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Ultimate Wolverine vs. Hulk 1
Writer: Damon Lindelof
Artist: Leinil Francis Yu

By Michael David Sims
22 December 2005 Excluding my < 100 Words reviews, I generally don't dedicate much time to reviewing single issues. It just seems silly to type, I don't know, 2000-plus words on one part of an ongoing storyline.

But I'll make an exception here.

Initially I didn't give Ultimate Wolverine vs. Hulk much thought. Don't get me wrong, I like the Ultimate line of comics and generally pay attention when these two characters cross paths but, for whatever reason, I wasn't all that interested in this meeting. That is until I learned Leinil Francis Yu was illustrating it.

As a longtime fan of his art dating back to his "Not Dead Yet" run on the core Wolverine title I was pleasantly shocked when I heard he was set to pencil a new book. Unless I missed something, I hadn't seen his name attached to a comic in, well, years. Maybe he got burnt out. Maybe a family issue arose. Maybe his pencil broke. I don't know, and don't really care. He's back, and that's all that matters to me.

Yu brings a gritty, almost dusty feel to any book he's attached to. Facts are facts, and the fact of the matter is that he'll never pencil a bright, cheerful book like Gravity or The Defenders. His facial line work is next to flawless, and exposes the decades of fighting his characters have seen.

No offense meant to Mark Silvestri or Jim Lee, but the way they both draw Wolverine is a little too buffed. And way too sexy. Healing factor be damned; the man is over 100 years old and his age should show from time to time. And show it does when Yu's pencils bring the character to life.

And the Wolverine in Ultimate Wolverine vs. Hulk is no different.

If you've read the very first issues of Ultimate X-Men, you know that Wolverine looked much, much younger. With his Musketeer-like goatee and (slightly) longer hair, the fan favorite was needlessly made hip. Thankfully it wasn't long before the design was scrapped in favor of his more traditional look. But there was still an odd youthfulness to him. (Maybe it's because he was sleeping with the teenage Jean Grey. Maybe that made the century-old man seem young. I don't know.)

However, one doesn't have to flip past the cover to see that Yu throws all that straight out the window. In fact, besides the title, the cover only gives one indication that this story takes place in the Ultimate universe and that would be thanks to Wolverine's costume. Everything else about Wolverine the grit, the black-but-almost-grey hair is the same as the original. (As for the Hulk. Well, he's been interpreted so many ways over the years, they could have put him in a tutu and readers would accept him as the real deal. I mean, he's been a clown... more than once, mind you. So a pink tutu wearing Hulk really isn't all that impossible, now is it?)

Okay, so Yu's name had already sold me. It was a guarantee that this book would wind up in my ever-growing collection. When I grabbed it, however, was the question.

Recently I made the switch from purchasing comics at the local shop to having them mail ordered. While I'm saving roughly http://www.earth-2.net../php_files/35 per month by doing this, there is a downside. That being, DCBS collects your entire monthly order and ships it at one time but they obviously can't ship it until all of the books are out. So all of my December books won't arrive until the first week of January. Meaning, unless I wanted to pay extra to have my books shipped biweekly (or even weekly), I wouldn't see this sucker until early 2006.

At first I was content with this. I mean, they sold me this http://www.earth-2.net../php_files/2.99 title for .75. That's a fair tradeoff if I ever saw one.

But then I saw this:

Click for a larger image.

The remainder of the comic could have been filled with Banner and Logan picking daisies in a field while discussing the finer points of scrapbooking, and I still would have purchased it. (And if only you knew my disdain for scrapbooking.) It's not everyday that we're treated oh yes, I said "treated" to dismemberment in a Marvel comic book. (The only other time I can think of this happening also involved the Hulk, and that would be when he ripped Tigra in half in The Last Avengers Story.) So I had a dilemma on my hands. Do I wipe the drool from my chin, set my fanboyism aside and wait until this arrived; or do I head to the local shop and drop http://www.earth-2.net../php_files/3 on a book I've already purchased online and will receive in due time?

This being a review and all, you can guess the outcome.

Having already spoken at length about Yu's art, there isn't much more to say except this: for a man who draws some of the most violent mainstream comics (next to Bryan Hitch, that is) and for a man who draws men that look like they just stepped out of a Western (or could step into one), Yu is surprisingly adept at illustrating sexy women. Here you won't find erect nipples and camel toes poking through impossibly tight leather and spandex. No. That's not Yu's style.

