Reviews of trade paperbacks of comic books (mostly Marvel), along with a few other semi-relevant comments / reviews.

01 July 2009

Incredible Hulk: Planet Hulk

Collects: Incredible Hulk # 92-105, Giant-Size Hulk #1, Amazing Fantasy v. 2 #15 (2006-7)

Released: June 2007 (Marvel)

Format: 416 pages / color / $39.99 / ISBN: 9780785122456

What is this?: Hulk, exiled by not-so-smart guys, smashes a whole new planet.

The culprits: Writer Greg Pak and pencillers Aaron Lopresti and Carlo Pagulayan

I’ve said in other reviews that I am a fan of the Hulk because of his changeability, his not being tied to New York City or the same superhero ethos of his Marvel brethren. The Hulk does stranger things than the other heroes; even Marvel’s scientist-explorers, the Fantastic Four, confront the world through rationality and scientific inquiry. The Hulk has no such schema to help him; he’s just as bewildered wherever he goes, and brother, he sees some bewildering things. It can make even a repetitive Hulk adventure mildly enjoyable.

Then there is Incredible Hulk: Planet Hulk. Hulk has been exiled to another planet by people who should be smarter; unfortunately, he doesn’t end up on the planet he was aimed at, falling instead on Sakaar, a world ruled by a despotic emperor, where gladiatorial combats are a popular entertainment. The Hulk is taken into slavery when he arrives, and of course, after slavery comes the gladiatorial combats.

Incredible Hulk: Planet Hulk coverYou can guess what’s coming next.

Writer Greg Pak guides the Hulk through this alien setting, with the Hulk meeting aliens from all over the Marvel Universe (plus new species). Weird new settings is Hulk’s forte, and certainly, the Hulk is the star of the show. Pak does an excellent job taking him through an emotional range that in earlier incarnations might have been overlooked. But the other aliens in his army — his Warbound — are interesting in their own right, each with their own personality and story. The Hulk swaggers through the story, smashing and creating havoc, but it’s his fellow gladiators who hold the story together.

It’s an amazing story, really: more than a year dedicated to one Hulk story with a large scope, from slavery to revolution to remaking a world. To a certain extent, such a thing couldn’t have been done before. Before Peter David, such extended storylines — more than a year on a single non-Earth planet — would have been a difficult sell (although Bill Mantlo did a long story about a mindless Hulk stranded at the crossworlds of reality, it traveled through several different settings). David’s long run could have had such a story, but David favored humor over the stark, violent world that Planet Hulk embraces. (Not that David couldn’t have done something similar, but it would have been an odd fit.) And the less said of the Bruce Jones run, the better.

Pak has created an entire new world for the Hulk to play in. He uses some of the established parts — the Brood, the Stone Men of Saturn that Thor fought in his origin — but the world of Sakaar is imaginative and detailed, as the appendix describing the history, society, creatures, and technology of Sakaar show. Pak has created a world that is a hodgepodge, and then he and the artists let their imagination go wild.

Both Aaron Lopresti and Carlo Pagulayan are up to the task. They both do excellent work, and their styles mesh well together. I prefer Lopresti’s work by a small margin, but both are imaginative, producing detailed work on one page and sweeping vistas on the next. Marvel scored a coup here, finding not one but two artists who could put into pictures what they and Pak imagined.

It’s hard for me to say how much I like Planet Hulk. Rarely do I read such a large superhero story and find it interesting; even more rarely am I absorbed by it. Planet Hulk is that story. It’s not perfect — the “Mastermind Excello” story at the end is a confusing trailer for the next story, and there are times the plot seems to wallow in misery for the purpose of making the story grittier. But Planet Hulk is among the best of the Hulk stories ever — certainly the best of the last decade, standing alongside the best of David’s run.

Rating: Hulk head Hulk head Hulk head Hulk head Half of a Hulk head (4.5 of 5)

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