Characters Appearing: Abomination, Angel, Beast, Cyclops, Glenn Talbot, Havok, Hulk, Iceman, Jean Grey, Leader, Polaris, Professor X
Savage Hulk #1-4
Issue(s): Savage Hulk #1, Savage Hulk #2, Savage Hulk #3, Savage Hulk #4
This story is set in the aftermath of the X-Men's cancellation with X-Men #66. I'll quote from my Speed Review on that topic:
Problem is that this story is potentially overloading the period in the immediate aftermath of the X-Men/Hulk fight at the end of their original series. Both John Byrne's Hidden Years and Gage/Alberti's X-Men/Spider-Man #1 take place then, and my understanding is that Erik Larsen's Fantastic Four World's Greatest Comics Magazine has X-Men appearances there too. Hidden Years actually recaps the Hulk fight and then has a gap of three days before launching into a very long story arc. X-Men/Spider-Man has Xavier "too sick" to make an appearance, during that three day gap. And now this story has a spry Xavier acting in the immediate aftermath of the original X-Men issue.
The X-Men are of course immensely popular. So it's to be expected that the fact that their series was once cancelled is a thing that writers will want to pick at. But between guest appearances, the Beast's solo series, and a crush of continuity inserts, the question of what the X-Men were up to during their cancellation period is one that we have an answer to. As mentioned when i gratuitously quoted myself, the aftermath of the Hulk fight is now something that two separate continuity inserts have dealt with directly. Artistically speaking, i'd say that both Alan Davis and John Byrne trace their lineage back to Neal Adams, so it's not surprising that they took a crack at this period, but it does feel like overload when you put it all together.
Talking about Alan Davis' art, one thing that occurs to me is how much it did and didn't evolve over the years. I'm writing this review during a back-issue add not long after i reviewed Alan Davis' debut in Captain Britain (Sep 81 cover date). Comparing the basic style between the two stories, there's a lot that's clearly still recognizable, especially in faces and expressions and also in Davis' dynamic action panels. But what strikes me is the degree of compression. The Captain Britain stories were released in 5 page increments. And those 5 pages told as much story as each individual issue in this Savage Hulk series. I don't mean that as a judgement in and of itself, and it's certainly not something unique to Davis, but having the same artist to compare the differences is a good way to make the contrast. And there's no doubt in my mind that there's a lot of filler in these four issues. For example, five pages in issue #1, including a two page splash panel, is devoted to the Hulk getting shot at by army missiles in a scene that really has nothing to do with the rest of story. And wait until we get to issue #3. On the other hand, the extra space does allow Davis to create a much grander sense of scale, which is arguably appropriate in a story where the Hulk is going to fight the Abomination and other such things. On balance i'd be willing to compromise and allow two issues to tell this story, but of course no one asked me.
We start with the Leader viewing news reports of the Hulk/X-Men battle. A weird little comment is dropped in from "officials" saying that "this incident was merely a skirmish between factions in some sort of super-war". No idea what that's about, and the Leader cuts it off as "idle speculation", but it feels like government propaganda laying the groundwork for a Civil War style super-hero registration act or something. It doesn't have anything to do with the rest of the series, but i'd love to know why Davis included it.
But the Leader is more concerned with confirming something that's he's learned recently, which is that someone with strong mental powers united all of human consciousness to repel the Z'Nox planetoid.
Meanwhile, the X-Men have returned to Professor X and used the device they got from Banner that woke up Xavier after he went into a coma following the Z'Nox invasion. Xavier examines the device and realizes that Banner originally designed it to try to control his transformations into the Hulk. It obviously didn't work for that purpose, but Xavier thinks that it's because "the device requires a telepathic component". Despite the X-Men urging him to rest after his ordeal, Xavier feels obligated to help Banner, in part because the device contained a "residual gamma charge... [that] carried a psychic imprint. An echo of the spiritual torment Banner endures". Xavier says that he'll "never be able to rest until I've done all I can to help Banner". Which, you know, we all say things in the spur of the moment.
