It’s confirmed: the upcoming “Thor: Ragnarok” will incorporate elements of “Planet Hulk,” which just so happens to be the greatest Hulk story of all time. Written by Greg Pak and drawn by Carlo Pagulayan and Aaron Lopresti, “Planet Hulk” tells the story of how the Illuminati — that shadowy cabal of powerful Marvel figures like Tony Stark, Reed Richards and Doctor Strange — decide that the Hulk is too dangerous and forcibly exile him into space.
He crash lands on Sakaar, a violent world ruled by an evil king, where the enslaved Hulk fights first for survival, then for freedom. Finally, he and his comrades overthrow the king and begin to live happily ever after… until tragedy strikes and they lose literally everything. “Planet Hulk” is a true Epic in the classical sense. If it pleases the court, here are 15 reasons why it is the most incredible Hulk Story
15. Gladiator + The Hulk + Space = Awesome
In addition to being the greatest Hulk story, “Planet Hulk” also has an unbeatable elevator pitch: it’s Russell Crowe’s “Gladiator” + The Hulk! In space! Believe it or not, that’s actually underselling it. Upon arriving on the planet Sakaar, the Hulk is captured by the forces of the tyrannical Red King, who makes him fight in public Gladiator matches for his freedom. Of course, he’s the Hulk, so he wins, but rather than taking his freedom, he immediately attacks the King in charge, wounding him in public.
While an obedience-enforcing implant keeps him from winning then and there, Hulk stays in the league, and soon joins up with others who have had their lives, families and societies taken from them by their ruler. As he fights back for himself, he unintentionally inspires the whole oppressed planet, and ultimately winds up leading a wholesale revolution. Hulk has been many things, but a revolutionary? Usually, the Hulk’s heroic acts are wracked with mixed results and misunderstandings, but in “Planet Hulk,” he’s finally the perfect hero for the job.
14. Epic Art
Comics are a visual medium, and “Planet Hulk” is no exception. You can be the best writer in the world, but if the Hulk doesn’t look like he’s the strongest one there is, it’s worthless. Fortunately, the team behind “Planet Hulk” follows its namesake lead, and pulls no punches in rendering their impact. Pencilers Carlo Pagulayan and Aaron Lopresti, inker Jeffrey Huet, and colorist Chris Sotomayor make the Hulk’s revolutionary journey leap off the page with gamma energy, his movements in battle dynamic and alive, but still unmistakably smashy.
Even better, though, is how they give the big green guy a set of expressions that let us see him in a new light. From clever scheming to humor to righteous fervor, this is some of the most sophisticated characterization of the Hulk ever, and we can see it on his face. Then there’s his surroundings: the alien world of Sakaar, its landscapes, as well as its various races and creatures are as creative, varied and grounded as any good space opera. The grand sound effects by letterers Randy Gentile and Joe Caramagna are the icing on this massive-scale cake.
13. Hulk’s Got Kids
While he isn’t actually born in “Planet Hulk,” Hulk’s son marks just how different Hulk’s life on Sakaar is different from his life before. Even as a bump in his mother’s stomach, his son Skaar is enough to prove to Hulk that he’s finally found a family and home. This makes the weight of their subsequent loss hurt him (and us) even more.
Though Hulk doesn’t know it, Skaar actually survives, and, in Pak’s “Skaar: Son of Hulk” series, grows strong enough to take on Galactus himself. Eventually, he heads to Earth in hopes of killing his father, but, in a particularly strange twist, is trained by Bruce Banner, and goes on to fight the Red Hulk and others of the original Hulk’s rogues gallery. Along with his less prominent twin brother Hiro-kala, Skaar is a great example of how “Planet Hulk” helped set up the extensive set of stories Pak went on to tell in “World War Hulk,” “Incredible Hulks” and “The Incredible Hercules,” which finally gave Hulk the Batman-esque family he deserves.
