…by Greg Pak (words), Carlo Pagulayan (pencils) and others, Chris Sotomayor with Laura Martin & Lovern Kindzierski (colors).
The Hulk has always been a personal fave. He smashes. The madder he gets, the stronger he gets. He wishes the puny humans would just leave him alone. And, of course, he used to refer to himself in the third person, which was always outstanding.
Growing up, I liked him for just those attributes, and the fact that he was the strongest one there is. He was always kind of getting the shaft from the other Marvel characters and from his alter ego, Bruce Banner. They would manipulate, cajole, and generally disrespect him, and then effect surprise or outrage when the Hulk decided to smash them.
That trend continues in Planet Hulk, a lush hard-back compilation of Incredible Hulk #s 92-105, Giant Size Hulk #1, and some bonus materials. It seems Reed Richards, Iron Man, Doctor Strange, and Black Bolt have taken the opportunity to once again jettison ol’ Greenie into space (they’ve done this before) to spare Earth the danger of his rage. They’ve picked out a nice quiet planet with lush vegetation and no intelligent lifeforms; unfortunately, the Hulk gets angry when he gets the message, mashes the spaceships guidance systems, and ends up somewhere else altogether. Somewhere a bit more savage.
The place: Sakaar, AKA Planet Hulk. It’s equal parts Tatooine, Dune, and Roman Empire, with the Cosmic Marvel Universe thrown in as well. The Hulk immediately gets thrown into it with various creatures, and alien races, and, due to him being weakened by his passage through the wormhole, he finds himself implanted with an ‘obedience disk’. This allows him to be enslaved and sold to a gladiator trainer (just like the movie), where he reluctantly bonds with his fellow slaves, briefly confronts the evil emperor, and comes face-to-face with the rebel movement (like the movie). Mayhem ensues.
Is it familiar? Yes, but that’s OK. This is Big Comic Book territory. Writer Greg Pak has the reins to move the character beyond the norms imposed on him by the ever expanding and often perplexing Marvel Universe. He doesn’t have to worry about the traditional Hulk-villians showing up, or the Avengers interfering, or frankly, the ever-present civilian bystander kill-factor–all of which must ultimately constrain any ambitious Hulk story. Instead Pak has this savage planet, with warring races and monsters who are more than they seem, complete with an old prophecy that may or may not refer to the big Green Guy.
What Pak provides is a very effective and entertaining take on that old stand-by: the Reluctant Hero. It’s Maximus-Hulk, Conan-Hulk. And the Hulk is primed for it: after all, hasn’t the he been telling us all he just wants to be left alone since the days of Lee and Ditko? Why is that? Could it be because he himself is afraid he might destroy the entire world during one of his rages? Because everyone assumes he’s a monster? These are themes Planet Hulk returns to again and again. Pak assembles an interesting group of supporting characters, some of whom mirror the Hulk’s traditional approach to problems, some who serve as mentors, and even, yes, a love interest.
But wait, you say, where’s the smashing! There’s plenty of that–worry not. This Hulk smashes, (he even slashes). The art by Pagulayan et al is lush and kinetic, reminding us that Marvel can still be mighty in spite of itself. The art-team takes obvious glee in the many strange creatures, the sci-fi gadgetry, and the immense battle sequences of the book. And this is your classic Hulk–the occasional third-person Hulk, the “Hulk Smash!” Hulk, with hardly a glimpse of that puny Banner. Oh, Bruce is there, lurking on the periphery, but he has no place on Planet Hulk and he seems to know it. The familiar theme of Banner v. Hulk, who is dominant, who is in control, is mostly left alone. Pak does provide some clever asides therein, and the Giant Size Hulk #1 deals with this exclusively, but mostly they leave it alone. Fine by me.
I haven’t read a lot of Hulk over the years, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying this book immensely. I would submit that anyone interested in reading a good comic book will enjoy Planet Hulk. To me this is a definitive character story, much like The Dark Knight Returns for Batman, or Kingdom Come for the Justice League. But where those were self-contained ‘future’ versions of the continuum, this book exists within the ongoing Marvel Universe. And therein lies my chief complaint. Pak must get the Hulk back to Earth (World War Hulk in stores even now), and his method for doing this left me a bit cool. That said, this book is excellent–it’s ten times the story of Marvel’s other recent ‘huge’ event, Civil War (link to my review).
If you’re even remotely interested, I suggest you check Planet Hulk out soon.