Written by Greg Pak. Penciled by Carlo Pagulayan, Aaron Lopresti, Michael Avon Oeming, Alex Nino, Marshall Rogers and Gary Frank. Inked by Jeffrey Huet. Coloured by Chris Sotomayor. Lettered by Randy Gentile and Joe Caramagna. Published by Marvel Comics.
In 2006, Marvel took a gamble with The Hulk by shooting him into outer space and marooning him on an alien planet. The result of this idea was an epic, ambitious, and emotional tale that gave us something new for the the character called Planet Hulk.
With elements of the upcoming Thor: Ragnarok taking inspiration from this storyline and a spiritual sequel starting soon as Marvel Legacy, there’s never been a better time to dive into this modern classic. Strap yourself in, we’re heading to Planet Hulk!
As mentioned, this epic sees the Hulk stranded on another planet. This is an attempt by some of Earth’s heroes to solve the Hulk problem once and for all. The only problem is that instead of a planet where Hulk can be alone, he’s redirected to a harsh warrior world. Starting as a slave and then a gladiator, Hulk and his fellow comrades rise through the ranks and gain freedom. It doesn’t go unnoticed by The Red King who sees Hulk as a formidable foe and destabilising force to his imperial rule.
For most stories, that would be the end of the tale. However, that’s just the first of four acts for Planet Hulk. Without going too deep into spoilers, Pak does an excellent job developing Hulk into a fully-fledged hero. The Jade Giant has always been treated as a monster, but when he’s in a world of them, he can finally find his place in the world and be the hero.
The four-act structure is an ingenious way of keeping the story moving. The story constantly evolves throughout the 15-issue run (Incredible Hulk #92-105 and an interlude in Giant-Sized Hulk). It never dwells on any act for too long. For some, that might feel rushed, especially if you want to see more of a particular idea. But at the same time, Pak allocates each phase four issues to spread its wings. It’s an anomaly in modern comics. If it were written today, Marvel probably would’ve dragged out for 30+ issues.
There are moments where you genuinely feel for Hulk. While you’re generally rooting for him to win with the sympathy directed towards Banner, in Planet Hulk, there are times when you actually feel sorry for his situation. By seeing his accomplishments, struggles, and transformation into a hero, we completely forget about Banner and feel for Hulk. Furthermore, Pak has been able to develop other characters to the point where you feel for them too. They’re given backstories and struggles, acting valiantly beside Hulk. They might look like monsters, but Pak has fleshed them out to the point that we care about them.
The polar opposite could be said about the story’s villain, The Red King. Through his horrible actions, you learn to hate him more and more. He’s a terrible person, killing for pleasure and for no reason but because he’s king. The ironic part is that he’s the true monster in a tale where the heroes identify themselves as monsters.
You might wonder, “where is Bruce Banner in all this?” That’s a valid question, considering how much Banner is a staple of the Hulk mythology. He is in this, but only sparingly. This is a wise choice on Pak’s behalf, with Hulk proclaiming early on that “you’ll never see his face. He wouldn’t last a minute on the planet.” It’s a clever story explanation that allows Hulk to be in the spotlight.
One of the strengths of Planet Hulk is its world-building of Sakaar. The world can feel one note in some science fiction. However, the creative team has bucked this trend by creating a varied world. Sakaar is expansive and incorporates different cultures, customs and environments. It makes for an interesting read as it rises above the usual warrior planet tropes.
It helps that each corner or new wrinkle is introduced organically throughout the story. Planet Hulk doesn’t give the reader everything at once, nor does it rely on retreading the same places. Instead, it allows for new elements to be introduced regularly.
With help from Michael Avon Oeming, Alex Nino, Marshall Rogers and Gary Frank, Pagulayan and Lopresti do a great job rendering everything the script throws at them. All their characters are expressive, with faces and body language that carry emotion. It’s more impressive when you consider everyone is an alien or a self-described monster.
The artists also excel in the big moments too. I haven’t really mentioned it yet, but Planet Hulk has plenty of action. All the artists involved do a great job structuring the page to accommodate the Hulk’s unique brand of it. Pages usually consist of a handful of larger panels, divided depending on the scene, making pages readable without clutter. At the same time, it’s not used excessively either, with spreads and splash pages used sparingly for the massive moments.
Praise should also be given to colourist Chris Sotomayor, who uses vibrant colours to fill this alien world with a strong sense of lighting. It has a science fiction brightness but with earthy tones – especially in the wilderness settings. Not only does it make the art pop, but it makes it distinct from Earth.
To sum it all up, Planet Hulk is an adventure that raises the stakes and Hulk as a character at the same time. The story is always moving and doesn’t dwell on one thing for too long. Because of this, it allows the introduction of new ideas, environments, characters and cultures. As a result, this sizeable story doesn’t feel like a slog, but instead one hell of a ride and proves Hulk can be at peace while playing a true hero.
Planet Hulk is collected in trade paperback in Incredible Hulk: Planet Hulk and is available digitally. You can find the trade paperback at any good comic book store, online, or on eBay.
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Where does the Giant size Hulk issue fit in the reading order?