I am a comics fan (and a fan of Bill Bailey, who I'm about to paraphrase) and as such, I crave disappointment. I actively seek it out.
Not stupidly, of course. One of my favourite pastimes is to read horrible comic books in the bookstore, and put them back without paying for them. It's a good system, I think--$4 in the name of flagellation-by-comics is ridiculous anyway (as such we as consumers are surely required to try before we buy, I think) and it's something John Byrne once equated to "stealing." That means not only do I save money, not only do I satisfy my need to be disappointed by my formerly favourite things, but I also metaphorically spit in Byrne's eye every time I do it.
That's rather fun.
However, in any system, it is inevitable that in any allegedly "perfect" system, something will come up to perfectly screw it up. Whether by random chance or just general bloodymindedness on Marvel comic's part, they have managed to create a comic that is so awful, so dismal, and so wrong that I even feel bad reading it for free.
That book? Hulk.
Hulk is a curious book in that it doesn't really bother with dealing with the titular character. No, apparently for this series, Marvel have taken the curious step of having the main character barely be in his own title, but when he is in his own title, he's fairly often repeatedly punked out and shown to be fairly ineffectual, and when you consider that for most of his publication history, the Hulk has been portrayed as a super-powered retard, that's quite a feat.
But Hulk is not a title about the Hulk anymore apparently, it's about this guy, who's very name ("Red Hulk") encapsulates the the thick fudgy coating of laziness and idiocy that coats this book like the failure sundae that it is. They couldn't even give the guy a name that didn't scream "distaff version of an existing character."
The pull-quote for this series should be "Red Hulk beats the hell out of the entire Marvel Universe, and the Marvel Universe obligingly jobs like a bitch for him. Also we're supposed to care about this big mystery of who the Red Hulk is."
Needless to say, no one really does. Because this comic is written by Jeph Loeb, and well . . .join me over here in the next paragraph, would you?
Jeph Loeb is an incredibly successful writer in the field of comics, and has been for some time. That he has become a success despite the notable handicap of being an objectively terrible writer, and a writer who makes plot decisions that range from "ill-advised" to "batshit crazy" to "OH COME THE HELL ON, YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME." Not surprisingly, he is responsible for more than many comics reviewers to have curious moments of what can only be described as Sudden Onset Tourette's Syndrome.
But never mind that. Why, you ask, is this man successful?
Well, for two reasons: One, he worked in Hollywood, and due to the peculiar self-loathing that persistently infects the comics industry, that automatically sets him about the stupid unwashed peons who only worked ever worked in comics and is treated as royalty and carried by palanquin everywhere he goes. The logic goes something like this: He can't be terrible because he worked in a real medium. (Whatever that means.)
Second, Loeb has a habit of attaching himself to a "hot" artist's project and basically writing it to suit whatever the artist wants to draw. He then takes credit for the success of the book, despite not doing much of anything save setting 'em up so the artist can knock them down.
Despite the glorious nature of his talent and his magnanimosity in bringing it to the wretched comics industry. Loeb is not a writer of great variety. Here's a short sample of his greatest hits:
1. Hero fights nearly every member of their rogue's gallery. This is his most successful "let's placate the artist" tactic. Issue by issue, whether it makes a great deal of sense, the hero fights every damn member of his rogue's gallery not because it makes a great amount of sense in the larger plotline but because the artist wants to draw the whole rogue's gallery, dammit. See Hush
2. The head-scratching retcon/Origin Occlusion. Whether reducing Shatterstar's origin to nigh-unintelligible gibberish (and when you consider we're talking about a character Rob Liefeld created, that's no mean feat) saying Wolverine is actually from a long-lived race of werewolves, Loeb can always be counted on that if he must tell you that everything you thought you knew was wrong, he will replace it with "everything you know now is stupid."
3. The mystery that isn't a mystery. Let's say Whateverman meets a character that we've never seen but apparently was a longtime childhood friend that we apparently just never got to meet in his 70-year publication history. As this friend hangs around in the background and does very little while a concerted attack from Whateverman's rogues gallery indicates a vast, organised conspiracy against Whateverman. Despite being ruled out several times (and because he's the most obvious suspect and it's an utter cheat) it turns out the Formerly Unknwown Best Friend is the puppet master behind it all. Maybe. Sort of--one of the hallmarks of Loeb's mysteries is that they don't "resolve" as much as slowly collapse like the Austro-Hungarian Empire, possibly because they aren't planned much beyond the next shocking twist. See Hush, and the damn Red Hulk.
4. Madness. See: Superman/Batman's second arc, which started out as what I assume was intended as an attempt to reintroduce Supergirl (as a deeply, intensely unlikeable character that the reader was expected to love) and for the late Michael Turner to draw as many DC characters as possible with some horrific kind of body dysmorphic disorder. It ended up with Superman sounding a lot like a paedophile. Hilarity ensued.
Whoops--not hilarity. Discomfort.
5. This brand-new character who is so damn awesome and will now be shoved down the reader's throat. DC has Hush, who manages to be a brilliant, hyper-competent villain who can take on Batman, manipulate his rogues' gallery, and make beans on toast all without ever being interesting or in any way compelling. Marvel has the Red Hulk, who, despite being "a vicious, cunning, hyper-powerful force of nature" is basically a big dude who has skin like the Kool-Aid Man and takes time out from being a cunning superpowered badass to paint his fingernails and toenails with black nail polish (seriously--what the hell?) Rather than the reader deciding these characters are worthwhile or interesting or cultivating the interest or demand to see them again, we just have issue after issue of them thudding about while people tell us how awesome/dangerous they are in the best Informed Attribute fashion.
Hulk has elements of all of these, but mostly the "shove the character down the reader's throats" and the "mystery that isn't a particularly good/fair/well thought out/thought out at all" Basically in the fifty or however many issues it feels like of this book that have come out the Red Hulk beats up some Marvel big gun so the rest of the cast can get their panties in a wad about how dangerous he is and say "My God, the Red Hulk is the most dangerous foe we've ever faced!" Just in case we missed that the first time.
And it sells through the roof. America has spoken.
Only time will tell whether this or the KFC Famous Bowl is the more dismaying indicator of the direction of civilisation as we know it.