Besides the Tibetan whores that fawn over the Hulk, Yu's women Betty Ross and Dr. Jennifer Walters have class. Their beauty is more conventional. Refined. As I said, classy.

And now that I think about it, this shouldn't come as such a huge surprise. If one were to watch any old Western (which of course I've compared Yu's art to), they'd find two types of women: whores and wives. With their bosoms overflowing from corsets drawn tight, the whores ooze sex in the same way most comic book heroines do. (Emma Frost, anyone?) And how are they treated? Like trash. No one takes them seriously, or even cares what they have to say.

But the wives, dressed as conservatively as the Texas heat would allow, are tough and able to rein their men in. In desperate times, they can handle a rifle with deadly precision and are taken just as seriously as their mates. But beneath the harsh exterior, long sleeves and buttoned collar is still a woman. A woman with more sex appeal than any of the local whores because she doesn't flaunt her breasts or sell herself for a few bucks. Since she keeps herself under wraps, there's a sense of forbidden mystery to her skin. Sexy. Refined. Classy.

Because Yu treats his women with respect, we do the same. This of course elevates his comics above the rest, and shows the masses that superhero comics can be something other than backbreakingly large breasts coupled with glorified violence. (As long as the vast majority of superheroes solve their troubles by trading blows, the industry will never shake the stigma that every comic is filled with senseless violence. So one out of two ain't bad.)

As much as I (obviously) love Yu's pencils, my biggest issue with the art is that it isn't inked. While this preserves the artist's initial / intended look and saves it from heavy-handed inkers, it also doesn't allow for the colorist to make certain areas as dark as they should be. Frankly, unless I'm looking at a sketch, I don't want to see the quick, back and forth lines that fill the shadowy backgrounds. It pulls me out and reminds me of the process that went into making the comic. And if I'm thinking about that, then I'm not fully enjoying the overall experience.

That said, colorist Dave McCaig does one of the best jobs I've ever seen. With only a few exceptions namely Laura DePuy (The Authority), Pamela Rambo (Preacher), Richard Isanove (Origin), Barry Windsor-Smith (Weapon X) and Lynn Varley (300) rarely do I notice or comment on the colors, but I feel it would be a crime to not mention McCaig's work.

Portions of Logan's face are perpetually in shadow, adding an extra layer of mystery to this already enigmatic character. Fury's meeting room and secret laboratory are dim and cold, and he too is also kept in shadow more often than not. In fact, the women are the only two (major) characters to be kept out of the shadows. This adds to their softness and illustrates that though they're part of this big, bad government machine, they're nowhere near as deep as Fury and Logan. It's subtle, but adds so much to the story and characterization.

Not only that, but the coloring is also consistent. I've seen too many backgroundless panels where the color changes from panel to panel. McCaig skillfully avoids that altogether. For example, during the scene where Logan and Fury discuss the nuking / supposed execution of the Hulk, Logan and the aforementioned ladies consistently share a dark blue-grey background. But Fury's is lighter in tone. While most would overlook this (and I nearly did), it shows that McCaig is keenly aware of the lighting and spatial relationships of those in the room (Logan and the women are standing further away from the overhead light, whereas Nick is almost directly underneath). An artist of much lesser talent would have thrown varying blues in there, if only to mix things up. McCaig, however, seems well aware of how important consistency is when it comes to setting mood and place.

While we're on the subject of consistency, I should mention the characters and dialog. Before that, however, I should note that I have never watched Lost which writer Damon Lindelof co-created. But now having read Ultimate Wolverine vs. Hulk and seeing how the writer is true to the characters in tone, dialog and action, I feel a deeper pull to finally watch the DVDs. (Yes, I own the DVDs despite the fact that I've never watched the show.) What I'm saying is, if he's this respectful to characters he didn't create, I have to see how he handles characters he did imagine.

Capturing the essence of Logan and Fury can't be all that difficult. One's pissy, secretive and all business. The other is pissy, secretive and all business but in a different way. What's surprising is how true he is to an oft-forgotten character such as Jennifer Walters.

