Here’s the public history of the Hulk:
1. A pretty-lame-but-cool-at-the-time-because-there-was-no-competition-around live TV show.
2. Several bad-to-not-so-bad cartoon iterations
3. One major motion picture by an Academy Award winning director that was a good film but wasn’t really about Hulk
4. Another major movie with an Academy Award winning actor that was a spin off of the TV show and didn’t really have any depth.
5. And, what started it all, a comic book that has been around forever but is rarely worth reading
Hulk has rarely been a well-delivered character. So, why should you care about World War Hulks?
The answer is, I’m not sure you should.
First, just to catch up: You all know Hulk. “Doc Bruce Banner, pelted by gamma rays, turned into the Hulk, ain’t he unglamour-rays!”
He was a founding member of, and comedy relief for, The Avengers. He got mad a lot and kept wrecking stuff, yet for some reason nobody ever killed him or buried him under a mountain. Then he shrunk and hooked up with this chick and had a kid. Of course, nobody knew about it. Including Hulk. Then he came back to Earth and blew more things up. This basically covers his history before the first very good Hulk series, the first one that I would recommend without hesitation.
Planet Hulk. Planet Hulk started when the genius superdudes of Earth finally decided to get rid of Hulk by rocketing him into space. It’s not really important why it took them so long to get fed up with Hulk destroying major cities and putting Iron Man into the hospital. He landed, accidentally, on a gladiator planet and became their Moses, freeing the slaves and liberating the oppressed. I know this sounds stupid, but it was handled extremely well. For the first time, a Hulk book had a supporting cast that mattered. Hulk was relatively smart, too. Not a scientific genius or anything, but capable of speech, military tactics, and basic emotional communication. (Another reason the Hulk series has been so difficult to follow: Sometimes, he’s a brute, sometimes he has Banner-brain . . . It seems to depend on the writer of the series less than the continuity of the character.) This is a spoiler for Planet Hulk, but it doesn’t ruin the series for you: He hooks up, has a kid, and then most of the planet is wiped out by a huge explosion. I won’t give away how or why, but Hulk blames the Illuminati who cast him out of Earth and goes to get revenge on his exilers. Which brings us to the second-best Hulk story ever (Planet Hulk being the first).
World War Hulk. This was an event—every Marvel book took a little time, or had a spin-off series—to fight Hulk. And only the fogiest of fogeys didn’t love seeing Hulk beat the snot out of just about everyone. The constant battling was a little tiring, but if you stuck to the Hulk books (collected in “World War Hulk”), the story kept going and you really didn’t need the spin-offs and cross-overs.
If you wanna see Juggernaut get his head kicked in, buy the three X-Men/WWH issues. If you wanna see mean green go at it with Spidey, buy those. Etc. The only one really worth getting was Incredible Hercules, because it began a pretty good run for that Olympian—a character who hadn’t been used well since Bob Layton’s two miniserieses in the 1980s.
In short, Hulk beat an apology out of the entire State of New York . But after this, things started to break down. At around the same time, we saw a new Hulk book spring up, but where it stood in the continuity was unclear.
Hulk, a.k.a. Red Hulk, a.k.a. Rulk. Red Hulk had terrific, muscular art and not many words. This big red dude appears out of nowhere and starts beating on Hulk. For some reason, a bunch of superheroes tried to stop Rulk from killing Hulk. I think that during World War Hulk, Hulk beat them all in the heads so that they got amnesia. Forgot that killing Hulk might actually benefit society.
The thing that made Red Hulk exciting was that it was a mystery—we didn’t know who he was—and it was unpredictable and hilarious. Dude even used a massively big gun at one point. But then the series suddenly went south, the creative team changed, the art got bad, and they started making fragmented stories. I’d go to the comic shop and ask, “What the fuck?” and they, who usually could answer all my questions, would scratch their heads and say, “Fucked if I know.”
Hulk #300. The Rulk book did a terrible little side-story ripping off of the Contest of Champions (that lame series from the 1980s that introduced Israel ’s first superheroine, Sabra). They pitted a random Hulk team (with Doc Strange, Sub Mariner, and Silver Surfer picked out of the time stream just so Strange could have his lame full-face-mask costume from long ago) against a random Rulk team that included Tiger Shark—an underwater dude who, inexplicably, wears spandex (doesn’t that block his gills?). Forget about all this, though, because then Marvel suddenly decided to make sense of Hulk again and explain this whole thing and reveal, once and for all, who is Red Hulk. In Hulk #300. And when you found out the answer, if you were like me, you wanted to beat the living shit out of editor-in-chief Joe Queseda. I invested over 50 bucks in the Rulk series, and stuck with it through all of its lame dips, because I really wanted the answer. And it turns out, Rulk isn’t anyone. It’s all a MODOK scheme. Arrrrggghhh! Me smash!
But putting all my frustration aside, the Rulk/Hulk story in Hulk #300 wasn’t all that bad. Of course, it was a double sized book that was then filled up with a ton of bullshit I could care less about. She Hulk. Grey Hulk. Banner cured of Hulk but still having adventures. They’re calling this The Hulk Family of comic books. And I never thought I’d be able to say this, but this family is actually lamer than The Marvel Family.
Which brings us to World War Hulks. Hulk’s kid from the Planet Hulk storyline got his own comic: Skaar, Son of Hulk. It’s not a terrible book, but it’s not very interesting. But Skaar is no baby—he’s like a teen-aged hulk. So when Galactus eats his planet, he decides to go get daddy. Abandonment issues and all. He’s coming to get Hulk, but (spoiler alert!) Banner was cured in Hulk #300, so it’s not going to be much of a fight. Then there’s this other son-of-Hulk (possibly) named Hiro-Kala, also from Planet Hulk. Then there’s Lyra, a new She-Hulk created by a genetic experiment from Hulk’s DNA. The Jerry Springer daughter. Oh, and there’s She-Rulk now, too. For crissake. With all this nonsense and, let’s be real, stupid soap-opera crap, we’re supposed to care about WWHs? Well, despite all of the above, here’s a few reasons you might care:
1. Dave Finch did a great cover, featuring a MODOK Hulk.
2. All these Hulks are bound do to a lot of damage, which can be fun. In a mindless kinda way.
3. The creative team doesn’t suck. It’ll be Jeff Parker (“Agents of Atlas”) and Paul Pelletier (“War of Kings”).
4. It’ll have a good villain. Or villains. The Intelligentsia—the evil version of the Illuminati who sent Hulk to outer space: The Leader. Dr. Doom. Modok. Red Ghost. Egghead. Wizard. Mad Thinker
Is this enough to overcome Hulk’s convoluted missteps post-WWH? No. The verdict is, I will NOT be buying World War Hulks. At least not until the trades come out. I’ll be damned if they another $50 out of me before proving they have something worth buying.