Hulk is a character that, if not done right, comes off as brutish and boring because that's the nature of the character: to smash and destroy. He's had a few decent stories here and there, but aside from Peter David's run, there really hasn't been a "must have" story from this character. In 2006, writer Greg Pak took over the INCREDIBLE HULK book to tell one of the greatest, redefining stories of this character's career: Planet Hulk.
Since Hulk has been around in the Marvel Universe, there's been one thing he's consistently proven time and time again: he smashes very well. In fact, he was so good at it that the Illuminati decided to blast him into space to an inhabited planet where he could smash and hunt and be the Hulk he's always wanted to be. Obviously, things don't do the way they're supposed to, and Hulk's ship finds itself in a wormhole, and Hulk crash lands on the planet Sakaar.
Hulk quickly finds that because of his travel through the wormhole, he's vulnerable. The Hulk is dubbed by the inhabitants of this tyrannical planet as The Green Scar, and Hulk is forced to fight as a gladiator, in the ring. Hulk battles his way to the top with the Warbound (the beings he fights along with), and the goal is to take down the leader of the planet, The Red King.
This story has a lot going for it. First and foremost, as long as you know who the Hulk is, then this arc is extremely new reader friendly. It's a stand-alone arc that anyone can read. Hulk lovers also won't have a problem with this arc since it introduces so many new ideas and characters.
New and old readers alike will both have the same sense of unfamiliarity as they dive right in. You don't even need to read the issues prior to it. Sure, you can pick up INCREDIBLE HULK #91, but issue 92 does such a fantastic job at setting everything up.
Planet Hulk, in itself, is this fantastic three act story as Hulk arrives on Sakaar and fights for Red King's amusement, Hulk takes over the planet, and Hulk carves out a life for himself there. It's a really engaging story that isn't just a brilliant stand-alone piece, but it leads into a couple of other fantastic story lines in the future: World War Hulk and Dark Son.
Pak's story is a world builder, and one that shapes a small chunk of the Marvel universe for years to come. Pak introduces a brood (pun intended) of new characters that are well developed and incredibly interesting: Caiera, No-Name, Miek, Hiroim, Korg, Elloe, the Warbound etc. We also get to see Silver Surfer in one of my personal favorite roles as the enslaved Silver Savage. In addition, the events of this story lead to the creation of my favorite 21st century character, Skaar.
The ideas of brotherhood and coming together for a common goal drive this story. It's really about Hulk coming to terms with being the Hulk and putting the life of Banner behind him. Hulk finally finds peace on a world that seems as barbaric as he is. It's a world that Hulk can't just smash his way out of because there are people that are stronger than him in this world and much more technologically advanced. This is the book where the reader finally gets to see Hulk settle down and be in a role that just makes sense for the character: "King."
This book is not only my favorite Hulk story, but it's also one of my top 5 comic stories of all time. And while you could spend your time searching through the back issues for all 15 of the issues in this story arc, it's a much better idea to head down to your LCS and spend $35 on the TPB. You could also hop online or find this book at a con for cheaper. In addition to the 15 issues, you also get the Planet Hulk: Gladiator Guidebook and some material from Amazing Fantasy #15. What this book really needs is the "Deluxe Edition" or least the "Hardcover" treatment.
In 2010, Marvel turned the first half of this story into a straight-to-DVD animated story. This hour and twenty minute film tried to capture the story of Hulk taking down the Red King to some mixed reviews. While it's a fun complimentary piece to the original story, it doesn't have the scope or epicness of the original. The main problem is that it misses out on half of this story: Hulk as a leader and his eventual return to Earth. Also, Silver Savage is replaced by Beta Ray Bill.
Yes, this is a fun little piece, but by no means should you think that watching this film is the same as reading the actual story. You're missing out on a ton of stuff. This is a book you should read because it redefines who and what the Hulk is, and Planet Hulk is something new. It takes a step away from traditional comic book storytelling and it throws in a bit of Roman gladiator fighting. It's a story that sets the world stage for Hulk for the next generation and starts a series of events that keep getting more and more intense. It's brilliant as a stand alone book and as the beginning of something bigger. Planet Hulk is new and old reader friendly as well.
If you say you've never read a good Hulk book, then you haven't read Planet Hulk.
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