War! Hulk! Good God, Ya'll: WWH #5

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone...here, Hulkinued from last time, without further ado (no, really!)...

December, 2007
Writer: Greg Pak
Artists: John Romita Jr., Klaus Janson & Christina Strain
Editor: Mark Paniccia
Cover Artist: David Finch

After a rampage the likes of which New York has never seen, it's the end of the road for the Hulk and his Warbound. I have a bunch of key points to touch on here because this book touched off a bit of a firestorm when it hit last week. Some fans saw it as the worst issue of the series by far, a huge letdown, while others said it capped off the best Hulk story ever in tremendous fashion. Where do I stand? Well, I think it was a meticulously plotted but somewhat lackadaisically scripted story, with art that was sketchy but that conveyed incredible amounts of power. During my overview of the story itself, I'll be stopping to address some key points: namely (1) the decision to have the final battle be between the Hulk and the Sentry; (2) the identity of the true saboteurs of the Hulk's ship and the reason why; and (3) the Hulk's decision of his own fate.

When last we left the Hulk, he had converted Madison Square Garden into a gladiatorial arena a la the one he fought in on Sakaar. Outfitting those who had wronged him with obedience disks, he then forced the key foursome of Reed Richards, Tony Stark, Dr. Strange and Black Bolt into mortal combat against one another. Richards swings a mace up above his head, ready to drive it down and crush Stark, who tries to use his Extremis-enhanced abilities to "hack" the disks so they can free themselves. He's close when the mace falls...and lands within inches of his face. Reed begins to thank Tony, but Tony admits he wasn't able to hack the device: it was the Hulk who saved his life! The Warbound wonder why, and Rick Jones is quick to counter that they don't know "the real Hulk."

So who is the "real" Hulk? A being of immense power who could crush you were you stand just like a flea...but who has enough self-restraint to not...who makes you wish he'd deliver the killing blow and who leaves you mortified when he stays his hand. Does this truly make him a "hero"? Yes and no...more appropriately, probably an anti-hero, due to his unorthodox means of proving a point. Does this mean the Hulk has no teeth? Absolutely not--he's smashed enough bad guys over the years, right? This Hulk knows that he's better off having made the threat, punishing the other "heroes" in the eyes of the world. It's no harm, no foul for him because he knows he gets blamed anyway, being the one who looks like a monster. If the people of Earth believe his story about the Illuminati acting like jerks, fine, and if they don't, well, that's fine, too, he's in no worse a position than before. And anyway, he's got his escape vehicle, the Shadow People's great stone ship.

Suddenly, as the Hulk announces he's going to let the heroes live and just destroy the city around them, an explosion hits the stone ship, and down it falls toward the Garden! Astonished, the Hulk and his Warbound wonder what could have taken down the ship, as well as how they will escape offworld now. A golden streak flies through the sky, and the culprit reveals himself: it's the Sentry, and he's come to take down ol' Greenskin!

A word about the Sentry: a number of fans have complained, pretty much since day one, that if anyone was going to take down the Hulk, it would have to be the mighty Thor, thunder god and all-purpose bad dude, freshly returned in his own regular series after too long away. Historically, the Hulk and Thor have had some big brawls--check out Journey Into Mystery #112, Defenders #10, The Mighty Thor #385, and The Incredible Hulk #255, 300 & 440 for the highlights--but when you get right down to it, he and the Hulk don't have enough in common to make it a fight. The Asgardian rage bit was done in Hulk #440. Plus, as already seen in Thor #3, Thor wasn't wont to side himself with heroes who made a clone of him that killed people.

So, you may ask, what's the manufactured Sentry character have in common with the Hulk to justify his presence in the final battle? It's a combination of factors, really. Both characters have rather reserved alter-egos in Bruce Banner and Bob Reynolds. Both have alter-egos they must physically transform into, it seems (though Reynolds-to-Sentry is...cleaner). Both characters are immensely strong--with the Hulk historically being the strongest mutated human on Earth, and the Sentry being essentially Marvel's Superman archetype. More importantly, they each have their fair share of psychoses--Banner with his Dissociative Identity Disorder/MPD, Reynolds with his agoraphobia and schizophrenia. Both also struggle to not "let go" with their full abilities for fear others will be hurt. (More later during the actual battle discussion.) Plus, while it's true that it may have a "tacked-on" feeling because of the entire retroactive continuity explanation of the Sentry's introduction and origin, like it or don't, it's been established therein that the Hulk was, after a fashion, the Sentry's sidekick, for want of a much better term. Sentry and Hulk had a bunch of unpublished adventures, and there are hints (probably more due to the misapplication of continuity than anything else) that his presence led to the ascendancy of the Hulk's "Hulk smash" persona. (Take a look at Sentry/Hulk, the one-shot from the original run of The Sentry, and see what the Hulk's dialogue patterns are in the flashbacks that allegedly take place during the mid-60s publication period.) The Sentry, it seems, smoothed the Hulk's "rough edges" and calmed him down. It's said that the Hulk hurts, all the time, and that the Sentry's power in close proximity calms him down and makes the pain subside. Deep down, I'd have to think that the other Hulk incarnations resent the Sentry for reducing him to a sidekick and, in the likely words of the Fixit incarnation, a "baby." Then there's the throwaway lines in the Giant-Size Hulk #1 back-up tale, whereby there's some subconscious resentment of the Sentry found. In "Banner War," a dream version of Miek runs the Sentry through because when the Void nearly killed the Hulk, Sentry let him recuperate on the floor in his kitchen. ("But it's a very nice ki--URK!" replies the Sentry.) Obviously, then, the Hulk has some unresolved anger issues with the Sentry. Besides that, I think there are ample parallels as explained here that make the Sentry the best choice for the final WWH headline bout.

You'll notice that prior to WWH, every appearance of the Sentry and Hulk together featured the savage, simple-minded Hulk incarnation. It's a credit to writer Greg Pak that he picked up on this little fact, and used it as the basis for Reed Richards' synthesized weapon, power from the Sentry that regressed the Hulk momentarily to his childlike self (in #2). Of course the Hulk shook off those effects, and so, he's even more enraged by the point he encounters the Sentry here that another such tactic, though genuine this time, won't have the same result. The Hulk is so focused in his anger, he keeps his same personality. And the game, as they say, is on.

Right away, the battle blows up, the strength of these two titans visually displayed as something utterly unlike any battle since that with Iron Man in #1. The Hulk warns: "You don't want this fight, Sentry," to which the Sentry replies: "Yes. God help me, I do. because you're the only one I can hit...like THIS." And hit him he does, sending him through another building, and another, and into still another, blocks away in a single punch. All the while, the Hulk reminds us that the battle and any destruction caused is on the heads of Stark, Richards, Strange, and Black Bolt. (This continued reiteration does serve a story purpose beyond beating us over the head with a quick story recap, and I'll get to that before long.) Buildings explode and collapse under the onslaught of blows traded. The Hulk keeps hitting the Sentry, who receives each crushing blow with the chilling words: "Good. Just--once--more." Then the Sentry returns fire, exploding buildings for blocks, immolating the Hulk, fire funneling through the streets as Warbound and "super-hero" alike look on incredulously.

The heroes' dialogue is a point of contention here. The Thing seems to be reading right out of the writers' bible here ("...I'd say he's bustin' out the power of a million exploding suns")--probably an attempt at levity, gone flat. Again we get the "agoraphobic schizophrenic" line, this time from Reed, but blended with the idea that Sentry has "never" unleashed his power this way before. Tony reveals his "playing God" comment from last month's flashback. "Thunderbolt" Ross gives the truism of the moment: "You morons, trading one monster for another." And Hiroim tries to trump him: "Not monster, General Ross...WORLD BREAKER." The Hulk falls before them, and Rick fears that while the Sentry may not be able to kill the Hulk, the same cannot be said for everything else on Earth. Beside him, Miek expresses...glee.

