Graphic Album isn’t a full reprinting of the six issues, so maybe things got cut)–and it turns out Somerset’s a great protagonist. Jones basically uses her like a Technicolor Hitchcock damsel only she’s an active lead. She’s not waiting for her manly sidekick to rescue her, which is good for a couple reasons. He’s a dope and he also tries to rape her the first time they meet.

But in a playful, wrestling sort of way.

Somerset and Brian. He’s lying to Somerset again. He’s the closest thing to a good guy in the comic.

And I just now realized how gross it turns out to be when you factor in the later revelations. Jones’s lack of character continuity is a problem. It’s more a problem with his writing in general than anything in Somerset Holmes because to mess up Brett Anderson’s art on this book, you’d have to be intentionally malicious. And Jones isn’t malicious, he’s just not interested enough. Not in making the characters have internal logic, not in the flow of the story. Maybe it reads better in the floppies, but collected, it’s start and stop, start and stop.

But it doesn’t really matter, because Brett Anderson.

So the dude sidekick is a gross, rapist, early eighties cheeseball. Turns out he’s even worse. But he’s still her sidekick who ostensibly is helpful in Somerset’s attempts to find herself.

I forgot to mention she has amnesia, didn’t I? Sorry. She has amnesia.

Somerset’s friendship with Barbie gives the character her only choices not directly related to survival.

The other sidekick, the bisexual prostitute turned Somerset stan–is so much better. Jones’s handling over everything is so exploitative, but it’s still better than “if she’s not wearing a wedding ring, she must want it” man. Somerset Holmes is kind of jaw dropping in how messed up it gets just because Jones is so disinterested in writing it well as opposed to packaging it right for Anderson. But the female sidekick is at least nice. She’s at least a nice character to have in the comic. Once she forces herself on a sleeping Somerset… well, okay. She at least apologizes. She gets a lot better after that turn. The dude sidekick just keeps explaining, lying, and apologizing.

So. It’s problematic. Somerset Holmes is a problematic, exceptional piece of work. Jones mixes a bunch of genre elements, bunch of genres, throws it all to Anderson, who makes that mess visually seamless. And, despite his other problems, Jones does give Anderson all the right material to make Somerset Holmes a captivating experience.

CREDITS

Writers, April Campbell, Brent Anderson, and Bruce Jones; artist, Anderson; colorists, Anderson and Joe Chiodo; letterers, Gary Cody and Ed King; editor, Campbell; publisher, Eclipse Books.

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Hulk / Wolverine: Six Hours 4 (May 2003)

Hulk / Wolverine: Six Hours #4

Bickering. Jones concludes the series with Bruce and Logan bickering. Why are they bickering? Because Wolverine first appeared in a Hulk comic and Jones is trying to tie into their long history together? Who knows–Wolverine sure isn’t remembered for his Hulk appearance.

The resolution is tightly paced, with Jones first using humor to get through Wolverine’s fight with the Shredder. The Shredder proves disposable–a distraction from the main event of the issue, Wolverine versus the Hulk. Even the resolution to the plane crash takes a backseat to the fight.

And Kolins draws a visceral yet still amusing fight between the two. The Hulk’s foaming at the mouth at one point; Jones wisely doesn’t try for an intelligent Hulk or even a sensible one. It’s just the fight the comic has been promising since the first issue.

It’s jokey, oddly pleasant while still maintaining some toughness. Jones isn’t going for deep.

B 

CREDITS

Writer, Bruce Jones; artist, Scott Kolins; colorist, Lee Loughridge; letterer, Dave Sharpe; editor, John Miesegaes; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Hulk / Wolverine: Six Hours 3 (April 2003)

Hulk / Wolverine: Six Hours #3

Jones maintains a great pace through Six Hours. He’s got his four plot lines going–Bruce and Logan, the villain (the Shredder, because apparently Eastman and Laird don’t know how to copyright), the captive pilot and the missing boy’s parents back in Florida. It moves really well; Jones doesn’t cover a lot of time, but he does spend just the right amount on each characters’ experiences.

Unfortunately, he also has some really goofy dialogue. And Bruce and Logan barely have anything to do in the comic. They bicker a lot. Jones isn’t big on character development and he’s even less inclined to spend any time developing his two leads. The cliffhanger, with Bruce and Logan versus the Shredder (or at least the first attack), is just silly.

