The Hulk was last seen on Earth attempting to be a hero. Unfortunately, the end result was the destruction of Las Vegas. The secret committee known as the Illuminati manipulated the Hulk's trust in them. The Hulk was blasted off into space, presumably to an uninhabited planet where he could live out his life in peace. There was a malfunction. Instead, the Hulk ended up on a war-torn planet known as Sakaar where his savage nature was a boon. The Hulk worked up his way from a lowly slave to ruler of Sakaar, overthrowing the despotic Red King. All seemed well as the Hulk bonded with a motley group known as his "Warbound." Hulk even won the love of his Queen, Caiera, who carried his unborn child.
However, good things always come to an end. The ship that had taken the Hulk to Sakaar erroneously exploded, killing nearly everyone on the planet. Among the dead was Caiera. The Hulk found a video message that implicated the Illuminati (A group consisting of Iron Man, Mr. Fantastic, Dr. Strange, Black Bolt, Namor, and Professor X) as the group behind his exile. Together with his Warbound, the Hulk seeks vengeance on those who have done him wrong.
As a result of Civil War, one of the most prominent members of the Illuminati, Iron Man, has set up a 50-state initiative as new director of S.H.I.E.L.D. The Hulk's reemergence on Earth will test this new status quo. (For further background, check out the World War Hulk Prologue One-Shot written by Peter David.)
Our issue starts with the Hulk recalling in his mind images of the Illuminati. He is standing atop of his huge stone spaceship. Hulk and his Warbound will arrive on Earth shortly. However, Hulk's first order of business is to take out Black Bolt, leader of the Inhumans, on the blue side of the moon. Black Bolt and Medusa do not take kindly to the Hulk's visit. Black Bolt and the Hulk begin to fight. Black Bolt appears to brush back the Hulk with his voice. The Hulk just gets back up and we are only left to imagine the pounding he inflicts on Black Bolt.
Soon thereafter, S.H.I.E.L.D. satellites pick up the news that the Hulk has defeated Black Bolt. Hulk's ship towers in the sky over New York City. He broadcasts a holographic image for the entire world. The Hulk wants Manhattan evacuated in 24 hours and for Iron Man, Mr. Fantastic, Dr. Strange to show themselves. He also recounts the events of Planet Hulk and how the Illuminati are to blame for his misfortunes. If Hulk's demands are not met, he will proceed to destroy the planet with his Warbound.
Meanwhile, Iron Man tries to repair the damage done to the satellites in space. He is seemingly successfully until an EMP blast foils his efforts. Suddenly, Dr. Strange's astral form appears to Iron Man. Strange refuses Iron Man's request to send the Hulk to another world. It would only increase his anger and doom that planet. They must face the inevitability of a confrontation with the Hulk. Strange goes on to offer the aid of his unregistered brethren if Iron Man agrees to a general pardon. Dr. Strange remains perturbed at Iron Man's pomposity.
A short time later, Iron Man and Mr. Fantastic seek the aid of the Sentry in taking down the Hulk. The Sentry remains hesitant due to his previous friendship with the Jade Giant. However, the Sentry is eventually convinced but has a secret talk with Iron Man. The scene shifts to Spider-Man and She-Hulk assisting in the evacuation efforts of Manhattan. Spider-Man is shocked at how easily the Hulk took down Black Bolt. He remains reassured by the fact that the Sentry is on their side. He erroneously points out to a figure in the sky he thinks is the Sentry. In reality, it is Iron Man with his new Hulkbuster armor. Iron Man replies that the Sentry's talents will be used in due course. Right now, Iron Man, will deal with the Hulk by himself. It is his fight.
The Hulk exits his stone spaceship and commences to pound on the heavily armored Iron Man. Iron Man manages to broadcast a message informing the world that the Hulk's reemergence lies with him. However, Iron Man claims his actions have only been done with the greater good in mind. He recalls Spider-Man's maxim "with great power, comes great responsibility."
The fight is brutal. Iron Man attempts to inject nanobots into the Hulk to try and impede his powers. This has the effect of making the Hulk even angrier. Furthermore, jet planes launch rocket missiles at the Hulk, triggering a flashback to the explosion that killed his wife, Caiera. He wildly declares in an extreme rage that Iron Man killed his wife. The Hulk beats the holy tar out of Iron Man. Their fight leads to the Sentry's base atop the Avengers Tower to crumble and collapse. New and Mighty Avengers alike rush to Iron Man's aide only to find the Hulk emerge from the wreckage unscathed and angry as ever. He has a thoroughly beaten Iron Man trailing in his wake.
