Hulk has come to Earth to settle a score with the Illuminati. Accompanying the Hulk is his Warbound from the destroyed planet of Sakaar. He threatened Manhattan with complete destruction if the Illuminati did not show themselves. Iron Man, one of the most prominent members of the aforementioned group, decided to confront the Hulk head-on personally, complete with a new Hulkbuster armor. Iron Man has just failed in his heroic but foolhardy act. Moments later, the Hulk turns to face a combined Mighty/New Avengers squad highlighted by the inclusion of Bruce Banner's cousin, Jennifer Walters (aka She-Hulk).
The issue begins shortly after the Hulk smashed the overmatched Iron Man in World War Hulk #1. Iron Fist pays a visit to Dr. Strange's Sanctum Sanctorum asking him for advice on what the New Avengers should do. He mentions that New Avengers including Luke Cage, Spider-Man, and Spider-Woman are probably going to get killed due to the Hulk's overwhelming anger. Ronin tries to defend Dr. Strange's actions but Strange summarily dismisses him. He is willing to accept the consequences for his part in sending the Hulk to space. Strange also dismisses the idea that he could just send the Hulk away to another dimension. Hulk would only return angrier in such a scenario. Strange begins incantations for an alternative plan.
A combined force of New/Mighty Avengers stands in the Hulk's path. The group that is assembled includes Luke Cage, Ms. Marvel, She-Hulk, Dr. Samson, Spider-Man, Ares, and Wonder Man. The group feels fairly confident in that they have strength in numbers. However, the Hulk introduces his powerful Warbound gladiators to the shocked Avengers. The Warbound demand the devotion of their human opponents to the Hulk. Ares angrily debunks their rhetoric and makes motions to attack. However, She-Hulk stops him from assaulting the Warbound. She wants to reason with her cousin, the Hulk, one last time. The Hulk is in no mood to listen and strikes the surprised She-Hulk. After a brief battle between the gamma giants, the Hulk easily emerges victorious.
The battle erupts between everyone assembled. Ares is the next Avenger to try to take on the Hulk. His reward is a face first smash into the concrete at the hands of the increasingly angry Hulk. The Avengers prove to be outmatched as the battle rages on. The Warbound easily defeat their opponents with overwhelming force.
Meanwhile, the Fantastic Four, with Storm and Black Panther, assist Mr. Fantastic on a device intended to calm the Hulk. Reed feels guilty for drawing his friends into the fight but they all will try to protect him. Storm delays the Hulk's rampage with a well-timed whirlwind. The Thing confronts Korg while the Invisible Woman circles Elloe. Storm turns to battle no-name of the Brood and Miek. The Human Torch goes nova in order to fry the Hulk. The Torch's flame is no match for the Hulk's rage. Korg shares a warrior's sympathy with the Thing as he goes to confront the Hulk. Predictably, the Thing goes down in a protracted battle. The Hulk's battle is interrupted by the seeming appearance of the Sentry, the one man who can calm the Hulk's anger. They have a brief conversation with the Hulk appearing to be swayed by the Sentry's words. The Hulk breaks the ruse by smashing the revealed robot replica of the Sentry. The Invisible Woman and Mr. Fantastic are dismayed at the device's failure to sway the Hulk. They valiantly try to battle a raging Hulk. Mr. Fantastic goes down with his elasticity stretched to the breaking point. Invisible Woman, bleeding from the lip, tiredly calls the real Sentry and pleads for his help. The Sentry receives the message in silence. He does not move from his couch.
Back at the battle site, the Hulk and his Warbound gather up their captured heroes amid a cheering crowd. Rick Jones is dismayed at the outcome. He is the Hulk's only human friend but realizes that this can not continue any longer. Rick confronts the Hulk and tells him that Captain America is dead. He tries to convince the rapt Hulk that violence is not the answer. The Hulk lays his huge hand on Rick's shoulder. Before the Hulk can respond to Rock's entreaty, Dr. Strange interrupts the proceedings and viciously attacks with mentally propelled magic spells. The Hulk angrily lashes out and goes towards the Sanctum Sanctorum to fight Dr. Strange. He has a chance encounter with the heroes Amadeus Cho has recruited to help the Hulk's cause. S.H.I.E.L.D. agents observe another pitched battle. They initially express hope for Hercules. Upon the Hulk's victory, a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent is revealed to be conversing with General Thunderbolt Ross, one of Hulk's oldest and deadliest adversaries. They have a score to settle...
