Back in mid 2006 Marvel took a gamble with The Hulk by shooting him into outer space and marooning him on another planet. While it was an unconvroverentional idea at the time, the result is the year long epic known as Planet Hulk. Written by Greg Pak and art by Carlo Pagulayan, Aaron Lopresti and others, Planet Hulk is a big, ambitious and emotional comic which throws new challenges at Hulk that we’ve never seen before.
With elements of the upcoming Thor: Ragnarok inspired by this storyline as a spiritual sequel coming starting soon as Marvel Legacy, there’s never been a better time to take a look at this Hulk classic. So strap yourself in, we’re heading to Planet Hulk!
As mentioned, this epic sees Hulk stranded on another planet. This is an attempt of some of the heroes of Earth to solve the Hulk problem once and for all. The only problem is that instead of a planet where Hulk will be able to be alone, he’s redirected to a harsh warrior world. Starting off as a slave, then a gladiator, Hulk and his fellow comrades are able to rise through the ranks gain freedom. This doesn’t go unnoticed by The Red King, who sees Hulk as a formidable foe and destabilising to his imperial rule.
In most stories, this is where the tale would end, but in Planet Hulk that’s just the first of four acts. Without going too deep into spoiler territory, Pak does an excellent job developing Hulk into a fully-fledged hero. He has always been treated as a monster, but when he’s in a world of monsters he’s able to finally find his place in the world and be the hero.
The four-act structure is an ingenious way of keeping the story moving. Over the span of 15 issues (Incredible Hulk #92-105 and an interlude in Giant-Sized Hulk) the story is constantly evolving. It never dwells on one 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 and if it were written today, Marvel would’ve dragged it into a 30 issue run.
There are moments where you genuinely feel for Hulk. While in most stories you are 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. Through seeing his accomplishments, struggles and his true 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. They’re given backstories, struggles and act valiantly beside Hulk. They might look like monsters, but Pak has been able to give us flesh-out characters that we care about. This is a great effort when you consider that they’re new characters and same association as we do with the Hulk.
You might be wondering, “where is Bruce Banner in all this?” That’s a valid question to ask as Banner is such 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 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 for this story to be Hulk’s, without sharing the spotlight.
The polar opposite could be said the story’s villain, The Red King, who through his horrible actions you learn to hate more and more.. He’s a horrible person, killing for pleasure and for no reason but because he’s king. The ironic part is that in a tale where the heroes identify themselves as monsters he is the true monster.
One of the strengths of Planet Hulk is its world-building of Sakaar. Often in science fiction, a world feels one-note, but Pak, Pagulayan and Lopresti have 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 takes the warrior planet cliche and turns it on its head.
The strength is 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 and instead allows for new elements to be introduced on a regular basis.
With help from Michael Avon Oeming, Alex Nino, Marshall Rogers and Gary Frank, Pagulayan and Lopresti do a great job at rendering everything that Pak throws at them. All of their characters are expressive, with faces that carry emotion and using the right kind of body language. What makes this more impressive is considering that everyone is an alien or a self-described monster. It’s the visual representation of these emotive moments which allows for the script to shine and without the visual emotion the smaller moments would have fallen flat.
That doesn’t mean they don’t excel with the bigger moments too. I haven’t really mentioned it yet, but Planet Hulk has plenty of action and it’s all of the artists involved do a great job in structuring the page to accommodate the Hulk’s special brand of big action. Pages usually consist of a handful of larger panels, divided depending on what the scene requires and that means that the pages are readable without being cluttered. At the same time, it is not used in a way that is excessive either, with spreads and splash pages used sparingly for the biggest action and massive moments.
Praise should also be given to colourist Chris Satomayor, who uses vibrant colours to fill this alien world with a strong sense of lighting. Not only does it make the art pop, but also helps give it that extra distinction from Earth. It has a science fiction brightness, but while also using earthy tones – especially when out in the wilderness.
To sum it all up, Planet Hulk is an adventure which raises the stakes and Hulk as a character at the same time. The story is always moving and doesn’t dwell on the 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.