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You crack 'em, and I'll SMASH 'em!
Planet Hulk: The Incredible Hulk - Greg Pak
Member Name: carl_lazarevic
Planet Hulk: The Incredible Hulk - Greg Pak
Advantages: Epic action, interesting take on The Hulk, humor
Disadvantages: Underdeveloped characters, continuity problem
I've always had a bit of a soft spot for The Incredible Hulk. Whereas others have seen him as a fairly one note smash-em-up character who occasionally runs through a bad guy, I've seen a hero the child in me could relate to. Hulk has always reminded me of the way I was as a child. All outbursts of violent rage from a person who really just wants to be left alone, and who; when all is said and done, has a fairly good heart bottled up deep inside. OK so the green skin and super human strength were a little out of my league, but hey, wish fulfilment is what comics are supposed to be about. I do tend to disagree with most people though, since I find the character of Bruce Banner to be the weakest part of Hulk's psyche. Perhaps that's why I've enjoyed the events of Planet Hulk so much.
The rational behind Planet Hulk is very simple. Marvel had a Civil War planned in which all of their super heroes would pick a side and beat each other up. Unfortunately The Hulk posed a problem since, whichever side had The Hulk would have won by the end of the first issue and the event would have been ruined. So Marvel needed to do something to get The Hulk out of the way.
From a plot perspective this all makes perfect sense too. The Hulk represents an unstable element in The Marvel Universe. He sometimes tries to help out, but when he looses his temper people still tend to get hurt. So when Nick Fury sends Hulk into space to save the world a group of super heroes (see New Avengers: Illuminati) decide to show their gratitude for his heroics by reprogramming his shuttle to take him somewhere far away from The Earth. They assure him that it's for his good as well as theirs, and that he's going to a nice fluffy planet with lots of animals to hunt, but no intelligent life to hurt. The Hulk is justifiably angry at this betrayal from his best friends, but his problems are only strengthened when a worm hole drags his shuttle off course and crash lands him onto a hostile planet where aliens are enslaved and forced to do battle in the brutal gladiatorial arenas.
This isn't exactly an original concept. In fact the sci-fi/fantasy genre is littered with examples of a hero (even a super hero sometimes) finding themselves trapped in the nightmare scenario of surviving an alien planet's gladiatorial games. It's a tired concept that really needs to be laid to rest. Unless you can find a way to put a fresh spin on the old concept, as writer Greg Pak has managed here. The spin this time being that this is not exactly treated as a nightmare concept for The Hulk, in fact it's quite the opposite. This entire situation is just the vacation he has been waiting his entire life for. The only character who would have considered the whole thing a nightmare would be Bruce Banner, but fortunately he is virtually none existent entity in this story. This is Hulk's story! He's getting a chance to show a new world the type of person he actually is and is finally getting to have the fun the heroes of Earth would always deny him. All without his needing to put up with any of puny Banner's whining.
That fact does present one fairly large continuity problem though. At a few points during the early chapters of the book Hulk; who was slightly weakened by his journey through the worm hole, is actually rendered unconscious. Yet he doesn't revert to Banner even once. The excuse given was that Banner couldn't possibly survive on this world, so Hulk wont ever let him out. This takes a fairly strong level of suspension of disbelief, but since it saved any tedious (and predicable) sections of Banner placed into a dangerous battle when the audience knows he's never in any real danger, then it's a leap I was personally happy to make.
If you can make that leap too then you'll be treated to an incredibly enjoyable; if decidedly simple, fantasy adventure. The first arc of the book features the Gladiatorial games and sets up the Hulk's stubborn personality perfectly. In fact his troubles throughout the entire book could have been avoided if he'd just decided to not try and smash the planet's emperor the first chance that he got. That's not what I'm referring to though. What I liked the most in this section was that Hulk is here introduced to a rag tag group of Gladiators whom he must learn to fight alongside if he wants to survive. Hulk keeps insisting that "Not your friend. Not anyone's friend." Yet he consistently throws himself at incoming threats in order to protect these mostly weaker allies. Sure he tends to enjoy trying to smash these threats, but his actions quickly lead the inhabitants of the planet to label him a hero. One moment that really stood out for me was when a group of resistance fighters try and break The Hulk out of his prison, but Hulk is still scarred emotionally by the way the people of Earth labelled him a monster, then looked to him as a hero, before turning on him as a monster again.
This development flows in nicely with the second arc of the book as events eventually lead to this group of slaves being freed, and Hulk being presented with an opportunity to return home. Except that The Hulk comes to the conclusion that he's already home and decides to stay on this world and lead his new 'friends' in a resistance against the corrupt government. The catch this time being that the large majority of the population are labelling The Hulk as the appearance of a prophesied hero of legend. Unfortunately a few people see that the Hulk's current actions also tie in to a prophesy regarding one who will destroy their world. Hulk, knowing who he is an what he does, understands which of these is most likely true and worries about letting people put him up too high. I personally really liked this development as it proved that The Hulk can be a fairly interesting character even without Banner by his side.
Sadly the books biggest problem is that Hulk's character is the only character who gets explored in any way. His allies are definitely an endearing bunch. Miek the giant insect in particular was a lot of fun, especially when you try to imagine his unique lines with his squeaky insecty voice. It's just that none of these characters are developed at all. They'll be faced with certain dilemma's throughout the book, and they do get to react to these situations, but then they go back to their own personalities without any visible effect at all.
Still that's not the major problem I make it out to be. This is, afterall a Hulk book, and as everyone knows Hulk likes to SMASH. In Planet Hulk he gets to fight some of his biggest foes yet, and the action scenes he finds himself in are written superbly. Some of the early fights could easily fall into repetition as the gladiatorial formula is set to Hulk gets beaten down, gets madder and smashes the big monster. It's just that Hulk's one liners keep things flowing at a brisk pace. The moment that made me laugh the most saw Hulk picking up a sword in battle and declaring that "Hulk SLASH!" Hey, it's cheesy, but it's fun.
After escaping his slavery Hulk manages to break the formula and let loose with some very large scale fight scenes. Of course, seeing as how the Hulk's story has always been a tragedy, then you can't expect this one to be any different. There will be deaths throughout these action scenes, not all of them caused by Hulk, that will deeply effect the characters of the book. In trying to help these people, and still witnessing such tragedies, then The Hulk will find himself facing action that does actually feel dramatic, despite the fact that the lead character is pretty much unkillable.
Thankfully the artwork sets the perfect tone for such an action packed story. After reading so many stylized comics lately it felt nice to find one with a more traditional artistic approach. The look is very colorful, but still very detailed, and has just the right degree of shading to fit the stories tone. It's unusual to say this, but even though the artist changes to someone with a different style half way through, the artwork still retained a consistent look and feel throughout and as a result never really had a negative effect on the story. My only problem with the artwork was that the artists were often not given enough space. Due to the frantic nature of the book certain frames had to be squeezed together onto a single page. Occasionally an entire frame will get lost to the speech bubbles because of their small size, and some big moments that fully deserved an epic full page splash get lost in the bottom corner of a page somewhere because of other events happening alongside them.
Still, overall Planet Hulk is a thoroughly enjoyable read. It may not be the most intellectual comic on the market, and a lot of the characters are underdeveloped, but The Hulk has proven that when he's allowed to do his own thing he can think things through, and still smash with the best of 'em.
Summary: The Hulk can think things through, and still smash with the best of 'em.