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!
Writers: Greg Pak (World War Hulk, Incredible Hulk, Aftersmash, Warbound), Christos Gage (Iron Man, World War Hulk: X-Men)
Artists: John Romita Jr. (World War Hulk), Koi Pham (Incredible Hulk), Leonard Kirk (World War Hulk: Warbound) Andrea Di Vito (World War Hulk: X-Men), Butch Guice (Iron Man), Rafa Sandoval (World War Hulk: Aftersmash)
Issues: World War Hulk #1-5 & Prologue, Incredible Hulk #106-111, World War Hulk: X-Men #1-3, Iron Man #19-20, World War Hulk: Aftersmash #1, World War Hulk: Warbound #1-5
I freaking hate the Sentry. He quickly became Marvel’s de facto Get Out of Any Situation Free card ever since his introduction back in New Avengers. He’s apparently the most powerful hero on Earth but no one knew it thanks to some mind trickery. And he’s eventually the only one that can stop the Hulk when he finally returns to Earth to exact his vengeance from the end of Planet Hulk. Boo!
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Planet Hulk became one of my favorite comics: an extended, crazy alien adventure for our big green hero as he fought in gladiatorial battles, forged an alliance of brotherhood with his fellow gladiators, and eventually lead a giant rebellion against the planet’s overlord. Just when things were going so well, the shuttle Hulk was unceremoniously tricked and shot off into space in explodes, destroying the entire planet, including Hulk’s new bride and unborn child.
A spaceship full of survivors including Hulk’s Warbound survives, and they vow to return to Earth to punish those that sent him there and destroyed his world. When he arrived in the Summer of 2007 – it’s World War Hulk!
As far as major events go, World War Hulk is actually pretty minor compared to previous world-altering juggernauts House of M and Civil War. Hulk and company arrive on Earth’s moon and quickly dismantle Black Bolt (in barely a panel or two), then broadcast to Earth with the promise that he’ll take down the rest of the Illuminati the same way – Iron Man, Mr. Fantastic, and Dr. Strange. Namor and Professor X are also members of the secretive superhuman society, but the former voted against sending the Hulk away, while the latter was too busy dealing with the aftermath of House of M to even show up to the meeting.
Since Hulk isn’t a murderer – an important theme that’s examined throughout the arc – he gives everyone in Manhattan 24 hours to evacuate before he invades. And invade he does – having a mostly empty playground of city to destroy lends itself to some pretty epic battles and confrontations. Iron Man is first on the list, and as the then current Director of SHIELD he takes on Hulk with missiles, satellites, and his own Hulkbuster armor (which looks really dumb by the way, the upcoming Avengers: Age of Ultron’s looks way cooler).
Hulk defeats Stark, and he becomes his first defeated prisoner in a long line. Hulk soon tangles with the Mighty Avengers and the Fantastic Four, beating them all in turn (with the occasional help of his Warbound buddies). The five issue main event arc moves rapidly as Hulk subdues all that oppose him, with only Dr. Strange really putting up a big fight. Strange summons a portion of an ancient demon-god and goes toe-to-toe with Hulk for quite awhile (causing a ton of spectacular damage in the process). Eventually he can’t control the power and rage the demon provides, something Hulk knows all too well about, and he’s finally defeated.
Hulk sets up a gladiatorial arena, enslaves the fallen heroes with the same obedience disks he was given back on Sakaar, and makes them fight each other. There’s some fun opportunity for vicious battles between Mr. Fantastic and an armor-less Tony Stark, but the art is completely tone-deaf to the material. I’ve never been a fan of Romita’s Saturday Morning Cartoon look, and for a comic that’s about 80% gigantic bloody battles, it really doesn’t mesh very well.
World War Hulk sets up some great grudge matches, like Hulk versus Thing, but Romita’s art lends itself to lots of bright explosions and childish faces rather than violent melee attacks. A hugely wasted opportunity, and one that really holds the whole event back from greatness.
The Sentry, Marvel’s annoying ace-in-the-hole, finally deigns to leave his house and unleash his full power on the Hulk. Sentry is an agoraphobic schizophrenic, something we’re reminded of constantly, with the power of a million exploding suns. Whatever. He blasts through Hulk’s arena just as Hulk reveals that no, he is in fact not a murderer and just wanted to prove a point to the world about who the real monsters are (pullin’ for you, Hulk!). Hulk and Sentry have a climactic battle, which mostly involves Sentry blasting Hulk with his full power and Hulk punching the shit out of Sentry.
Eventually the two weaken themselves enough that Hulk turns back into Bruce Banner, whom we haven’t really seen since before the Planet Hulk arc. Bruce is prepared to make nice when Miek, Hulk’s first friend and ally from Sakaar, stabs Rick Jones and in trying to get Hulk to return. He reveals in a crushing twist that he saw the loyalists from Sakaar plant the bomb on the ship, and allowed Hulk to think it was the heroes back on Earth that did it.
