By Don Alsafi. Combining two distinct concepts that have no business being together and somehow making them work can be an artform all its own. Whether it’s the audio mashup of two separate songs into a new seamless whole, or even something as delightfully bonkers as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, it’s a risky proposition that can pay dividends when the mixture works.

And comics is no stranger to this approach. One of the most memorably odd instances of a superhero mashup is that of the Composite Superman, a bizarre villain who literally appeared to be Superman on one half of his body, and Batman on the other. On the Marvel side, the Super-Adaptoid is an android that can duplicate the powers and appearances of half a dozen heroes and villains at will. (And let’s not forgot the mid-90s DC/Marvel collaboration that was Amalgam Comics, giving us such enthusiastically strange combos as Iron Lantern and Lobo the Duck.)

But of course the Composite Superman and the Super-Adaptoid have never been more than occasional villains. And that’s likely due in part to the fact that mashup characters are just so damn weird that they’re hard to take seriously. No one would ever try to sell readers on the idea of a character that, at the most basic level, is just the resolution of Hero A + Hero B… right?

Well, Marvel’s betting otherwise. This week sees the debut of a new monthly series, starring a brand-new character who just so happens to be a merger of both the Hulk and Wolverine…

Building a Better Marvel: Weapon H #1Weapon H #1

Written by Greg Pak.

Art by Cory Smith and Marcus To.

Colors by Morry Hollowell.

Letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna.

A dark tale, confidently told. The story of Weapon H began in the “Weapons of Mutant Destruction” storyline, a mini-crossover between Weapon X and The Totally Awesome Hulk, both written by Greg Pak. Over the course of that story, readers were introduced to a military contractor named Clay, who had turned on and killed his team when he found out their mission was to slaughter an entire village. For this betrayal, his employers turned him over to Canada’s Weapon X project – the same shadowy organization that originally gave Wolverine his adamantium – who then injected him with the DNA of both Wolverine and the Hulk.

Clay’s story now continues here, courtesy again of Greg Pak, who clearly has some long-term plans for the character. Pak has certainly earned the trust of readers over the years, having charted some of the Hulk’s more memorable tales in the “Planet Hulk” and “World War Hulk” story arcs a dozen years ago. He’s also writing the continuing adventures of Amadeus Cho (formerly Totally Awesome, now rechristened as the new Incredible Hulk), who had previously been a co-star/supporting character in Pak’s stellar Incredible Hercules series that ran from 2008-2010.

The initial designs for Weapon H came from Mike Deodato Jr., but the art chores for this new series go to relative newcomer Cory Smith. Smith’s first major comics assignments were illustrating titles for Aspen Studios and Dynamite’s license for the Gold Key icons (like Turok and Magnus Robot Fighter), with runs on TMNT and Nova to follow. He’s clearly spent the last few years honing his craft.

Pak’s tale gives him a number of varied locations, surprises, and major and minor characters to draw from, and Smith acquits himself well. His storytelling pulls the reader along with the necessary tension and dread, and the action scenes explode with the power you’d expect. Cory might be a comics professional for only the last six years, but – as with Matthew Rosenberg and Adam Gorham on last week’s New Mutants: Dead Souls #1 – Marvel have done a commendable job on nabbing a relatively fresh voice who is already on his way to becoming a real contender.

Interior page from 'Weapon H' #1. Art by Cory Smith, Morry Hollowell, and Joe Caramagna/Marvel Comics

Interior page from ‘Weapon H’ #1. Art by Cory Smith, Morry Hollowell, and Joe Caramagna/Marvel Comics

A simmering rage, brought to a boil. After a brief prelude in which Clay saves some construction workers in Montana from a group of bandits, the real story begins. The perpetually sinister Marvel corporation Roxxon has funded an archeological excavation in (or near) Alaska, which culminates in the creation of an all-new Wendigo – a beast that’s summoned forth when a person eats of human flesh. (This isn’t much of a spoiler, as the monster looms over the cover of the comic.) This is actually quite a clever decision on Pak’s part, since – as most comics readers know – the character of Wolverine first debuted in the pages of 1974’s Incredible Hulk #180-181. And the menace of that initial story? None other than the Wendigo.

And yet, despite all the brawling and smashing and violence within, that’s not what this comic succeeds at most. Greg Pak has gained the respect and acclaim of fandom over the years because at his heart he understands character. Or to put it another way: It’s incredibly easy to write either the Hulk or the Wolverine poorly – as has been done many times over the years – by focusing on just the rage and the violence.

But Marvel’s best writers have always understood that though the scenes of action and mayhem are necessary, and often cathartic, the compelling flipside of these characters is one of restraint. Banner and Logan know themselves to be potentially catastrophic engines of destruction, and have historically spent a great deal of their time and energies struggling to contain those tendencies, and at times remove themselves from the presence of others. Under Pak’s direction, Clay too finds himself a loner on an ever-unwinding road, doing everything he can to avoid situations that could cause his inner beast to emerge. Which, of course, goes about as well you’d expect…

Interior page from 'Weapon H' #1. Art by Cory Smith, Morry Hollowell, and Joe Caramagna/Marvel Comics

Interior page from ‘Weapon H’ #1. Art by Cory Smith, Morry Hollowell, and Joe Caramagna/Marvel Comics

An excessive mashup, done serious and straight. For such a ludicrously over-the-top concept, the actual execution is surprisingly well-done. And there’s even a 10-page backup story (illustrated by Marcus To, another Aspen Studios alum) shedding light on the wife and children Clay has left behind – a wife who, as it happens, is an office worker at one of the branches of the Roxxon Corp.

It’s a notably capable first issue – and a remarkably accessible one, despite the character’s origin story occurring in a two-title crossover story last summer. And yet there’s a lingering doubt, because although it’s a decent comic… the question remains as to whether it’s all that necessary of one. Over the last few years it’s seemed as if Marvel has been greenlighting new titles left and right in a bid to try to shore up their decreasing market share. By and large, a lot of that hasn’t worked, and the last six months has seen a veritable bloodbath of cancellations.

Granting an all-new title to a character who only just debuted last year could be seen as unwise at best, or overly optimistic. When both Wolverine and the Hulk were dead, maybe Weapon H made sense. But Wolvie came back in the Marvel Legacy one-shot last fall, while the Banner Hulk just returned in the pages of The Avengers last week. Given that, wouldn’t a Hulkverine (and, no joke, that’s what they call him) seem a tad bit superfluous?

One way or the other, sales will surely tell. After all, every issue of “Weapons of Mutant Destruction” sold out blazingly fast – so, really, it was a given that they’d go ahead and try to capitalize on that success. Will the concept, in the end, prove to have legs? On the face of it, you wouldn’t think so. But in the hands of talented creators, maybe even a Hulkverine can find a home…

7.5 out of 10

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