Buckle up, True Believers, this will take a few minutes to properly set up. For those that are already up on the recent history of the Hulk, skip to the good part.
A clandestine group of Marvel heroes calling themselves The Illuminati decide that the Hulk represents a clear and present danger to Earth. They send him off-planet to protect the public from another rampage. The navigation system of the spacecraft malfunctions and transports him to the primitive planet Sakaar instead of their intended target.
Hulk forges a new life for himself, winning over Caiera Oldstrong. She soon discovered that she was pregnant. Then the shuttle that brought him to Sakaar explodes, killing Caiera. The Hulk blames the Illuminati and returns to Earth to seek revenge. Iron Man eventually manages to stop the Hulk by accessing the weapon systems of orbiting S.H.I.E.L.D. satellites and fire upon the Hulk in unison. He reverts to Banner and is taken to Gamma Base in Death Valley, Nevada and placed in a specialized cell. At this point the Hulk's story continues in "Hulk (Vol. 2)". What follows is a summary of the events in that title so far.
Issues #1-6: The Abomination (Emil Blonsky) is found dead. S.H.I.E.L.D. learns of the existence of a Red Hulk who is responsible for the murder. Banner escapes from his cell and transforms into the dumb green Hulk. Red Hulk is ultimately defeated by the green Hulk. Rick Jones transforms into the new Abomination, code-named A-Bomb. General Ross and Doc Samson are allied with those that created the Red Hulk and capture Rick Jones.
King-Size Hulk #1: Red Hulk goes on a day trip to Canada where he kills The Wendigo. He isn't aware that multiple Wendigos exist and cousins want to avenge his death.
Issues 7-9: Both Banner and the Wendigo pack search for Red Hulk and encounter each other in Las Vegas. Ms. Marvel, Sentry, Moon Knight, and Brother Voodoo assist the Hulk in stopping them. In the backup story, She-Hulk recruits her gal pals to capture the Red Hulk. This doesn't quite work out and the Red Hulk escapes.
Issues 10-12: The Collector and Grandmaster pit the Hulk and his time-displaced Defenders (Namor, Silver Surfer, and Dr. Strange) against the Red Hulk and his "Offenders" (Tiger Shark, Terrax, and Baron Mordo). The rules are simple: one team will die, the other will live. Actually both teams lived and it was a pointless arc.
Very few clues have been left that point to the identity of the Red Hulk. He is as powerful as the original. His true identity is on file with Gamma Base. He clearly has a vendetta against Banner and is very familiar with the core cast. He is intelligent, crafty, and has some powerful backers.
Three nights ago, Ben Urich receives an anonymous call for a secret meeting. After some cloak and dagger exercises (changing cabs and meeting in a empty parking garage) he learns that his informant is She-Hulk.
She tells Urich that there are now two Hulks. She wants him to help her uncover the identity of the Red Hulk. She is trying to maintain a low profile as her activities are being monitored by unidentified agencies. Urich asks her to tell him everything she knows otherwise he can't help.
She tells Urich that Banner was taken by SHIELD to Gamma Base. General Ross was given charge of this operation despite having a personal relationship with the prisoner. The fact that he knows nothing about the Red Hulk or his activities indicates a massive cover up.
She instructs Urich to meet her at JFK airport tomorrow night. Flight 659 to Las Vegas. Bring a photographer that he can trust. They will meet up with the final member of their group there.
Ben convinces Peter Parker to accompany him to Las Vegas for this super-secret mission. They arrive at Gamma Base and meet Doc Samson at the pre-arranged spot. He presents Peter and Ben with confiscated A.I.M. radiation suits and instructs them to put them on. They wade through the sewer and enter into the complex.
Making their way through the air ducts they find the main lab. Both Banner and A-Bomb (Rick Jones) have been captured. The lab is under the direction of MODOK and his A.I.M. agents. They are experimenting on A-Bomb while Banner is unconscious.
Doc Samson begins to fill in some of the missing pieces. MODOK is the man behind the capture of the Hulk. He altered the satellite weapons system to use refracted cosmic energy to shut down the Hulk. He had Banner brought to this location. Once they arrived, Samson admits that they performed experiments on them. The objective was to create a gamma-powered super-soldier program.
She-Hulk asks why he didn't tell them this earlier. Samson struggles to tell them that MODOK's brainwashing prevented him from doing so. Before any additional information can be disclosed, Samson undergoes a transformation in which his short hair becomes shoulder length and he rips out of his shirt to become "Evil Samson".
