Review by Ian Keogh
Marvel have introduced so many differing versions of the Hulk since the turn of the century that it’s necessary to point out that this is from the era when Bruce Banner was employed by S.H.I.E.L.D. under conditions of strict supervision, and the Hulk was again possessed of only a basic intelligence.
The plot is set in motion when Pip the Troll, yes a teleporting troll, abducts the Hulk, having been coerced to do so on behalf of Annihilus, now one of the most powerful beings in the galaxy, so not to be taken lightly. Pip, however, realises that kidnapping the Hulk will eventually have the Avengers looking for him, so needs a method of returning him to Earth without making it seem as if he’s responsible. Involving Thanos by appealing to his ego may be dangerous, but it’s a ploy with ready-made deniability.
Jim Starlin could always draw a good Hulk, and that’s not changed over the years. He’s bulky, well out of proportion with normal humans, and facially a snarling, dark bundle of barely repressed rage. Andy Smith inking the art is a surprisingly good match, humanising elements where necessary but retaining the power of Starlin’s layouts.
It’s worth noting Starlin created Thanos, has refined his personality over the years, and it’s a rare writer who can match Starlin’s portrayal of the character. This Thanos is all-powerful and supremely confident, a plotter in preference to direct conflict, yet not shying away from that, playing a long game, but his ego leaving him open to manipulation. That’s the Thanos we get here.
Unfortunately he’s not around for very long, as his real purpose is cover billing to sell a series where he’s more popular than Annihilus, and the series’ real purpose is to re-fit Annihilus as a more dangerous character in preparation for Annihilation. Starlin’s never been one to short-change on spectacle, so while the basic plot is slight and nothing we haven’t seen in variations from Starlin before, he’s refined his techniques over the years and ensures he provides a base level of entertainment. The title is underselling the content because as well as the Hulk facing off against Thanos he takes on Blastaar and Annihilus in separate bouts, and what Annihilus wants is surprisingly original.
As Marvel consider five standard comics the definition of a graphic novel despite serialising most of their miniseries in four instalments, they were left rather scrabbling around for remaining content. What they settled on was a Pip solo story from the mid-1970s, also featuring the object of his desire Heater Deluxe. It’s brief, surprising and fun, and for all that has a greater depth than the four chapters of the title story.
Thanos Vs Hulk isn’t a graphic novel you’ll ever come back to, but it’s a fun, light read.