There is so much to love about the Hulk. The very idea of a giant green monster who grows stronger as his rage increases is every kid’s power fantasy. Put simply, the Hulk is the strongest one there is, which makes for smashing entertainment (pun fully intended). Even with adults, the Hulk embodies the anger inside of us all. This anger can be ugly, but it can also be quite cathartic. For instance, when timid scientist Bruce Banner finally gives in to his repressed rage. What truly makes the Hulk appealing for me, however, is how misunderstood he is. The Hulk, deep down, is a hero. He’s more than just the uncontrollable gorilla portrayed in the Avengers movies. There is a purpose to the Hulk’s anger, one that drives him to save others and stop the bad guys. The Green Goliath uses his anger constructively, directing it towards those who really need smashing.
Greg Pak’s Planet Hulk is a classic showcase of everything that makes the Hulk special. For new readers, this story is very easily accessible. All anyone has to know going in is the basic premise of the Hulk: a green rage monster manifested from gamma radiation and a scientist with serious anger issues. From there, Pak lays out a widely appealing narrative, where the Hulk has been sent out into space so that he will no longer threaten humanity. This scenario strands him on Sakaar, an alien planet where he is forced into slavery as a gladiator (fans of Thor: Ragnarok will love this). This Gladiator-esque storyline is a great vehicle to show the Hulk in a more heroic light, leading the rebellion against Sakaar’s corrupt rulers. Planet Hulk is also a sci-fi wonderland for readers, depicting many different alien races and structures on Sakaar.
What truly distinguishes Planet Hulk’s version of the Hulk from previous iterations is how competent he is. Gone is the child-like “Hulk smash” persona, replaced by a more articulate and clever version of the character. The Hulk is still a very distinct personality from Bruce Banner. In fact, Banner is gone for most of the story, leaving much room for the Hulk to develop for a change. Pak gives the Hulk a rough, harsh exterior, hardened from years of persecution by humankind. Despite his tough outer shell, this Hulk largely remains a hero in this narrative, driving an uprising on Sakaar to free the oppressed. It is the Hulk’s actions, through awe-inspiring feats of strength, which demonstrate his heroism. There is a kind heart underneath those gamma-irradiated muscles, which shines through in small moments throughout the story. Throughout the narrative, the Hulk is also seen as the “Sakaarson”, a prophecized figure who has been foretold to be the destroyer or the savior of Sakaar. The duality of this role gives some complexity to the Hulk’s character. Is he meant simply to be the destroyer? Is the Hulk meant to be a savior? Quite possibly, is he meant to be both?
The Hulk’s heroism reflects a key theme of this story: responding to persecution. For years, the Hulk has felt persecuted on Earth, an idea compounded by his exile into space and subsequent enslavement on Sakaar. As mentioned earlier, the Hulk is understandably jaded and enraged by these feelings of persecution, uttering the phrase: “Never stop making them pay”. However, this anger towards his persecutors does not stop the Hulk from achieving a greater, nobler purpose. Indeed, the Hulk uses this anger for more than just smashing. The “Green Scar” creates a rebellion, a family, and finally, a kingdom, from the corrupt wasteland of Sakaar. This story also calls into question the true nature of being a monster. In his trials, the Hulk takes on the elite of Sakaar, who perform truly horrific acts upon their people. While veiling their acts in sophistication, rulers such as the Red King slowly reveal a sinister purpose in their actions. This directly contrasts the Hulk’s monstrous appearance and demeanor, which in fact conceal a more heroic heart.
The Red King is a formidable villain, serving as a perfect foil for this Hulk. On the surface, the Red King is all-powerful, ruling a whole kingdom and presiding over gladiator matches in his name. However, without this kingdom, the king has no true power. The Hulk, on the other hand, shows formidable, raw strength, which scares the Red King. The Red King’s feelings of terror and inferiority reflect much of the rationale behind the Hulk’s persecution on Earth, leading to a climactic confrontation between the Hulk and his persecutor. Sakaar itself is a chaotic mess of a planet, providing no mercy. From the start, the Hulk is captured by slave-traders and sold into the arena. This rotten society is the perfect environment in which the Hulk can vent his rage and serve justice. The gladiator arena is also a highly entertaining setting, featuring many bombastic fights. These matches highlight not only the Hulk’s raw power, but also his surprising levels of cunning and leadership skills, fighting alongside other slaves in the arena.
These fellow gladiators become like a family to the Hulk, calling themselves the Warbound. This diverse set of alien warriors is made up of individuals who feel just as persecuted as the Hulk. Society deems them all as monsters, isolating them and featuring them as freaks for entertainment. Additionally, each member of the Warbound is given a distinct personality trait and backstory, providing quite the colorful supporting cast for the Hulk. Most importantly, the Warbound represents a family. The Hulk has found a group with whom he can be himself, who he can fight alongside. Also introduced is the Hulk’s main love interest of the story, Caiera. Serving as a bodyguard for the Red King, Caiera acts as a rough-edged counter to the Hulk’s gruff exterior. Over time, however, the two of them grow to see each other’s softer side, growing from rivalry, to respect, to friendship, to love.
The artwork in Planet Hulk cannot be ignored. Carlo Pagulayan and Aaron Lopresti serve as powerful architects for the planet of Sakaar. These artists provide a broken-down, dystopian aesthetic, along with an alien twist. It is the dilapidated design of Sakaar which also brings out the rare spots of beauty on this planet. When the Hulk and his Warbound create new life on Sakaar, it is truly a glorious sight to behold. The artists also do an excellent job giving the readers brutal, smash-worthy fight scenes. In the arena, each movement is fluid and choreographed, at least until the Hulk loses control. At this point, the artists really display the sheer strength and rage within the Green Goliath. The Hulk’s feats of strength are provided ample space on the page as well, making him look all the more powerful and unstoppable. The battle armor that the Hulk wears for most of the story is also very well designed, giving him the look of a true warrior.
Planet Hulk is a true Hulk story. Greg Pak gives the readers time with a competent, heroic version of the Hulk which is rarely seen. The jolly green giant definitely has his rough edges, remaining angry as ever. However, it is the use of this rage which speaks volumes about the character. The Hulk does not simply destroy for the sake of destruction. He is not some mindless machine. Rather, the Hulk chooses to rise up against those who oppress him and others around him. In doing so, the Hulk creates a family, falls in love, and ultimately creates something new with his strength. Most importantly, the Hulk uses his anger to become the best version of himself. After all the anger, smashing, and destruction, the Hulk emerges as a champion. Underneath the jaded, bitter attitude lies a noble, misunderstood soul.
Thanks for reading! If you liked Planet Hulk, here are a few other Hulk recommendations:
- World War Hulk by Greg Pak & John Romita Jr.
- The Incredible Hulk by Peter David
- The Incredible Hulk: Return of the Monster by Bruce Jones & John Romita Jr.
- Hulk: Gray by Jeph Loeb & Tim Sale
- The Incredible Hulks by Greg Pak
- The Immortal Hulk by Al Ewing & Joe Bennett
That’s all for this week! Check back in next time for another weekly recommendation! Feel free to follow the blog on Twitter @book_column and share with your friends!