She-Hulk tackles Samson, pushing him through the wall to separate him from Ben and Peter. When Ben sticks his head out of the opening, he is face to face with the Red Hulk. As Red Hulk reaches for Ben, Spider-Man appears and runs interference.
Banner awakens in time to see the Red Hulk gain the advantage over Spider-Man and wills the transformation. Hulk then attacks Red Hulk, which result in severe damages the gamma core powering the facility. The countdown to the detonation of the core begins.
The Red Hulk is bored with the pointless fighting, so he decides to stop the Hulk once and for all. He absorbs all the gamma radiation from the Hulk, causing him to revert to Banner. The Red Hulk then announces that Banner will never be able to change into the Hulk again. This angers MODOK as the Hulk was part of his plan.
Spider-Man grabs Urich and makes their way outside. A-Bomb does likewise with Banner. Red Hulk stands watch over Samson and She-Hulk to ensure they don't leave. After the base is destroyed, Ben finds Peter. Peter states that Spider-Man saved him, but dodges any further questions.
Once they return to New York, Urich is called to another secret meeting in a parking garage. This time he meets the Red Hulk, who advises him to bury the story otherwise he will kill the people at the Front Line paper.
Ben decides to bury the story rather than put other people's lives in danger. He writes the story for his own benefit but will not publish it. He knows that the identity of the Red Hulk is nothing compared to the big picture: General Ross is working with a known terrorist group to create gamma powered soldiers.
First of all I am angry that they killed the Abomination, one of the few notable enemies of the Hulk. I'm not sure if this will take or not, but for now Blonsky's dead. They replace him with a Rick Jones incarnation called "A-Bomb". This childish name seems appropriate for this particular development as he is portrayed as a harmless monster with a terrifying appearance. Much like the character Sulley in Monsters, Inc.
Speaking of childish names, I am tired of characters/fans referring to the Red Hulk by the Scooby-Doo-inspired portmanteau of "Rulk". This is a poor naming choice. In the beginning "Red Hulk" was acceptable, but at this stage, they should switch to more ominous name like "Meltdown" or "Retribution".
As of this writing, Hulk (Vol. 2) has done a poor job addressing any of the new and potentially interesting plot points (Red Hulk, new Abomination, betrayal of General Ross and Doc Samson). Instead they have chosen to embark on pointless arcs that come out of nowhere.
Which leads me to this issue. There was little setup for this issue in the preceding 12 issues. It was established in issue #6 that Ross and Samson are working for whoever created the Red Hulk and that they captured Rick Jones. From that point, there was no foreshadowing, not even a mention of what had happened in the previous issues beyond the existence of the Red Hulk.
At the end of the story, the readers have no more information than before. The fact that MODOK is trying to build a gamma-powered army is almost lost in the array of pointless information thrown at the reader. For all this contributed to the story, they could have had shown Dr. Doom polishing his armor and had the same effect.
Most of the story elements are undefined or poorly conceived:
There are still too many unknowns at this point. It seems to me that Loeb and the editors are willing to drag this identity issue out well beyond its expiration date. They are content with a mystery that has very few clues and does not engage the reader in any capacity. They want a one-dimensional villain that happens to look like the Hulk. They want this aspect to be the selling point of the book. The one thing they don't want is to put a lot of effort into the story.
2 webs. The team missed a golden opportunity to resolve at least one of the unanswered questions from the series. While they revealed that the Red Hulk is part of a larger conspiracy involving MODOK and a gamma-powered army, it's not enough given the lengthy time we've had to wait for it. Even having the Red Hulk cure Banner fails to generate any interest. We all know that won't last too long.
Loeb was so busy trying to create an atmosphere of secrecy that he forgot to include a sense of urgency. This issue is best described as a long-winded exposition that tells you nothing, a fight between monsters that amounts to a shoving match, and the dramatic de-powering of the title character.
As a mystery, any momentum it may have had is now lost. This is no longer a puzzle that can be solved, this is a marketing exercise to be exploited. When they finally reveal the identity of the Red Hulk it will have as much impact to readers as it would to tell them the identity of the person that shot J.R. Ewing. As a battle between Hulks, there wasn't much of a fight, and now we're down one Hulk.
Ed McGuinness' talent has been wasted on this title. While his artwork has been consistently good throughout the series, it has been used to cover up the lack of story. Instead of a compelling story which makes the best use of these well-constructed panels, we are left with flashy images and a story that has all the depth of a plastic kiddie pool from Target.
Check out World War Hulk #1 for the story behind the Hulk's return to Earth.
For the record, a reprint of Hulk: Gray #1 was included in this issue. This showcases what Loeb can do when he tries.