Dialogue aside, it’s also silly because it’s a big action set piece on a tranquil lake. Kolins does fine on art, lake and all.

B- 

CREDITS

Writer, Bruce Jones; artist, Scott Kolins; colorist, Lee Loughridge; letterer, Dave Sharpe; editor, John Miesegaes; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Hulk / Wolverine: Six Hours 2 (March 2003)

Hulk / Wolverine: 6 Hours #2

Kolins goes more into detail this issue than he did in the first. The exterior Canadian mountains are precise and intense; it makes Six Hours a distinct-looking comic, even when Kolins occasionally has problems. He doesn’t deal with movement particularly well.

The story is reasonably successful, although Jones introduces an absurd villain and gives him crappy dialogue. Kolins runs with the art on the guy, who wears a hood and has an extended arm with claws on it. No doubt he’ll get into it with Wolverine one of these issues.

And Wolvering finally gets to come into the issue, but he and Bruce Banner are just around to move the other story. Banner and Logan have no stories (so far) in Six Hours, they’re just caricatures. It’s the supporting cast who Jones most concentrates on, including a worried family and a mob boss.

It’s a peculiar, but reasonably successful, approach.

B 

CREDITS

Writer, Bruce Jones; artist, Scott Kolins; colorist, Lee Loughridge; letterer, Dave Sharpe; editor, John Miesegaes; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Hulk / Wolverine: Six Hours 1 (March 2003)

Hulk / Wolverine: 6 Hours #1

Writer Bruce Jones takes great care plotting out this first issue. He reveals the significance of the Six Hours title towards the middle of the issue, during the first intense, action set piece. There are a couple of those set pieces, with the beginning of the issue instead dedicated to setting up the supporting cast.

Bruce Banner is on the run and just happens to be at the airport when the men in black are after him so why not hop a flight to Canada. Things don’t go well on that flight, which Jones set into motion during the first quarter of the issue. He also moves between different characters and scenes through similar dialogue; it’s all very deliberate and it definitely creates tension.

The Wolverine appearance so far is inconsequential to the story. Jones is teasing.

Scott Kolins art is an odd fit for a wilderness story, but successful.

B+ 

CREDITS

Writer, Bruce Jones; artist, Scott Kolins; colorist, Lee Loughridge; letterer, Dave Sharpe; editor, John Miesegaes; publisher, Marvel Comics.

The Incredible Hulk 76 (October 2004)

The Incredible Hulk #76

It’s hard to feel bad about Doc Samson getting his butt kicked after he just lectured the Hulk on the importance of corporal punishment for children.

Did Jones even think about what he was writing? Did his editors read the scripts?

Braithwaite and Reinhold are back on art. Sometimes they’re a little better than usual, but Braithwaite’s Hulk is still awful.

I guess Jones’s wrap-up of his huge conspiracy story line makes “sense.” It’s not a good wrap-up, but it’s better than where he tries to leave Bruce Banner at the end of it. Maybe the closing line–with someone being real mean in a Hulk description–calls back to an earlier comic. I hope so, because, otherwise, it’s just a crappy line.

Jones leaves the comic much in the place he started it. He wipes the slate clean and leaves Bruce Banner far less a character than he started out with.

F 

CREDITS

Shattered; writer, Bruce Jones; penciller, Dougie Braithwaite; inker, Bill Reinhold; colorist, Raul Trevino; letterer, Randy Gentile; editors, Cory Sedlmeier and Axel Alonso; publisher, Marvel Comics.

The Incredible Hulk 75 (October 2004)

The Incredible Hulk #75

Here I thought Darick Robertson and Tom Palmer on the art would help….

It does help for a while. But the issue’s double-sized and once Doc Samson shows up, maybe a quarter of the way in, the art starts sliding.

Jones reveals the mastermind behind all of Bruce Banner’s troubles. It gets sillier when the villain explains all of it; the ludicrousness of Jones’s conspiracy doesn’t hold up well under examination.

There’s a slightly interesting gimmick, which Jones shuts down so he can bring back the supporting cast. I’m not sure how Nadia–just a regular small business owner in Nevada or somewhere–can get to L.A. in a matter of hours to help save the day. Worse, Tony Stark is around to hang out with Doc Samson. Wouldn’t it make more sense for Tony to help as Iron Man? Or maybe call the Avengers.

It’s a lousy comic.

