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: Ron Garney, Butch Guice
Issues: Skaar: Son of Hulk #1-12, Planet Skaar Prologue
Note: The Hulk volumes go through some annoying and confusing title changes throughout this era. In Marvel Unlimited these issues are titled “Son of Hulk.”
Movies aren’t the only medium with direct-to-video style sequels. Nearly any material that’s moderately successful can easily justify getting a sequel, even if everyone knows it’s not going to be as good. The name alone will often carry just enough weight to warrant the time and money put in to crank out another entry.
Son of Hulk is a bit better than most churned-out-sequels, and has the distinct advantage of using the same writer, Greg Pak, who handled both Planet Hulk and World War Hulk. Son of Hulk begins as a sequel to Planet Hulk, taking place back on the violent, war-torn planet Sakaar.
Turns out that the bomb that killed Hulk’s Sakaarian wife Caiera and motivated he and his friends to launch the invasion of Earth really only destroyed Crown City, and not the entire planet as I was lead to believe.
The rest of the planet is now reeling from a crumbled empire, and barbarian tribes from the neighboring country are pillaging and looting. One barbarian warlord (with the fantastic Mad Max-ish name Axeman Bone) is specifically slaughtering all the children, as it’s rumored that the son of Hulk has survived.
Caiera was indeed pregnant when she was killed, but Hulk’s unborn child was only a few days old in the womb at best, then melted in Sakaar’s molten crust. Being the offspring of the Hulk and Caiera the Oldstrong has its advantages, however, and the son not only survived but grew to be a mini-hulk in his own right. Skaar, as he would be called, has his father’s greenish tint and his mother’s tatoos, eyes, and eventually, her Oldstrong power over a planet’s land.
Skaar is also a barbarous savage, having been immediately thrust into this planet’s monstrous predator’s and terrible people. The first six issues chart Skaar’s path throughout the lands once walked by his father as he meets allies and enemies.
The series goes even deeper into the mythology and setting of Sakaar, and being a big fan of the world Pak crafted in Planet Hulk, I definitely enjoyed it. The artwork is also action-packed and fun, giving a strong Conan the Barbarian vibe that works well throughout the series.
In issue #7 the Silver Surfer returns to Sakaar. He played a major role in Hulk’s initial rebellion as a fellow enslaved visitor to the planet. This time he returns as an official Herald of Galactus, believing that Sakaar’s special energy will sate Galactus for some time, possibly saving billions of lives. Needs of the many, and all that.
Skaar and company are none too pleased about the destruction of the planet, however, and Skaar ends up enslaving the Surfer, recreating his Silver Savage persona (after they fight each other a bunch, of course). The four-part “Silver Surfer Returns” (#7-10) culminates in a giant battle outside the barbarian city, where Axeman summons giant dragons to fight Skaar. Sakaar’s ecosystem of mega super-predators has always been fun, and Pak utilizes a lot of fun new and old faces to create what’s almost a grand Dungeons & Dragons mini-campaign.
Axeman Bone serves as a fun villain, and several issues are given mini-stories at the end to chart his side of the story. On the flip side, Skaar is a tough figure to root for as he constantly chooses poor decisions. When given the option he always chooses wrath and violence to deal with every situation, and every time the ghostly voice of his Jedi-like mother scolds him.
Finally Caiera transforms into the Hulk and berates him physically. Ultimately it’s the Surfer that tries to get through to him by showing him how Galactus will destroy his world unless he helps everyone flee. There’s always a bigger fish, Skaar.
I was very upset with the end which had Caiera making the questionable decision to sacrifice the entire planet to Galactus. With her last power she opens a portal, which magically dumps Skaar to Earth. It all seems a bit too easy in order to get Skaar to Earth, and frankly invalidates all the interesting characters and situations that Pak had been building on Sakaar, since literally everyone dies anyway. The Red King being rebuilt as a rehabilitated robot, his daughter Princess Omaka becoming a leader and allying with Axeman Bone – none of that matters. Galactus must feed. Lame.
The final two issues would be confusing if you didn’t know to read the one-shot Planet Skaar Prologue issue that takes place between #10 and #11. Guest starring the Fantastic Four, She-Hulk, and Hulk, they all race to the forest where Skaar has been dumped. Mr. Fantastic wants to subdue Skaar before father and son meet and cause all kinds of havoc, but of course it ends up happening anyway. Interestingly, Skaar seems to suddenly gain a young teen alter ego that he can Hulk out of, which never happened on Sakaar.
I enjoyed seeing the return of Hulk’s Warbound – Hulk’s allies on Sakaar that followed him to Earth. Since the events of World War Hulk they had their own mini-series where they now basically work in Gamma World, and gained a new member in former SHIELD agent Kate Wynnesboro who gained some of the Oldstrong power.
Hulk and Skaar meet and immediately battle, as hulks do, in the final two issues. Hulk is apparently still locked into his ‘dumb’ personality and only for a brief moment recognizes Skaar for who he is. Everyone ends up having to save a nearby nuclear power planet from exploding from the destruction. During the chaos, Skaar stabs Hulk and walks off unsatisfied, as was I.
Introducing Skaar as the savage offspring of two powerful figures is a neat idea, and I enjoyed returning to the hyper-violent world of Sakaar. I was equally dismayed to find it ultimately destroyed in the end.
Skaar himself was also a difficult protagonist to fully get behind, much like Wolverine’s son Daken (who’s also introduced around this time, and they make a fun “Sons.” “Tell me about it.” joke). Both sons are angsty, angry young men that hate their fathers. Maybe if I were an angry young man I’d be cheering for them, but as a 30-something dad, I just find it tiresome and irritating.
Skaar has the potential to be a cool character. He was born on a savage world, torn from his mother’s womb and birthed in fire. After trying to fight back against his oppressors, his world his consumed, and once again he’s torn from what little things and people he cares about. He has Hulk’s strength and rage and his mother’s Earth terraforming powers. He sports long hair, tattoos, and large swords, and looks more like a badass monstrous gladiator than even Hulk ever did on Sakaar. Unfortunately the story takes a lot of time building up Skaar’s exploits on Sakaar only to tear them all away and dump him on Earth, where his meeting with his father is predictable and disappointing.
Confusingly, Son of Hulk would continue for another five issues starring another character from the series (who apparently survived Galactus’ destruction of the planet), while Skaar would go on to co-star in the 2009 Incredible Hulk series, which would turn into Incredible Hulks after 12 issues. Damn it, Hulk, get your shit together. And Marvel, stop giving characters mean, hateful sons to stir up drama. Read Son of Hulk if you enjoyed Planet Hulk, but it pales in comparison to Grek Pak’s original masterpiece.