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A Look at Planet Hulk

Friday, January 16th, 2009 | Posted by Bill Ward

I’m not what you’d call a comics guy — I don’t have a set of first editions in acid-free bags in the closet, I couldn’t tell you who the Fantastic Four are, or even distinguish between Marvel and DC (though I’m pretty sure Spiderman is in one camp, and Batman in the other). But I’ve always liked and respected the medium, and the rise of the graphic novel has made sampling the best of what comics has to offer convenient for casual fans like me. So, when I spotted a recommendation in an online forum for Planet Hulk, a graphic novel in which the big green superhero takes on the role of John Carter in a sword and planet epic, I was intrigued, and made an impulse purchase. I’m glad I did.

Planet Hulk is a compilation of Hulk #92-105, with further material from other special releases, and a wealth of supplemental art and background info rounding out a hefty hardcover. Lifted straight from the comic, Planet Hulk is clearly a slice of the ongoing story of the Hulk; a story of which I was wholly ignorant before jumping into this graphic novel. But that didn’t prove to be a problem.

The story opens in the midst of the action, with Hulk aboard a small spacecraft sent by the superhero organization S.H.I.E.L.D to destroy a rogue satellite. But Hulk’s presence there is a ruse, and he is betrayed by friends who find him too dangerous to tolerate any longer. He is being sent on a one-way trip to a distant planet so he can trouble Earth no more and, perhaps, find the peace that has always eluded him. But the vessel encounters a vortex that sucks it of course, and Hulk arrives on a world quiet different from the uninhabited, idyllic planet promised him by his betrayers. Instead, he finds a world perfectly suited to his talents . . .

Thus Planet Hulk presents the reader with a fresh beginning — one of the reason I had no trouble getting into it, and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to other readers uninitiate in the mysterious of the Marvel Universe. Hulk lands on Sakaar, a Barsoom-inspired world of red-skinned humanoids, native insect men, giant reptiles, rogue machines, alien diseases, and assorted other monsters. It’s a world in torment, ruled by the despotic Red King, and Hulk immediately finds himself captured and forced to fight in the Red King’s arena.

I had no idea just how powerful Hulk was supposed to be in the comic, but Planet Hulk tones down his world-destroying strength initially by having him arrive in a  weakened state because of his passage through the Great Portal that pulls ships to Sakaar. So Hulk begins with some limitations and vulnerabilities, and gradually gets stronger throughout the story until he approaches godlike status.

Author of Planet Hulk, Greg Pak, certainly has command of all the elements that make a fantastic sword and planet tale, and choosing Hulk as a protagonist for one is a natural fit. To start with, the action is extremely fast-paced, and the first issue ‘Exile’ moves Hulk rapidly through his arrival  on Sakaar to a brawl in the arena and into a fight with the Red King himself (resplendent in robotic battle-armor), as well as the Red King’s female Shadow bodyguard. As the issue ends, the Hulk and a few arena survivors are being sent to the ominously named ‘maw’ gladiatorial school for further education in the fighting arts.

The pacing, colorful and detail-packed art, exotic alien setting, and continually escalating scale of conflict all make Planet Hulk a fun read, but it’s the depth of character and examination of the themes of friendship, revenge, and unchecked violence that truly make this a compelling saga. In the maw, Hulk becomes part of a team of misfits and monsters — an eager native, a revolutionary, a psychotic alien, a creature of living rock, and a disgraced shadow warrior — and alongside them he slowly relearns trust. His gladiatorial days do not last as he and his new friends regain their freedom, and soon Hulk finds himself not only at the center of a slave insurrection, but as the messiah of an entire world.

Who once was known to the natives as the Green Scar, strongest of the Red King’s gladiators, is now rumored to be the Son of Sakaar — the long awaited deliverer that will unite the contentious world and bring peace. But alongside the prophecy of the Sakaarson is that of the Worldbreaker, and Hulk wrestles with these two poles of his potentiality as he rages against the injustice of the Red King, and fulfills his expected role as warleader of the dispossessed. It is no great spoiler to say the Hulk prevails against his enemy — as all superheroes must in one way or another — and at Hulk’s apex of success he indeed brings a new era to the world. Messiah-like, it is only his vast strength that can keep the various factions at peace as they rebuild.

A narrative strand in Planet Hulk recounts Hulk’s various names and titles, and says that this is the story of his coming home. He indeed finds a home on Sakaar — just as John Carter found his own idealized masculine paradise — but Hulk also relearns trust, love, and mercy. But rage was always the motive force that propelled him in his quest to unseat the Red King, and the antagonisms Hulk sets in motion are not so easily checked. Planet Hulk gives us the vicarious thrill of the straightforward Hulk-smash, but also asks that we deal with the consequences.

Planet Hulk is a grand romp in the sword and planet tradition, not only visually impressive and visceral, but containing unexpected depths of character and theme. Highly recommended.

__________
BILL WARD is a genre writer, editor, and blogger wanted across the Outer Colonies for crimes against the written word. His fiction has appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies, as well as gaming supplements and websites. He is a Contributing Editor and reviewer for Black Gate Magazine, and 423rd in line for the throne of Lost Lemuria. Read more at BILL’s blog, DEEP DOWN GENRE HOUND.

13 Comments »

  1. […] Click here for ‘A Look at Planet Hulk’ […]

    Pingback by Planet Hulk — BillWardWriter.com - January 16, 2009 9:18 am

  2. I really enjoyed it. I know a sword-n-planet fan who didn’t like it as much as the Hulk regained near invulnerability. But – as you point out – he becomes nearly a god to the planet’s populace so that aspect makes sense.

