And I do mean finally! After all, I've interviewed writer Greg Pak about it, but until now I've never really written, longform, about the Hulk story of a generation.
Now's the time. You guys deserve a big bonus, on account of August being a record-breaking month for Delusional Honesty. The little blog that could has just passed 50,000 hits--most of which have come in the last year alone! What's more, the site's enjoyed continuing growth, and tomorrow will likely pull ahead of March 2011's record-best month so far. In a crowded blogosphere, Delusional Honesty is rising to the challenge. Not bad for a homespun little one-man endeavor. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Back in September 2005, Marvel announced their plans for the coming year at the Diamond Retailer Summit in Baltimore, MD. I remember seeing the news that the next summer's event would be "Planet Hulk," "the seeds of which are planted in November's Hulk issue." They provided the above graphic, that didn't give anything away. What was "Planet Hulk"? Did some catastrophe involving gamma bombs occur, making a bunch of characters into Hulks? (Yeah, yeah, I know. It happened later.) Nobody knew quite what to expect.
The solicitations in August for Incredible Hulk's November issues were ominous enough, but the creative team of Daniel Way and Keu Cha was less than satisfactory. Then, Cha dropped off the book right after his second issue, with the remainder of the four-part storyline "Peace in Our Time" drawn by Spanish artist Juan Santacruz in Cha's style. One wondered: was Way "Planet Hulk"'s architect?
No! Along came Greg Pak, a relatively new writer to Marvel's ranks, fresh off series like Warlock, X-Men: Phoenix Endsong and especially Marvel 1602: New World. In the latter, Pak tackled the Hulk--well, "a" Hulk--for the first time in print. I remember hearing somewhere how he wanted to work on the Hulk. At the time, after suffering writer Bruce Jones, who'd been on record as being--let's be kind--not particularly fond of the Green Goliath, having someone who actually wanted to write the Hulk on board? I was cautiously optimistic.
I was also on staff at Eric J. Moreels' Comixfan site then, and when Marvel made the announcement, I aggressively pursued Pak for an interview, which ended up being one of the very first published. You know the rest.
(Hint: Now's the time, if you haven't already, to read that first interview. I'll wait.)
"Planet Hulk" was, from the very start, a revelation. In previous years since Joe Quesada took the editorial reins at Marvel, he kept the Hulk in the mold of the Kenneth Johnson-produced television show, mixing in elements of The X-Files show for good measure. Rave reviews arose, then petered out as Bruce Jones' conspiracy storyline went on and on. Writer Peter David took over after Jones' arc hastily concluded, telling three stories--"Tempest Fugit," a "House of M" crossover, and "Destruction," a retconned origin of the Abomination--before he was overwhelmed with more work and elected to again leave the book he'd once spent twelve years writing. In sharp contrast to Jones' stories, this Hulk was crafty and intelligent, his adventures set in the indisputably "comicbooky" milieu of an alien world.
It was a big, bombastic arc where the Hulk could do what he couldn't in many a year: smash, and smash hard. However, the planet Sakaar was also a world where the Hulk was greatly depowered, at least when compared to many of its denizens such as the ruthless Red King and his right hand, the Warbound Shadow, Caiera. Hulk had been sucked through a cosmic portal that likely siphoned his strength, but he was no longer unquestionably "the strongest there is."
Still, we knew from reading that first issue where the story was headed. Brought into a huge alien arena before the Red King, the Hulk found himself swallowed by a Great Devil Corker, an enormous creature. He burst forth from it and leapt toward the king before being struck down by his Shadow's weapon. The king donned an exoskeleton and battled the Hulk, slashing his cheek before having the same done to him. When Caiera, the white-skinned, green-eyed warrior woman told him, "This isn't your world," ol' Greenskin just replied, "Not yet." Bam. Right there, we knew a lot. Pak had recast the Hulk as Maximus in a sci-fi version of Ridley Scott's Gladiator, in a world of blasters and battle-axes. Only this time, the hero would not falter, would not be satisfied until he bested the Red King for humiliating him.
The original "Planet Hulk" storyline was split into three four-part arcs and one two-part finale. In "Exile" (Incredible Hulk #92-95), the Hulk began as a gladiator, amassing a close-knit army of monsters who would become united in combat and dubbed "Warbound." These included the Hulk's first friend on Sakaar, the insectoid Miek; the rock-skinned alien Korg of Kronan, one of Thor's first opponents as the Stone Men of Saturn; No-Name, representative of the Brood, menace to the X-Men; Hiroim the Shamed, a disgraced Sakaarian Shadow Priest; and Elloe Kaifi, a young Imperial woman. Implanted with "obedience disks," the group fought battles in the gladiatorial arena until the Hulk fought the Silver Surfer, who'd also fallen through the portal and been captured by the Red King. The Hulk smashed the Surfer's obedience disk in battle, and his friend rewarded them all by deactivating all the disks. The Hulk and the Surfer led all the freed aliens out of the arena, tearing it down in the process.
In the second arc, "Anarchy" (Incredible Hulk #96-99), the evolution of Miek took precedence. On the run from the Imperial armies, the Warbound found a group of young hivelings Miek thought dead. The young insect took all his cues from the Hulk, who thought that he should never stop making his oppressors pay. Finally, Miek--who was every bit as slight as his name implied--gained the power to impose his will when he metamorphosed into the giant king of his hive. His change echoed that of Banner to Hulk, perfectly setting him up--as Pak would follow in World War Hulk--as the Hulk's dark mirror.
