Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Fall of the Hulks, World War Hulks

A surprisingly fun, explosive event that brings together old and new gamma-powered heroes in a giant showdown.

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!

World war HulksWriters: Jeph Loeb (Hulk), Greg Pak (Incredible Hulks)

Artists: Ed McGuiness (Hulk), Paul Pelletier (Incredible Hulks)

Issues: Hulk #19-24, Incredible Hulks #606-611, Fall of the Hulks: Alpha, Full of the Hulks: Gamma, Fall of the Hulks: Red Hulk #1-4, Fall of the Hulks: The Savage She-Hulks #1-3, World War Hulks One-Shot

 

“There’s Too Many Hulks” sounds like a silly parody, but that’s pretty much the exact story concept Marvel ran with in 2010.

Planet Hulk and World War Hulk set the stage for some of the best Hulk-related stories ever. Marvel let Hulk rest on his haunches for a bit, introducing a mysterious new Red Hulk that was seemingly stronger and smarter, and had his own agenda. He would star in his own solo Hulk series beginning in 2008, and started out mostly sub-par.

Meanwhile the mantle of Incredible Hulk passed to Hulk’s son, whom we thought died on Sakaar because he wasn’t even born yet when his mother melted into lava at the end of Planet Hulk. Instead, Skaar inherits the powers of both Hulk and Caiera, allowing him to survive and grow up on the war-torn planet before making his way to Earth.

Neither of these storylines are totally necessary to understanding Fall of the Hulks, which in turn introduces a new Red She-Hulk and Savage She-Hulk, bringing our total number of Gamma-powered heroes to….well too damn many.

And yet, it’s super fun. The story is silly but also classic comic book fare, with an evil cabal, a master plan, and lots of fun twists. But it’s filled with awesome action sequences and some really incredible art, especially the Incredible Hulks series, drawn by Paul Pelletier of Marvel Cosmic fame (Annihilation: Conquest and War of Kings). Continue reading “Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Fall of the Hulks, World War Hulks”

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Mighty Avengers (2007), Vol. 5-6

Inconsistent art, boringly typical comic storylines, and a C-list cast makes Mighty Avengers an ultimately pointless series during Dark Reign.

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!

marvelWriter: Dan Slott

Artists: Khoi Pham (#21-23, 27-31), Rafe Sandoval (#24), Stephen Segovia (#25-26)

Issues: Mighty Avengers (2007) #21-31

 

Norman Osborn’s Dark Reign officially took over the Avengers team in 2009, replacing most of them with his own ex-villains and creating the Dark Avengers. Instead of canceling the Mighty Avengers series, Marvel soft-rebooted it, whipping up a whole new team that exists as a mostly pointless international task force (since they’d be hunted down by Osborn in the US). The C-list heroes serve to elevate the status of the unlikable Hank Pym, who’d been one of the main skrull infiltrators during the Secret Invasion.

The roster is pulled together from a current list of available heroes, some starring in their own series, others in diaspora during Dark Reign. Scarlet Witch (who’s later revealed to be Loki in disguise – a neat twist), gathers them together to create a team to mostly deal with omega-level threats outside the US.

The team initially consists of Hank Pym (awkwardly calling himself The Wasp), Stature (slain Ant-Man Scott Lang’s daughter and current Young Avenger), Vision, Ronin (Formerly Hawkeye and New Avenger), Hercules and Amadeus Cho, US Agent (borrowed from the failing Omega Flight), Jocasta, Hulk (who leaves after the first story, cause he’s the fucking Hulk and screw you guys), and uh the real Edwin Jarvis, loyal Avenger butler. Continue reading “Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Mighty Avengers (2007), Vol. 5-6”

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Skaar: Son of Hulk

I enjoyed returning to Sakaar in this sequel to Planet Hulk, but Hulk’s savage son is a difficult protagonist to get behind.

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!

marvelWriter: Grek Pak

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.  Continue reading “Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Skaar: Son of Hulk”

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Hulk: The Complete Collection Vol. 1

With Hulk imprisoned after World War Hulk, a new Red Hulk emerges! And he’s a complete asshole. Silly, stupid, but very action-packed, Hulk may be the Michael Bay of comic series.

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!

hulk volume 1Writer: Jeph Loeb

Artists: Ed McGuinness, Frank Cho

Issues: Hulk #1-12, King-Size Hulk #1, Incredible Hulk #600

 

I would imagine that most people in the world are familiar with the Hulk – he’s big, he’s green, he likes to smash. Up until I began reading Incredible Hulk (Vol. 3) beginning at issue #88, that’s all I really knew of him too. Planet Hulk changed my perceptions completely and me a huge fan of the big guy. As short and mildly disappointing as World War Hulk was, it still felt like a nice action-packed epilogue to those events.

Hulk is finally defeated and imprisoned after World War Hulk, and his Incredible Hulk series actually segues into Incredible Hercules (which I’m reading and surprisingly enjoying). But there must always be a Hulk comic, and an adjective-less Hulk series was born in early 2008 starring a new, vicious Red Hulk that was all villain. Though poorly written and brightly drawn, Red Hulk is a fun foil and adversary for our green anti-hero.