As Hiroim and Korg attempt to cleave the flames from the Hulk's body, the town awash in fire, Tony begins to take advantage of the Sentry's first action against the Hulk: the decimation of the Shadow People's great stone ship. Does everyone remember that, in #1, when the ship entered Earth's atmosphere, it disrupted the planet's satellites, rewriting their code, riddling them with viruses so the defense satellites wouldn't be able to act against the Hulk and his crew? It seems a lot of people reading this story had forgotten, but the idea was very cleverly revived herein. Now that the ship is down, it's no longer jamming the satellites, which means Tony Stark can now mobilize them...but for what purpose? Ah, questions...

Interestingly, more traits of the Hulk's Warbound brethren come to light with their helping of the heroes clearing people out of the way. We've seen Korg say that the Hulk's taken things far enough; we've seen Hiroim say that they will be punished for their quest for vengeance; now we see that the Brood leaps to the humans' defense, as she "didn't come here to watch world die." It's a salient point and a direct contrast to Miek's glee at the current situation. Elloe Kaifi also seems to share a contrarian point of view, though less extreme than Miek's--questioning why they are saving the humans. (Perhaps this bit of characterization will come into play in what comes next, the Warbound miniseries. But, I digress.)

The Hulk and Sentry continue to fight, with the Hulk leaping up into the streams of destructive energies the Sentry creates. Interestingly, the Hulk echoes a line of dialogue he spoke in Hulk #93 with "You think your machines can stop him?" referring this time to Stark's positioning of satellites for...well, you'll have to wait for it! Of especial bewilderment is the Sentry's line: "Ah, Bruce...you have to tell me something. Does it always feel this good--when you finally let go?" Does it feel good for the Hulk to smash, to let loose? I know the line from the Hulk movie ("But you know what scares me the most? When I can't fight it anymore, when it takes over, when I totally lose control... I like it."). But I know also that Banner has struggled to suppress his personal demons, to avoid the destruction, the rampages, the angst that follows the anger. Does he truly revel in the power? I'd love to find issues or sequences that directly address this point. Basically, are the Hulk and Sentry more alike than they care to admit here? Moreover, it's interesting to note that the tables have turned here and that the Hulk is once more thrust into the role of protector, that he has, since the beginning of this story arc, been in control of his actions, and he must stop a friend, come to stop him, who has himself become drunk with power. (Another note: if Sentry is so out-of-control, why hasn't the Void come out in form? Is the Void truly exorcised from the Sentry now? Is that a result of the Sentry miniseries from last year that I only half-read?)

Why does the Hulk fight to save New York City now, when only moments before he was willing to raze the city to the ground? Well, the destruction of the ship would seem to be a big contributing factor. Stuck on Earth, faced with the most powerful adversary thus far, the Hulk decides to change his tactics. Sure, there are personal reasons: a show of pride, not to just roll over and surrender; also sheer bravado, wanting to show everyone he could beat the Sentry; part also showing the Sentry who's boss after making him sleep on the kitchen floor. But now that he and the Warbound aren't going anywhere, they're going to need to get along with the humans, to have somewhere to live, and that means sparing the city; not only that, but also showing what a hero he really is, taking down another hero-cum-menace. If he saves New York, he shows up the heroes and--just maybe--gets the respect he feels he deserves, and lets the humans who saw his victory preach what a bunch of chumps the Illuminati were. His thoughts are summed up in perhaps the most important passage in the book, spoken as he and the Sentry trade awesome blows, burning tremendous amounts of energy:

"They can call you whatever they want. Savior. Destroyer. All that matters...is what YOU choose."

As Tony Stark's satellites announce their readiness, a tremendous explosion rocks the city, a bright flash igniting, then dimming, to reveal the two titans, still tussling, expending massive amounts of energy. The Hulk and the Sentry simultaneously begin to transform back into their human selves, still throwing punches. Banner hurls the last punch at Reynolds, who thanks him and collapses in a heap. Has the Hulk defeated the Sentry, or is it just a meaningless punch between two lowly mortals? Well, seeing the gamma-green glow in Banner's eyes, I would say that they each took as much as the other would give, expending the totality of the energies that give them their powers, and the definitive victor is Banner/Hulk, united at last. It's over, and the Hulk stands triumphant.

This is Banner's most prominent appearance in the series to date, and it's a doozy. Finally, the Hulk's other identity stands revealed to his Warbound teammates. (Caiera knew Banner, as he related to Strange in #3; and as it seems no surprise to Hiroim, he may have spied the transformation in the same issue along with Korg, or at the very least, his suspicions of the Hulk's "duality" from World War Hulk Prologue: World Breaker seem to have borne fruit.) Interestingly, Bruce doesn't say a word during this scene until the very end, but it's clear from the visual of his gamma-green eyes that something fundamental has changed. Hiroim calls it: "Within each of us live the World Breaker, who destroys all...and the Sakaarson, who redeems the world. Today, finally...the Hulk knows who he is." He has defeated all his adversaries...there is no one left to beat. The Hulk has shown his superiority...and he and Banner have a detente. It would seem he will emerge as the hero, unchallenged. But then...but then...

Miek cannot believe his eyes or what the others are telling him, that Banner is the Hulk. He can't believe that the battle is at an end, that there will be no more fighting, that Banner has redeemed his world. And so, to prolong the fight, he aims his spear at Banner, to force the transformation anew...only to have Rick Jones, the Hulk's oldest friend, shove Bruce out of the way and take the spear himself, collapsing to the ground. Bruce mourns as his friend teeters between life and death, finally succumbing to the monster within. Between Miek and Rick, it's no contest. Once more, Bruce's body regenerates the gamma radiation necessary to force the metamorphosis, and within seconds, he is the Hulk, the master of all he surveys. (Bruce Banner has obviously recovered from times when he could burn off all the gamma radiation in his body, circa Hulk #223-226, having, as some have theorized, now become a living, self-renewing, gamma reactor.) Tossing aside his Warbound brothers, he hits Miek as hard as ever (intriguing sound effect, that--GRGPAKK...who's the writer of this mag, anyway?), crushing his shell beneath his feet. He rages and roars, pounding his fists into Miek, blood and pieces of his shell and body flying up all over him. Miek reiterates this is what the Hulk was made for. "Never stop making them pay," he says. Then, the coup de grace: "That's why I *kik* killed them."

It's here that the evolution of the character of Miek reaches its apotheosis. The first quote has been a part of his psychology since nearly his first appearance, how much what the Hulk taught him in the arenas of Sakaar stuck. The quote first came up in #96, when Miek along with his fellow Warbound found out just how badly the Imperials had treated Miek's hive. They killed his father, enslaved him, kept the rest of the hive under their thumbs. The Hulk's rage and words of apparent inspiration allowed Miek to fight one of the Imperials, to lose one of his own arms in order to gain the advantage (there's some symbolism there, for sure). Once Miek embraced the way of the warrior, the Hulk's way, he soon after transformed into a king, the last king of his people--a warrior as big and powerful as the Hulk himself (Hulk #97). The physical transformation, again, is a symptom of the greater transformation within the character, from weak-willed to a stronger creature. His own personal decline exacerbated as he discovered a queen of his species, the last such living specimen, kept by the Red King (Hulk #99), but then lost her when the alien Spikes transformed her into one of them, forcing poor Miek to take matters into his own hands and kill her (Hulk #100). Since then, Miek helped the Hulk take the battle to the Red King (Hulk #102), but after that, he thought, his friend lost his way, bringing peace, uniting the kingdoms instead of making more war. Miek's own world, his hive, was as nothing, so he believed the world must go down in flames. Hence, when Miek discovered the message from the Illuminati on the Hulk's ship (Hulk #103), he knew he had found a weakness to exploit. When Imperials, outraged over the fact their king had been overthrown, loaded an unstable warp drive onto the Hulk's ship, Miek said nothing, knowing that when it eventually exploded, there would be no direct evidence implicating anyone but the humans. He knew that the Hulk would not be killed, but that the apparent attack would spur him to return to the planet of his birth to wreak more vengeance, to bring another world to its knees--but he didn't count on the morality of the Hulk, the innate heroism of Bruce Banner--and so, he was let down, and had to force the Hulk into further action, even at (possibly) the cost of his own life. "Never stop making them pay," he said. "We all *kik* *kik* must die. All this *kik* passing, so the next *kik* thing can come...so the World Breaker...can finally make an end." Miek is a nihilist, a world view helped along and shaped in part by the Hulk...which is far from the worst of the green goliath's problems.