    If you hadn’t heard, Marvel has spun off “Skaar, Son of Hulk” which continues the sword-n-planet vein. I plan on getting the first TPB when it gets collected.

    Comment by pmcnamee67 - January 16, 2009 10:53 am

  3. I’ve planned to read this for a while, but it came out originally when I had hit my tolerance for both Marvel and DC doing annoying mega-crossovers and trying everything in their power to alienate readers. That Planet Hulk stands outside the rest of the Marvel Universe (which was going through “Civil War” crossover mania at the time) is very appealing–although it was used to set-up yet another big crossover event, “World War Hulk,” when Hulk comes back to Earth to beat the hell out of the Illuminati who shot him out into space in the first place.

    Comment by Ryan Harvey - January 16, 2009 12:35 pm

  4. Hey Paul — it was your recommendation that made me get this in the first place. Thanks.

    I’ll keep my eye out for ‘Skaar.’

    Have you read World War Hulk, Ryan? Not sure if it would be something I’m really interested in or not.

    Comment by Bill Ward - January 16, 2009 3:34 pm

  5. Skaar was good-intentioned, but falls short of greatness. Although the Ron Garney art is very good.

    It’s interesting to now that the whole Planet Hulk idea is a actually a revisiting of a classic Hulk storyline. Back in the 70s, the Hulk was shrunken to sub-atomic size and entered a savage world there that was populated with green-skinned people similar to what you might find in a sword-and-sorcery book (s and s was really big at the time). Hulk ends up basically becoming king, and falls in love with a green princess called Jarella. Eventually, he returns to normal size and loses his true love and kingdom. However, a few short years later, the Hulk fell back into sub-atomica, and was reunited with Jarella temporarily.

    Check out this link for a great cover by the late, great John Buscema, and preview of the first three pages. A landmark issue: http://www.milehighcomics.com/cgi-bin/backissue.cgi?action=enlarge&issue=41319167562%20202

    Comment by John R. Fultz - January 16, 2009 10:23 pm

  6. I was wondering about that reference to green-skinned people and Jarella — there was that brief episode in Planet Hulk called ‘Bannerwar’ that has Hulk remembering that stuff at the behest of Bruce Banner.

    Comment by Bill Ward - January 17, 2009 12:56 am

  7. Greg Pak is an excellent writer. He’s doing some great Marvel Comics right now. Specifically, I love his brand-new WAR MACHINE title (the tale of a grim, African-American, cyborg Iron Man). Also, he did some of the best X-Men stuff in the last ten years: X-Men/Phoenix: Endsong. His first project for Marvel (several years back) was a terrific re-imagining of the classic WARLOCK character. All good stuff…

    Comment by John R. Fultz - January 17, 2009 1:03 am

  8. Perhaps I’ll check some of those out, he certainly impressed me with Planet Hulk.

    What I’d really love to see is an original sword and sorcery, sword and planet, or similar graphic novel of the same caliber — but being mostly ignorant of the medium I wouldn’t know where to look. Anyone have suggestions?

    Comment by Bill Ward - January 17, 2009 1:23 am

  9. Glad you asked! :)

    My own graphic novel (with co-creator and artist Roel Wielinga) is called PRIMORDIA. I call it epic fantasy, but many have called it Sword and Sorcery, and I’m just fine with that. In either case, I think it’s exactly what you’re looking for. It’s a 96-page story told in 3 issues, which all were released last year. (There is a hardcover collection of the issues in the works, but no release date yet.) I believe you can still order all three issues from http://www.milehighcomics.com and other comic sources on- and off-line.

    But first–check out these links for previews of the first two issues:

    Archaia’s official site:
    http://www.archaiastudiospress.com/primordia.php

    and my own site with even more previews:
    http://www.myspace.com/primordiacomic

    As far as other good sword and sorcery comics, Dark Horses’ recent relaunch of Robert E. Howard’s SOLOMON KANE is very, very good. The Dark Horse revival of CONAN is pretty good, but goes through good and bad phases. The last few issues have been fantastic mainly due to Richard Corben doing flashback stories of Conan’s grandfather, Connacht.

    Finally, Archaia has some other terrific books like ROBOTIKA and ARTESIA. Check those out at the same Archaia site as PRIMORDIA.

    Cheers!
    John

    Comment by John R. Fultz - January 17, 2009 6:29 pm

  10. Oh, almost forgot! Dark Horse also recently revived Howard’s KULL in a new series, which is only a couple issues in, but shows lots of promise. It might even prove to be better than their CONAN books…

    Comment by John R. Fultz - January 17, 2009 6:31 pm

  11. Thanks John, you’ve given me a lot to investigate (and primordia looks great).

    Comment by Bill Ward - January 20, 2009 11:07 am

  12. Thanks, Bill! PRIMORDIA was my attempt to do a “perfect” fantasy comic. That is, a comic that would incorporate everything I love about heroic fantasy, epic fantasy, sword-and-sorcery, etc., and wrap it all up in an original concept. You can see a bit of everything in it, from Tolkien to Tarzan, from Quest for Fire to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, from The Odyssey to Conan the Barbarian. Of course, it’s the amazing art from Roel that really makes it sing. (And our colorist, Joel Chua, adds an amazing three dimensional quality.)
    A good comic, like a good band, is all about synergy…creating something that’s more than the sum of its parts. Hopefully we were able to do that with PRIMORDIA.

    Comment by John R. Fultz - January 21, 2009 12:49 am

  13. […] own Bill Ward did an excellent write-up of the comic in 2009 if you desire more […]

    Pingback by Black Gate » Blog Archive » MAKE THIS TRUE OR HARVEY SMASH! Planet Hulk to Come after Avengers 2 - February 4, 2013 3:16 pm


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