D- 

CREDITS

Wake To Nightmare; writer, Bruce Jones; penciller, Darick Robertson; inker, Tom Palmer; colorist, Raul Trevino; letterer, Randy Gentile; editors, John Miesegaes and Axel Alonso; publisher, Marvel Comics.

The Incredible Hulk 74 (September 2004)

The Incredible Hulk #74

I don’t like finishing a comic wondering what the heck I’ve just read. Getting through this issue of Hulk isn’t just troublesome because of the incredibly uneven art–Braithwaite and Reinhold spend the least amount of time on the big fight between Hulk and Iron Man–but through the constant stupidity.

Jones boils down his resolution to a confession, which doesn’t make much sense. Of course, having the drama hinge around Tony Stark having a suicidal girlfriend with a lock-picking, would-be amateur assassin brother doesn’t make much sense either.

Then there’s poor Bruce Banner. What’s he doing this arc? Following Tony around mostly. Only neither character has a real arc. Tony’s is superficial, Bruce is just a spectator. Jones doesn’t spend any time on Bruce outside him helping with the experiment.

There are numerous false endings too. It’s easily the worst issue Jones has done on the title.

F 

CREDITS

Big Things, Part Four; writer, Bruce Jones; penciller, Dougie Braithwaite; inker, Bill Reinhold; colorist, Rainier Beredo; letterer, Randy Gentile; editors, John Miesegaes and Axel Alonso; publisher, Marvel Comics.

The Incredible Hulk 73 (August 2004)

The Incredible Hulk #73

Watching Braithwaite try to do depth in panels gets painful fast. Bruce is pointing at Tony Stark in one panel and the hand is at exactly the same depth as his body. Maybe it’s Bill Reinhold’s inks, but there’s something definitely off with the art.

Also off is the story. Bruce Banner is still helping Tony Stark on a government contract. There’s a third scientist on the project and he’s mad at Tony, then there’s the guy who Tony’s holding hostage (he did try to kill him so apparently it’s okay). Throw in a Playmate who plays waitress to everyone and Jones has set up a really disturbed version of “The Real World.” Oh, and they’re all stuck in the Stark mansion.

Lousy dialogue and bad characterizations don’t help things. Bruce isn’t just different from the rest of Jones’s run, he’s different from the last issue.

Jones’s checked out completely.

D- 

CREDITS

Big Things, Part Three: Shock Waves; writer, Bruce Jones; penciller, Dougie Braithwaite; inker, Bill Reinhold; colorist, Rainier Beredo; letterer, Randy Gentile; editors, John Miesegaes and Axel Alonso; publisher, Marvel Comics.

John Carpenter’s Asylum 5 (April 2014)

John Carpenter's Asylum #5

It isn’t enough for there to be one exorcism this issue, Jones has to flashback to a previous exorcism. The flashback does get some of the back story between the priests out of the way, which is good, but it’s a whole lot of demonic art. Manco has almost nothing to draw except demons in various stages of upset this issue.

As for Jones, for the most part he’s just got to write priests saying lines out of Exorcist movies. Not particularly heavy lifting for him. Manco at least has a lot to do. There’s a double-page spread of angels and demons–it’s totally useless as far as narrative value, but it’s very detailed work from Manco.

There are some big plot developments and big things for cast members. Unfortunately, there’s so little concern for the cast it doesn’t really matter who’s in danger.

Besides Manco, Asylum’s running near on empty.

C- 

CREDITS

Writers, Bruce Jones, Sandy King and Trent Olsen; artist, Leonardo Manco; colorist, Kinsun Loh; letterer, Janice Chiang; editor, King; publisher, Storm King Comics.

The Incredible Hulk 72 (July 2004)

The Incredible Hulk #72

Deodato has some kind of painted thing going on. It’s not good and it’s often unclear what’s going on–and there are real problems with montage–but at least he’s not doing the little panels for big action.

The issue continues with the Iron Man guest appearance. There’s a strange fight scene where Bruce is in Iron Man armor fighting Tony. Because Tony wants to prove his innocence regarding a girl who committed suicide. It makes no sense; Jones’s editors must have been napping.

Even though Bruce Banner is front and center again, but Jones is more using him as an add-on to an Iron Man story. And the Iron Man story is bad. Jones doesn’t have much insight into Tony as a character; none of his actions make sense. He’s just around for the murky art crossover.

