by Charlie Brooks, CMRO Contributing Writer
The Incredible Hulk
Written by Greg Pak, Art by Aaron Lopresti
Published: Aug.u 2006
“They followed the Green Scar and his monsters out of slavery…and into the Twisted Wood. And now,
in the cold and the dark, they wonder…how wise was that?”
So begins The Incredible Hulk #96, which continues our journey through the Planet Hulk saga. The story so far: after being exiled from Earth, the Hulk found himself playing out Russel Crowe’s part in Gladiator, serving as a slave on an alien world and then fighting his way to freedom, ultimately escaping with a large number of fellow slaves.
Through Planet Hulk: Exile and its companion, Giant Size Hulk #1, we’ve been dealing with simple pleasures – namely, the Hulk smashing big alien monsters while fantasizing about doing the same to the heroes back on Earth who exiled him. With this first issue of Planet Hulk: Anarchy, things start to get a bit more serious. That’s a big strength of comics – very few other media can get away with a plot involving a giant green irradiated man being exiled into space and fighting alien monsters alongside bug-people, a stone man from Saturn, and a magic-wielding priest. No other medium to my knowledge can take that opening and then turn it into a deep exploration of anger, revenge, and the effects of both.
This issue opens with the Hulk showing off his brains in addition to his brawn. While the slaves he’s freed debate as to whether he is a hero or monster, one slave runs off and sends a message to the Red King, who promptly orders the area bombed in hopes of killing the Hulk (known to Sakaarians as the Green Scar for the scar on his face he gained in battle with the Red King). However, the Hulk has outmaneuvered his hunters, and the only people who get bombed are the Hulk, his stone ally Korg, and the Red King’s loyalist – and only the latter happens to be bomb-resistant.
The majority of the issue focuses on the race as the Hulk tries to help the slaves escape their pursuers. Leading the hunt for the Hulk is the Red King’s Lieutenant, so far only referred to as “Oldstrong,” who shows herself to be as cunning and deadly as the Hulk. She attempts the same misdirection ploy on the Hulk, trying to lure him into a trap with murdered villagers serving as the bait, and the Hulk nearly falls for it. Thankfully, he has allies of his own, such as the shadow priest Hiroim, who stops the Hulk from rushing in headlong. The game of cat and mouse adds an interesting twist to a typical Hulk story, since our green goliath can’t just smash everything while he has others to protect. It also establishes the Oldstrong as a worthy adversary, but one who might not be as evil as she seems – the dead villagers she used had already been slaughtered by a corrupt governor, meaning that, while she is certainly opportunistic, her kill count as far as innocents go is currently zero.
Moving on with the adventure, the Hulk and his companions once again play the role of heroes, saving a village from a group of wildebots (wild mechanical beasts, serving as another opportunity to show how much work has gone into making Sakaar unique, interesting, and deadly). Hailed as heroes, things nonetheless take a darker turn when we discover that the leader of this village also happens to be the person directly responsible for killing Miek’s tribe, making him an enemy of the Hulk’s bug man friend and by extension the entire Warbound. In trying to give advice about what to do, the Hulk delivers what will soon become arc words: “I’d never stop making them pay.”
These words lead Miek to face his family’s killer in a fight to the death. It’s not quite as straightforward as one would expect, though. Before the head of the village enters the battle, we learn that he has a son of his own, and we see him act as a benevolent father. So maybe he’s not such a bad guy? Well, during the fight, we find out a hard lesson that people – even pink people – have both good and bad in them. On the one hand, the village’s Headman has killed Miek’s family. On the other hand, he is apparently a good father. But, as the fight goes on, we find out that not all of Miek’s family is dead – some have been kept by the Headman and used as slaves.
And once again, we see the rage of the Hulk and his companions on display. They save the slaves, but burn the village to the ground before leaving. On this last point, I do have to give some criticism of the layout, as the aftermath of the village’s destruction is left until the last page and the exact scale of the damage isn’t caught right off the bat. I think this story had a little too much in it and could have benefited from just one more page to really show off the aftermath of the damage done by the Hulk and his Warbound. To be fair, though, we do get one salient point here: buildings have been destroyed, but no deaths are shown. The role of the Hulk as somebody who rarely kills is very important both here and in the upcoming World War Hulk.
Despite the last page quibble, this story is yet another strong offering from Greg Pak and Carlo Pagulayan. More importantly, we’re starting to see the first hints that Planet Hulk is more than just a romp through alien gladiatorial arenas. Not that the Hulk smashing aliens is a bad thing, but there’s a reason why Planet Hulk is beloved by Hulk fans and not just another quickly forgotten event. How will this meditation on rage end? Is the Hulk a hero, a monster, or somewhere in between? The answers will continue to be explored as we delve further into Planet Hulk.