When it comes to the superhero genre of comic books it never ceases to always amaze me how writers can take a relatively familiar story and turn it into something genuinely unique and/or memorable. Justice League: Origin, for example, took a relatively standard issue Darkseid invasion story and turned it into a fun, character-driven romp with gorgeous visuals that also served as a decent introduction to the characters for The New 52. Batman: The Long Halloween took a story that we all know the tragic ending to and weaves it into a very dense and thoughtful legal thriller, climaxing with an ending that is utterly tragic and remains, in my mind at least, the definitive Harvey Dent/Two-Face origin story. So, it is with today’s subject matter which effectively takes the Moses story and turned it into something new and original with its own spins on the material. What is its spin you may ask? Well, it replaces Moses with The Incredible Hulk and Egypt with an alien planet and the result is glorious. This is The Nerd Hub shining a spotlight on Planet Hulk.
Now before I go any further with this I need to warn you that this article will be more of analysis of the book as a whole and specifically its take on the savior/deliverer archetype as well as addressing certain status quo shakers that the comic industry refuses to let take permanent root. As such, this article will contain MASSIVE spoilers for this book and a few for the New 52 series Superman Unchained. But, as with previous articles, I do understand that some people are only here for a quick yay or nay opinion. To those people, I say this: the book is really, REALLY good and if you are a fan of the Hulk this is one that I highly recommend. All the things that you’ve heard about Planet Hulk being one of, if not THE, best Hulk stories ever written are true. It has a great story, fantastic characters, memorable artwork and is entirely built on old savior/deliverer clichés that it manages to make fresh and new. Overall, it’s a great read and if this is the foundation that they’re building Thor: Ragnarok on, (as of writing this article I still haven’t had the chance to see it), you would be hard-pressed to find a book that could serve as a better one. Even if the book itself does have its flaws.
Spanning from The Incredible Hulk #92-105 along with Giant Size Hulk #1, Planet Hulk was a storyline that ran from April 2006 to June of 2007 written by Greg Pak with artwork primarily done by Carlo Pagwlayan and Aaron Lopresti. The story follows the Incredible Hulk who is betrayed by his fellow heroes in the Illuminati following a mission for S.H.I.E.L.D. who send him to a distant planet fearing that one day he just might turn on them. Unfortunately, instead of sending him to the lush, uninhabited world that Reed Richards meant to send him to, the Hulk is instead caught through a wormhole that takes him to the planet of Sakaar where his strength is reduced from the wormhole’s effects. Upon landing he is captured by minions of its ruler, The Red King, turned into a gladiator and forced to do battle with a whole range of foes. Along the way he makes new allies, befriends initial enemies and ultimately finds his place in this new world.
Now as mentioned earlier the thing about Planet Hulk is that it’s very much built around old savior/deliverer clichés. In some cases, these clichés result in classic stories that are beloved for several generations and others that are…usually well received at first but in the long term are often seen as problematic. The basic formula of an exiled warrior/leader with exceptional abilities who becomes his new world’s savoir is one that has its foundations in the Old Testament story of Moses which has been adapted, reinterpreted and served as the inspiration for countless stories over the centuries. We have direct but still celebrated rip-offs like Gladiator and Ben-Hur, outlandish but still apparent ones like John Carter and Superman and problematic white savior stories like Dances with Wolves and Avatar and Planet Hulk is a book that fits nicely within this category. You have a character who is betrayed by once trusted allies and is sent to a distant land where he is forced into lower conditions to before finding his calling with said people, eventually becoming their savoir.
Planet Hulk’s unique take on all of this is that it features one of Marvel’s most iconic heroes having a prolonged character arc regarding his place in the universe and status as a monster and how the definition of what a monster and hero can change depending on where you stand. This theme also ties into the personalities and character arcs of the majority of the supporting cast. Early in the book Hulk allies himself with a number of alien characters who are considered monsters and outcasts in their own right and reasons that make perfect sense to their cultures but is nonsensical to a human being. The most prominent example of this comes in the form of the hiveless insectoid alien Miek. Among his people he is considered to be something of an outcast mainly because his hive had long since been destroyed and the term hiveless is often used as derogatory insult. As more time goes on, however, he is viewed as his race’s best hope for salvation alongside the Hulk against the genocidal tendencies of The Red King but is still by in large seen as an inferior monster race by other alien races.
Additionally, we have an unnamed Brood character who is a member of a longtime parasitic race in the Marvel Universe who serves alongside the Hulk as one of his longtime allies after her entire home is wiped out. Once again, we have a character who is by in large considered to be a monster by not only the members of a planet but by the entire universe being turning into a savoir character after being ripped from his/her normal conditions. Additionally, we have a warrior monk who has rejected the ways that his order interprets its prophecies, a member of a rebel faction and rock monster. The only thing that they all have in common is that they are all considered rejects and monsters by the “normal members” of the societies that they inhabit. By the time the book has come to its final act, however, these characters are considered saviors of this world with the Hulk serving as the glue that keeps them all together. And yet, shockingly this is not where the story and its themes end.