The crossover is a complete misfire. Jones has lost his grip.

D 

CREDITS

Big Things, Part Two: Strange Bedfellows; writer, Bruce Jones; artist, Mike Deodato Jr.; colorist, Rainier Beredo; letterer, Randy Gentile; editors, John Miesegaes and Axel Alonso; publisher, Marvel Comics.

The Incredible Hulk 71 (June 2004)

The Incredible Hulk #71

Bruce is in L.A., no matter why, and he runs across a Tony Stark press conference. So they fight and team up. They fight because Tony can’t recognize Bruce in his sunglasses. Very convenient disguise.

There’s a lot of talking, some confusing art from Deodato–though he’s better than usual–and more of Bruce being able to turn immediately into the Hulk. One thing about that instantaneous change? Jones has never really said how Bruce feels about it. Has he turned the Hulk into a tool? Isn’t the Hulk his own guy to some degree? How does he feel about it?

All these questions go unasked and unanswered and are far more interesting than the comic itself. It’s unclear what Bruce is on the run from this time, which is another thing Jones could have explored but does not.

Worse, the arc’s four parts and Iron Man’s a lousy guest.

D 

CREDITS

Big Things, Part One; writer, Bruce Jones; artist, Mike Deodato Jr.; colorist, Hermes Tadeo; letterer, Randy Gentile; editors, John Miesegaes and Axel Alonso; publisher, Marvel Comics.

The Incredible Hulk 70 (June 2004)

The Incredible Hulk #70

Deodato is back once again. And, once again, the art is bad. This time there’s a lot Deodato can’t do. He can’t do the talking heads, he can’t handle Bruce willfully turning into the Hulk for a quick emergency.

And it’s too bad, because the issue’s a reasonable done in one where Bruce meets up with a clairvoyant on the FBI payroll. Most of the issue is the two men talking while the clairvoyant can see things unfolding.

Jones doesn’t exploit it as a narrative device enough, but Deodato couldn’t handle it if he did anyway. But the issue’s decent. Bruce and the guy talk through the issue, Jones getting in a couple twists. It doesn’t explain why the guy didn’t try to find the Hulk before, like during the national manhunt, but whatever.

Too bad Jones didn’t do his run more episodically, it would’ve worked. Minus Deodato, of course.

B- 

CREDITS

Simetry; writer, Bruce Jones; artist, Mike Deodato Jr.; colorist, Hermes Tadeo; letterer, Randy Gentile; editors, John Miesegaes and Axel Alonso; publisher, Marvel Comics.

The Incredible Hulk 69 (May 2004)

The Incredible Hulk #69

After spending the first third of the book setting up the best Hulk fight since he’s been on the run–the way Jones paces out the banter between Hulk and evil spider-clone Hulk (don’t ask) is perfect–Jones trashes the whole thing. He goes back to his talking heads model. Down to no one really having anything to say to one another.

There’s an awkward lack of ambition to those scenes. Doc, Betty and Nadia’s lives are wrought with angst and Jones goes for easy bickering. Not even inventive easy bickering, just page-filling easy bickering. He comes up with a mystery and has to do everything in service of it. The mystery isn’t a good one and he handles it poorly.

The lack of ambition isn’t just lazy dialogue, it’s much worse–it’s Bruce Banner. He’s a marionette. Jones has stopped implying he has any depth. Hulk’s the only interesting thing about him.

C- 

CREDITS

Dead Like Me, Part Four: Trust Me; writer, Bruce Jones; penciller, Dougie Braithwaite; inker, Bill Reinhold; colorist, Studio F; letterer, Randy Gentile; editors, John Miesegaes and Axel Alonso; publisher, Marvel Comics.

The Incredible Hulk 68 (May 2004)

The Incredible Hulk #68

Jones gets the whole cast together and things finally start improving. Braithwaite draws Bruce as this vaguely awkward, aging pudgy guy. It’s a very interesting visualization of the character; it goes to making him seem a little less familiar even. Oddly enough, the second half of the issue has Jones’s most traditional use of Bruce Banner in many issues.

But bringing the cast together–back at Nadia’s roadside restaurant–reveals another big problem with Jones’s run. It’s very small. Same people, same places; every time it seems like Jones is actually building outward, he just turns around and constricts.

He doesn’t even bother coming up with an inventive villain this arc. Since the whole point is to put the characters in the same room again–somewhere he already had them at the end of the last arc–he just needs a disposable villain.

