A Review by Jesse Baker
Another day, another “Grand Design” mini-series. This time, Marvel Comics and indie comic artist Jim Rugg gives us “Hulk: Grand Design”.
The purpose of the Grand Design series, is to allow indie comic creators to remix and retell the classic lore behind major Marvel Comics characters. So far, we’ve had Ed Piskor’s three volume/six issue “X-Men: Grand Design” and the two issue “Fantastic Four: Grand Design” by Tom Scioli. With Hulk, we have indie comic artist Jim Rugg onboard to give us the origin of Hulk retold for readers.
In spite of their blasphemous premise, the “Grand Design” series has churned out some interesting evergreen collections recapping and reveling in the classic lore of the characters involved, produced by people who actually DO care about the continuity and stories they are remixing. Of course, both X-Men and Fantastic Four Grand Design suffered from the same issue: both started strong and featured some innovated retelling from a point of view of trying to make everything interconnected into a grand narrative; instead of writers making stuff up as they go along as was the case in the Silver Age and Bronze Age of comics.
But both projects eventually got lazy with their retelling of the lore and plot holes start popping up and laziness as the writers rush through story lines and major plot threads. In X-Men: Grand Design’s case, Piskor wrote himself into a corner and then insultingly ended the entire affair with a time loop that negated one of the more interesting reworkings of X-Men lore for the narrative that he came up with. Meanwhile, Scioli (who’s Grand Design project was two measly issues) started strong with a super dense retelling of the first 30-some issues in the first issue. But the second issue was so rushed and featured so many plot holes, skipped arcs, and questionable ideas for “retelling” existing stories, that it felt like Scioli stopped caring midway through the project and half-assed the second issue.
Which leads us to Jim Rugg’s “Grand Design”.
On one hand; the art is brilliant and we get pop art, cut-ups, cover recreations, and splash pages as Rugg rushes through the history of the Hulk through issue #300. Sadly, this brilliant usage of art leads to a rather ruthless if not merciless retelling of the franchise’s history. Also so rather questionable rewrites of lore (the Bride of MODOK storyline in particular is butchered as Rugg gets major details wrong plus omits one of the biggest status quo changes from the Mantlo’s run: General “Thunderbolt” Ross’s treason to help MODOK against Hulk and his expulsion from the US Military with a dishonorable discharge that followed.
Indeed, a huge amount of lore and canon is wholesale skipped: all references to Hulk’s abusive childhood and the murder of his mother at the hands of his father is omited. His relationship with Rick Jones is omited but we get asides referencing Hulk destroying Machine Man, his fight with Daredevil that put Daredevil in the hospital, and random guest spots in Captain America and Iron Man. We also get other major milestones skipped over: his alliance with Namor against the Avengers and the battle between Hulk and Thing in Fantastic Four #25–26 that featured Hulk in a pure villain role.
Even retcons and other later day continuity is MIA here: Sentry is never mentioned, nor do we get references to the “Green Door” or Al Ewing’s Leader as a distant relative of Bruce Banner. She Hulk gets referenced, but nothing else about her family or the retcon that her father covered up Bruce murdering his evil father in “Immortal Hulk #0”. Nor do we get conversation about the Russian spy who caused the explosion that turned Bruce into Hulk or the later day retcon that Hulk’s gray form was a separate personality from the Green Hulk.
Even Betty Brant gets the short straw, while Hulk’s side piece Jarella gets more focus as far as being being presented as Hulk’s “one true love”. No time is given to present her side of the matter in their relationship, nor do we get her transformation into the Harpy monster; a plot point that would be revisted in a major way years later in the Ewing run.
Finally, even the lead up events to Hulk #300 are truncated and heavily screwed up by Rugg. Nightmare, who turns Hulk into a murderous savage killing machine, doesn’t want Dr Strange “found”. He wants Hulk to outright kill him and destroys Bruce’s newfound balance and ability to keep his intelligence in his Hulk form to turn him into an assassin. Hulk’s rampage in Hulk #300 is given the short straw and then some, even as Rugg completely screws up the tragic ending of that story: Hulk offers to exile Hulk to the “Crossroads of Reality” so he can find a place he can be happy. Not having “killed him” as he describes it to the other heroes on scene.
The art is brilliant but compared to “X-Men Grand Design” and “Fantastic Four: Grand Design”, the story is too short and doesn’t have the level of layers Piskor and Scioli’s stories have. Even Scioli, who had two issues just like Rugg, was able to pack more details and story plot lines than Rugg does in this first issue.
Worth picking up for the art, but a pale entry into the “Grand Design” series compared to what came before.