Fall of the Hulks: Alpha

Among the many gifts American animation pioneer Jay Ward bestowed upon the world was the cartoon “Dudley Do-Right of the Mounties.” A parody of old-timey melodramas, it featured the iniquitous villain Snidely Whiplash in each episode enacting some brand of dastardly scheme, which most often included kidnapping Dudley’s virginal love interest, Nell Fenwick. But of course, our hero would dash to the rescue, and because he was brave, chaste, and true of heart, Dudley Do-Right always foiled the evil machinations of Snidely Whiplash and kept the Yukon safe.

Thing of it is, Dudley Do-Right was an absolute moron.

Can you imagine, every week, figuring out yet another way to tie a girl to the railroad tracks, only to be defeated each and every time by a guy who can’t even mount his horse correctly? The frustration would drive you mad.

This may also explain the track record of many of the Marvel Universe’s ultra-genius brand of supervillains, who are prominently featured in Jeff Parker and Paul Pelletier’s Fall of the Hulks: Alpha one-shot. The opening salvo in Marvel’s big Fall of the Hulks storyline, the story is told from the perspective of one of the Hulk’s oldest nemeses, Samuel Sterns, better known as the Leader. Taking a cue from Brian Michael Bendis’s “Illuminati” stories, Parker lays out another behind-the-scenes team-up which has been lurking unbeknownst to readers behind nearly every major Marvel event, going back at least to Secret Wars II.

The Intel, while more a loose confederation than an official team, is a band of super-intellects whose main goal is to reclaim the lost library of Alexandria for their own. In order to execute this grand plan, the Leader realizes he needs at least four other like-minded (in more ways than one) individuals. It is here that Parker’s cleverness as a storyteller (already evident in Marvel’s Agents of Atlas and Dark Reign: The Hood) begins to show itself. The Leader’s order of recruitment follows the order of each character’s appearance in the MU: the Wizard, Egghead, the Mad Thinker, and the Red Ghost. After Egghead is K.I.A., he’s replaced within the group by MODOK, still in line with Parker’s scheme. This is a very minor detail to the story, but it is difficult not to respect that kind of attention by a writer, especially in a field where nit-picky continuity hounds are often dismissed as pathetic nerds, even by their fellow ‘pathetic nerds’.

Having the Leader as protagonist for this story may be an obvious choice, but a smart writer like Parker can more thoroughly exploit this rather interesting rivalry. Whereas most of the Intel—Wizard, Thinker, Ghost—are sworn enemies of Reed Richards (who is a clear threat to each one’s own claim of intellectual superiority) the Leader’s sworn nemesis is a muscle-bound sociopath who can barely string a sentence together. As the Leader himself puts it in this issue, the Hulk is “the physical counterpart to my own titanic intellect”.

Perhaps this is why the Hulk has constantly thwarted his schemes. Though it seems the Leader ought to be able to outsmart this brute, since their powers are both derived from overexposure to gamma radiation, they are too diametrically opposed, thus canceling each other out.

Sterns would disagree with this theory, but that would be a case of the Leader doth protest too much, methinks. His own conclusions as to why the Hulk always bests him is that, underneath it all, he’s still Bruce Banner and Bruce Banner’s mind is too powerful even in Hulk form. Certainly a possibility, until one takes into consideration the Leader’s own summation of his associate Elihas “Egghead” Starr’s string of bitter failures: “Starr had an unfortunate proclivity to define himself against his enemies.”

Starr had? Or Sterns has? Likely both, and Parker’s use of irony here is simply wonderful. Sterns can see the failings of his counterparts, but cannot see how aptly they apply to him as well. Of course, this hubris is the fatal flaw of all these characters, the incessant belief that their superior intellects make them superior in every way. Think of the advances even one of these men could make in any given field if they dedicated even half the effort they’ve wasted on trying to defeat their foes.

Another bit of sly Parker writing is that the two members of the Intel who are still standing after their group has been dismantled are the Leader and MODOK. It is revealed here that these two are responsible for the creation of the Red Hulk, and it is they who pull his strings. What I find fascinating about the implication in the pairing of these two brains is that, of all the mad geniuses in this story, these two are the only ones who were created as such. Dr. Doom, the Wizard, et al, had genius-level IQs from a young age. But Sterns and the former George Tarleton were simpletons until the accidents of fate that brought both of them their mental faculties. Therefore, I would pose that these two have far more to lose in a very Flowers for Algernon way, and are thusly, more hard set to defeat their chosen enemy, Bruce Banner, in whatever form he takes. Again, this attention to detail as far as character motive, combined with its subtle presentation, is exquisite.

Fall of the Hulks: Alpha could easily have coasted on its prime placement within this major story arc. But Parker’s script betrays a love of good storytelling along with the junior-high thrill of a major Marvel event. Parker’s delicate treatment of the villains in this piece offers them a much more satisfying role beyond the typical mustache-twirling type of inept archfiend, thereby also offering a very solid read.

RATING 8 / 10