Jones doesn’t plot Hulk well. The issue’s simultaneously okay and not.

C+ 

CREDITS

Dead Like Me, Part Three: “Hello,” He Lied; writer, Bruce Jones; penciller, Dougie Braithwaite; inker, Bill Reinhold; colorist, Studio F; letterer, Randy Gentile; editors, John Miesegaes and Axel Alonso; publisher, Marvel Comics.

The Incredible Hulk 67 (April 2004)

The Incredible Hulk #67

It’s a Hulk without even Bruce Banner. And I can’t figure out why. Usually when Jones takes forever with an issue, there’s at least an imaginative conversation going on. Lots of literary references, whatever. But not this issue. Here’s it just Doc and Betty arguing while Nadia Blonsky is in danger.

Where’s Bruce? He left Nadia alone so she could be in danger and Jones could get a cliffhanger out of it.

Nadia running from a variety of creepy things isn’t bad. If Jones had something else going on in the comic, it’d be a fine thing to fill the action quota. But Doc Samson playing with his lab equipment and Betty sounding bitter don’t offer anything. Jones is spinning his wheels to get through another issue and then he’ll rush to get Bruce back into it.

It’s a standard approach on the book.

The decent art helps a lot.

C- 

CREDITS

Dead Like Me, Part Two: Bury Me Not; writer, Bruce Jones; penciller, Dougie Braithwaite; inker, Bill Reinhold; colorist, Studio F; letterer, Randy Gentile; editors, John Miesegaes and Axel Alonso; publisher, Marvel Comics.

The Incredible Hulk 66 (March 2004)

The Incredible Hulk #66

Jones gets a far better art–Dougie Braithwaite on pencils, Bill Reinhold on inks–and decides to celebrate. Of course, his celebration is dragging his cast through the dirt. He’s got Bruce emotionally pounding on Nadia, who’s a fine enough regular supporting cast member so it’s too bad Jones didn’t establish her more, and then he’s got Betty pounding–literally–on Doc Samson.

No one is happy how things are going or who they’re bedding down with. In all that unhappiness, Jones does do some explaining about off page things in the previous issues, but he also shows his hand. He wants to ruminate on the unhappiness of these characters; it’s unclear if he had any other point with his Hulk except to get them here.

While the issue’s often finely executed, Jones doesn’t offer any glimpses of growth. All he’s setting up for is decay. Unpleasant to read decay.

B- 

CREDITS

Dead Like Me, Part One; writer, Bruce Jones; penciller, Dougie Braithwaite; inker, Bill Reinhold; colorist, Studio F; letterer, Randy Gentile; editors, John Miesegaes and Axel Alonso; publisher, Marvel Comics.

The Incredible Hulk 65 (March 2004)

The Incredible Hulk #65

Here’s the thing. If Jones had structured this series better, been less concerned with diversions like the Absorbing Man, he might have been able to do a fantastic storyline regarding the Banner, the bunnies, Doc Samson, the evil conspiracy. It would have worked. The issue works to some degree just because Jones lets the characters all feel the weight of what’s occurring.

Terrible Deodato art. His page composition, not panel composition, but his page by page layouts of panels is atrocious.

Even though this issue’s a big wrap up–hopefully Jones will soft boot the title next issue–there’s a lot of good action sequences. There’s Samson and the bunnies going into the base, there’s Nadia and Bruce Banner. Jones is very deliberate about how he pulls one over on the reader, but it’s kind of all right. He’s doing the same thing to his characters.

Shame about the art.

B- 

CREDITS

Split Decisions, Part Six: Double Exposure; writer, Bruce Jones; artist, Mike Deodato Jr.; colorist, Studio F; letterer, Randy Gentile; editors, John Miesegaes and Axel Alonso; publisher, Marvel Comics.

The Incredible Hulk 64 (February 2004)

The Incredible Hulk #64

Oh, good grief. When Deodato goes for artistic it’s a really bad page. Also when he goes for Hulk action. Hulk rips open a mountain. Is it any good? Nope, it’s boring.

But the issue is otherwise not bad at all. Between the Hulk smashing the evil organization, which brings those two parts of the arc together, and Doc Samson and his bunnies–Sandra, Mr. Blue (nope, not spoiling because it doesn’t matter yet) and Nadia–fighting the mean little monsters. It’s effective stuff, the people in crisis, out of bullets. Not sure why the women had to take off their clothes but Jones is maybe trying to tell the reader Doc Samson shouldn’t be trusted.

