Top of the Pile: X-Men Blue, Superior Spider-man, Immortal Hulk

I’m as close to current with my comic book pull list as I’m likely to get in the modern era, having just finished X-men Blue and getting ready for the Age of X-Men alternative universe titles. Truth be told, I’d be caught up if it weren’t for the happy distraction of Marvel Unlimited. The digital repository paid for itself 10 times over when I read the Spider-verse crossover, and it’s continued to deliver appealing alternatives to my standard X-Men-centric pull.

X-men Blue

X-Men Blue wraps up the storyline started in All-New X-Men, in which the definitely-not-all-new original X-Men team is time-napped by the present’s Beast so that they can be scared straight by the horror of the modern-day, mutants-first, Charles Xavier-killing Cyclops.

It’s the X-Men. Just roll with it.

In the future, they confront their legacy and spend far too much time mucking about in our present. Bobby Drake (Iceman) comes to realize he’s gay (a pretty substantial retconning, given that to the best of my knowledge Bobby never hinted at that before, but spending a year or two living in the future opened young Bobby’s mind). They head off into Space for some adventures with the Starjammers, Beast dabbles in arcana, and Angel is doused with cosmic power, giving him fire wings.

Again, it’s the X-Men. Just roll with it. With X-Men Blue, they finally wrap up this time-displaced storyline. The X-Men have known for a while that they need to return to their own time … and that to preserve the timeline, they need to return just as they were … with the same memories, they left with. That means a very of themselves is going to die, a concept that the title does a decent job of exploring. The series’ conclusion does not return them to their own time — that honor belongs to the X-Termination limited series — but provides a satisfying conclusion to their present-day storyline.

Superior Spider-Man

So a few years ago, Doctor Otto Octavius (aka Doctor Octopus aka Doc Ock) was dying. His mind was as brilliant as ever but his body was failing. Imprisoned on the Raft, it seemed there was little he could do except wait for the inevitable. But this is Doctor Octavius, and he wasn’t about to let a little thing like death stop him. He hatched and executed a plan to swap his mind with that of his arch-enemy … Peter Parker (aka Spider-man). Trapped in the body of nemesis, Peter died … and Doc Ock walked free to live a better life. A superior life.

Stop rolling your eyes damn it. It’s Marvel. Just roll with it.

Actually, a lot of fans couldn’t roll with it. People were outraged that Marvel would kill off Peter Parker and thought that having Otto Octavius take his place disrespected and undermined everything Spider-man stood far. The outrage wasn’t dissimilar to the big Cosmic Cube-wrought reveal that Captain America was actually an agent of Hydra since World War II, but while I didn’t like the whole “Cap was secretly evil” storyline, I think the Spider-man version worked brilliantly.

Why? First, let’s address the whole “They killed Peter!” argument. This is comic books. This is Marvel. They would no more permanently kill off the prime Peter Parker than they would sell all their character rights to DC Comics for a penny. Even at the time, it was clear Peter was going to be back.

More importantly, the story worked because of Peter Parker’s legacy. In Superior Spider-man — the title that replaced The Amazing Spider-man — Otto decides he wants to a hero. And his ego will never let him be Peter’s equal, no he must be superior. Realizing that Peter’s web-slinging patrols were grossly inefficient, he builds an army of spider-bots to patrol for him. Shocked that Peter doesn’t have his doctorate — and refusing to be anything less than a doctor — he goes back to school to earn it. He crosses lines that better would never cross, not just stopping villains but beating them senseless. In one case, he even kills a man.

The outraged fans were right. This is nothing like Peter Parker, and it stands in direct opposition to everything he stood for.

And that was exactly the point. In time, Doc Oct realizes that being a better man doesn’t just mean getting a better degree or building a better robot. It means making the tough choices, sometimes impossible choices, to help his friends, his city, his world … and, in the end, his true love.

The story ends as I expected it to, though I won’t give it away. Suffice to say it’s worth putting aside your disbelief and embracing the Superior Spider-man knowing at some point the ride will end, Peter will be back, and everything will be right with the world.

Immortal Hulk

I never had a chance to read the horror comics of the late 1940s through the mid-1950s, but I’ve certainly heard about them. They influenced a generation of horror writers (including Stephen King) and societal outrage about the content of the comics helped give rise to the self-regulating Comics Code Authority. The code and moral panic led to the decline of horror comics, and many of the titles ended.

But that which is dead can never die, and their influence is felt to this day. The Immortal Hulk pays homage to those comics of old with a story that could have been ripped from the pages of Tales from the Crpyt.

Bruce Banner died. Not ever wanting to be the Hulk again, he asked Clint Barton – aka Hawkeye – to kill him if he ever showed signs of turning again. He even gave him a special arrow to do the job. Of course, Banner couldn’t stay Banner forever, and Clint did what he promised.

He killed Bruce. And Bruce died, taking the Hulk with him.

But he didn’t stay dead.

Reanimated and resurrected by the power of gamma, Bruce Banner now wanders the countryside chasing ghost stories. His alter ego comes out to punish the guilty as needed and the process repeats. The title does its utmost to echo the horror comics of old, which isn’t something I ever expected to find in a Hulk comic. It works, and it works well, partially because the Hulk itself is tinged with horror. Heck, the Hulk’s origin story casts Banner in the role of a mad scientist, one who experiments on himself and unleashes something impossible inside himself. His gamma inspired foes – the Abomination anyone? – are often twisted reflects of reality. So it makes a kind of sense that Banner would have an uneasy death, and an even uneasier resurrection.

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Cover art from Immortal Hulk #13. Credit: Marvel Comics.

 

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