Review: A Hulk for all seasons in HULK: BIG DESIGN #1

After two of Marvel’s early teams received the grand design treatment, Hulk – the publisher’s merry green ball of rage – finally takes over. But the other two grand design the projects attempted to weave decades of continuity into a single narrative, an approach that puts the Hulk at a serious disadvantage. In the beginning, The X-Men and Fantastic Four both had long and stable creative teams that formed the backbone of their respective stories. Hulk… no. His beginnings are defined by being fired from title to title, trying to find an angle that worked. Thankfully, cartoonist Jim Rugg isn’t trying to convince anyone that the Hulk was the product of careful planning. He’s here to show all the wild and weird places the Hulk has been. If there’s one constant, it’s that Bruce Banner will never, ever take a break.


From the fateful nuclear accident that ruined the life of Bruce Banner, Hulk: Grand Design #1 covers the first twenty years of the Hulk comics. Instead of a more traditional plot structure, the comic engages in a kind of narrative scrapbooking. Hulk bounces between different phases of his life, each declared with small recreations of classic comic book covers and splashy headers. A character dies only to reappear pages later, a caption box casually mentioning that yes, they came back from the dead. It all starts out a little disorienting. Luckily, it doesn’t take too long to settle into the unique comic book rhythm and let it guide you from moment to moment.


Rugg’s artistry is the main star of the issue, as is his ability to copy the styles of other artists. From Jack Kirby to Micky Demo to Herb Trimpe, Rugg changes Hulk’s appearance to suit the different performers of each era. But more than just comics are referenced in this issue. An entire homepage is devoted to the Hulk jumping off a TV, against a collage of various advertisements for the The Incredible Hulk TV show. A quick aside notes a drawing of Trimpe Hulk appearing on the cover of rolling stone. And Hulk’s first fight against Wolverine is drawn with colored pencils on notebook paper. Because what schoolboy wasn’t obsessed with this game? This grand design doesn’t feel like a homage to the Hulk comics, as much as the Hulk as a pop culture icon.

Particular attention should be paid to Rugg’s skill with expressions. For a comic book focused on a green monster whose overriding emotion is rage, the Hulk’s angry expressions are quite varied. Sometimes he is drawn with a stocky face, gritted teeth, and small, condescending downward-looking eyes. Other times, his eyes take up the entire panel with vivid detail. He’s a smoldering, stewing, raging, screaming Hulk. It’s those faces that keep the comic book narrative from spiraling out of control – the Hulk’s cycle of loneliness and rage over aliens and nuclear mutants.


Hulk: Grand Design #1 is a history lesson as frenetic as the character herself. Pieces of the character’s past are violently thrown together in a haze of clenched fists and teeth. But every once in a while the smoke clears, and in a moment of reflection he realizes that he is truly, hopelessly alone. Then the fighting resumes. And so the cycle continues. He always will be.

To pick up Hulk: Grand Design #1 this Wednesday at your local comic book store, and Check out our interview with Jim Rugg here on Monkey Fighting Robots!

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