First, I'll briefly address Rick's "death." Do I think he's really dead? Probably not--he's loaded onto an ambulance later in the story. Besides that, his death doesn't really have the gravitas or follow-through the death of such a major character should. In any event, the attempted murder of Rick by Miek cements the latter (I'm guessing he isn't dead, either) as the Hulk's dark double--the meek (heh) character who revels in the transforming power of anger (vis a vis his metamorphosis into "King Miek") and all of the dark impulses such a consuming anger engenders. His journey has paralleled the Hulk's throughout "Planet Hulk" and WWH, and now his journey is at an ill end. He's already come up against the price of anger--but something tells me he won't learn.

Which brings us back to ol' Greenskin. Remember when I said there's a point to the over-iteration of the Illuminati's supposed guilt in the ship's explosion and the deaths of a million Sakaarians? Well, obviously, something was fishy and the fact that it was told, and the Illuminati denied it over and over, led us directly to this next point. The problem that Miek creates is very important to understand, and is more multifaceted than at first it seems. At first, it may seem anticlimactic that the Illuminati have been exonerated of the bombing. (For those following since "Planet Hulk," we've known this fact: the back-up tale in Hulk #100 included a crucial exchange between Reed Richards and Mastermind Excello during which Reed said there was, in fact, no warp drive on the ship.) So many people online have said, "Miek did it, I knew it!" or "Miek did it, where did that come from?" but these people are missing the point I believe Greg Pak was trying to make. Miek did not blow up the ship. Sorry and thanks for playing. Miek specifically stated that his guilt was in allowing the Red King's underlings to stow away a damaged warp drive on the ship so that it would explode and launch the Hulk into new attacks to feed Miek's own thirst for nihilism. Being played by someone he thought was one of his closest confidants is one thing. Having the ship blow up and having it be all Miek's fault would have given the Hulk a target for his pent-up rage. It would have been so easy for him to kill Miek, and negate his "I'm no killer" status that this series brought to prominence. No, the real culprits being nameless, faceless agents who are long dead is what brings the story its truest closure.

Think about it: the Hulk lives to smash the guilty parties, those who let one million Sakaarians, including his wife, die. When he thought the Illuminati were guilty, he went all-out trying to make them pay. But now, with the guilty long dead in that same blast, the Hulk has no outlet for his anger, no way he can balance the scales. On top of that, Miek committed the lie of omission to end all lies of omission, letting him believe others were to blame, twisting his anger to his own ends. He's still mad at the Illuminati because without their interference, Sakaar would still be plus one million inhabitants because he would never have set foot on that planet. On top of everything else, the Hulk is furious at himself, at his own failings, for being at least partially responsible for Miek's nihilistic tendencies ("Never stop making them pay!"), and for having been ultimately led astray by Miek, at having misdirected his anger for so long, at once again showing the world he's more monster than man. And Banner's likely equally furious at going along with him. Having nowhere and everywhere to direct his anger, the Hulk's rage and strength increase geometrically, until he glows gamma-green and the Earth shudders beneath his every step. This is the Hulk as powerful as he's ever been, so much gamma hormone flooding his system, making him stronger every second. It's meltdown Hulk! From the Sakaarson of moments prior comes the World Breaker, Miek's wet dream of Hulkdom. Miek's own statements provided the catalyst to bring about exactly what he wanted in the end.

Simply put, the cycle of guilt never ends: if not for Banner's invention of the G-bomb, the Hulk wouldn't exist. If not for the Hulk's rampages, the Illuminati wouldn't have targeted him for exile. If not for the exile, the Hulk wouldn't have met Miek, and wouldn't have imparted his philosophy of "Never stop making them pay." Hence, Miek wouldn't have taken his dark turn, turned a blind eye to the Red King's men, and let them plant the bomb that killed a million Sakaarians and the Hulk's wife, launching him back to Earth for all the wrong reasons.

The Hulk's not-quite-final words in the issue itself ring with truth and affirmation of the above: "Stop. Without you...none of this would have happened. I'll hate you forever. Almost as much...as I hate myself." 'Nuff said? Not nearly.

And yet, some part of the Hulk rebels. He doesn't want to be held accountable for breaking a world. He doesn't want his legacy permanently tainted. He doesn't want to be what Miek believed him to be. And he knows that all his power is helpless to stop the advent of the World Breaker: no, his words must be the sole catalyst of change. And his words are instructions to Tony Stark, who nearly used the satellites and their unknown potential side-effects to take down both Hulk and Sentry. Now, the Hulk implores Tony, "Do it. Before I break the world!" Amid Miek's protestations, Tony reprograms the satellites to fire their beam, engulfing the Hulk from above in hues of red (amid another sound effect...JRJRKJCSSSSS...hmm, these creative types...). The Hulk flashes back to the moment of Caiera's death, only this time, it's different, as he too dissolves into pieces alongside his queen. She speaks: "I will never leave you," as before, but now he replies: "I know. And now...I'll never leave you."

After the cataclysm clears, we see the vacantly staring eyes of Bruce Banner, apparently cured of his gamma-green burden...and comatose, unmoving, at the bottom of a crater as the heroes gather above. "This is the story of the Hulk," the narrator intones, echoing the beginning and ending of "Planet Hulk," "and how he finally came home." Members of S.H.I.E.L.D. load Banner into one of their ships. The city lies in ruins. Rick Jones, too, is carted off in an ambulance. Miek is by no means dead, just taken by S.H.I.E.L.D. for further experimentation, and, I suspect, a role in the Warbound miniseries on the opposing team. And the closing picture at the battlesite is of the four Illuminati, broken, bloody, but in the end...victorious? Not so fast. Who defeated the Hulk? Who could...but the Hulk himself? In the end, he allowed himself to be defeated for the greater good. He recognized his anger for what it was, in a way that Miek never could, and redemption may yet be his, as he has paid its truest price. At saga's end, Banner is confined in a chamber three miles under the Mojave Desert-not the desert southwest where the Hulk was born, but close enough. As the Hulk's final words are reiterated, we see Banner in the container inside which the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents sealed him, eyes still open, the room awash in green...before his eyes close and the light turns red. Foreshadowing? And is Banner truly comatose? Fittingly, if not for the final epilogue, this last panel could be the last page in the legend of the Hulk, with the saga begun in Incredible Hulk #1 ending in similar surroundings as to where it began--making the next Hulk #1 more of a new beginning, a fresh slate, than ever (though I'm sure Banner will return at some point).

One thing is for sure: the legacy of the Hulk shall continue in the stars. In another direct sequel moment to "Planet Hulk," the last page shows the offspring of the Green King and his queen, Caiera, rising from the radioactive soup that was once the Crown City of Sakaar. His skin is green, but with the stone texture of the Oldstrong. He is Skaar...the rightful heir to the planet so long as King Hulk remains away. And hence is setup the third part of the Sakaar trilogy...as radical a departure as anything, full of questions. It's known the Shadow People evolved to run within hours of birth, but couple that with the might of an Oldstrong and the gamma-irradiated DNA of Earth's Mightiest Mortal...it's going to be something seeing this kid grow up.