12. Hulk Smashes Hard
Sakaar is a whole new world for Hulk… and that means a whole new world to smash. Pak and co. throw Hulk into battle after battle, each more unique than the last. From the opening ambush that leads to his capture, to his final world-breaking battle, the challenges faced by the Green Scar require not just the Hulk’s strength, but creativity. When Caiera tries to lure his nascent rebellion out, Hulk doesn’t take the bait, instead pulling the same decoy strategy off on her. When facing the living horde of biological weapons that is the Spikes, he tears open the planet’s crust, unleashing lava that he then surfs into battle.
The main thing, though, is that Hulk isn’t fighting alone, but as part of a growing, cohesive unit. When the Warbound are struggling to face Korg’s nearly indestructible, zombified brothers, he simply grabs Korg’s body and uses it as an equally-strong weapon — and later, Korg repays the unsuspecting Hulk in kind, with an even more intense update to the Wolverine/Colossus Fastball Special. That battle against the Spikes also includes protecting multiple groups of people, while simultaneously handling the conflicts between those groups. Creative smashing, indeed!
11. Hulk Meets Hunger Games
As much as Hulk is like Maximus in “Gladiator,” he’s a little bit Katniss-y too. This is true not just because of the whole “fight to the death for public sport” thing, but the high level of media manipulation involved. No, Hulk doesn’t seem to be actively playing the public in the way the characters of “The Hunger Games” do, but he doesn’t need to. His success in his first battles makes him a quick crowd favorite, but it’s the Red King’s hubris that helps Hulk become the legendary Green Scar.
Instead of killing him, the King wants to humiliate and defeat Hulk himself, to prove he remains the strongest. But you can’t beat the Hulk, and his successes extend out of the arena and into TV crews doing live coverage of the rebellion. Through this media exposure, Hulk shows the Red King’s weakness and evil, leading many to believe he’s the hero foretold of in a widely-known prophecy, and inspiring further revolution. We don’t know if this particular subplot will even fit into “Thor: Ragnarok,” but given the mockumentary skill director Taika Waititi’s demonstrated in “What We Do in the Shadows,” it may be worth squeezing in.
10. Hulk Is Tragic (Not Banner)
The “Jekyll and Hyde” nature of the Hulk’s alter egos has always set him apart from nearly every other superhero; in fact, he’s one of the few who tries to avoid using his powers. Usually, the mild-mannered Bruce Banner is seen as the cursed one; the transformations he undergoes seen as a burden on his life. But “Planet Hulk” totally flips the script, showing how Hulk is cursed with Banner. Of course Bruce’s nightmares involve the Hulk, but did you know the reverse is also true? The Hulk’s nightmares see him taunted and attacked by his human side, which mocks him and blames him for his own suffering.
Because “Planet Hulk” has almost no Banner (and is extremely well-written), it delves deeper into the psychology of Hulk himself than maybe any story before it. Hulk isn’t just Banner’s repressed anger, and he isn’t even just angry. Beneath it all is a wounded hero with conflicted feelings about his own monstrosity. Finally free of humanity’s misunderstanding, Hulk finds in his time on Sakaar a chance to figure himself out unencumbered, and actually get what he wants… at least for awhile.
9. The Warbound
Hulk may have been a founding member of The Avengers, but the one of the reasons they were founded was to fight and/or corral him. For all his allies and friends, the Hulk has never belonged to a real team, let alone wanted to, despite his various affiliations (yes, including the Pantheon — that was as much Banner as it was Hulk, remember). At least, that was the case until “Planet Hulk.” Early on, Hulk is thrown into the gladiator training pits and forced to fight for sport on a team of fellow survivors, who become “Warbound,” entering a Sakaarian pact of allegiance to fight for each other.
But it’s more than that. Korg, Miek the Unhived, No-Name the Brood, Hiroim the Shamed and Elloe Kaifi all have something in common with Hulk: they are alone, exiled and (with the possible exception of Elloe), viewed as monsters by the world. That means they may understand and appreciate the Hulk at a deeper level than anyone before. They also complement each other, giving the Hulk a chance to fill roles he’s never had the chance to experience. Can you remember a time on Earth equivalent to Hulk contemplating Korg’s objections, or inspiring the lonely Miek’s emotional (and physical) growth into a leader? In a short time, the Warbound gave Hulk something new: a family of peers.
