Possible SPOILERS ahead.
Several people recommended PLANET HULK to me as one of the best things Marvel has done in recent years, so I finally got around to reading it. Unlike a lot of storylines, you don’t have to have read 400 previous issues to know what’s going on. If you have even a basic grasp of the Marvel Universe you can follow this one. Several brainy superheroes – Reed Richards, Tony Stark, and Dr. Strange among them – decide the best way to deal with the Hulk is to send him to a distant uninhabited planet where there’s no one to hurt him and no one for him to hurt. The Hulk has always professed a wish to be left alone, so they decide to give him that life. They get their chance when S.H.I.E.L.D. sends the Hulk into space to deal with the threat of an artificially intelligent satellite that’s gone rogue. Reed and Stark modify the shuttle carrying the Hulk so that when he’s finished with his mission, it will carry him off into deep space to the sanctuary planet they’ve selected. (All this is told in a run of issues collected in PLANET HULK PRELUDE, which I’ve also read.)
Unfortunately, things don't go as planned. The shuttle carrying the Hulk goes through some sort of mysterious portal instead, and he finds himself on the savage planet Sakarr, where he is enslaved, forced to fight for his life as a gladiator, leads a rebellion, winds up as the king of the whole place, and falls in love. I hope that’s not too much of a spoiler, but honestly, if you’ve ever read Robert E. Howard or Edgar Rice Burroughs, you’re gonna know where this epic yarn is going pretty much every step of the way. It’s not quite “Hulk as Conan” or “Hulk as John Carter”, but it’s close to a blend of the two with some influence from Harlan Ellison as well, by way of the classic Ellison-plotted Hulk story, “The Brute That Shouted Love at the Heart of the Atom”. (Funny, when I bought that issue and a handful of others at Lester’s Pharmacy and took it home to read on a summer morning, I never dreamed I’d be writing about it more than forty years later.)
Despite having a pretty good idea what was going to happen, I really enjoying reading this massive collection. As scripter Greg Pak mentions in an afterword, the whole storyline had its genesis in four words: “Hulk”, “alien planet”, and “battleaxe”. That would have gotten my blood pumping, too, as it did Pak’s. His scripts are excellent, with plenty of action, some colorful back-story, the occasional poignant moment, and the even more occasional touches of humor. There’s an effective cameo appearance by another major player in the Marvel Universe, too.
I wasn’t as fond of the art by Carlo Pagulayan, Aaron Lopresti, and various other hands. Some of it’s great, including a number of full-page panels reminiscent of Frank Frazetta’s Conan illustrations, but there were too many pages where the action was confusing and difficult to follow. I know, you’ve heard that complaint from me before about today’s comic books, but I like to be able to tell what’s going on. Overall, the art is okay, and you certainly shouldn’t let it keep you from reading this collection if you’re a fan of the Hulk, but I would have loved to see this storyline illustrated by, say, Neal Adams and Tom Palmer. That’s just me, though. The whole thing is good enough for me to give this one a solid recommendation.