Marvel has a hit-and-miss record with anniversary issues. In the case of "Hulk" #50 (which features a Hulk 50th Smash-iversary tag on the cover) it's all hit. Or all smash, since it is, after all, a Hulk book. Broken down into two tales (a twenty-page lead-in and a ten-page backup) as well as a two-page interview with writer Jeff Parker, a four-page rundown of the Red Hulk's history and a three-page synopsis of Red's foes, this book packs a Hulk-powered punch for just a buck more than the usual price of a standard "Hulk" comic.
Hot on the heels of the recent Zero/One story and the "Circle of Four" crossover with X-23, Ghost Rider and Venom in the "Venom" title, Jeff Parker examines the world around Red Hulk from his allies Machine Man and the Avengers to his foes Zero/One and Black Fog. Parker even throws in a few pages to define Red's relationship with his daughter Betty Ross (who just so happens to be the Red She-Hulk) and his guilt for Major Glenn Talbot's demise by putting Red in a situation steeped in magic.
That makes an awkward setting for Red to try to handle, but Parker only uses it to make him that much more interesting a character and thus makes this story that much more fascinating to the reader. Parker, as he so frequently does, delivers a story in this issue's lead tale that showcases the brilliant grasp he has on both the Hulk and the larger Marvel Universe. Just for fun, Parker even sets up an informative in-depth conversation between Red and Doctor Strange.
Carlo Pagulayan and Jason Paz combine to deliver intensely-detailed, hauntingly dark work that has a sketchy quality to it. That sketchiness packs tension into the action sequences and makes the quiet scenes more tangible. Val Staples tags along for the colors, which -- in addition to making me realize just how red the Avengers are nowadays -- also fits perfectly for this title. Staples' makes Pagulayan's art glow, in many cases quite literally with Red's eyes. The trio melds nicely into an art team and knowing I have more parts of this story to look forward to from them makes me happy.
As with all Dan Brereton stories, the backup in this issue features monsters and castles. This being a book that features Thunderbolt Ross as the Red Hulk, there is the added bonus of making that monster-castle combo all the better with Brereton painting up soldiers fighting said monsters in said castle. With Parker as the scribe, the backup happens to hold clues and hints about what is coming up for Red. I'm certain it ties into the mystery villain haunting Red in the lead story, but how Parker ties it all together remains to be seen.
Jeff Parker continues to make Red Hulk an interesting character, finding new, exciting challenges for him. This issue is a marvelous celebration of the Red Hulk and General Thunderbolt Ross. If you haven't been reading this series, this is a great spot to climb on board. Everything you need to know about the character is right here and the story is only going to get better.