With Marvel’s popular and successful foray into films with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’ve finally decided to get back into comics. I grew up a big fan of X-Men and other superheroes but haven’t really kept up since the 90s. Thus begins my grand catching-up of the last ten years of Marvel comics, events and stories.
Thanks in large part to trade paperbacks and the digital convenience of Marvel Unlimited I can make relatively quick progress, and I’ll write down my Final Thoughts for each collection here on my blog. Like my gaming Final Thoughts, this will be full of spoilers. You’ve been warned!
Artist: Carlo Pagulayan, Aaron Lopresti
Issues: The Incredible Hulk (1999) #92-105, Giant-Size Hulk #1
“We are all war bound now. Embrace your brothers. Or I’ll kill you myself.”
I’ve never been a big Hulk fan. The whole Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde thing seems pretty played out, and most of his stories just come down to HULK SMASH – not there’s anything wrong with that.
I decided to give The Incredible Hulk a try, as Hulk’s story post-House of M would take him on two wild events between late 2005 and the end of 2007 – the epic 14-issue spanning, alien world-setting Planet Hulk, followed by his vengeful return to Earth in World War Hulk.
I started with with the few issues that precede the Planet Hulk storyline to test the waters (#88-91). Bruce wakes up from his House of M ordeals and eventually exiles himself to Alaska, where he attempts to eke out a meager existence with minimal human interaction. It doesn’t last of course, and Nick Fury finds him and tricks him into stopping a renegade satellite weapon.
After defeating the sentient robot thing, Hulk climbs into a shuttle for the return trip, only to be unceremoniously catapulted further into space. The talking heads of the recently revealed Illuminati from New Avengers appear on screen, offering pithy remarks about Hulk’s destructiveness, and how this is the best way to solve it.
The ship’s tracking coordinates go awry when it suddenly hits a black hole, and Hulk is deposited on an alien world teeming with sentient life – not the peaceful planet he was meant to land on. Weakened by the trip through the “Great Portal,” Hulk is immediately captured by the slaver Imperials and dumped into the Great Arena.
Thus begins one of the coolest story concepts I’ve ever seen for a superhero comic – Combining the classic freedom fighter plot threads of Gladiator, Lawrence of Arabia and Braveheart with an exotic alien planet, putting Hulk through the ringer of sacrifice, betrayal, despair, hope, love and of course, anger.
Planet Hulk is one of the coolest comic book volumes I’ve ever read. It helps that the entire trade is a whopping fourteen issues long, allowing writer Grek Pak to not only tell his entire epic but really dive into the culture, religion, politics and characters of his own crafted world of Sakaar.
Structurally the massive volume is broken up into four story arcs, beginning with “Exile” (#92-95). This is the full on Gladiator story as Hulk is enslaved with the advanced technology of the Imperials, the pink, humanoid rulers of Sakaar. During Hulk’s first combat trial he easily defeats everything they throw at him, and the Emperor deigns to jump into the arena and fight him himself, adorned in full combat mech armor. The fight is called off after Hulk cuts the Emperor, and this simple act stats a chain reaction of dissidents and rebellion throughout the Empire.
Even more importantly, Hulk’s blood in the arena causes a rare plant to sprout up from the ground, aligning with a prophecy involving the Sakaarson and the Worldbreaker. Essentially, many begin seeing Hulk as the second coming of <insert your favorite deity or demi-god here> and further galvanizes the populace to the one they call The Green Scar.
Hulk soon enters a gigantic royal rumble filled with all sorts of spiffy alien creatures. Sakaar is home to many types of beasts and people, and the giant black hole deposits all manner of creatures and technology on the planet as well. Once six of them are left standing, they form a warbound troupe, pledging to work together and watch each other’s backs (or carapaces) for the coming battles.
Hulk’s allies are Imperials Elloe (daughter of a denounced politician) and her bodyguard Skavin (who’s death in the next fight galvanizes our new team), Miek of the insectoid Natives, giant stone-man Korg, Hiroim of the Shadow People and a nameless Brood (which eventually calls herself No-Name). This ragtag group ends up forging a bond of brotherhood throughout their trials, and they soon look to Hulk as their fearless leader.
At the climax of “Exile,” Hulk and his warbound company battle the Silver Surfer, who’s also been sucked into the Great Portal and enslaved (preceding his involvement in Annihilation). Hulk wins the battle but spares the Surfer’s life, and Norin Radd responds by destroying all the implanted discs that the Imperials were using to control everyone. The warbound make their escape as Hulk smashes down the walls of the arena, leading to the “Anarchy” story line as our heroes attempt to survive in the wilds while being hunted by the Empire.