So, what's the final analysis of World War Hulk? As I've established many times throughout my critique, the story best serves as a direct continuation of the themes and character struggles brought forth in "Planet Hulk" rather than an event in its own right. Of course, the Hulk's return to Earth was going to be big, and it did have to involve many of Marvel's finest, but the ending, particularly the fall of Miek and the idea of the World Breaker, must be seen within the context of "Planet Hulk" in order to be most effective. To get the most enjoyment, read "Planet Hulk" and then World War Hulk, for together they do comprise a watershed moment in Hulk history, at least equalling, perhaps surpassing, the strength of the best Hulk writers (for me, Bill Mantlo; for most, Peter David). What World War Hulk has done best is to reestablish the Hulk character as perhaps the most powerful being of non-cosmic origin in the Marvel Universe, "the mightiest mortal to ever walk the Earth." And in today's market, that salient fact is as laudable as anything.

I'm going to let this one digest a while, then come back next week with some thoughts on Bruce Banner (and Rick!), and highlights from the World War Hulk crossover issues in other titles. Stay tuned, and keep Hulkin'.



War, Hulk, Good God, Ya'll: WWH #4

We're getting to the end of the line, Hulkamaniacs. Just one more issue left after this installment and we're done. I'm thinking of posting a post-mortem about all of the tie-ins once they're available (next week). Meanwhile, I have nothing more to say except..."I'm ready for the Hulk's law!"

November, 2007
Writer: Greg Pak
Artists: John Romita Jr., Klaus Janson & Christina Strain
Editor: Mark Paniccia
Cover Artist: David Finch

When last we left our intrepid Warbound companions Elloe Kaifi and Hiroim the Shamed, Dr. Strange, dejected and defeated, his hands crushed by the Hulk in chilling answer to the question of whose side Banner was on (here's a hint: Hulk's, ingested the essence of the powerful demon Zom. That essence transformed him into a twenty-foot-tall, half-demon creature who immediately started laying waste to Hiroim and to the Sanctum itself before taking the battle to Madison Square Garden, which Hulk had made into a gladiatorial arena a la the Red King's on Sakaar. The Hulk watches while the spike-handed Zom/Strange battles Hiroim, and in a move that forces parallels, Zom/Strange demolishes the shamed priest's arm. (Some might say Strange has been a bit of a spiritual guardian for the Hulk in ages past, but now, Hiroim has assumed the role. The comparison is made concrete by the damage done to Strange's hands vs. that done to Hiroim's arm.) And while no one was there to help Strange out of his predicament, Hiroim can count on the support of the Warbound, who rush into battle.

Finally, the Hulk finds an opponent who is his physical equal, perhaps superior, but whose mind is clouded with the rage of another. As previously noted, it's wholly against type for Strange to lash out physically, but consider that his Achilles' heel is his hands. Though he may not use them to cast spells, their severe damage strikes at the core of the character. Remember the Dr. Strange of old, the surgeon who believed that if he couldn't use his hands to hold a scalpel, he was as nothing. This is that Dr. Strange, and it's clear to me this was Greg Pak's intention herein. It's Strange's own personal demon, in a manner of speaking.

The battle goes badly for the Hulk at first, his awesome healing power the only thing that saves him from Zom/Strange's mace-hands running him through, not once, but twice. What drives Strange is clear: he took the damage to his hands personally, and has yet to see the Hulk contribute one act that hasn't been in his own self-interest. The Hulk, remember, threatened that he would raze the planet if his demands weren't met. He professed to not care for the "puny humans" as now he came as the king of a sovereign nation. Hence, when Zom/Strange throws the Hulk into a building which threatens to collapse upon firemen (including what seems to be the same fireman from #1) and some innocent civilians who stayed behind, he is shocked too find after the collapse that the Hulk has, in fact, saved those people, showing that he is not, at heart, the monster that he believed him to be. Stunned, Strange regains a bit of control over Zom, just in time to receive a "lesson" from the Hulk in the use of "real" power. The savage beating lasts only moments, and Strange doesn't put up much of a fight, perhaps because he too is fighting Zom from the inside. In the end, Strange lies as defeated as the rest, and Rick arrives as voice of Hulk's conscience.

Rick questions why Hulk saved those people if he no longer cares for humans. He reminds him of Banner, who saved him on the G-Bomb test site that day the Hulk was born, many years ago. It's Banner who saves, isn't it, and the Hulk is Banner. No, says the Hulk, as he delivers one last blow upon Strange: "Banner is me." Are all of Banner's stronger instincts, wanting to save the puny humans, from the Hulk? It's an intriguing question. Books like Marvel Age Hulk posit just the opposite, that it's Banner's innate goodness and concern for his fellow man that carries through to the Hulk, giving him just enough of himself so that he can be considered a hero, so that he saves people. What's true? A good question. Then again, isn't the Hulk just the kind to take credit for what he shouldn't? Or is this just another admission that the Hulk and Banner are two sides of the same coin?

Next, Elloe Kaifi emcees the main event at Madison Square Garden, and it's a doozy. While throngs of Hulk's human supporters cheer, while aliens brought on the stone ship stand at attention, while the superheroes who stood between the Hulk and his quarry wince at the pain their obedience disks cause, Elloe reads off the names of the guilty parties and the charges leveled against them. Once again, the Illuminati protest their guilt, but are met with the sting of the disks' energies. Then ordinary people speak of the terrors perpetrated them by each member of the Illuminati. Black Bolt's people slaughtered a theatre full of opera-goers (Silent War #1); Mr. Fantastic and Iron Man cloned Thor, and that creation tore a hole through Bill "Goliath" Foster, killing him (Civil War #3); and Dr. Strange just laid waste to the city when he drank the essence of Zom (just earlier this issue).

It's the pathos of the Hulk that brings it all together: "Don't like it, do you? It's not fair. Not the whole story. You have excuses. Explanations. You're innocent. These people don't know what really happened. They don't know what's in your heart. Now you know how it feels." It's been the Hulk who's been misunderstood as well all these years. Every time he tries to save someone, tries to beat up some bad guy menacing Earth, people see him as the bigger monster. No matter how much good he might do fighting off the Leader's latest attempt to rule the Earth, he always seems to have some karmic debt over his head that'll never be paid off. That's the way it goes, and it's always been so.

Now that the Hulk has painted the Illuminati in much the same position as he, he tells them what his struggles were like on Sakaar, ushering forth a great alien beast to fight them (the Great Devil Corker, from Hulk #92). The obedience disk Iron Man wears prevents him from summoning his armor, and Strange's mangled hands preclude him from using spells (or maybe it's all in his mind?). Black Bolt, his mouth shackled so he cannot scream, saves them by spearing the beast through. Then, the Hulk gives his second lesson: on the next day, he and his other gladiator opponents were all thrown together and told to fight each other, kill each other. He dumps a load of weapons on the floor of the Garden and tells them to choose. When they don't immediately reach for weapons, he triggers their obedience disks to force their cooperation. It's an effective psychological tool, having the Hulk take the "heroes" through the same torture to which he was subjected in order to find common ground. This is not the Red King's philosophy; this is not torture for torture's sake, torture for the amusement of others. This is humiliation, it's letting the masses assemble not for entertainment, but to let them see that their heroes aren't who they thought they were. (Or...are they?)

While the heroes lift their weapons against each other, the Sentry still stands in the doorway of his Vermont home, recounting his conversation with Tony Stark (behind-the-scenes in WWH #1). We find out another piece of the puzzle in the battle between Hulk and Black Bolt. Bolt's voice cracked a piece out of the moon the size of Rhode Island, but it still didn't stop the Hulk! (For those unwilling to do the math: that's 1,214 square miles!) Sentry doubts his ability to remain in control of his own power against a being as strong as the Hulk, but Iron Man says the stakes are too high for him to remain out of this battle, and that "it's time to play God." O, how prophetic those words will become...