Xavier reads an account of the X-Men's battle from Jean's mind. So big, so fast alert:
He then says that "I have sharpened Jean's telepathic focus so she should be able to psychically sedate the Hulk more easily" (which i guess we should interpret as Xavier removing more of the mental blocks that he placed on her innate powers), and then the X-Men (minus Beast and Lorna, who remain behind with Xavier to prepare the equipment) go out to track down the Hulk.
As they leave, an awesome lizard spy observes them and transfers the info to the Leader.
The X-Men wind up locating the Abomination instead of the Hulk.
The appearance of the Abomination in this series causes an easily resolved continuity snag (see the Considerations below), but it illustrates what i think is a missed point about the way Marvel was treating the Abomination at this time. The Hulk is incredibly strong, but he's dumb and basically good at heart. The Abomination is at least as strong as the Hulk (baseline) but he's also intelligent and evil. Marvel understood at this time that he wasn't a villain that should just be wandering around aimlessly in between Hulk fights. So after every Abomination appearance, he was whisked off into space or otherwise completely incapacitated. Having him show up here with no explanation as to where he's coming from or what he's up to, just fleeing from an army battalion that he could easily overwhelm, genericizes him into just a random strong guy villain. Of course, the threat of the Abomination is diluted over time, so by 2014 it would have been a completely common way to use the character, but it's something that struck me as i was thinking about placement for this arc.
Jean is not able to subdue the Abomination...
...and the X-Men's forces are divided, since they also have to fend off missiles that the army is launching at the gamma monster (which is why Cyclops keeps turning away in the scene below).
But luckily the Hulk shows up.
So if nothing else, we get a Hulk/Abomination fight out of this series.
The Hulk winds up knocking Abomination out (way too easily, in my opinion, but see my comments above) and tossing him over to the army, who decide that they need to call of their pursuit of the Hulk to deal with him.
Based on my placement, the Abomination will soon surprise them by disappearing back to the Stranger's planet shortly after his capture.
The X-Men bring Banner back to Xavier.
However, their attempt to help fails and instead things veer in a really weird direction.
Reading this in realtime, i found it really dumb and arbitrary. And the entirety of issue three is devoted to Jean-Hulk while Xavier walks around in Banner's head. Which seemed like the story had really gone off the rails; i thought the conflict in this story was about the Leader becoming interested in Professor X. Then at the very end of issue #3 we have our explanation: it's all a dream sequence. The Leader has actually captured all the X-Men and what we've been seeing was fantasy.
So, ok, at least we haven't lost the plot. But that's an entire issue wasted.
Just for completion's sake let me jump back a bit and show a few moments of the fakeout. One notable moment is when Jean uses her newfound gamma powers to reconstruct a costume for herself. This seems like an obvious nod to her (or i should say "her") upcoming Phoenix days, but it's not clear what the point of the nod is.
I can't say much for the new costume, either.
Another semi-notable thing is that, while the X-Men are under Jean's control, they express problems with Xavier's leadership that i'm sure have some basis in reality.
Xavier, meanwhile, reacts to all of this like it's not obvious that something's wrong, like it's only a possibility that should be investigated. That seemed really weird until i realized this was all a dream.
Beyond that, the point of the dream sequence just seems to be to let Alan Davis draw whatever he wants. Which is fine to a point, but i didn't pay #3.99 (less my dealer's pull-list discount) for pin-ups.
The final issue has the Leader discovering something we know to be true but which really won't have implications for years, that gamma powers potentially allow one to shift between an array of possibly physical manifestations.
And to demonstrate this, the Hulk mutates into a form where Banner is in control and the gamma energy is super-powering his brain as much as his muscles.
The Leader, who it turns out was only operating remotely through a robot duplicate, is knocked out in the backlash.
And, um, even though that's only 8 pages into issue #4, that's basically the end of the story. The rest of the issue is the Hulk rampaging as Banner loses control and starts reverting back to his classic form. The X-Men are occupied with avoiding the falling rubble and don't engage. Then the Hulk runs up to Xavier, screams, and jumps away.
