[19 December 2007]
What’s to be done with half a ton of stomping power roaming loose in the world, smacking aside anyone, hero or villain, who crosses his path?
That can be a bit of a pickle.
The Hulk’s sheer strength and ferocity sets him outside of the conventional context of “playing the game” in order to get by. It makes him a wild card, unpredictable and uncontrollable, as likely to be against you as beside you.
Because of this, the Illuminati—a secret cabal of thinkers including Mr. Fantastic, Iron Man, and Dr. Strange—decided to cut the Gordian Knot and scoot the Hulk comfortably off-world when the opportunity presented itself.
In retrospect, this might not have been the brightest move of their careers.
The idea was to send Hulk to a peaceful world, fertile with game and vegetation, where he could finally be left alone to idle away his days in quiet contemplation of nature, maybe jot down a few sonnets, but above all, no longer be threatened by, nor be a threat to, anyone else.
Instead, a double-whammy of a navigation error and accidentally traversing a wormhole in space (don’t you hate it when that happens?) smacked him into Sakaar, a world of virtually nothing but violence. Which made for an interesting twist: Sakaar was such a savage world that, given his own strength and savagery, Hulk was very much of use to the people—a hero rather than a menace.
There, those benefiting from the empire’s corruption would’ve rather seen Hulk caged, killed, or cast off-world, while those in need of salvation saw in him a means to exactly that (this also begs a few questions be asked of the Illuminati and their decisions, especially in the wake of Marvel’s Civil War. Hulk himself addresses a few of these in the subsequent World War Hulk storyline). Context makes quite a difference in how individuals are perceived.
Despite the science fiction trappings of “Planet Hulk”, the basic plot, in the time the Hulk is on Sakaar, will be quite familiar to anyone who has watched Spartacus (or, more recently, Gladiator) on the screen. Sakaar is ancient Rome gone over to the bad guys, in outer space.
The band of allies Hulk forms around him is a mishmash of the old and new, including Korg, a stone giant revealed to have been among the invasion force repelled from Earth by the Mighty Thor way back near the beginning of Marvel’s Silver Age of comics, and a soldier of the same Broodworld that has long haunted the X-Men. The Silver Surfer also makes an appearance in the tale.
Due to its proximity to the wormhole in space, Sakaar is a kind of melting pot for myriad species and technologies. Hulk’s appearance on the world is both par for the course and something new altogether. Powerful beings are always being sucked into the corrupt empire’s games, but what makes this a story is the fact that Hulk is, well . . . The Hulk.
And, as we all know, Hulk smash. Thus the empire falls.
There is a pure cathartic thrill in watching Hulk smash those too powerful for others to dare even question, let alone challenge. That’s what has made him such a perennial fan favorite.
As the story enters its dénouement, however, Hulk finds himself in less familiar waters: he is honored by the people of the world he has freed from tyranny. He has friends, freedom, and is in love with a woman who deeply respects the challenges he has overcome and accepts his inner contradictions, even the soft Banner within.
Before he has time to put quill to paper and begin writing his memoirs, the reality to which he is accustomed returns. The now peaceful world and virtually all of the living beings within it are torn apart when the warp drive of the ship that brought Hulk to Sakaar explodes.
Right before his eyes, it’s all gone. They are gone.
And so, the savior is gone. And the world breaker returns.
The final snippet of story included in the volume serves as a kind of quiet epilogue. Amadeus Cho, a boy genius, serves Mr. Fantastic of the Illuminati with a kind of notice: your grand scheme for “helping” Hulk did not work—as usual.
Cho leaves the elder scientist with much to consider about his own actions and the consequences thereof, even as Hulk and his warband close in on Earth for payback.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/the-incredible-hulk/