Marvel at 80: World War Hulk
This one is going to require a brief primer, so sit tight and prepare to hear about one of the best Hulk stories ever.
Several years ago, the Hulk was becoming more wild, more savage. At least, that’s how some people saw him. After being hit by a massive gamma bomb (again), the Hulk went grey instead of green and was possessed by a berserker rage of self-loathing. Barely held off by the Fantastic Four’s own Thing and the Human Torch, the Hulk only took out about half of Las Vegas. However, writer Michael J. Straczynski left behind some strange foreshadowing…
The “Illuminati,” a cabal of Marvel’s smartest heroes had enough of the Hulk. Mister Fantastic, Iron Man, Namor the Sub-Mariner, Black Bolt, and Doctor Strange all decided to launch the Hulk into space. Professor Charles Xavier, also a member of this secret society, was gone that day. However, the plan was to launch the Hulk into space to a planet where it was peaceful, pleasant, and no one would trouble the Hulk ever again.
This is not what happened.
Instead, Hulk landed on the planet Sk’aar, a harsh desert planet filled with gladiatorial combat and slavery. Hulk would find himself surrounded by foes tougher and smarter than him, and Hulk would be forced to fight dirty. He would also find himself close friends in the fights, including rock alien Korg, bug alien Miek, and a Brood. Two of these three would show up in one of the best Marvel movies, Thor: Ragnarok, as a brief and more family-friendly version of the Planet Hulk storyline. It would also be adapted into an animated feature that also covers it really well by the same name as the original storyline.
However, despite liberating the planet Sk’aar, finding the love of his wife, and a baby on the way… that wasn’t how things would end.
The ship that the Hulk arrived on exploded and destroyed the world of Sk’aar. His bride and unborn son dead, and his people killed, the Hulk vowed revenge on those who sent him to Sk’aar. Finally, the World War Hulk would begin once the Hulk returned. And he would return in style.
The Hulk was ready for war and quickly messed up the entire city of New York in a massive brawl. One by one, the Hulk would take down every hero who faced him. Books even taking place across the United States would be drawn in, as the Ghost Rider would (temporarily) face off against the Hulk. Hulk would also visit the X-Men to confront Professor Xavier, and nearly every hero would somehow fight the Hulk in one way or another.
And they would all lose.
Some heroes would stand beside old Jade Jaws, like Hercules and the mutant Angel. However, everyone else who faced the Hulk and lost met a familiar fate:
The Hulk would force what were once his friends to fight one another, to let the world watch how corrupt and savage the heroes of this Earth could be. However, just as the Hulk would show mercy, reality would throw another curve ball: The Sentry.
Marvel’s own take on a mentally-ill Superman, the Sentry, was established to be one of the few whose aura could calm the Hulk. However, both were dedicated to pummel the everlasting crap out of one another, in a fight that threatened to break the world. Whoever wins, we just might lose.
World War Hulk was mostly written by Greg Pak, with pencils by John Romita Jr. Klaus Janson and Christina Strain would work together on the inks and colors, while Chris Eliopoulos would letter the pages. Much like Pak’s other Hulk work, this book is a thrill ride when reading all at once. Massive splash pages of punching, smashing, and exciting plot twists await any reader who devours this event all at once. Waiting for the book monthly proved problematic at the time, as several plot twists felt stupid, the more you examined them, something that doesn’t affect a collected reading.
As with previous events now, World War Hulk had a few mini-series tie-ins that are far from required to read to understand the event. They do, at least, expand on some of the world’s reactions to a Hulk who is ready to break the planet. The X-Men had a mini-series as mentioned above, while Frontline showed the newsmen (and women) of Marvel covering the disaster. Gamma Corps showed the effects of the Hulk’s battles on civilians, while also turning them into a force to fight the Hulk by turning them into what they hated. Instead, spend your money on the previous Planet Hulk collections out there.
Pak’s writing is remarkably robust, with the story taking a long time to examine the actions of our normal heroes as of recent. Sending the Hulk into space, the Inhumans killing dozens of civilians, Clone Thor from Civil War, the list went on. As with recent books like Hulkverines! And Weapon H, Pak has a real knack for making certain fight scenes are thrilling and filled with banter and exposition without feeling overloaded. The ending may have honestly fallen flat, but the low point of an end actually feels better when read all at once rather than monthly.
The art is also fantastic, but divisive. John Romita Jr. is one of those artists who are punctual, have a very distinctive and Jack Kirby-esque style… but has some very glaring flaws. The biggest one is that almost all men have the same face and hairstyles, something that only happens in his work after the late-1990s. Poses and action sequences are dynamic, and fights are thrilling. However, the sequences with people talking to one another start to look samey.
For all its flaws, which mainly revolve around the plot twists the story takes, World War Hulk had a ton of impact on the Marvel Universe. From this story, Marvel would spin off a few “Aftersmash” stories about rebuilding New York and what happened with Hulk’s companions after the fighting ended. With Bruce Banner supposedly also stripped of the Hulk, the Incredible Hercules would rise to take the banner of Hulk’s book for almost thirty issues. Balancing humor with action, Greg Pak would find the time to poke fun at just about everything while letting letterer Simon Bowland would provide the world with the best sound effect ever:
Pak would continue working on Hercules related books, culminating in 2010’s excellent Chaos War micro-event. That one would result in deceased heroes saving the universe from beyond the grave, and is worth checking out.
Jeph Loeb found a Hulk-sized place in the Marvel Lineup as well. Teaming up with artist Ed McGuiness, the self-titled Hulk books would launch a new Red Hulk into Marvel’s landscape. Not only would this Hulk run rampant over the entire MU for the better course of a year, but he would also eventually pave the way for the Red She-Hulk and other gamma-powered heroes.
While the Hulk may have been sidelined with the aftermath of the World War named after him, the Marvel Universe would spin ever on. Another year would pass with Marvel’s writers plotting another event. This one would make every fan question the decisions made by their favorite heroes going back years. The Skrulls were here, their invasion a secret.
Who could you trust?