Marvel has been pretty busy lately. Since starting their own film studio to work on their iconic characters, we’ve seen a lot of the Marvel universe of late. This past summer saw not one, but two of Marvel’s stable characters enjoy blockbuster releases on the live action front. Iron Man captured world wide attention and the hundreds of millions that go with it. While the new Hulk film didn’t bring with it the same kind of financial bounty, it was a well respected film that won over much of the character’s fan base, lost when Ang Lee put together his horrible Hulk feature some years ago. If anything, the unlikely casting of Ed Norton brought that film closer to the beloved television series than the classic comics from the 1960’s and 70’s. Now Marvel’s animation lines have been churning out full length animated adventures of many of their popular heroes. Most recently Iron Man got the predictable full length treatment. Now it’s The Hulk’s turn, but there is a bit of a twist to the formula. Instead of one longer effort, Marvel decided to go with two shorter stories, likely to bring in as many of the other Marvel franchises for the ride. In case you’ve been sleeping on another planet, Marvel is inching toward a grand Avenger film. The plans include more live action movies featuring Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, and, of course, The Hulk. There is also an aggressive slate of these direct to video animated efforts, all leading toward an Avengers project.
We all know that by himself, The Hulk can be an awkward character. He has always shone best in the comics when he had someone else to beat up on. These “Clash Of Titan” titles have been milestone events in the green monster’s legacy. It’s no great surprise that anyone who loved these moments in the comics would expect to see them as part of a new animated Hulk franchise. Enter the new Hulk vs. series. This release contains two such pairings:
Hulk vs. Wolverine:
“My name is Wolverine. I’m the best at what I do. What I do isn’t nice.”
With the new X-Men: Origins series of films about to launch its first into theatres this year, you could have guessed that Wolverine would be a natural jumping off point for this new series. In fact, this story does touch on much of Wolverine’s origin story that is going to be a huge part of the upcoming Wolverine film.
The Hulk appears to be on another one of his trademark rampages. This time there have been casualties which include women and children. He must be stopped, so the military enlists the help of Wolverine. It doesn’t take Wolverine long to track down The Hulk, and before very long at all they are both engaged in epic struggle. The fight is rudely interrupted as both are tranquilized and captured by the villainous Weapon X team. The team intends to use The Hulk as part of their new super weapon. Wolverine is just a bonus. Now the two combatants must find a way to work together to escape the evil band.
I have to tell you that this feels far more like a Wolverine feature than it does The Hulk. The use of Weapon X and the Wolverine origin elements make this much more an X adventure. In this feature the two heroes have not yet met, and Wolverine is just about to discover the Bruce Banner connection to the monster. The story features Sabertooth, Deathstrike, Deadpool, and Omega Red. This is the first significant appearance of Deadpool in animated form, and after seeing this film, you’ll wonder what took so long.
Hulk vs. Thor:
“Outside the world that you know, there exists the Real Eternal, Asgard. The shining light of the 9 worlds, Asgard is home to the gods, all of whom bow down to the All Father, Odin. Odin’s life blood flows through Asgard, and Asgard is Odin. His power is all and he keeps his Asgardian realm safe. But once each Winter the All Father must rest and enter the Odin Sleep. While Odin slumbers his absence leaves Asgard vulnerable and this is when the wicked descend upon his kingdom”
Of course, we know who protects Asgard at times like these. It’s Thor, the mighty hammer wielding superhero culled from Norse mythology. Now Banner has once again been captured, this time to be used as a weapon against Asgard during the Odin sleep. Harnessing the power of The Hulk through a cosmic connection, Thor’s evil brother begins the invasion of Asgard. It’s up to Thor to stop them both. The Hulk’s power is too much for Thor; his only chance is to break the link and return the soul of Bruce Banner from the depths of Hell itself to inhabit the out of control creature.
Again, this appears more of a Thor story than The Hulk. Again, the story’s mythology is centered not on the green menace but another Marvel hero, coincidentally another future Avenger who is also about to get his own live action film.
The two films have decidedly different and distinct styles. I was far more impressed with the Thor story. It was better developed and the animation was more traditional. The Wolverine tale sported a far more stylized animation that took it farther from the comic realm for me. There are many wonderful splash page moments in both stories. Banner is portrayed as a bit of a whimpering fool. I know he’s tortured by the curse of The Hulk, but I always likened him more to Larry Talbot, Universal’s Wolf Man. There’s just too much crying for my taste here, but that’s really the only complaint I have. From the story to the animation, the efforts do pay homage to Marvel’s Golden Age of comics. Fred Tatasciore is absolutely brilliant voicing The Hulk. He’s got those growls down solid. He’s a beast of a man who adds a lot of character to a character who is hard to bring emotion to. The rest of the cast is solid enough, but my hat’s off to Fred.
The comedy concert is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1. It’s like an animated comic book. Colors are ultra bright and make you feel like you’re back in the glory days of these books. Contrast is solid providing wonderfully tight animation lines. Because of the wise decision to go with 2 discs there aren’t any compression problems to deal with here. Black levels are rock solid. You couldn’t ask for a sharper more dynamic video presentation on a DVD.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is a Hulk Smash! The voice talent, sound f/x, and score all combine to keep the action moving. The audio presentation delivers on every front here. Dialog comes out front and center. There are plenty of smashes and thuds. You can almost see the animated OOMPH and GRrrrrrrrrrrrrr coming off the page.
Both features contain engaging Audio Commentary tracks that mostly show the love these guys have for the source material. These guys from the animators to the production team to the voice talent are all really fanboys, and it shows here.
Each disc contains the feature, first looks at future animation releases, and commentary tracks along with the following extra features.
This Is Gonna Hurt – The Making Of The Hulk vs. Wolverine: This 20 minute feature covers it all, from the production team’s approach to each of the stages of the production. You get to see the voice talent at work, and Fred is an absolutely mesmerizing guy. These guys went right to the pages of the comics, and you’ll see some side by side comparisons to that. They talk about the freedom a release like this offers over a Saturday morning cartoon show. This is definitely intended for the adult fans more so than the kiddies.
Fan Frenzy – Hulk vs Wolverine 2008 ComicCon: Hey, ComicCon’s the perfect place for this sort of thing. The team from this feature gather for a panel at the 2008 event to preview the film and field fan questions. It was a Hulk Smash.
Of Gods And Monsters – The Making Of The Hulk vs. Thor: This 20 minute feature is very much like the previous one but spends more time on the characters and voice talent. Unfortunately many of the same interview clips are used, but for different contexts. It’s a good example of how these clips and sound bites for these features can be edited to mean anything they want them to.
Jack Kirby + Thor: This deserved to be longer than 4 minutes. It’s a fitting tribute to the first artist to draw many of these Marvel classics. He’s been dead for some time, so Stan Lee gets to bask in most of the glory. It’s important to remember Kirby as well.
There are a few more of these on the way and, if you’re at all like me, you’re going to be looking forward to them. It’s all part of Marvel’s master plan. Sounds like a job for South Park or Family Guy. We just get to sit back and watch it unfold together through home video and the local movie theater. These are going to be necessary pieces to that larger puzzle, so don’t get left out of the big picture. “You haven’t seen a big monster running around anywhere, have you?”