So yeah, i think two issues would have been generous.
Recall that this whole story started with the Leader becoming intrigued by the mental powers of Professor Xavier. But when he finally makes his move, he's more interested in the fact that the Hulk has become a gamma energy battery. I guess you could chalk that up to the Leader shifting gears to take advantage of the changing situation, and then when things go out of control he doesn't have an opportunity to go back to the original plan. But it feels like an open thread, and more to the point one that obviously can never be pursued since the Leader never showed up again to bother Professor X in realtime publication. If anything, the real theme of this issue is "No, Professor X can't help Bruce Banner" which is fine but it gets kind of lost with Jean-Hulk and Banner-Brain Hulk and the fight with the Abomination (which is the most fun part of the story but really unrelated to anything else).
Alan Davis' art is nice to look at but there isn't much of a story here. Especially judged through the lens of "did we need another continuity insert to do this?", i can't say it's a particularly necessary story.
Quality Rating: C
Chronological Placement Considerations: I've placed this directly after Uncanny X-Men #66. We'll have to assume that after the events of this issue, Xavier went into relapse for three days (at least this story does have the X-Men worried that Xavier is pushing himself too hard by pursuing the cure for Banner immediately after his recovery), during which X-Men/Spider-Man #1 takes place, and then Xavier wakes up for X-Men: The Hidden Years #1 and neglects to mention the events of this issue when summarizing recent events. The Abomination was last seen in Silver Surfer #12, summoned back to Earth from the Stranger's planet by cultists. In realtime, the Abomination's next appearance is in Thor #178, where he's shown returning to the Stranger's prison planet and blaming the Silver Surfer for it. Pushing this prior to SS #12 or after Thor #178 would still leave us with the fact that the Abomination was supposed to be a prisoner on the Stranger's planet at this time. Luckily, Silver Surfer #12 doesn't actually show the Abomination getting sent away. The Surfer returns the Abomination to the cultists and tells them to send him back, but we don't actually see them doing it. So we can assume that the cultists cast the spell but it took a while to take effect, and the Abomination appears while the spell was still building up.
Continuity Insert? Y
My Reprint: N/A
Issues #3 and #4 are going out of their way to be a homage of Uncanny X-Men #133-135, aren't they?
Posted by: Luis Dantas | March 5, 2015 7:15 PM
Maybe this wasn't a great story, but that "Jean give me a targetarget" it's IMHO INE of The best x men moments ever.
Posted by: Jay Gallardo | March 16, 2015 5:22 PM
Looking at this, I wonder if the urge to tackle the X-Men's "lost years" isn't because it was cancelled but because artists want a chance to draw Jean in that outfit.
Posted by: Erik Beck | June 23, 2016 11:32 AM
Ugh. The empty, soulless computer coloring of modern Marvel even makes Alan Davis's art look bland and lifeless. Everything just looks... sea-green.
Posted by: Wis | November 22, 2016 4:45 AM
I think that at least the earlier gamma beings do make them unique enough to at least make it matter. With Bruce it was his psychological trauma; with Samuel Sterns it was his desire to be taken seriously; with Jen it was a means of coming out of her shell, and so forth. It gets trivialized with the more there are but at least when there are a few significant ones.
I do agree that it should be limited though and not just "anyone can be a Hulk"...but not just "let's reboot everything and only have Bruce Banner as the only gamma being" as they tend to do with Superman on occasion. If they are distinct enough I think there should be enough room for the likes of Hulk, Leader, Abomination, She-Hulk...heck even Doc Samson.
Posted by: Ataru320 | November 22, 2016 10:52 AM
But I think the point is that we don't need, like, 12 of each version.
Posted by: Jon Dubya | January 8, 2017 2:28 AM
You also need to add the 2nd story in X-Men #94 (1999) to the list of things going between The Uncanny X-Men #66 & X-Men: The Hidden Years #1.
Posted by: Jay Demetrick | March 12, 2017 11:47 PM
Comments have been disabled for the summer while i'm not around to moderate.
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