Back in the makeshift arena, Reed fights Tony with a mace, while Dr. Strange and Black Bolt fight with hooked staves. Hiroim admits they've gone too far, and Korg is inclined to agree that they've taught the Earthmen a lesson--but it doesn't end there. Through intense pain, Tony is able to use his Extremis enhancements to hack into some of the armed Death's Head guards to attack the Warbound. However, they force him to use his new talents to attack Reed instead. Reed then knocks down Tony, raising the mace above his head, ready for the killing strike. Quoth the Hulk: "How 'bout that...looks like we're all monsters now." Miek baits the Hulk for a decision as the people in the seats cry out, "Kill him!" Rick stands incredulous, and the Sentry watches from his widescreen television. Hulk thrusts his thumb down...and the Sentry, upon seeing that his friend has decided to allow a death in his name, flies into action, reiterating Tony's words: "It's time to play God."

Again, this issue urges us closer to the final confrontation, and it seems Sentry is poised to take down the Hulk once and for all. I'll go into why the Sentry's the right man for the job, and much more, next installment.




War, Hulk, Good God, Ya'll: WWH #3

Without further ado, here comes the third installment in my analysis of World War Hulk, fresh from my gourd and into yours. Just a note: solicitations for February-shipping Marvel Comics products were just posted yesterday, and they include some goodies. Still no word on the WWH hardcover edition, which should be out in time for the feature film (and it has, FYI, been removed from the amazon.com listings). Similarly, there's nothing to report on the Essential Rampaging Hulk trade paperback volume, which has been rumored since early this year and is reported to collect over half of the Doug Moench-written tales from the B&W/Marvelcolor magazine from the late 1970s. But there is word on something unexpected: The Incredible Hulk Omnibus, Volume 1, collecting all of the 1960s Hulk fun from The Incredible Hulk v.1 #1-6, Tales To Astonish #59-101, and The Incredible Hulk v.2 #102. Clocking in at 752 pages, in hardcover, with oversized pages, this volume promises a fully remastered look at these classics, plus all original pin-ups, letters pages, and even some unused bonus material, the original introductions from the three Marvel Masterworks hardcovers starring the Hulk, and some extra articles and criticisms. All this can be yours behind your choice of the original Jack Kirby Hulk #1 cover, a super-cool Alex Ross painting of same, or an ultra-mysterious "movie variant" which I'm guessing features a rendition of the Hulk on its cover from the new 2008 film, The Incredible Hulk. Any way you go, you can't lose with this offbeat collection, which will feat neatly just to the left of your copy of Planet Hulk.

Now then, where was I? Oh, yes. Here:

October, 2007
Writer: Greg Pak
Artists: John Romita Jr., Klaus Janson & Christina Strain
Editor: Mark Paniccia
Cover Artist: David Finch

Released a mere two weeks after the previous issue, some faulted the story in this issue for being rushed. From my view, it was anything but, at least content-wise. Considering the delay involved in the final issue, perhaps it would have been better to delay this book and #4 a bit to better space the storyline out. Then again, maybe they didn't know #5 would run as late as it did: artist John Romita Jr. is generally one of the more reliable in Marvel's stable in terms of meeting deadlines.

The storytelling shifts in this issue to a more personal level, continuing the transition that started last issue with the arrival of Rick Jones. Two more individuals from the Hulk's past, and reflections on that past, highlight this story and drag the series away from the "Marvel Vs. the Hulk"-edness of the first two stories, extending the arc into a magnum opus for the Hulk (linked with "Planet Hulk" obviously) and perhaps the apex of his entire 45-year career. (Don't think that the 1962-2007 anniversary was ever lost on me.) I'll address both characters in context, along with a healthy dose of Hulk history.

Along with Rick Jones, no member of the Hulk's supporting cast has been around longer than General Thaddeus E. "Thunderbolt" Ross. His dead (or maybe not) daughter Betty had been the longtime love interest of Bruce Banner (and to a more limited extent, the Hulk). His relationship with Banner and his alter-ego is one of the truer, more real relationships of the Hulk's storied history. He hated the Hulk because of the threat he was to the world at large, but at the same time his daughter loved the man who became the Hulk. He was torn between duty to his country and that desire to see his daughter happy. His was the best development from the revelation, all the way back in Tales To Astonish #77, that Banner and the Hulk were one and the same. He tried setting Betty up with Major Glenn Talbot, and that even succeeded to a point, but it seemed nothing could keep her from Bruce.

Many years and many teams of Hulkbusters later, General Ross received word of Talbot's death (by his own hand in battle with the Hulk--see Hulk v.2 #260), and shortly thereafter, Banner gained full control of the Hulk's body (Hulk v.2 #272), becoming a "true" force for good and even receiving a Presidential pardon or past misdeeds (Hulk v.2 #279). A rift formed between Bruce and Betty then, as Betty wanted Bruce to use his control over the beast within to leave that part of his life behind. Perhaps as direct result of his daughter being spurned, Ross colluded with the enemy (in this case M.O.D.O.K. and the Abomination) to attempt to destroy the Hulk one final time, in Hulk #288-290. He was branded a traitor to his country and dishonorably discharged. He nearly killed himself (in #291), and next showed up, washed up, at Bruce and Betty's wedding. He shot Rick and then Betty took him down a few pegs when she finally confronted him.

Thunderbolt stayed around the base, inadvertently causing Rick to change into a Hulk, even picking up the powers of Zzzax (no, really!) when nobody could figure out what to do with him. Then he died...and later was reanimated, first by the Leader's stooge, Soul Man (c. Hulk #400), and later by the Troyjan, Armageddon (c. Hulk #455), using the Leader's equipment. Ross then became a staunch supporter of Banner, bringing him and the Hulk on board to serve Uncle Sam, but then his daughter Betty's death put a premature end to that. He went on a tear against the Abomination, his daughter's "real" killer, even later manipulating Banner into becoming the childlike incarnation of the Hulk to exact revenge. He and Banner have seen each other infrequently since then, most recently in a retcon of the Hulk's first meeting with the Abomination (Hulk: Destruction #1-4), where the military applications of a being with Hulk-like strength and healing were brought up quite strongly.

And now, well, everything's come full circle, as ol' Thunderbolt realizes "the way things are"--that every time Banner seems to have things well in hand, they fall apart and the Hulk goes on a worse tear than the time before. He's lost his daughter to the Hulk, and he's not going to lose any more. The irony is not lost on him that it's those same heroes who lobbied for and congratulated him on his pardons who are now the targets of his rage, that they're reaping what they have sown for enabling him to go on existing. So yes, Ross' inclusion is a natural and necessary fit here, not just because of his ties to the Hulk's past, but also the parallels between his losing Betty and the Hulk's losing Caiera. And that begs the question: is Ross too blinded by grief to see the real picture? Nevermind that Betty may be alive--it's not necessary and in fact irrelevant to believe any differently during WWH. Has he let grief over his daughter's death fester and grow into something truly ugly, or is Pak conveniently reverting Ross to type for the purposes of a mindless struggle? It's the former, I think, and that point has its own parallels to the Hulk's current rampage. Is the Hulk too blinded by his loss of Caiera to see the full picture? Circles and cycles, circles and cycles.

So, General Ross orders his army to shoot the Hulk full of adamantium shards. Being the hardest material available, of course they tear through the Green Goliath's skin, making him angry. However, they also break his concentration, and leave him vulnerable to Dr. Strange's psychic attempts to liberate Bruce Banner from deep inside. Or maybe not so deep?

Dr. Strange represents another side to the Hulk, being, perhaps, both Banner's and the Hulk's closest super-powered friend. They say a friend knows your deepest, darkest secrets and loves you anyway, and that's certainly true between Dr. Robert Bruce Banner and Dr. Stephen Strange. Strange met the Hulk when the goliath rescued him from a hell dimension, giving him a fleeting reprieve from his responsibilities as Sorcerer Supreme (Hulk #126). Months later, Strange again assumed the mantle, and soon afterward formed the on-again, off-again "non-team" called the Defenders, the first issue of which (Marvel Feature v.1 #1, actually) established the Hulk's psychic aptitudes (he could see astral forms!). Banner could count on Strange to soothe the beast and keep him in line during adventures. Still, that didn't stop Strange from doing what needed to be done, allegedly--namely exiling the Hulk to an interdimensional crossroads when Banner committed psychic suicide after Strange's foe Nightmare loosed the beast from Banner's subconscious after months of dormancy (whew! see Hulk #297-300). The Bannerless Hulk was ensorceled and sent to a myriad of worlds where he could "neither harm nor be harmed," a failsafe spell being triggered every time the Hulk became disenchanted with his current choice of world, returning him to the Crossroads to choose anew. The bestial Hulk eventually regained Banner's rational mind and returned to Earth with help from the Beyonder and Alpha Flight, but nobody ever did follow up on what the Hulk and Banner thought of Strange for banishing him in the first place. The closest was when the gray-skinned Hulk re-teamed with Strange and Namor for a semi-Defenders reunion (Hulk #370-371), where a throwaway line pretty much eliminated any tension. Strange helped Banner find Betty, and later still they re-teamed the Defenders even more.

