Before I start talking about other things I've been reading lately--chief among them Grant Morrison's run on Batman that has me enjoying the character for the first time in ages--I figured I would reread the first Incredible Hulks storyline, "Dark Son," which spanned issues #612-617. I did this because while I enjoyed the single issues, I've seen certain criticisms leveled against the series, and even thought of some myself. I can't level all the bad stuff directly at writer Greg Pak, and you'll soon see why. Still, the narrative is less impressive in relation to what came before in the legends of the Sons of Hulk.
The first point I have to raise is the characterization of Hiro-Kala himself. He has previously (in my "Dark Son" primer) been characterized as a boy who recognized the dangers of the Shadow People's Old Power and took it upon himself to rid the universe of it. After feeding an entire planet to Galactus, his dead mother even appeared in a vision to him, excusing his actions as being in service to some greater good! He then attempted to find his brother, Skaar, but was diverted through the Fault (see the Realm of Kings series of mini-series) to the planet K'ai, home to the Hulk's late love, Jarella. There, he used some other energy to tow the planet through the Fault and into the main Marvel Universe. Also, he took the power of the Worldmind, a sentient energy at K'ai's center, and used it to subjugate its people in service to him. Now armed with even more power, he resumed his quest to find his brother, only to ultimately discover that his fragile psyche had created the vision of his mother Caiera as means of assuaging his conscience. He was a child, acting out over the loss of his home planet and his own lack of ability to properly harness the Old Power, so he took information he knew and built lies upon it.
There is commentary out there that suggests that the revelations of "Dark Son" ring false, or that they turn the shaky morals of Hiro-Kala's quest into something of stark black-and-white, merely the ravings of a boy who got mixed up in something bigger than himself. In fact, I had to go back and re-read pieces of "Dark Son Rising," the storyline by Paul Jenkins and Andres Guinaldo, to make sense of this storyline. What I found is that the information about the Old Power being unstable comes from Old Sam, and should be treated, until proven otherwise, as canon. There is some manner of problem with the Old Power; however, the exact nature of the problem remains unknown, or perhaps it is only in the misuse of the power that it becomes a problem. ("Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." Thanks, Lord Acton!) If it's the latter, then the Old Power is no different than any other form of energy--if you misuse it, then bad things happen.
I like the idea that Hiro-Kala, afraid of the nature of the Old Power, being so young and in possession of the power for which he has been given no formal training, sought solace in hallucinations to excuse the grisly deeds he performed. Certainly, Bruce Banner indicates in his conversation with Hiro-Kala in #616 that he is aware of some problem with the Old Power, but that he has "already begun to figure out how to contain it." He denies Hiro-Kala's ideas that the Old Power is destined to destroy life as we know it. Was what Banner said a lie? Did he know Hiro-Kala was suffering from delusions? Or is there a real problem with the Old Power that will need to be addressed in, say, upcoming issues of The Incredible Hulks?
The second, lesser gripe I have about the storyline is something that's really endemic in popular fiction and comics in particular. It's what the title of this post refers to, when the K'aitians awaken because of Banner spreading the Worldmind's signal and one of them talks to the Hulks. There are no italics, and nothing indicating it's anything but English that's being spoken. Of course, this point stretches back to Realm of Kings: Son of Hulk - The Conquest of Jarella's World, when the Enigma Force and the K'aitians also spoke English. Now, from what I remember of the old Jarella books, the Hulk needed a spell cast upon him to understand the K'aitians, as did Jarella to be able to understand the Hulk's language. (The same spell gave Banner control of the Hulk's body while in the Microverse, and was revoked in #156.) Of course, I think virtually every other later writer ignored that a spell was needed to translate K'aitian speech to English, including Peter David (in #351-352 as well as Captain Marvel #5-7). Add in that we know the Micronauts/Enigma Force have never needed a translator of any kind to talk to Cable, the Fantastic Four, and the other heroes they've met over the years, and they certainly had no trouble talking with the K'aitians in RoK: SoH. (You could also talk about the Imperials and Hiro-Kala talking with the Hulks being similarly problematic.) It's a big mess, but I can't lay it at the feet of Pak alone. Maybe it was the Worldmind keeping everyone able to understand each other? (But while we're on the topic, there is the matter of how everyone in World War Hulk was able to understand the Warbound, all of whom likely spoke in other languages but understood each other thanks to "talkbots" implanted in their ears.)
Third and finally, the ending of "Dark Son" is certainly ambiguous, in such a way that not even the finale of Enigma Force #3 can clean it up. While the Worldmind has Hiro-Kala inside it, did they go back into K'ai and find a new star? Or did the Worldmind and Hiro-Kala become the new star? If the former, great! I can accept it but it should have been made clearer. However, if the Worldmind is a new sun, well, I've seen a lot of comic book physics in this storyline, you know? With the planet K'ai approaching Earth in a very "Silver Age Superman" kind of way, and the diversion of the planet occurring in an even more improbable way. (How could the volcanoes generate enough power to divert K'ai from its collision so quickly? And just think about the physical effects to both Earth and K'ai!) But stars can't just be located wherever someone decrees they can go. There are fundamental physical laws to follow. And so, I'm left scratching my head until which time this cosmic riddle is solved.
The best thing about "Dark Son" was the human drama and the interaction between the Hulk and his new family. As you can see, the rest of it fell apart rather ridiculously.
Any other thoughts out there?