Writer Greg Pak is able to unleash even more action now that the first act exposition is done. World War Hulk's second issue is all about how revenge can lead to a long road of violence that remains unquenched. By issue's end, the Hulk has now taken down three of the four Illuminati who wronged him by sending him to space. Yet, the Hulk's target list includes anyone who opposes based on his threat to annihilate Manhattan. The issue of the Hulk's threat remains unresolved but remains an intriguing premise for Pak to explore.
A recent reader of my review for World War Hulk brought that Hulk's threat to destroy Manhattan can be explained by his different personalities. This reader theorized that the Hulk's threat may be explained by the fact that he retains a bit of his professor mentality. While this is a plausible explanation, it won't satisfy a new reader to comic books or even a new reader to the Hulk. Continuity is a useful tool in creating excitement for superhero universes (this crossover wouldn't exist without such an innovative concept). However, I firmly believe that Pak can provide a logical and strong explanation for the Hulk's behavior apart from a weak continuity reference. If he can not, then Pak is not half the writer I though he was. For example, DC's over-reliance on continuity makes reading one of their crossovers a vain effort indeed unless one is completely versed in their terminology and history. So far, World War Hulk has remained able to bridge that touchy divide between continuity and accessibility. To state things succinctly, this remains one of my primary concerns heading into the last three issues.
Pak's ability to shift perspectives from issue to issue is what keeps World War Hulk fresh and exciting to the reader. This second issue takes a more extroverted view of the events which have propelled the Hulk to battle for vengeance on Earth. We see in this issue how everyone is affected; even the cast of characters who appear in other titles get brief moments to shine. For instance, the brief scenes involving Amadeus Cho/Hercules et al. that represent a nice nod to Incredible Hulk's continuity. The superheroes may be going down a little too easy but the Hulk is angrier than he's ever been. A combined force of New/Mighty Avengers leaves some interesting questions to explore regarding registration. What happens the next time a threat on par with the Hulk decides to threaten Earth? Should the New Avengers come running every single time to help assist their Mighty brethren? Should the Mighty contingent let them? Considering how much trouble the Mighty team is having with Female Ultron over in their title, the New Avengers should be looking forward to more crossovers.
It seems as if Pak will try to have Dr. Strange fight the Hulk in the next issue. Dr. Strange's power levels are a heated debate among Marvel fans. The various writers who have the written the Master of Mystic Arts seem to have no consensus regarding what Dr. Strange can and can not do. I personally tend to lean towards a more powerful Dr. Strange depiction. We will have to see how Pak handles him. As the last member of the guilty Illuminati, Dr. Strange better put up a good fight. Apart from this vexing conundrum, all the characters present are written with solid characterizations befitting their history and recent events. For example, Ares is a foolhardy but eager warrior while Mr. Fantastic is the guilt-ridden genius. Of course, the Hulk is equal parts anger and cunning strategist. His Warbound supporting cast actually provides him with more pathos and an understated humanity.
The one character that I was disappointed with was She- Hulk. Up to this issue, Pak had characterized her as an angry sympathizer of her cousin. However, in this issue she ultimately decides to side with the Avengers. Pak's evolution of the character, while certainly not an illogical development, is rather confusing and resultantly feels forced. Pak also missed a grand opportunity to provide a gamma on gamma showdown featuring both genders of Hulk. Astute readers will note that She-Hulk may not be up to full strength as a result of the Worldbreaker prologue. We know that Hulk will ultimately win but it would've been nice to see some of the heroes, including She-Hulk, last longer.
Pak's script calls for more action and artist John Romita Jr. delivers on a grander scale than the first issue. Essentially, the first issue was a prolonged lead-up to a single battle between Hulk and Iron Man. Here in issue #2, Romita capably demonstrates his versatility by drawing two huge battle scenes requiring mastery of anatomy and sense of motion (not to mention drawing a diverse set of characters). Romita Jr.'s art remains a joy to behold. It is really a shame that one has to pay an arm and a leg for his variant covers. David Finch's regular covers do not do justice to Romita Jr.'s interior art renderings. Romita Jr.'s strongest asset is his ability to convey emotion on the faces of characters as they battle. Hulk remains justifiably angry at all the right moments and even displays some empathy in his brief scene with Rick Jones.
The Hulk's smashing of the Marvel superheroes who did him wrong continues to be a fun read. The mini-series achieves a feeling akin to what a good summer blockbuster does - provide great action with a plausible plot that does not feel overbearing. Writer Greg Pak should be commended for a new reader friendly approach as well. I am looking forward to the Hulk's encounters with Dr. Strange and Thunderbolt Ross.