How, then, did Strange believe it was again time to banish the Hulk, his friend? Did he honestly think that Banner's fractured psyche could magically (ha) forgive and forget again as he'd obviously done before? Could he believe anything could be 100% foolproof? The Crossroads was intended to be a permanent solution then, too. Truly we can ask: What the hell was Dr. Strange thinking when he agreed to this?

When Strange enters the Hulk's mind, he sees a landscape he does not recognize. The Hulk asks him where they are, but to we readers (and to the Hulk himself!) the locale should be obvious: it's the planet Sakaar, where Hulk had his most traumatic fall. While Korg and Hiroim protect his body from Ross' weapons, the Hulk has his most important confrontation yet with an element of his past. "Show me your true face," Strange intones, and the Hulk laments, "That's what she said," she being his queen, Caiera. And thence we see, for the first time in the course of World War Hulk, Bruce Banner.

Here's where my beef with the lack of expository monologues really comes through. We see Banner tell about his views on Sakaar and of the Hulk's queen. We see his genuine emotion at the reenactment of his--and the Hulk's--loss. But what we don't get is the in-depth answer we require, what would make this scene work all the more effectively (IMO). We get that he's disturbed at the Hulk's having lost a love, but we don't get why. I got more out of online interviews with Greg Pak and Mark Paniccia than I did this scene in the book. Banner tells a bit of his side, Strange says he went along with the others' plan to send him off-world, he denies planting any bomb, and tries to calm Bruce, who instead shows his true allegiance when he changes once more into the Hulk and breaks Strange's hands on the psychic plane, which has the unfortunate side-effect of breaking them in the real world. (Again, big irony here, in that the whole raison d'etre for Dr. Strange comes down to his wanting to repair his hands, which had been damaged in an automobile accident. Banner/Hulk have seemed to tap into this primal fear of Strange's. Kudos again, Greg.) Why not spell it out, that Banner finally saw the Hulk doing some real good without having to worry, that he was thriving on a world where his strength was a real asset, that the Hulk was actually building a nation, falling in love, developing real human attributes, admirable ones at that, becoming a hero on his own terms, and that the goddamn ship explosion took all that away from him/them? Maybe it would have taken some shock out of the scene, but as-is, it all just reads as a "Reader's Digest" version and doesn't have the emotional "punch" it should. It takes some reading into the text to get what really needed to be brought home and wasn't.

Anyways, the Hulk returns from his assault on Strange on the astral plane, and of course, he smashes up the military but good. (There's the question of whether Korg and Hiroim actually witnessed a physical metamorphosis of Hulk to Banner and back again during the time when he was pulled into the astral plane, and a "yes" would go a long way toward explaining events in #5. Hiroim's "He's back" comment seems to contribute to the affirmative. Make of this what you will.) The ensuing battle sees the trademark tropes of the Hulk-vs.-army fights of the past, particularly Hulk's devastating thunderclap sending shockwaves through the ranks. The Hulk and Ross take a tumble out of a helicopter and we can guess Hulk wins. Of course, the scene isn't complete without yet another shot of the Sentry, still too terrified of his own power to leave his Vermont home (diagnosed herein as an "agoraphobic schizophrenic," which points him, bang-zoom, squarely toward a Hulk parallel of his own). The Hulk and his warbound tear up the Madison Square Garden to echo the gladiatorial arenas of Sakaar, with Hulk himself echoing what Miek has regurgitated since Hulk said it first: "Never stop making them pay."

Finally, sorcerer meets sorcerer as Hiroim and Elloe invade Strange's Sanctum Sanctorum, adding Iron Fist, Ronin, and Echo to those enslaved by the Red King's obedience disks. Strange is shaken by his friend's astral ambush: his hands crippled, he resorts to unorthodox means of striking back. What he comes up with is a potion kept under lock and key in the Sanctum--one that contains the essence of the demon Zom, who once nearly destroyed the entire world and necessitated the intervention of the Living Tribunal (Strange Tales #156-157...look it up). That Strange would stoop to these depths is unsurprising when considering the close historic relationship between Banner/Hulk and the good Doctor, plus the nature of the injuries and their drudging up all of his insecurities tied into his very origins as Master of the Mystic Arts. He's human. He overreacts. And the result is his horrifying possession by a demon that could destroy everything--another threat for the Hulk, and his strongest obstacle yet.

This third act of WWH, as stated before, continues the shift away from the broader battles to a more personal battlefield. It only gets bigger from here, but so far, beyond the little nuggets for older fans, I'm seeing a great deal of parallels that I'll get to by the end of this little reviewing session. Let's just say there are three groups to analyze. It seems Greg really had some themes going under the surface, and all but a few I've already touched upon.

More next time on the march to the big finale.




War, Hulk, Good God, Ya'll: WWH #2

Hulkinued from my last posting, part the second of my five-part analysis of all things World War Hulk. Just to let everyone know my Hulk background before we keep going: last December, I completed a full run of every issue of the Incredible Hulk series, from #1 in May of 1962 all the way to the present. I also own all annuals, specials, spinoffs, miniseries, plus the 1970s magazine series, many giveaways, the whole run of Defenders, every in-continuity Hulk appearance (even Avengers #1-5, Amazing Spider-Man #14, and Fantastic Four #12 and 25-26), and virtually every other out-of-continuity Hulk appearance (What If?'s etc.), though I'm closing the gap on that one, too. My goal is to own every Marvel comic where the Hulk appears in-story for at least a panel, whether it be the Green Goliath himself, or his image on someone's t-shirt, or in a flashback, or as a statue, whatever.

Now that everyone has heard enough of my nerdity.....::clears throat::..

September, 2007
Writer: Greg Pak
Artists: John Romita Jr., Klaus Janson & Christina Strain
Editor: Mark Paniccia
Cover Artist: David Finch

When we last left our intrepid and doomed heroes, the Hulk spake, "Two down, two to go!" (Well, not really, but he had just taken down Iron Man, the second of the four Illuminati members whom he came back to punish for exiling him to an alien world.) From across the way, in the Sanctum Sanctorum of Dr. Strange, Iron Fist recaps what has happened so far, and wonders if the heroes can stop the Hulk. Strange says that he and the other Illuminati may just deserve the Hulk's wrath, but that with luck, his spells will enable him to locate a being who will "defeat and redeem the Hulk in the same instant...but my spell will only work if he lets me in...and he hates us so much." Gee, can we say "Bruce Banner"? Where does Banner stand on the matter of the Hulk's latest rampage? An intriguing question, to be sure, and one that we'll answer in-depth in, you guessed it, Part 3.

For now, we go back to the scene of the battle, the rubble of the Sentry's aerie, where the Hulk roars as the heroes assemble, ready to take him on. After all, he's only one monster, right? Wrong! As if on cue (no, really, Luke Cage makes mention, then...), the Hulk's Warbound companions drop from the sky, again doing that slightly annoying roll call thing the Hulk did last month. (Is it me, or does Hiroim the Shamed look like he has vampire fangs in the big panoramic establishing shot of this group?) To their credit, the Warbound don't immediately rush into battle: they instead offer membership to their ranks to the heroes assembled, by way of the Warbound oath (see The Incredible Hulk v. 3 #93 & 99). Ares of the Avengers prepares to charge, disregarding Hiroim's request, raising his axe, but She-Hulk stops him, trying to engage her cousin in dialogue, offering to help. Miek, the Hulk's first friend from Sakaar, asks if she can bring back those who died in the explosion. (Hulk's expression on this panel...and I wish I could post it...is particularly haunting to me.) The Hulk urges his cousin to walk away, but she will not, believing everything will be fine so long as nobody on her side throws the first punch.