Bruce Banner does make one minor appearance in the Planet Hulk tie-in of Giant-Size Hulk (included in the TPB) in the form of a dream sequence. It’s a fun little interlude where Banner and Hulk attempt to wrest control from one another, and ultimately Hulk remains in charge as Banner’s all alone, whereas Hulk has found friends, meaning and purpose as leader of a growing rebellion.
“Anarchy” explores much of the past of our warbound heroes that we otherwise wouldn’t have seen had Planet Hulk been a normally truncated six issue or so story. It’s fun seeing them cross paths with the Marvelverse, such as Korg landing on Earth and meeting Thor when his people invaded, and the Brood being one of many who hunted the X-Men when they descended into the depths of Broodworld.
Miek gets the biggest secondary character arc out of the bunch. The former comic relief, four-armed insectoid has a slavish devotion to Hulk as well as a vengeful streak for what the Imperials have done to his people, including finding his brothers chained up as slaves in a pit during their exodus. In the middle of “Anarchy” Miek metamorphoses into the ‘king’ form of his people, becoming about three times as large and utterly badass, and his desire of blood for blood clashes well with the rest of the group.
Hulk becomes a leader and protector of his people and he witnesses first-hand that bloody vengence isn’t always the answer. His biggest evolution comes from Caiera the Oldstrong, a powerful Shadow woman who acts as the Emperor’s right hand and a main antagonist for our heroes. However, when the Emperor finally doles out his ultimate solution for the pesky rebels – releasing a formerly defeated, now weaponized army of creatures called the Spikes, she switches sides to combat the atrocity.
As if countless alien creatures weren’t enough, the Spikes introduce a sci-fi zombie element to the playing field as they suck out all organic life and leave their victims as mindless, misshapen killers. The Spikes represent an armageddon-level threat to the planet, and Caiera finally sees the Emperor as truly insane.
In the beginning of “Allegiance” Hulk is able to split the ground and submerge much of the Spike army into lava beneath the planet’s surface. They’re still coming, though, and Hulk begins gathering allies in earnest. First he goes to the enigmatic, grey-skinned Shadow People and retrieves their ancient battleship that brought them to this planet. Then he does what many thought impossible and talks to the elder Spikes.
Turns out they are in fact a sentient race that feeds on dying stars, and their hunger had driven them insane enough to feed on all life. Hulk makes a pact with them and with a giant parasitic-zombie army at his side, they turn the tide on the Emperor.
The final battle involves a lot of satisfying HULK SMASH moments, and in his dying breath the Emperor attempts to destroy the planet right beneath their feet. Hulk responds by diving into the lava pits and moving the very plates, shifting the planet’s surface back into alignment. If that wasn’t enough, he then fulfills his side of the bargain and lets the Spike Elders feed on him for several days, saving everyone from the Spikes as they peacefully leave the planet afterward.
Hulk had become a true hero and icon of the people and they soon crown him king. Caiera had also fallen in love with him, and their short-lived peace and loving relationship is showcased at the end of “Allegiance” and the beginning of the final story, “Armageddon.”
Hulk finally has a place he can call home and can begin to rebuild. Even when factions like the remaining Imperials (led by Elloe) and Natives (led by Miek) attempt to fight each other, Hulk intervenes, showing them the pointlessness of their fighting and forging a better path.
It’s hard not to root for Hulk every step of the way, as he goes from gladiatorial monster to rebellious leader to king of the planet, always struggling with who he is. I’d never before seen this side of the green monster as he falls in love and finally knows peace.
Alas, it is not to be. Planet Hulk turns into a crushing tragedy as all that work was for nothing when the ship that brought Hulk begins beeping out in warning of the warp core failing. Hulk tries to rush to it and hurl it into space but it’s too late, the ship detonates with the power of several nuclear warheads, torching all life and condemning the crumbling planet.
Caiera melts away in his arms and Hulk is stricken with more grief than he’s ever felt. He wishes he could die with the rest of them, when out of the ashes flies his battleship, filled with his warbound brothers and sisters. They give him purpose once again – to take revenge on those that sent him here and destroyed all he grew to hold dear, and the life he might have had.
The self-contained Planet Hulk bleeds directly into the Marvel-wide event World War Hulk. Due to my love of the writing and art I quickly ordered the physical TPB and I’m excited to jump in and totally root for Hulk to kick everyone’s asses. Planet Hulk turned me into a huge fan of the big green guy, and I’m very impressed at how well a massive space story was given ample room to grow and flourish. If you love action-packed comics with neat sci-fi aliens and cultures, you need to read Planet Hulk.