With more force on his side, the Hulk--now known as the Green Scar for the injury inflicted on him by the Red King--marched to war. He met Caiera on the battlefield, and both nearly died even as his blood made strange vines grow from the soil. The Red King interrupted the battle by launching a ship filled with Spikes, alien creatures that mutated any people unlucky enough to make contact. After learning of her master's brazen actions, Caiera joined the Warbound to take him down.
"Allegiance" (Incredible Hulk #100-103) was the third and most important arc of the series, wherein a number of incredible events occurred. After Miek discovered a queen of his race, he lost her to an infection by the Spikes. The Hulk and his Warbound took the battle to the Red King, taking the Shadow People's stone ship and using it to reach more Spikes, with whom he would make an alliance. Along the way, we learned Sakaar's prophecies of the Sakaarson, or savior, and the Worldbreaker, or the destroyer, leading us to wonder which the Hulk might be. The Spikes revealed themselves as beings that once wandered the stars, but whose children became insane when they were marooned on Sakaar. They joined the Warbound in their battle against the Red King, which ended in Hulk's victory.
Since he overthrew the king, the Hulk was crowned Green King, and consummated the slow-burning attraction to Caiera by taking her as his queen. And in that ceremony, the Hulk showed the ultimate act of trust, revealing his dual identity to her. Meanwhile, he declared all of the Imperials and the native insectoids to be Warbound, and hence, brothers.
And did I mention that, during the battle with the Red King, the Hulk held together the planet's tectonic plates? Not bad, not bad. Very safely I can rank Incredible Hulk #102 among the Hulk's finest moments. It's nearly the perfect battle, and one of the most important in the long history of the character. I thought it then, and I still agree with my younger self today.
For the grand conclusion, "Armageddon" (Incredible Hulk #104-105), the Warbound began to make the peace in the power vacuum left in the absence of the Red King. Reminded of his home and his exile at the hands of his "friends," the newly-crowned Green King considered leaving Crown City with his queen to head for the steppes outside the city where he'd never need to fight again. But Caiera convinced him to stay, showing him that people now plowed verdant fields where his blood was spilled...and revealing her pregnancy. After they rounded up the Spikes and returned them to the depths of space, the Hulk and Caiera were ready to live happily ever after. But as they stood in the Crown City square, the ship that brought the Green Scar "home" began to beep, its "warp drive" compromised.
The Hulk barely had time to heft the ship into the air before it exploded in a ball of white fire.
A million people died. Many Imperials. Many natives.
Caiera, who was the Hulk's physical equal in a way that none of his previous loves came close. In many ways, the Hulk's perfect companion, whose development was so poignant, so perfect. sigh.
"BRING THEM BACK!" the Hulk howled. Sinking deeper into despair amid seas of lava, he said silently, "Bring her back." We knew just how you felt, Hulk. Really, truly.
Then the Warbound came by, in their great stone ship, having saved all the people they could. One of their team, a robot named Arch-E, had a map of the whole universe in its memory banks.
"I bet you can figure out someplace you'd like to go," No-Name said.
The rest, as they say, is history. World War Hulk exploded the very next month all across the Marvel Universe. (You can find my interview with Greg Pak here and the reviews of each issue of the series starting here.)
Upon its release, I revered "Planet Hulk" for its no-nonsense look at the Hulk and its attempt to definitively show what fans knew all along: the Hulk was a hero, and would do the right thing when given the opportunity. The story picked up pace every month, advancing naturally, and yet the ending was never in much doubt. As many heralded, the storyline immediately became a sensation, rightly called one of the best in the character's forty-odd-year history. (And yeah, I had my first-ever letter printed in a Marvel comic in issue #94. So, there's that.)
And although it may seem I've neglected the side-stories in Giant-Size Hulk #1 and Incredible Hulk #100--well, they're no less of gems than the rest of the storyline. "Banner War" in the former spotlighted the Hulk's seldom-seen human half, wisely demonstrating Pak's familiarity with continuity, including a clever cameo by the Hulk's earlier love, Jarella. In the latter's "Planet Cho," Pak's own creation, the whiz-kid Amadeus Cho convinced Reed Richards that the Hulk was still alive and was not where he was supposed to be. "He's a hero," Cho said. "He may hate us puny humans...but he saves us anyway." Insert several nods to the Hulk's heroic actions. I had goosebumps. (Did I mention, I bought the 1-in-50 Michael Turner "Grey Hulk" variant to ish #100? And the green one? And the sketch variant to #98? Well, I have now.)
The arc was a jump-start that the Hulk and his world sorely deserved, and would catapult Greg Pak to the forefront of both Marvel's talent pool of writers and noteworthy Hulk writers. Yeah, I'd say "Planet Hulk" was, very literally, a "smash."
Coming soon: Since I've already reviewed World War Hulk, it's time to say a few words about Skaar: Son of Hulk as well as the resurrection of The Incredible Hulk's original numbering scheme, with Skaar teamed with a powerless Bruce Banner. It's the only era of Greg Pak's tenure I haven't directly addressed, so...get ready, Hulk fans!
Keep spreading the word, and I'll see everyone at 100,000. We'll have a party, have a real good time...dance in the desert, blow up the sunshine. Or something like that.