The Hulk narrowly misses hitting She-Hulk, and she connects with his face with her next two punches. The battle is joined. Hulk hurls She-Hulk into the pavement, then dodges Ares' first blow, crushing him as well. Everyone is at each other's throats in a terrific two-page spread that shows the immensity of the conflict. The key words here are spoken by Spider-Woman: "The Hulk's stronger than he's ever been, and each one of his buddies is almost as strong as he used to be--we can't beat them trading head-on punches like this!" Indeed, that's the point that has been lost on some fans accusing Marvel and Greg Pak of "jobbing," i.e. using weak writing to make characters lose who "ordinarily" should win. Fact #1: it's been clearly shown during "Planet Hulk" that each one of these characters is a match for the Hulk. Fact #2: The Hulk's base strength level is 100+ tons. Fact #3: some of the Warbound, i.e. Hiroim and Korg, have fighting skills the Hulk does not, giving them additional advantages. Put it all together and I honestly believe even the weakest among them can be a match for Earth's mightiest heroes.

While the Warbound soundly defeat the Avengers, Reed Richards and T'Challa, the Black Panther, collaborate on a new invention to stop the Hulk. (I'll admit freely...shouldn't Reed have more than one plan at the ready?) The new Fantastic Four (six?) engages the Hulk and the Warbound, and Storm uses her command of the elements to topple the Hulk into the ground. Once there, the Human Torch unleashes near-nova flame directly onto the behemoth. It burns and burns, and everyone must avert their eyes, but when the smoke clears, the Torch's flame is extinguished, and the Hulk is victorious, his skin nearly untouched. Of course, that urges Aunt Petunia's favorite nephew into action, as the mighty Thing declares, "It's CLOBBERIN' TIME!" The two trade blows for minutes, but he too cannot withstand the Hulk's newfound strength. Before the Hulk can land a killing strike, a bright light appears. The Hulk begins to speak just like his childlike incarnation. "Golden Man?" Has the Sentry finally appeared to calm down his friend, to prevent further damage? No, it's just the device that Reed invented, whose purpose was to siphon off the Sentry's energies which historically calmed the Hulk. It doesn't work, Hulk snaps out of it, and before Reed can employ another plan, he's forced to defend himself. His wife Sue helps, but the feedback from the Hulk's punishing blows upon her invisible force shields weakens her, and Reed's rubbery body cannot stand up for long. Sue finally radioes the real Sentry, and says they've failed. He remains in his apartment still.

The next phase of the Hulk's invasion of New York happens when Rick Jones arrives, (presumably) fresh off a flight from Las Vegas. He sees the Hulk and his Warbound dragging the unconscious carcasses of the Avengers and Fantastic Four through the streets, and immediately approaches his old friend. Hulk is just about speechless when Rick tells him that Captain America is dead. Rick then fills the Hulk in on what has happened while he's been away, noting that "You may go nuts, but nine times out of ten, you seem to hit whoever needs hitting. And those guys sure needed it. But not like this, Hulk. Not like this." He looks plaintively at the Hulk, who returns the glance and puts his hand on his shoulder. Can it be over this way? Not if Dr. Strange has anything to say about it! Strange senses the opening and exploits it, but Hulk will have none of it. He leaps away, crashing into the water, in front of the Renegades (from The Incredible Hulk v.3 #107, also written by Greg Pak). S.H.I.E.L.D. decides to intervene, but before they can do so, one of the Hulk's oldest foes arrives. The stupid heroes have had their chance....now it's time for Gen. Thaddeus E. "Thunderbolt" Ross to take charge and wipe the Hulk off the face of the Earth.

Anticlimactic? Maybe. The Hulk has already captured three of his four intended targets, with the most personal--Dr. Strange--still left standing. The "body count" of those the Hulk and his crew have defeated is quite high here, perhaps justifiably so, perhaps not. I do think kudos have to go to JRJR on this one because of the strength and fluidity of the fight scenes. The man knows how to choreograph fights, and he should, as a 30-year vet in comics. This is how a Hulk book should look. It's the kind of storytelling Jack Kirby would be proud of. As for the story, Greg Pak is serving admirably, giving all the important details. Some short shrift is given to the Warbound, as without the benefit of "Planet Hulk," we really know nothing about the characters from this issue, other than Hiroim's apparent chivalrous nature and...something about a few of the rest of them. Then again there isn't really time for characterization when the book is essentially an issue-long fight scene.

But is the Hulk too powerful, and is an all-powerful character (at least compared to the rest of the characters in the book) boring? I don't think so. I think the Hulk's utterly convinced of the righteousness of his actions, and that makes him more dangerous, more powerful, more unbeatable than ever. And if he's wrong, there's surely going to be some (nuclear) fallout. You can certainly understand where he's coming from, even if you may doubt that he knows what "really" happened.

The highlight of this issue, amid all of the thrilling fights, is the arrival of Rick Jones. As the Hulk's oldest friend, he understands ol' Big Green, and you get the feeling something big might have happened if not for Dr. Strange's meddling. I've always liked Rick, and it's great to see him here, contrasting with the Warbound. For a great comparison between Rick and Miek, check out The Incredible Hulk v.3 #108.

Next: Bruce Banner at last, the Sorcerer Supreme, and some guy named Thunderbolt. Be here!


War, Hulk, Good God, Ya'll: WWH #1


Now that every issue of WORLD WAR HULK is out there, as I said in my last posting, I figured it was time to do an extensive review of the whole series, an issue a day. It's part review, part criticism, part guidepath in general to the finer points of the smashfest.

August, 2007
Writer: Greg Pak
Artists: John Romita Jr., Klaus Janson & Christina Strain
Editor: Mark Paniccia
Cover Artist: David Finch

"This is the story of the Hulk. A monster who fell from the sky to the savage planet of Sakaar...a whole planet of monsters. But while they stabbled him...burned him...and ate his very flesh...he never forgot the real monsters...the puny humans who sent him here. Dr. Strange. Mister Fantastic. Iron Man. Black Bolt. They shot him into space. They thought they were saving their world. They thought he was finally dead. But he survived. Because he is the Green Scar...the Worldbreaker...the Eye of Anger...The HULK...and now he's coming home."

Thus begins WORLD WAR HULK, with a monologue that explains, both in great visuals by John Romita Jr., and simple, elegant text by Greg Pak, just about every bit of what newbies need to know to get in on the action. Well, all right: not everything, but enough. Truth be told, while being an accessible tale on the surface, many of the nuances of the event will only be understood by those who are accomplished fans of the Hulk character, or at the very least, have read "Planet Hulk," the story which preceded it in Incredible Hulk v. 3 #92-105, now available in a hardcover edition. The denouement--which we'll get to much later--will in particular seem tacked-on to those who haven't read "Planet Hulk," but will make full sense in context.

Pak establishes immediately that the Hulk is angry because he was left to die on an alien world. We don't yet know all the details, but know he has four chief targets: Iron Man, Dr. Strange, Mr. Fantastic of the Fantastic Four, and Black Bolt of the Inhumans. The Hulk has had close associations with all but one of them--Black Bolt and the Hulk, though they have met a few times, have never been what you'd call "close"...but Bolt did invite the Hulk to stay in the Great Refuge once upon a time (Hulk Annual #1, 1968). (Then again, he did try exiling the Hulk way back when, too--check The Incredible Hulk v. 2 #175 from 1974.) Is it any wonder, then, that the Inhuman is the Hulk's first target? There's the proximity issue, too: Black Bolt is on Earth's moon, whereas the others are on Earth proper. Outside of Dr. Strange and his mystic abilities, Black Bolt is likely the most formidable of the foursome, and his defeat here serves to convey the kind of message the Hulk wants: he means business.

