Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Enter At The (Apparent) End: Red She-Hulk: Route 616

The Good: Artwork is all right, Plot progresses
The Bad: Dialogue lacks flow, No real character development
The Basics: Red She-Hulk: Route 616 is the conclusion to the Marvel Now! Red She-Hulk story . . . and it feels like they gave up on her before the book ended!

In my study of various super heroes, there were none that I was surprised to find I enjoyed reading as much as She-Hulk. Far from living down to my fear that the book would just be a "Hulk, smash!" series with a female protagonist, I quickly found I enjoyed how some writers played with Jennifer Walters as a protagonist and gave her a quirky, interesting voice and story. So, I felt pretty safe in picking up a Red She-Hulk book, Red She-Hulk: Route 616. That, as it turned out, was a wrong move.

Red She-Hulk: Route 616 might well be my first Marvel Now! trade paperback anthology and it seems that I came in at the end of the story of Betty Ross. Betty Ross is the Marvel Now! (and maybe before, I'm not fluent in Red She-Hulk) Red She-Hulk and given where the story ends and the notes at the end of the volume, it seems like it was the end of the title. In fact, it reads like it is. I cannot recall ever having to read a graphic novel twice just because I was so confused that I was missing something. Obviously, I am missing something; the content of the sixty-two issues of Red She-Hulk that precede the story in Red She-Hulk: Route 616 (which anthologizes issues 63 - 67). But my issue was not with content, it was with flow. Jeff Parker's writing seems very fractured and the book reads like it was assembled from an awkward series of cuts (for example, in the second chapter, Red She-Hulk is looking at a pyramid from a bit of a distance in one panel and the next, she is tearing into it . . . with no sense of how she got from one location to the other, with no sense of discovery or reason in trying to find a way into the pyramid). In short, Red She-Hulk: Route 616 feels like a cancelled show where the writers were given an episode to wrap everything up and the staff didn't actually care to produce the last episode well.

On the story front, Route 616 picks up very much in the middle of a story, though the opening summary and the "panel discussion" from a television show are enough to instantly bring new readers (like me!) up to speed. Betty Ross is the Red She-Hulk, who seems to have three states - Betty Ross, Red She-Hulk (minor) and full hulked-out Red She-Hulk (who barely ever makes an appearance). Betty Ross spends most of her time as a fairly controlled Red She-Hulk and she is accompanied by an X-51 android named Aaron Stack. The story begins with the pair hunting Nikola Tesla (who is an Artificial Intelligence in this iteration), because he has abducted a girl who serves as the processor for a machine that is going to bring about the apocalypse. So, Red She-Hulk and Aaron Stack are on the run from S.H.I.E.L.D.

Exposed to the general populace while at a diner, Betty Ross transforms into the Red She-Hulk, which alerts S.H.I.E.L.D. to her general presence. Aaron Stack steals a car for the pair and they once again flee. The S.H.I.E.L.D. team of Echelon-based supersoldiers does not take very long to track the pair down and while Red She-Hulk defeats the S.H.I.E.L.D. team, she and Stack are literally forced underground. There, they encounter the mole people and their search for Tesla takes them to an underground pyramid that is filled with futuristic technology. But Tesla outwits the pair and when they return to the surface, they discover reality is falling apart around them.

Trapped at Mt. Rushmore in an alternate or near-future, where Dr. Doom, Red Skull, Ultron, and Loki are carved into the side of the mountain, Red She-Hulk and Stack struggle to defeat the reconstructions of the Four Horsemen. They are only successful after all images merge into a superbeing and Stack unwittingly sets the new villain on the world at large! Still, the encounter leaves them with a clear destination: the Florida Everglades. There, they find Man-Thing, who takes them on a trippy journey through hundreds of realities for no clear reason until they manage to get back to their proper universe where everything wraps up surprisingly fast.

Red She-Hulk: Route 616 is not at all high literature and it is a remarkably unsatisfying read. Pursued by S.H.I.E.L.D., Jennifer Walters unwittingly aids the adversaries of Red She-Hulk by helping the supernatural law enforcement agency figure out her frequency. While Red She-Hulk is characterized by others as a master of hiding because she knows the military's playbook for pursuit, that is never actually shown in the book. Red She-Hulk does not evade S.H.I.E.L.D.; she is just hell-bent on her own mission and occasionally, S.H.I.E.L.D. agents burst in on her and Stack!

In a similar fashion, Red She-Hulk: Route 616 includes an entire subplot wherein S.H.I.E.L.D. employs the Thinker to try to track down Red She-Hulk, but he instead figures out how to make the Echelon soldiers work. The Thinker disappears fairly abruptly and the new, improved soldiers, seem only to serve the narrative for one of several jaunts into an alternate universe. The book spends more time developing the characteristics and backstory of the Mole People than it does satisfyingly developing the threat of the Echelon soldiers.

Red She-Hulk: Route 616 is very plot-focused, as opposed to character-centered. Betty Ross is given about equal page time as Aaron Stack and Stack figures out more ways to save the day than Ross does! That is hugely unsatisfying for a book titled Red She-Hulk. That Betty Ross takes up the position of wisecracking sidekick - Stack figures out how to out-logic Ultron, while Ross complains about what various battles are doing to her hair! - in her own book is tremendously disappointing and a horrible example to set for readers (of any gender).

The artwork in Red She-Hulk: Route 616 is fine, but very much like snapshots. There is exceptionally poor transition between panels, so this is a book that does not flow from panel to panel, page to page well. Instead, it's like flipping through photographs with captions; readers are left to infer much of the movement between panels. The coloring is homogeneously good throughout the book.

Ultimately, Red She-Hulk: Route 616 is an end for the Red She-Hulk as a solo work and while I might have come in at the end, I have no problem with declaring it a disappointment. The narration is fractured, the characters mediocre and the resolution forced. It's a poor story that is not enough to make a reader want to pick up any of the prior Red She-Hulk volumes.

For other She-Hulk books, please visit my reviews of:
The Sensational She-Hulk
Single Green Female
The Avengers: The Search For She-Hulk
Superhuman Law
Time Trials
Laws Of Attraction
She-Hulk: Planet Without A Hulk
Fall Of The Hulks: The Savage She-Hulks
Marvel Her-oes


For other book reviews, please check out my Book Review Index Page for an organized listing.

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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