Tie-ins are the lifeblood of any successful comic franchise and essentially every major blockbuster film. Of course, when you get down to it, these ventures tend to be vomited out as one-shot comics, coloring books or god-knows-what-you-get from a McDonald’s Happy Meal.
In the latest of Marvel’s animated DVD outings, which began with Ultimate Avengers, the Hulk is the mindless, rage-filled destructive force that we all know and mildly anticipate. In lieu of the norm, Hulk vs. begins with the assumption in mind that everyone knows the basic back story that Bruce Banner was caught in the wake of a Gamma Bomb, a Gamma engine, or something vaguely Gamma powered depending on your familiarity with the story and which film or TV show you saw.
Little time is wasted on this since it isn’t integral to the Vs. title. Hulk Vs. Wolverine pulls the old “start in the middle” trick, as we’re given 18 seconds to hear Wolverine (Steven Blum) go through the trademarked line, “I’m the best there is at what I do, but what I do—isn’t very nice.” Playing with the established time-lines that the live-action films have given us, Wolverine is back working for the Canadian Department H and agrees to hunt down the Hulk, who appears to be tearing through small towns in the Great White North. A few minutes later, Wolvie is leaping out of a plane and into the Canadian wilderness where he happens upon a regressed Banner. And then, the fight happens.
Comic “team-ups” of ancient lore (i.e. “the eighties, nineties and whenever”) always came in two varieties: the “Oh hey, you look like a bad guy and I’ve never met you before, despite being the Number Two Main Character in this universe. Let’s fight. Mm. You know, you’re not a bad guy. There’s another bad guy. Team-Up time!” Or: “Hey, you’re a superhero too and fighting this bad guy? Let’s team-up and stop him!”
The Vs. shorts are perfectly shoe-horned into the former category as whoever the Hulk meets is destined to fight the lumbering beast thanks to the power of “Comics’ Logic.” Wolverine fights for a while until Weapon X appears and reveals—shock—the Hulk went ballistic because they were hunting him. Similarly, in the second short, Hulk vs. Thor, it takes nary 8 minutes, after we’re given some back story about how Odin must enter “Odinsleep” to recharge his “Odin Battery.” Luckily, dastardly half-son Loki captures Bruce Banner and explains that he has once almost beaten Thor as the Hulk. Loki takes over the Hulk after mystically separating him from Banner and begins to make his way toward Asgard. Why? Well, unlike the brief back story we’re thrown in Wolverine, we must simply accept this as fact. Yet Thor still ranks in as the longest short, taking up half the running time at 45-minutes out of the combined 78.
Classic shots are recreated, such as the cover of The Incredible Hulk that introduced Wolverine for the first time. Of course, this turned into “Team Up #1” again when they joined forces to fight the Wendigo—which conveniently ties into a future episode of new Nicktoons show, Wolverine and the X-Men.
For two shorts that will inevitably wind up on Cartoon Network—such is the fate of all Marvel animated DVDs sold through Lionsgate—there’s nothing overly damning or special here. Wolverine does feature at least five arms being torn or chopped off—in fact, four of them are always the left arm. The fifth mixes it up by making it the right. And the battles involve some instances of blood, but wounds heal as if the animators forgot they ever existed. Thor is slightly more action-packed, but draws on far too much history to pick up the first-time view that Wolverine was supposed to do. Oddly, these one-off shorts are no better than the concept behind Kill, which is a series of “final fights” that draw upon classic genre plots you don’t need to watch.
Hulk vs. is perfect as a series of straight-to-DVD shorts featuring fights, but all of them seem better suited to an open-ended online series or TV show that makes Monsters of the Week and instead turns him into an opponent. But there’s no way to justify buying something that you’ve already read countless times in the comics.
John Lichman is a freelance writer who contributes to The Reeler, Primetime A&E [print only] and anyone with cash. He works odd jobs to afford his vices, sleeps on couches and can drink Vadim Rizov under a table.