Jennifer, who in the core Marvel universe is Banner's cousin and lawyer-turned-She-Hulk, is a sexpot. While I'm not all that familiar with She-Hulk, I have read some of her recent adventures and have learned that she is quite insatiable sexually. (She slept with the "unstoppable" Juggernaut, after all.) And though she didn't pull Logan's pants off for a romp in her lab, she not so subtlety implied that she wouldn't be opposed to the idea if, say, Logan had some free time. So while I can't say that the original Jennifer Walters was written as such, Lindelof has at least toned down her core She-Hulk persona and transplanted it into the human / Ultimate Jennifer. (One look at her personality here should tell readers just how "insatiable" she'll be if she does become the She-Hulk in this universe as well. And if Banner as the Hulk became a cannibal in the Ultimate universe, I'm going to enjoy watching what Walters, ahem, eats post-alteration.)

(Lindelof's consistency, and possible fanboyism, is also made very clear on the second-to-last page. Longtime readers of The Incredible Hulk, specifically those who read Peter David's run, will recognize a Hulk that is very reminiscent of the self-indulgent Maestro from Future Imperfect. This is a very, very nice touch. Not only because it's consistent with a version of the character, but because it's a great change from the familiar but tired loner Hulk.)

In the core Marvel universe (and DC is guilty of this too), characters often read as you suspect comic book characters to read: they're speaking a lot, but not saying much of anything. On the other hand, in the Ultimate universe, there's a hint of truth to the dialog. While placed in word balloons in a comic book, there's a certain "someone might really say this" hint to what you're reading. Also unlike other comics, where every panel seemingly needs to be cluttered with one balloon after another, those in the Ultimate line take their time. Several panels will pass sans text so that the mood may be properly set without the hindrance of extraneous dialog.

Two of my favorite examples would be when Logan asks Fury who's hiding in the office (he can smell them after all). Distraught, Nick hangs his head, contemplates his next move and reveals Betty and Jennifer who were hiding behind a fake wall. On the next page, after the ladies are introduced, Logan looks up from under his cowboy hat and stares at them. It's a very "Logan" moment. Despite his crass, loner attitude, he never hides his love for the ladies. This scene is no different. It's Logan through and through.

What's also interesting about this Logan and is something Lindelof nailed on the head is that he really is a killer at heart. The Logan we've come to know and love for decades has softened to some extent. Now I'm not saying the X-Men have made him weak, but he's no longer the hardened "best there is" killer he once was. This one hasn't experienced that transformation yet, which is made painfully clear when he matter-of-factly tells Bruce Banner's former lover, Betty, that there's no difference between Bruce and his green alter ego. Meaning, he'll kill Banner because he's the Hulk, and he'll kill the Hulk because he's Banner. They're one and the same to him, and Logan aims to slice the man large and green or skinny and white into ribbons.

What the story boils down to is that the Hulk is alive when he shouldn't be (RE: supposed execution) and Nick Fury needs Wolverine to get the job done right. Despite the sparseness, one can't help but suspect there's much more to this than what we've been told thus far. (After all, there are five more issues to fill, and fighting will only carry the remainder so far.) Because Lost is steeped in mystery and intrigue, it's a pretty safe bet that Ultimate Wolverine vs. Hulk will be too.

Now you might find it odd that I'm nearly 2500 words into this review and I've only just mentioned the plot. But the story in this issue, really, feels like it's playing second fiddle to Yu's art. Though that's not a bad thing. Marvel knows this title will sell based on the preview art alone (it isn't everyday that we get to see Wolverine being ripped asunder), so they've allowed Lindelof to take his time as he builds to the big reveal. (As it should be, anyway.) As of right now, why Wolverine is hunting the Hulk isn't all that important. However, once we're three or four issues in and the secrets begin to unravel, then Lindelof's story will begin to take center stage.

Having read this issue several times now, I can venture numerous guesses as to where the book might be headed. (Jennifer's placement both in the title and within SHIELD cannot be a coincidence, and I'm wondering how this all ties into The Ultimates 2.) But, you know, I don't want to think about it. Quite frankly, I just want to enjoy the ride without overanalyzing it for once. And I know I'll be able to do that once the story really kicks in.

Out of 10
Not a lot to speak of, but the dialog and characterization are spot on.
The only flaw is the lack of inks.
The dialog and art will easily draw you in a second time.
Incentive to continue reading
With the promise of more action and further story developments, there's no reason not to read on.
Awesome read that truly captures the characters and importance of finding Banner.

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