Home Video Hovel- Ultimate Wolverine vs. Hulk, by Tyler Smith
It’s actually somewhat difficult reviewing a motion comic. As it consists of several ten-minute installments on one DVD, it’s very likely- if not assured- that the viewer will watch it all in one sitting (which is what I did). Given that comic book series such as Ultimate Wolverine vs. Hulk are released over several years, it stands to reason that watching it all over the course of a single hour might not be the ideal way to experience this story.
Spread out over a few years, and the story that unfolds is probably fairly interesting. We find out about the characters and story through a handful of flashbacks, occasionally smashing back into the brutal present. On an issue-by-issue basis, I could see this method of storytelling being very satisfying. However, when viewed all at once, the story begins to look like a patchwork collection of scenes that could have been better served if told chronologically.
Another issue that pops up with motion comics is that of scale. Anybody familiar with Marvel comics knows about the feud between Wolverine and the Hulk. Wolverine’s first appearance was in a Hulk comic, and the two have come up against one another on a few occasions since then. It is a pairing that makes sense; the character that cannot be stopped comes up against the one that cannot be killed. There is an epic quality to these battles. And when spaced out over time, each new issue of the comic is an event in itself. The very method of distribution lends gravity and weight to the content.
Unfortunately, once again, to view this story all at once is to see just how small it really is. The epic battle promised on the cover of the DVD is undercut time and again by the story being told. And, in fact, we are never really shown a long, drawn-out fight between Wolverine and the Hulk. The primary fight is seen in flashback, in a few admittedly-impressive images. But once that is done, the story deals almost exclusively with the aftermath. This could work, and has in films like Reservoir Dogs, but here we are forced to spend time with characters and story points that are infinitely less interesting than why we started watching in the first place.
Not every deviation is frustrating, though. When not dealing with Nick Fury or She-Hulk or any number of lesser characters, the writers focus on Wolverine and try to deconstruct not only who he is, but what he is capable of. They explore his healing factor, a mutant power that never really interested me. However, in the hands of these writers (including Damon Lindelof), we discover the almost limitless possibilities of this. In the story, Wolverine goes through all manner of punishment, even to the point of getting his head cut off. And yet he survives. And that fact- the constant survival- seems to be at the root of Wolverine’s dour, fatalistic attitude towards life. At times, the story is a bit too casual about all this- maybe even a little glib- but it mostly retains its inherent power.
We also are allowed to see some of Hulk’s backstory. As Bruce Banner wanders the streets, trying to flee from his past, he gets in one scrape after another, often killing innocent people as the Hulk takes over. This story really seems interested in the “cursed” nature of Banner’s situation and his self-hatred is palpable. We are treated to some interesting details about his condition, as well. For example, we see that the Hulk is actually capable of intelligent expression and reasoning. However, as he gets angrier, yes, he may get stronger, but he also gets a lot dumber, until he is a creature of pure, base instinct.
And so we have a story that explores the fatalistic longevity of Wolverine, a character whose inability to be killed has created a deep cynicism in him, and the daily struggle of Bruce Banner, who must keep control of his emotions, lest they start to control and eventually overtake him completely. I appreciate that the writers felt the need to delve deeper into these characters and their problems, and I think they mostly succeed in doing so.
Unfortunately, every success that they have is in spite of the central conceit of the comic, not a function of it. We could have learned these things in separate Wolverine and Hulk comics. If this is being touted as a battle between two legendary comic book characters, then it is, I think, not unreasonable for the viewer to expect that. It seems to me to be a wasted opportunity to bring these two characters together, only to have the most involving scenes happen when they are apart.