Then there’s the cliffhanger. Jones has always had problems with his big hook for the series. The cliffhanger just reestablishes the hook and the problem.

The series is slowly improving, even with its problems.

C 

CREDITS

Split Decisions, Part Five: Deja Vu; writer, Bruce Jones; artist, Mike Deodato Jr.; colorist, Studio F; letterer, Randy Gentile; editors, John Miesegaes and Axel Alonso; publisher, Marvel Comics.

The Incredible Hulk 63 (January 2004)

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I guess this issue’s an improvement; the series is so far along at this point it’s hard to tell. But the banter between characters goes away a little. Doc Samson and Sandra (she’s the regenerating spy who started out Jones’s run or somewhere towards the beginning) don’t have any banter. It’s just Mr. Blue and Nadia. Jones again feels the need to turn every female character into an action hero. They aren’t heroes in the moment, they’ve had training. It’s ludicrous.

The comic sort of feels like Jones wanted to do some kind of espionage thriller and married it to Hulk. This issue, though the Hulk’s in the comic far more than usual–even for Hulk issues–he’s just a sideshow attraction. The real story is the giant conspiracy.

It’s boring to read a comic without a main character. Especially a comic called The Incredible Hulk.

Still, the cliffhanger’s not half bad.

C 

CREDITS

Split Decisions, Part Four: Blue Moon; writer, Bruce Jones; artist, Mike Deodato Jr.; colorist, Studio F; letterer, Cory Petit; editors, John Miesegaes and Axel Alonso; publisher, Marvel Comics.

The Incredible Hulk 62 (December 2003)

The Incredible Hulk #62

I can’t think of a more boring artist to do night scenes than Deodato. All of the art seems hurried, though some of it couldn’t be. Jones introduces little monsters who hunt Mr. Blue and Nadia. Except, of course, this issue is also where Jones reveals Mr. Blue’s identity.

He could have hinted at it better, especially during the endless conversations with Nadia. Two essentially unarmed women against hundreds of little alien-like things (alien like Aliens, no design originality award here) and Jones has them banter. It’s all exposition, so why not exposition with subtext.

There’s also some stuff with Doc Samson and his lady friend. Bruce Banner drives. Supposedly the lead character in the comic and he drives around.

Bringing all the supporting cast together is just revealing how little Jones needed them for except for expository purposes. Hulk hasn’t just lost texture, it’s lost Jones’s ramblings too.

C-

CREDITS

Split Decisions, Part Two: Night Eyes; writer, Bruce Jones; artist, Mike Deodato Jr.; colorist, Studio F; letterer, Cory Petit; editors, Warren Simons, John Miesegaes and Axel Alonso; publisher, Marvel Comics.

The Incredible Hulk 61 (November 2003)

The Incredible Hulk #61

Deodato uses a lot of six panel pages. Not just for conversations, though there are a lot of conversations this issue, but he uses them for action too. Big action at the size of a thumbnail, how rewarding. It’s not even good small sized big action. Deodato skimps on the details; the smaller size is an excuse.

But even with good art, it wouldn’t be a good issue. There are now three sets of characters, Bruce and some guy he hangs out with at a bathhouse (really), Doc Samson who’s now a government assassin and then Nadia and Mr. Blue. Mr. Blue being a woman. Jones is trying to fill an issue with the back and forth conversations. It’s all really bad.

Still, there’s a good cliffhanger. Even with the bad Deodato art. Jones introduces a new threat, which might prove interesting. But probably visually interesting.

It’s a weak issue.

C- 

CREDITS

Split Decisions, Part Two: From Shadowed Places; writer, Bruce Jones; artist, Mike Deodato Jr.; colorist, Studio F; letterer, Cory Petit; editors, Warren Simons, John Miesegaes and Axel Alonso; publisher, Marvel Comics.

The Incredible Hulk 60 (November 2003)

The Incredible Hulk #60

Poor Bruce Jones. He gets back to the conspiracy storyline, brings back in Doc Samson–reimagined as some kind of super-spy–and generally gets the series moving again towards something. Sure, Banner barely has anything to do but the narrative works. Jones splits it between Banner, Samson and Nadia (the Abomination’s wife) and ties them all together trying to get the mystery laptops to work.

