Last time, I kicked off my Hulk Month pieces with 2016’s Hulk #1. That issue has to be in the top five comics I’ve reviewed for Blastoff, so I’m not sure how much better we can get. I’ve enjoyed Hulk comics before, but not Mariko Tamaki’s writing took it to an entirely new level for me, making me care about Jennifer Walters as the lead character from Page One. We’re doing something different for this piece, though, looking a bit further back – but not so far.
Planet Hulk has to be one of, if not the, most talked about Hulk storyline in the modern era. I feel like there have been rumors of Marvel Studios doing the Planet Hulk storyline for years, and now a little of that seems to be coming to fruition as part of fall’s Thor: Ragnarok… which looks gloriously insane. I admit, though, while it is certainly hailed as a modern classic, that I haven’t yet read Planet Hulk, which began as part of Greg Pak’s run on The Incredible Hulk back in 2006. So… let’s see how that first issue reads in 2017.
The Incredible Hulk #92 is written by Greg Pak, pencilled by Carlo Pagulayan, inked by Jeffrey Huet, and colored by Chris Sotomayor. The digital version doesn’t credit a letterer, but I’m seeing that Randy Gentile and Joe Caramagna handled lettering duties on the arc. The issue starts with an event that I’m familiar with from reading other related series around the same time. Some of Earth’s heroes – Iron Man, Doctor Strange, Reed Richards, Black Bolt, all of whom I think were doing their Illuminati thing at the time if memory serves – decide to send Hulk off on a ship into space so that his uncontrollable rage can no longer threaten the planet. They set a course for an unpopulated, lush planet so that Hulk could have peace by himself (as they claim he always wanted, which seems like a hell of a literal take, which reads as disingenuous coming from these geniuses) and live a life without threatening anyone. This enrages Hulk to no end, so he tears out of the craft and goes spiraling down into what looks like a portal.
I have to call foul here, though. How could these guys not see that coming? Especially Stark and Richards. It probably would’ve been impossible to Hulk-proof the craft 100% but he tears through that thing like tin foil and is ejected into open space. That… seems pretty irresponsible. Maybe they should’ve skipped out on the passive aggressive “I know you probably hate us, but trust us, you’re going to love your interstellar abandonment” video. Unless there’s a twist coming where they wanted this to happen, this seems a hell of a lot like a checkers move from a group of chess players.
The rest of the issue is mostly all action, as Hulk lands on a strange planet and fights… well, everyone. He’s attacked, and he fights and is surprised that some damage is actually done to him – an interesting development. He’s captured, and forced to fight in an arena. (This is what it looks like we’ll be seeing in Thor: Ragnarok, albeit an added dose of that MCU humor.) He wins the fight, he fights someone overseeing the fight. He’s shuffled off to a strange and dangerous area of the planet, and the issue ends with him seemingly excited at this next fight. It’s gorgeously drawn and conceptually great, but I think this might be a story best read in trade. It’s good, but there’s not enough information, dialogue, or important character moments for me to get a sense of where the story is going or what Pak’s Incredible Hulk is really about. Pak’s writing does facilitate the art to great effect, though. His sci-fi sequences allow Pagualayan to create some truly amazing creatures. There are a few aliens that look like the creatures from Arrival but waaaay before Arrival (pictured above). It’s stunning, and by far the coolest part about this book. Sometimes, a writer needs to just sit back and let an artist kick some ass, and that seems to be the case with this opener. I get the sense, though, that the alien culture Pak introduces with this first issue is rich and nuanced, so I expect to get to some of that in the next issue.
Overall, stellar action, but I’m hoping the rest of this modern classic slows down a little and cuts to the heart of what it feels like for the Hulk to be abandoned by his best friends. That is powerful stuff. Much more powerful, I think, than the gum wrappers used to build the Hulk’s spacecraft. Seriously, what?