One thing seemed to annoy readers when the issue first came out: the battle on the moon between Hulk and Black Bolt takes place almost entirely off-panel! People didn't like suddenly seeing Black Bolt unconscious later. However I had to applaud Greg Pak for the restraint shown in this scene (or lack of a scene). In this day and age of instant gratification, where horror movies have to be gory to be effective in their audiences' eyes, it was refreshing to see someone remember that sometimes, it's what you don't see that's scarier. Readers had to imagine what the Hulk did to Black Bolt after the climactic "I wanna hear you scream" line. From the punishment that the Hulk received at the hands (er, voice) of Black Bolt on-panel, it had to be one wicked battle. Kudos to everyone for a thrilling cliffhanger moment and the best one-liner of the series.

Of course, people monitoring space notice that something big has happened on the moon, and Tony Stark, as head of S.H.I.E.L.D., is alerted by the President. Faster than you can say "Hulk smash," the Warbound's great stone ship appears over the skies in New York City and a hologram of the Hulk displays a warning and ultimatum: either the city will be evacuated within 24 hours and the three remaining responsible parties will present themselves, or, well, you can guess the second part of that statement. This time, the Hulk tells the story of "Planet Hulk" in his own words, and accomplishes a few more things. He identifies the four Illuminati as some manner of close-knit group (even though nobody knows the nom du guerre of Illuminati quite yet, and hence nobody suspects their other doings). He also identifies the main members of the alien legion he's brought with him, and brings up the idea of a "bomb" that he alleges the heroes put on his ship when they exiled him. The bomb is important, as we, the readers, should have some degree of doubt as to whether these four alleged "heroes" would do such a thing. (Point of fact: in The Incredible Hulk v. 3 #104, it seems to be moderately well established that the explosion that killed a million Sakaarians was result of some kind of ship malfunction, a warp core breach that "just happened" during the ongoing victory celebrations. More on that in Part 5.)

We should also see a few implications from the Hulk's announcement. Readers who weren't aware of the goings-on in "Planet Hulk" now can see that the Hulk of those adventures was an articulate behemoth, backing up his words with actions. It should not be forgotten that this Hulk returns to Earth not as one of its citizens, but as the ruler of a nation that sees itself as having been wronged. In the early days of this storyline, I likened the invasion by the Hulk and his Warbound as something as logical as if the U.S. shipped nukes over to some other country, and they accidentally went off and killed many thousands of that country's nationals. Of it'd be our fault that people were killed, because if we hadn't shipped the bombs over there in the first place, the other country's people wouldn't have been in danger and would not have died. The act, as seen as plainly as this, is one of war, no matter what the intentions behind it.

Also seen during this setup is the crippling of many of Earth's communications satellites by the advanced technology on board the stone ship. This point becomes important, again, in the final issue. Iron Man here tries to repair the damage to the satellites (having newly gained the ability to interface with machines with his mind per the "Extremis" upgrades in his own title), to no avail. He then converses with Doctor Strange, who seems to believe it's karma that the Hulk has returned demanding their blood. Strange is the most important figure among the four Illuminati represented, as he has the strongest relationship with the Hulk/Banner, with both having been founding members of the super-team, the Defenders (c. 1971). (I'll deal with their friendship more in Part 3.)

Manhattan is evacuated by the super-heroes inside of 24 hours, with those anti-SHRA (Super Hero Registration Act, as seen in Civil War) heroes who help being promised amnesty. Of particular note is Spider-Man, still in black costume, believing the Sentry was coming as first resort, mistaking Iron Man for the Golden Guardian himself. Mister Fantastic and Iron Man did talk with the Sentry, who in revised Marvel continuity had the childlike Hulk as a sidekick in the mid-1960s. The Sentry had agreed to help his "friend" the Hulk, but is nowhere to be found when the action starts. (Again, more later regarding the Sentry and his complex relationship with the Hulk.)

After the initial buildup, the rest of the issue proceeds rather quickly once the 24-hour ultimatum passes. Seeing as Iron Man was the architect of the SHRA and is the most public by far out of the four Illuminati, it would make sense in the narrative to have him be the "Big Bad" with the others lining up to fight the Hulk in the interim. Greg Pak wisely avoids this trap, instead having the "face of the SHRA" rise to the occasion and enter first combat. Iron Man equips himself in a special "Hulkbuster" suit of armor, bigger than the Hulk himself, but the effects are predetermined. He broadcasts a speech about his intentions while the battle continues, taking full responsibility for the decision to send the Hulk into space in the first place. The fight and speech are broadcast by news helicopters practically worldwide, drawing the attention of the Hulk's first sidekick, Rick Jones (who evidently wastes no time using his Avengers priority clearance to jump on the quickest flight from Las Vegas to New York, arriving in time for next issue).

The battle is interrupted by warplanes who launch missiles at the Hulk. The bombardment reminds him of his wife Caiera's death on Sakaar, and so enraged, he once again beats on Iron Man, driving him into the Sentry's aerie, making the structure collapse while the other heroes look on in an eerie parallel to the real-world collapse of the World Trade Center towers. (This event makes sense to both draw in the Sentry to battle later, and gives the event weight among the superhero community, with a building that is so highly regarded as the Avengers' most recent headquarters being decimated.) Finally, the heroes approach the ruins of the building, seeing something stirring, hoping it is Iron Man triumphant, only to find the rampaging Hulk emerge, growling and moving toward them.

World War Hulk #1 is successful on many fronts, presenting a wealth of information to new readers, keeping momentum up for those who have just come over from "Planet Hulk," and flying in the face of expectations, chiefly in the "less is more" battle against Black Bolt and the rather unexpected "round two" battle with Iron Man. The plotting is tight, the script is decent, and the art by John Romita Jr. is very kinetic, showing that he's the best Marvel has at "big" action scenes.

"Hulkinued" tomorrow with the big "Heroes Vs. Hulk" throwdown, as well as comments on "jobbing."



War, Hulk, Good God, Ya'll....

Well, folks, the last time I mentioned the Hulk on this blog, aside from my having bought #1, Greg Pak was on board and I was interviewing him for the main title. For those who haven't been following through PLANET HULK, the universe-spanning epic that is available in hardcover now from such fine folks as www.instocktrades.com, the Green Goliath was exiled to a faraway planet by some heroes he thought were his friends, but instead of going to the planet they intended, he smashed his way off-course and through a wormhole to a world where he could actually be hurt (gasp!). In true Russell Crowe fashion, he rose from slave to gladiator to rebel leader to Green King, taking a wife and gaining acceptance before having all his happiness taken away in a flash of nuclear fire. Of course, the madder the Hulk gets, the stronger the Hulk gets, and faster than you can say "puny humans," the newly-crowned Green King led a team of his monstrous compadres back to Earth for some (he believed) righteous vengeance. So was set WORLD WAR HULK.

So now, WORLD WAR HULK is over, the fifth and final issue having shipped this last week. Is it any wonder I'm reviewing the whole shebang here? I'll post thoughts on one piece of the puzzle every day this week (and it may bleed into the week beyond depending on my schedule). I'll piece together everything and arrive at final thoughts thereafter. In a bit of foreshadowing, I'll just say that I think any forthcoming HULK writers have their work cut out for them trying to surpass what Greg Pak & co. have come up with in these five issues (and the myriad of tie-ins).

To be HULKINUED...Monday!



A Gentle Warning....

I'm coming back!

Yes, I found my notes for my novel, the ones I started in '05.

I'm also fairly jazzed about the conclusion of WORLD WAR HULK, which shipped this past week. I do want to do an in-depth review.

Look for me to throw some crap on the walls around here early next week.

We'll see what sticks.