All in all, the narrative is successful. Jones goes for an artful cliffhanger rather than a rewarding or intriguing one but artful’s okay.

But Deodato’s back on the art and he butchers it. The juxtaposed fight scenes are awful, the Doc Samson fight scene is awful, even the Banner sitting in a cafe is awful. Deodato misappropriates his artistic attentions. The fight scenes should be compelling, what with Jones’s placement of them in the narrative, instead they’re painful to the eye.

It’s a shame.

B- 

CREDITS

Split Decisions, Part One; writer, Bruce Jones; artist, Mike Deodato Jr.; colorist, Studio F; letterer, Cory Petit; editors, Jennifer Huang, Warren Simons, John Miesegaes and Axel Alonso; publisher, Marvel Comics.

The Incredible Hulk 59 (October 2003)

The Incredible Hulk #59

I don’t tend to go on at length about bad art. Well, maybe I do sometimes. But not often.

This issue features the Hulk versus the Absorbing Man. Fernandez might draw the Hulk bad, but the Absorbing Man? Oh, he’s a disaster. From the panel Creel gets out–maybe even a few panels earlier where an establishing shot or two gets missed–the issue is a disaster. Fernandez is clearly trying, there’s lots of detail, it’s just inept visual storytelling.

There’s also a lack of commitment from Jones. The arc’s plot threads don’t great resolved; he sends Bruce off into the sunrise, Bill Bixby-style, ready for his next episode. There’s an orphaned kid and the super-woman female lead of the arc not getting any resolution. Worse, there’s even an ominous epilogue.

Jones also loses the too smart supervillain vibe this issue. It’s bad stuff, disjointed and rather dispassionate.

C- 

CREDITS

Hide in Plain Sight, Part Five; writer, Bruce Jones; artist, Leandro Fernandez; colorist, Steve Buccellato; letterer, Cory Petit; editors, Warren Simons, John Miesegaes and Axel Alonso; publisher, Marvel Comics.

The Incredible Hulk 58 (September 2003)

The Incredible Hulk #58

There’s no nice way to phrase this observation so I’m going to just go ahead–Jones gives his female characters, in particular the New York paralegal or whatever she is, way too much credit. Unless he reveals her to be a trained law enforcement officer (like most of his strong female members), it’s just absurd. She can track Banner on the run, she carries night vision binoculars, she’s cool when confronted with Creel possessing a little kid… she’s practically Rambo.

It’s too much. It’s not even clear why she needs to be here, other than Jones likes her. Her scenes with Bruce are good too. It’s the other ones where there are problems.

Almost nothing happens this issue. It’s not a bridging issue, it’s a train ride issue. Bruce and Creel take the train to the final action. Fernandez’s Hulk scene is awful.

Besides decent plot details, this issue’s plodding.

C 

CREDITS

Hide in Plain Sight, Part Four: Brain Dead; writer, Bruce Jones; artist, Leandro Fernandez; colorist, Steve Buccellato; letterer, Cory Petit; editors, Warren Simons, John Miesegaes and Axel Alonso; publisher, Marvel Comics.

The Incredible Hulk 57 (September 2003)

200828

Here's Jones's problem, at least with this arc–he can't tell this story with the Hulk. So far it has little or nothing to do with the bigger conspiracy story, it's just about Bruce Banner getting involved with the Absorbing Man's ingenious plan to free himself and kill a bunch of innocent people in the process.

But Jones hasn't really established why Crusher Creel (the Absorbing Man) is fixated on the Hulk. They've fought before, but Jones gives them a Batman versus the Joker thing this issue and I realized… Jones is writing a DC story. He's not writing for the Hulk and its constraints, he's trying to fit it to match this story more suited for a DC comic.

No wonder it isn't working.

As for the art, Fernandez does okay. It's no longer visually compelling, just because the action is out of New York, but it's okay enough.

C 

CREDITS

Hide in Plain Sight, Part Three: A Mind of His Own; writer, Bruce Jones; artist, Leandro Fernandez; colorist, Steve Buccellato; letterer, Cory Petit; editors, Warren Simons, John Miesegaes and Axel Alonso; publisher, Marvel Comics.

The Incredible Hulk 56 (August 2003)

200827

Much as I enjoy Fernandez's art with setting and people, he's not a good Hulk artist. The Hulk has very, very awkward proportions. Pudgy almost. Muscularly pudgy.