8. Hulk Love
At the beginning of “Planet Hulk,” Hulk is betrayed by the people he thought were his friends, stranded in space and totally alone. By the end, he’s married. No, Caiera the Oldstrong isn’t the first of the Hulk’s great loves, nor even the first to be involved in some sort of royal family. In the Microverse, Hulk once married Princess Jarella of K’ai, who is tragically killed, but though she accepts the angrier persona, the Hulk she initially falls for is actually controlled by Bruce Banner. And, as for Betty Ross Banner, well… she’s not Betty Ross Hulk (at least not quite).
Caiera is the first to to fall in love with the Hulk. Her life has left her more isolated and manipulated than than even our angry hero: as a child, her village was slaughtered by the then-Red Prince, who hoped to find a survivor strong enough to serve as his personal guard. With little choice, she serves as his loyal Lieutenant, but is drawn to the Green Scar’s strength, anger and isolation. When she discovers that the Red King is unleashing the Spikes on his own people, their shared sense of justice shifts her allegiance for good.
7. Hulk… Loved
We’ve been over how Hulk inspires the people of Sakaar, finds true friends and peers, and even love. But what’s maybe more unique about Hulk’s experience on Sakaar are the views of the people who never even meet him. By the end of the revolution, Hulk has won over just about every segment of the population, from existing insurgencies, to the parasitic alien Spikes themselves. On Earth, Hulk is viewed as a dangerous monster to be afraid of, but on Sakaar, people actually love him, seeing him as something closer to Superman.
This brings out some surprising sides to the Hulk. While his main tool is still his incredible physical strength, he does more with it than just smash. In fact, whether it’s telling his followers to carry out old grudges, or forcing them not to, it seems like everything the Hulk does just makes everyone believe in him even more. For the first time, Hulk doesn’t just want to be alone, opting not only to stay in the new Kingdom he helped form, but to try and peacefully rule it.
6. Hulk Is Witty
Is “HULK SMASH” the most complex syntax? No, but that doesn’t mean it’s not perfectly put. Even today, most people best know The Incredible Hulk not just as genius Bruce Banner’s angry side, but as his stupid one. That is why most people unfamiliar with his many permutations of character should read “Planet Hulk.” Over his long history, there have been many different Hulk personas, from the weaker, scheming Gray Hulk to the mostly-Banner Professor Hulk; but on Sakaar, he’s something different.
The Green Scar Hulk speaks in fairly standard English, and thinks at a higher level than some of his more rage-blind incarnations. The real difference though, is that while he’s still as angry as ever, he thinks ahead, strategizes, reads people and is even… patient? Sakaar lets Hulk be his truest self, because the Hulk is exactly what the planet needs — his angry, righteous core can manifest in ways it never could on Earth, including, it turns out, in his humor. Whether following up a sword attack with “Hulk slash,” or making a sandwich pun mid-fight, it turns out the Hulk is wittier than humanity ever knew.
5. Hulk Heal
Hulk is known for his power to destroy things, making it all the more surprising when, on “Planet Hulk,” he starts to heal them. At first, it’s minor and unintentional, his gamma-irradiate blood making Sakaar’s barren surface grow plants for the first time in years. As the scale of his battle grows though, the healing becomes part of Hulk’s mission itself.
Even as the insurgency tries to recruit him, Hulk is more worried about he and the Warbound than leading a revolution, but once he sees how Miek’s brethren have been enslaved, he commits to creating a newer, better world. He doesn’t just fight, though — he listens. Instead of taking on the lava pit’s massive dinosaur, he realizes he just has to remove its control disk to gain an ally. To defeat the Trees, he does something no one had ever thought of: talk to them, and give them aid. And after the Red King’s fall, he stops old factions from fighting by forcing them to team up against him in the arena instead, successfully mending the rift. He also sacrifices his own wellbeing to satiate the hunger of the Spikes.