Naturally Bruce immediately Hulks out again and beats the shit out of his former insectoid friend, feeling a mixture of fury and shame at everything that’s transpired. A now freed Tony Stark uses the opportunity to activate his overhead satellite laser things, blasting Hulk back into Bruce and reducing him to a seeminly catatonic state. They place him in a “secure” location far beneath the New Mexico desert, and thus ends Hulk’s misplaced rage.
Planet Hulk made me fall in love with the big guy. I’d never really cared about Hulk before then but coming to grips with being a monster with the soul of a human was captivating, not to mention just how exciting and action-packed all his alien-filled battles were. World War Hulk gives us some fun battles with famous heroes but the art is nowhere good enough to make them as fun as they should be (see Thunderbolts for some worthy art of awesome fight scenes). Greg Pak (who also wrote Planet Hulk) gives us a fun epilogue to those events, and the end twist is absolutely gut-wrenching (and perfectly in line with Miek’s vengeance-fueled character). I just wish Marvel didn’t need to rely on the lameness that is Sentry to solve yet another major crisis.
I also attempted to read several World War Hulk tie-ins in chronological order during the event, giving some extra backstory and side stories during Hulk’s rampage. Hulk’s big solo series of Incredible Hulk starts off shaky, giving us mostly needless backstory on the events of Planet Hulk – useful if you hadn’t read it, but then why are you now reading Incredible Hulk? Eventually the focus shifts to Hulk’s unlikely and unasked for allies known as the Renegades, a random group of heroes that had tussled with Hulk before during another bout of misunderstanding involving She-Hulk’s origin. Angel, Hercules, and Namora are joined by newcomer Amadeus Cho, who’s adamant about getting through to the Hulk and talking him down.
Normally this would be a tiresome storyline with some C-list heroes but Pak actually does a great job with the cast and what they can accomplish. Cho, the “seventh smartest person in the world,” is a surprisingly fun and enjoyable lead character, full of bravado, conviction, and a bit of youthful naiveté. His passion to stand up for the Hulk in spite of everything that’s happening is admirable and though the team can’t really affect the main storyline they still work to help the people displaced by the now mostly destroyed Manhattan.
Iron Man’s solo series tie-ins are less thrilling seeing as how he gets himself captured after the first issue of World War Hulk. Issue #19 basically shows that first issue from Stark’s perspective, which doesn’t really add anything, while he’s barely present in #20 since he’s captured by Hulk the whole time (the focus leads to Dugan and SHIELD trying to pick up the pieces). The tie-ins are wholly unnecessary, but at least I can go back to reading Iron Man now!
In terms of just plain fun, the World War Hulk: X-Men tie-ins do a great job giving us exactly what we want to see: the Hulk fighting the X-Men. All of the X-Men. Also a few members of X-Factor, Excalibur, and all the teenage New X-Men. In three issues Hulk shows up at Xavier’s mansion, demands that Charles turn himself over as a member of the Illuminati, and the X-Men defend him. There’s some brutal fights here (and I enjoyed Leonard’s artwork here more than Romita’s in WWH) including Hulk absolutely crushing Wolverine’s face, bending Colossus’ arms back, and surviving the X-Jet crashing into him.
In the end Mercury of the New X-Men has an emotional breakdown in the poignant graveyard. Yes, Xavier’s has to have it’s own damn cemetery – who the hell would send their kids to a school that has to have its own cemetery?? Anyway, Cessily cries about how they’ve lost so much in the wake of the Decimation and throws the rage back in Hulk’s face. Hulk is mollified and decides to leave them alone, correctly guessing that Xavier has suffered enough.
Finally World War Hulk has its own epilogue series called Aftersmash, namely Damage Control and Warbound. I skimmed through Damage Control on Marvel Unlimited, and it looked like a fairly boring story about a few heroes getting together to clean up the mess that is New York City. Warbound, however, stars the remaining members of Hulk’s alien crew. It’s awesome for fans of Planet Hulk as they really didn’t get much to do during World War Hulk.
With Hulk out of the picture they attempt to get away, and find themselves in New Mexico. An old Hulk villain named the Leader harnesses Hiroim’s powers to generate a gamma-dome, trapping a number of innocent people inside. It’s a fun little story that gives our displaced crew some nice action and drama, and introduces an interesting new character in SHIELD agent Kate Waynesboro. Unfortunately only the first three of the five issue arc is on Marvel Unlimited, forcing me to look up how it ends on WIkipedia. Dang!
With a much more focused, smaller story, World War Hulk presents a fun, action-packed epilogue to the awesome events of Planet Hulk. I do wish it had used the same artist. As a crossover event it ranks as very minor, only really affecting the Hulk himself. His solo series transitions into Incredible Hercules with sidekick Amadeus Cho – I may have to give this one a chance as it lasted for nearly 30 issues! Unfortunately World War Hulk acts as the climactic ending point for the Hulk as he’s written out of the Marvel universe for the next several years. And just when I fell in love with the character! Good night sweet, misunderstood prince.