Admittedly, I never was a huge fan of the Hulk growing up. Spider-Man and Batman were my heroes of choice. The Hulk was too tortured (and a tragic figure) to make an impression on my young mind. However, the recent events of "Planet Hulk" have made the Jade Giant into an intriguing figure within the Marvel Universe. Marvel's goal is to return the Hulk to his roots as an anti- heroic monster hell-bent on being left alone.
Greg Pak's run on the Incredible Hulk has been just flat out fun. This is despite the fact that the Hulk has been away from Earth for fourteen issues. Pak has the innate ability to provide compelling stories with a clear aim in mind that will pay off down the road. His writing style is simple but nuanced enough to draw in the reader. It made a lot of sense to have Pak continue on to write the World War Hulk mini-series, as his writing style is perfect for the type of story Marvel wants to tell.
Marvel decided to pair Pak with legendary artist, John Romita Jr. Romita's primary talents, drawing ridiculously detailed battle scenes and overall sketching speed, ensure that the artistic chores are in capable hands. I fully do not expect World War Hulk to be delayed - Pak and Romita Jr. have excellent track records in that regard. Most likely, World War Hulk will feel more complete and satisfying from a resolution standpoint than the frequently delayed Civil War event just completed a couple months ago.
But is the story any good? Planet Hulk set the stage for the Hulk's angry return to Earth. The guy has a legitimate beef with the Illuminati. Forget the talky-talky bits of Civil War, the Hulk wants to SMASH - everyone! Readers looking for a more thoughtful crossover should probably look elsewhere. That said, the Hulk's situation and actions will undoubtedly judge the efficacy of Iron Man's side winning the Civil War.
The story is subtly simplistic in this regard. The Hulk wants to smash and no one can really stop him from doing so. The interesting question arises of how far will the Hulk go in his quest? Pak wants us to believe that the Hulk will stop at nothing - he warns that he will kill everyone that does not evacuate New York City. It is here that believability issues come up. The Hulk's argument is squarely with the Illuminati. Why should the rest of New York City be held hostage to satiate the Hulk's anger? Especially when one considers that the Hulk is not in his "savage state." Don't get me wrong, it is not a major issue. But it is something that I hope Pak can resolve with a plausible explanation.
The star of this issue is John Romita Jr. All Pak has to do is provide some context for Romita's pencils to shine. World War Hulk immediately starts off running with the pummeling of Black Bolt. There are some deliciously over-the-top macho war cries that the Hulk yells out to heighten the stakes. Romita has massive chunks of moonrock flying in the air as the Hulk and Black Bolt battle. He effectively depicts the strength behind Hulk's fists and the oddly majestic raw power of Black Bolt's thundering vocal cords. The Hulk's choice of garb says it all. It's a no holds barred gladiatorial scrum - Hulk style.
Another selling point for readers to pick this up is Pak's depiction of Iron Man. Pak takes great pains to paint Iron Man as a man who made a mistake but remains heroic to the end. His agenda is larger and nobler than Civil War would have made it seem. Iron Man is not the second coming of Lex Luthor, at least in Pak's able hands. Romita Jr.'s rendering of Iron Man's Hulkbuster armor is once again equal parts detailed, over the top, plausible, and just plain cool to look at.
Continuity buffs may be alarmed. It seems as if the anti-registration heroes, New Avengers included, will band together with their pro-registration rivals to stop the Hulk's rampage. This aspect is what stops me from giving the issue a near perfect rating. The New Avengers should be royally ticked off and should seek no compromise solutions. The events of Civil War were intended to be unforgivable and rightly so. There is no way Spider-Man and Iron Man would work together again short of a total reboot. The Hulk's situation seems too closely aligned to the fugitive status that anti-registration proponents have faced since the conclusion of Civil War. On a more ominous note, the Sentry's unrevealed talk with Iron Man has me intrigued. What exactly is going on underneath the surface?
A minor nitpick would be the curious decision not to include Amadeus Cho in issue #1. He had a fairly prominent role in the Prologue one-shot and Pak seems to enjoy writing the character. However, I have total faith in Pak to deliver the goods in future issues. After all, this issue was almost entirely devoted to battles. Even Hulk's Warbound got the proverbial shaft in that they were barely mentioned. The battles were fun and gorgeously rendered but I'd want to get into the Hulk's head more in future issues. What is his ultimate plan? Why does he make the tactical decisions that he does? What are the motivations of his allies? These vexing questions are all good fodder for a mini-series devoted to a character not primarily known for displaying intellectual depth.
World War Hulk continues the spirit of Pak's run on Incredible Hulk. Romita Jr.'s pencils are a joy to look at. A well-done first issue. Cost-conscious readers should note that you get an advertised 64 pages for your hard earned $3.99.