by Charlie Brooks, CMRO Contributing Writer
Written by Greg Pak, Art by Aaron Lopresti
Published: June 2006
Throughout most of the early 2000s, the Hulk was an afterthought as a character in the Marvel Universe. His book struggled with mediocre sales and inconsistent storytelling. In guest appearances, writers could rarely agree on what kind of character he was – was he the dumb “Hulk smash!” Hulk, the meaner but more cunning Hulk from the late 1990s, or something else entirely? Did he kill or was he generally a good guy with a bad temper?
For many of these reasons, in 2006 Joe Quesada decided that the Hulk needed some extra love, so he turned the reigns over to Greg Pak and Carlo Pagulayan, which resulted in the excellent Planet Hulk storyline. In my past four reviews, we’ve gone through the first leg of that story, Planet Hulk: Exile. But Planet Hulk was not just a one story arc tale. At the time, Marvel’s Civil War event was going on, and big players like the Hulk, Thor, and the Sentry were mostly sidelined, since their presence could have easily tipped the scales dramatically. Planet Hulk not only had to keep the Hulk out of Civil War, but it also had to set up what had already been designated as the next big Marvel event, World War Hulk.
Leading up to Civil War, most of Marvel’s superheroes were acting like jerks. Exiling the Hulk into space with complete disregard for his civil rights – not to mention the fact that he saved the planet immediately prior – was the final nail in the coffin for a lot of people. Many Marvel fans were eagerly awaiting the chance to see the Hulk return and give a righteous beating to these so-called heroes. And while that beating was at least another year away, Giant-Size Hulk #1 whetted the fans’ appetite while we waited for Planet Hulk to resume.
Giant-Size Hulk #1 is a collection of three stories, two new and a reprint. Opening up, we have “Green Pieces” by legendary Hulk scribe Peter David. This flashback tale takes us away from the planet Sakaar and back to Earth, where the Hulk faced off against the superhero group known as the Champions. Promising to give us hints as to what was coming when the Hulk returned to Earth, the story is nonetheless largely a fight scene between the Hulk and the Hercules-led Champions. But as a “fight scene” story, it has two strengths. First, Peter David is terrific with snappy dialogue and one-liner jokes. He can sometimes go overboard, but in “Green Pieces” he keeps a good balance. An example would be the Hulk, here in his child-like persona, giving names to those he’s fighting. Angel is “Wing Man.” Iceman is “Ice Man,” which Iceman starts to correct only to note that…yeah, the Hulk actually got that right. Hercules, much to his chagrin, gets the name of “Skirt Man,” a title he feels he will never live down.
The other thing that keeps “Green Pieces” from being more than just sound and fury is the reason that the Champions are fighting the Hulk. The Hulk is rampaging through a city with an unidentified woman in his arms. Assuming the worst, the Champions attack. Eventually, the woman is delivered to the hospital, at which point it is revealed that she is Jennifer Walters in her pre-She Hulk days, and that her appendix was about to rupture. The Hulk, in this case, was a good guy, racing her to the hospital before he was interrupted by heroes looking for a fight. Hercules in particular notes with shame that he attacked the Hulk without giving him a chance to explain…and notes that he hopes to do the Hulk right in the future, providing us with our much-promised hint as to how things might shake out in World War Hulk. Hercules is known as somebody who will throw a punch to aid a friend – will he throw his allegiance in with the Hulk upon the jade giant’s return?
Following “Green Pieces” is “Banner War,” which brings us into the ongoing story of Planet Hulk. This tale takes place immediately after Exile, but is not strictly necessary for the tale. Rather than advance the plot, it brings in a much-missed foe of the Hulk’s – Bruce Banner himself. While he dreams, the Hulk is confronted by Banner, who both taunts him and tries to convince him to fix up the shuttle he was sent to Sakaar in so he can go to the peaceful world the Marvel heroes originally had picked out for him. The resulting conflict delves into both the minds of the Hulk and of Banner. We get to see a lovely piece of cathartic chaos as the Hulk and his Warbound take out the Marvel superheroes violently, along with a bit of humor. For example, Miek, the Hulk’s bug- like companion, stabs the Sentry for “making the Hulk sleep on the kitchen floor” in one of the Sentry’s own miniseries, to which the Sentry can only manage, “But it was a good—” before succumbing to his gut wound. Pak’s humor is not quite as subtle as Peter David’s, although he would refine it to an art by the time he started writing The Incredible Hercules down the road, but it is still enough to make a reader smile. And, since we’re all eagerly awaiting the Hulk’s return to Earth, it’s nice to get a preview as the Warbound just flat-out slaughter the Marvel Universe.
Many of Bruce Banner’s own words ring true in “Banner War.” He rightly points out that the other time the Hulk found himself stranded on an alien world fighting for the freedom of his adopted people and falling in love, it was really the Hulk with Banner’s brain in control. His love interest of the time, the long-dead Jarella, fell in love with Banner first, then accepted the Hulk later. On Sakaar, the roles are reversed – the Hulk is in full control with Banner in the background. How will this tale turn out, then?
Well, maybe the Hulk isn’t in total control. By the end of the tale, Banner temporarily gains control of his body again. Miek wakes up to see Banner in the Hulk’s armor and does an immediate double-take, only to see the Hulk back to normal. As he goes back to sleep, the Hulk states, “There’s nobody here but us monsters.” Reassuring to Miek, apparently, but we know better – and it will be interesting to see if Banner can reassert himself again in the future on the deadly world of Sakaar.
Finishing up Giant Size Hulk #1 is “Hulk: The End,” which is another Peter David story, this time an adaptation of his prose tale “The Last Titan.” Here we find the Hulk as the last living being on Earth after a series of nuclear wars, constantly struggling with Banner. This tale feels quite out of place because it has little to do with Planet Hulk. Going in-depth about “Hulk: The End” should really be done in a separate review of its own, because the story has a lot to offer, from the Hulk’s eternal struggle with Banner to mythological implications of what the Hulk really is. I will say this, though: this is one of the best single Hulk stories out there. With Dale Keown on art and Peter David drawing from his long run on the character, it is dynamite. It is admittedly out of place in a comic that is focusing around the ongoing Planet Hulk arc, and it was probably just put in there because Marvel needed an extra story to fill out the giant-sized issue. However, they couldn’t have chosen a better tale in terms of sheer quality. Whether in Giant Size Hulk #1 or on its own, track down “Hulk: The End” if you get a chance – it will be worth it.
And thus our interlude is over. We will resume with Planet Hulk next time.