But since it's a Bruce Jones Hulk there's not much Hulk action. Instead, he splits the comic between Bruce (Banner) and his new lady friend recovering from an Absorbing Man possession and then the things going on back at the Absorbing Man's cell.

Jones is trying hard to give Bruce something more to do than smash, he's just trying to hard to use existing ideas. Absorbing Man is okay, but the powers are more important than the character, so Jones has to spread himself thin rationalizing the Absorbing Man cameo.

There are some weird moments at the end. They're more interesting than anything else. The narrative is pretty set once Jones opens the comic.

Still, the issue is fair enough, if decidedly undercooked.

C+ 

CREDITS

Hide in Plain Sight, Part Two: Inside Out; writer, Bruce Jones; artist, Leandro Fernandez; colorist, Steve Buccellato; letterer, Dave Sharpe; editors, Warren Simons, John Miesegaes and Axel Alonso; publisher, Marvel Comics.

The Incredible Hulk 55 (August 2003)

128327

Leandro Fernandez to the rescue! Not just regular Leandro Fernandez either, but doing a walking and talking scene through Central Park at twilight. It’s a gorgeous issue.

And Fernandez alone isn’t responsible for rescuing Jones and Hulk (it’s just one issue after all). Jones opens from scratch. Banner on the run. He’s in New York, he meets a girl. Turns out she works at the special prison holding the Absorbing Man. There are cuts to the story going on in that prison with her coworkers (and Creel). Jones has lots to do, lots of characters and subplots to establish and he gets them done.

But his Banner story is just this walk with the good doctor and a girl. There’s a plotting reason she’s the girl he’s chatting with, but it’s still a nice sequence with fabulous art. Jones is indulging himself a little and it’s nice to see again.

B 

CREDITS

Hide in Plain Sight, Part One; writer, Bruce Jones; artist, Leandro Fernandez; colorist, Studio F; letterer, Dave Sharpe; editors, Warren Simons, John Miesegaes and Axel Alonso; publisher, Marvel Comics.

The Incredible Hulk 54 (August 2003)

774294

And here’s that double-issue long Hulk fight Jones has never done before and now it’s clear why… Because he’s no good at it. Jones and Deodato have a rhythm to the fight. There’s the fight, there’s the side action (sometimes the Abomination’s wife, sometimes the bad guys in a helicopter). Those are usually six panel pages. So you get little panels for big fight moments. Or there’s the half double-page spread device, which Deodato uses a lot.

Here’s the thing about Deodato’s art. He knows how to compose the frame. With the half double-page spreads, action starts on the left page, moves to the right. It’s wholly competent and incredibly boring. The fight’s just Hulk and Abomination saying nasty stuff to each other between punches, at least it could look engaging.

Jones sort of resets the ground situation at the end, which is good, Hulk needs it.

C 

CREDITS

Dark Mind, Dark Hearts, Part Five: Welcome to Entropy; writer, Bruce Jones; artist, Mike Deodato Jr.; colorist, Studio F; letterers, Richard Starkings and Wes Abbott; editors, Warren Simons, John Miesegaes and Axel Alonso; publisher, Marvel Comics.

The Incredible Hulk 53 (July 2003)

901318

I haven’t talked about Deodato’s tendency towards wide faces because there have been more interesting things to talk about. Not anymore. Sadly, Jones’s stalling has continued and gotten worse–this issue and the previous easily could have been wrapped into one.

What happens this issue? Bruce finds out about the girl, whose motives are simple and noirish but way too small for such a big story, and the Abomination gets out.

The problem’s how Deodato breaks out the story. He doesn’t have a good way of visualizing Banner’s forced hallucinations, he doesn’t have a good way of visualizing the Abomination’s rampage. Yes, he can do a splash page of destruction, but there’s no gravitas to it. There’s no sense of mood. Sure, the art’s dark, but dark isn’t mood.

The cliffhanger promises a final issue to the story arc. Hopefully Jones can correct the series’s decline once he’s done here.

C 

CREDITS

Dark Mind, Dark Hearts, Part Four: Enemy Mine; writer, Bruce Jones; artist, Mike Deodato Jr.; colorist, Studio F; letterers, Richard Starkings and Wes Abbott; editors, Warren Simons, John Miesegaes and Axel Alonso; publisher, Marvel Comics.

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