Throughout the length of the book the various supporting characters constantly bring up a prophecy which, depending on who is talking about it, tells of the arrival of a being with will either save the world, doom it, or both and several of the characters fit into this role. Once again, we have the character Miek who serves as the best example of a character embodying these themes. Once the plot progresses and the characters begin an armed revolution against the Red King, Miek is eventually viewed as the savior of his race by his fellow insectoids. He even goes so far as to metamorphize into the father/alpha male version of his species to cement his role as the leader of his people. They then rescue the last queen of their race capable of laying eggs only to be forced to kill her once she is infected with a deadly parasite thus insuring the extinction of his race. It’s a very dark twist on the whole savior/destroyer dynamic that fully acknowledges that while a person may be able save a society one day he/she just might doom it the next and isn’t a theme that is tackled as much as you might thing, especially in comics. The downside is that it ties into the mediums inability to stick with status quo shakers. And if you’re still reading this and the book sounds like something that you want to read I recommend that you close this article and go do it because this is where the ending spoilers come in.
In the last few issues of the storyline the Hulk and his allies have effectively won. The Red King is dead, the planet is theirs for the taking, the Hulk is the new king and everyone is starting to repair the damage that the now dead ruler had inflicted as well as reduces the racial tensions that exist between the various races of the world. Then the warp core of the ship that the Hulk arrive on the planet on goes nuclear seemingly out of nowhere, killing all but a handful of characters thus fulfilling the Hulk’s role in the prophecy and both savior and destroyer. Viewing the devastation all around him the Hulk immediately blames the people who betrayed him in the first place and gathers his remaining allies and plots a course back to Earth to take his revenge against the Illuminati, leading into the World War Hulk storyline. And this is without a doubt the worst part of the book and ties into a major reoccurring problem in the comic book industry.
One of the biggest problems with the comic book industry is that it’s one that’s almost entirely build on stats quo shaking gimmicks that are meant to uproot the characters’ lives and shake the foundations of the entire universe. The problem is that writers and publishers ultimately fall back on that same foundational status quo that existed before the supposed status quo shaking event happened and Planet Hulk and subsequently World War Hulk are no exceptions to this. Within the former we had a storyline that yanked one of the main characters of the Marvel Universe from everything he knew and seemed to pave a new way for a new status quo for new stories to be built on. Only for it all to literally be blown up by a bomb that never showed any indication that it was, in fact, a bomb.
The closest thing that I can think to compare it to is Superman Unchained by Scott Snyder. Within the book we are introduced to a new character named Wraith who was revealed to have been on Earth for decades and was established as being more powerful the Superman himself. He was also characterized as being something of a militaristic, right wing American who viewed Superman’s more globalist demeanor as something of a betrayal of his adopted country. In other words, a character who was a literal superpowered alien that conservative, right wing uber patriotic nut balls think that Superman should be or what others who don’t understand the character think he is. By the time the book ended, however, Wraith is forced to think about his place in this world and his current way of thinking, primarily because of his encounters with Superman and other less powerful but still capable beings like Batman and Wonder Woman and seemed to be opening the door for future stories. Only for DC to kill him off with a plot point that literally came out of nowhere and had nothing to do with the rest of the storyline and the comic book industry is full of instances like this.
Sometimes these things take the form of a major character death only for said character to be resurrected a few years later or supposed universe shaking events like Civil War. None of these things ever seem to stick and sometimes the end result might just have been more interesting if they had in fact stuck to the status quo shaker. Planet Hulk is the very embodiment of this. The entire story was a life changing event for Bruce Banner and the Hulk that would have been interesting to see play out in the long term ultimately cut short by a need to return to the status quo.
It also has to be said that the book’s actual storytelling is far from perfect. There are many instances where a fight seems to be far too short and feels like we missed half of it. Additionally, the book sometimes struggles with letting us know which characters are where during certain parts of the book and can cause a bit of confusion. There were many instances where I found myself reading the book and wondering if I had skipped a page or something because it didn’t properly convey where everyone was at a given time. But it must be said that for everything that doesn’t work there are at least a dozen things that do.
The characters are all well developed. The story itself is fascinating and despite the fact that it didn’t last it was really cool to see the Hulk in a new setting with a new lease on life. The savior/destroyer themes may have had something of an underwhelming conclusion, but the actual build up to it and its implementation worked throughout most of its length and it’s not an angle that we see too often. If you haven’t already read the book it is one that I highly recommend checking out.
Trey Griffeth is the Head Writer of The Nerd Hub's Comic Book Spotlight section as well as a contributing writer to Video Game Spotlight. In addition to his work with The Nerd Hub, he is also a Staff Writer for Heroic Hollywood.