The initial hook of this new Red Hulk is who the hell is he? I already know seeing as this comic is seven years old and that cat’s out of the bag by now, but interestingly they keep it a hidden secret throughout this first collected volume, teasing (and eventually discrediting) that it’s Rick Jones or Doc Samson.

Red Hulk enters the scene in an action-packed manner that sets the tone for the entire series. Following a mysterious investigation over the murder of former Hulk villain Abomination, He crashes in on Iron Man and She-Hulk aboard a helicarrier, swiftly defeating them both. He then proceeds to kick the crap out of another new Hulk-type creature A-Bomb (the newly Hulkified Rick Jones) before Bruce Banner escapes from his prison facility and the fight we’ve all been waiting for is unleashed.

Hulk #4

Hulk and Red Hulk spend an entire issue fighting, and the dialogue is about as scintillating as you can imagine. I did enjoy how much of a straight-up asshole Red Hulk is, constantly taunting and making lewd remarks like a schoolyard bully. Rulk, as he’s referred to by many other characters, gets the upper hand. Then Thor shows up and the two of them fight for the entire next issue.

The plot of the initial story arc (#1-6) is very much just one battle after another, with Red Hulk showing off his immense power and talkative personality. The combination of Thor and Hulk together finally defeats Red Hulk, at least momentarily. At some point the Mighty Avengers show up to help with clean up duty (poor San Francisco). The mystery of Red Hulk’s identity remains present but everything takes a backseat to the rough and tumble fight scenes. The battles are fun but the art is extremely bright and exaggerated, reminding me a lot of glossy 90s comics, which is not a compliment.

hulk #9The next story arc (#7-9) attempts to tell two parallel stories – the Hulk fighting off Wendigos in Las Vegas (along with some other heroes) and Red Hulk fending off She-Hulk’s revenge as she gathers her own little army to take him down. The stories aren’t intertwined at all; the comic is simply divided with the first half going to Hulk.

Bruce Banner arrives in Las Vegas only to witness a sudden outbreak of Wendigos, those not-so-friendly flesh-eating werewolf type creatures from Canada. At the same time Ms. Marvel, the Sentry, and Moon Knight show up to join in the fray, and though they first begin battling (as comic book characters often do) they soon join forces to take down the rampaging monsters. It’s a fun if ultimately forgettable little romp.

Meanwhile She-Hulk is super pissed from her beatdown she got earlier in the series and wants to take down Red Hulk personally. She gathers an odd team of Thundara and Valkyrie and they all get their assess kicked until the rest of She-Hulk’s contacts arrive – just about all the other major women in the Marvelverse including Storm, Invisible Woman, and Black Widow. With their combined powers they are able to temporarily take Red Hulk, only for him to swiftly escape. If you haven’t learned by now, Red Hulk is ridiculously powerful.

The final arc takes the over-the-top silliness of the series to extremes as Grandmaster plucks Hulk along with various other powerful heroes from across time and space to battle each other for no real reason. Hulk, Namor, Dr. Strange, and Silver Surfer briefly battle the likes of Red Hulk, Tiger Shark, Baron Mordo, and Terrax.

It’s all incredibly stupid. At one point Red Hulk goes around and pretty much kicks everyone’s ass, including somehow absorbing Silver Surfer’s cosmic energy and riding his surfboard – c’mon! Villain’s are fun because of their motivations, their relationships with their heroes, and their personalities – rarely it’s based purely on raw strength and power.

hulk #12

The King-Size Hulk issue helps fill in a few blanks in the series, like where the Wendigo’s came from and why She-Hulk formed a team of “Lady Liberators.” None of it is important or even all that interesting. Incredible Hulk #600 technically kicks off the new Incredible Hulk series (Incredible Hulks in Marvel Unlimited) that launches out of this one in 2009. If you ever wanted an exercise in horribly confusing name changes and comic numbering, look squarely at Hulk around this time period.

Up until that last story arc I was generally on board with Hulk as a simple, glossy, beat ’em up comic series, but that last bit involving Galactus and a bunch of silly nonsense really irked me. Still, Hulk would continue on for nearly 60 issues into 2012, so clearly it either finds its footing, or people really enjoy seeing this mega-powered asshole continue to kick ass in random fight scenes. It does refreshingly stay mostly out of the greater Marvel continuity, which is mired in the events of Secret Invasion and Dark Reign during this time. I’ll stick with it for now, though its emphasis on pretty pictures and big action sequences with little substance may make it the Michael Bay of comic series.

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – World War Hulk

With a much more focused, smaller story, World War Hulk presents a fun and exciting epilogue to the awesome events of Planet Hulk.

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!

world war hulk coverWriters: 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.

World War Hulk #2b

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.

world war hulk #4Hulk 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.

world war hulk #5

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.

incredible hulk #110

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.

World War Hulk X-Men #2

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.

world war hulk warbound #3With 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.

 

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – The Incredible Hulk: Planet Hulk

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!

planet-hulkWriter: Greg Pak

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.

Planet Hulk #92

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.

planet hulk #93Hulk 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.

planet hulk #95

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.

planet hulk #99Hulk 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.

planet hulk #100

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.

Planet hulk #105
He fears nothing but his own wrath.

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.