4. Hulk Vs Silver Surfer
With so much crazy stuff out there in Cosmic Marvel, it’s easy to take the Silver Surfer for granted. But Stan Lee didn’t, and neither should you. After his creation by Jack Kirby in 1966, Lee worked on every Surfer story until 1987, and regretted ever letting anyone else take over.
In “Planet Hulk,” Norrin Radd’s surprise appearance is a perfect use of the shared universe offered by superhero comics. Captured by the Red King’s forces, he’s mind-controlled and forced to fight the Hulk’s team in a wildly anticipated public gladiator battle. The fight is great, but it also goes a long way towards fleshing out both its main participants. Up until now, Hulk goes on and on about how much he hates everyone on Earth, but upon recognizing the Silver Surfer, he immediately declares, “he’s my friend!” Pak’s writing is so good that in a few pages, he develops the Surfer’s often hard-to-read character, when it turns out that, on some level, he wanted to be on a world where life is pure struggle. Marvel doesn’t have the Surfer’s movie rights, but could Thor come to fill a similar role?
3. The Happiest One There Is
As we’ve said previously, the title “Planet Hulk” doesn’t just denote a story about a planet Hulk is on — it’s a planet the Hulk is almost perfectly built for, and vice versa. This is true not just in the grand sense of finally finding peace, but the early stages of the story, too. From the moment of his arrival, Hulk relishes the chance to finally cut loose in a violent new world, even finding the pleasure of challenge in his de-powered strength. For the period where everyone he meets is against him, his strength, anger and distrust are exactly what he needs to survive, and because he isn’t worried about protecting anyone except himself, he can have fun doing it.
At each level of the Hulk’s fight, the qualities that made him a pariah on Earth help him find acceptance on Sakaar. From fighting to survive to fighting for revolution, Hulk doesn’t have to choose between monster and hero, instead channeling his anger into what may be the only form of heroism that will work on this new planet. As it turns out, that is all it ever took to calm him down.
2. The Strongest Hulk There Is
Don’t let all this focus on the Hulk’s emotional development fool you — his physical development in “Planet Hulk” is higher than ever. As Hulk puts more and more of the world on his shoulders, he only gets more capable of carrying it (both emotionally and, as he heals from the effects of the wormhole that brought him there, physically). All the while, the debate rages as to whether he’s the figure foretold of in a prophecy, and if so, which one? Is he the Green Scar, who will save Sakaar, or the Worldbreaker, who will… well, you know. Either way, it’s clear that he has the power to do either.
We know that the madder Hulk gets, the stronger Hulk gets, and on Sakaar, Hulk’s anger at his own unfair treatment expands to encompass his rage at how others like him suffer in similar ways, to create record levels of fury. As we mentioned above, when the Red King tries to blow up the planet, he holds it together with his bare hands. And after the story’s tragic conclusion, he’s never been madder, leading to “World War Hulk,” in which he’s virtually unstoppable.
1. Hulk Is The Hero
Bruce Banner, we always thought, is the hero, struggling to control the Hulk so that he only does good. On Earth, this might not be far from the truth, but “Planet Hulk” does something rare: it shows Hulk not as a force to be managed — or even a reluctant helper — but as an outcast who grows to be recognized; a bonafide, unambiguous hero.
The best part of “Planet Hulk” isn’t just that he gets to be a selfless hero, though; it’s the revelation of how he’s always been one. As Amadeus Cho points out in a cut-to-Earth side story, whenever civilians are injured by the Hulk’s anger, he’s either been manipulated by others, or defending himself against heroes who misunderstand that he’s trying to help. Hulk understands what it’s like to be seen as a monster, which is why he’s the only person who realizes that, instead of fighting the Spikes, he should try to help them and let them feed off of him, risking what the story establishes as his greatest fear of all: reverting to his Banner-form. In “Planet Hulk,” Hulk is truly, finally the hero… at least until the puny humans mess it up again.
What should “Planet Hulk” look like onscreen in live action? Do you think a different Hulk story is the GOAT? Let us know in the comments!
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