Monday, January 25, 2016

Review: Planet Hulk: Warzones!

One savvy marketing element of Marvel's one million or so Secret Wars tie-ins, the various miniseries they published while they suspended the publication of all of their regular Marvel Universe tie-ins during the Secret Wars event series, was that many of them bore the titles of Marvel's past event series. (The publisher certainly had fun marketing Secret Wars, releasing images with the titles of their many past event series, and the recycling of those titles made a certain sense, given that Secret Wars itself was recycling the title of Marvel's first big event series.)

For some of these mini-series with familiar titles, the stories are set in slightly re-jiggered versions of the settings of those stories, but in others they simply seem to be attaching themselves to the titles, but otherwise having little to nothing to do with source material. Planet Hulk is one of the latter sorts. That doesn't make it a bad comic, of course, but it perhaps makes it a poor comic book to bear the title Planet Hulk.

In fact, it's just as much a Captain America or a Devil Dinosaur comic book as it is a Hulk comic, which, incidentally, gets to a key to the appeal to many of the better Secret Wars tie-ins: The publisher and its creative teams took the temporary status quo as an opportunity to tell stories featuring as unlikely combinations as, say, Captain America, Devil Dinosaur and Hulks.

The original "Planet Hulk" was a 2006-2007 Incredible Hulk storyline by Greg Pak. It involved The Hulk being tricked and shot into space by some of Bruce Banner's besties, and crashlanding on a planet of monsters and super-strong folks where he was forced into gladiatorial combat.

What does the Sam Humphries-written, Marc Laming-drawn Secret Wars version of Planet Hulk share in common with "Planet Hulk"...?

Well, let's see. There's a character called "The Red King," Captain America uses the term "Warbound" a few times (that is what The Hulk called his gladiator pals in the original), there's at least one scene and a back-story involving gladiatorial combat and...well, I think that's about it. There's a bunch of Hulks in it, but, oddly, none of Marvel's many Hulks, with the exception of a new and different version of a smart Hulk that goes by the name "Doc Green" (but he's not the Doc Green from the Hulk comics, though).

The most difficult difference between the two to get around is the fact that the miniseries is naturally set in a "domain" of Battleworld, one of the alternate reality-based nations that form the new, Doctor Doom-created and controlled patchwork version of Earth and not, you know, on its own planet. I guess Domain Hulk or Land o' Hulks just didn't have the same marketing cachet as Planet Hulk, and they must have thought better of using the actual name of the domain as the name of the series.

See, the domain in which Planet Hulk is set in is called...wait for it...Greenland.

So our hero is not a Hulk at all, but a version of Steve Rogers, who is here to Devil Dinosaur as Moonboy was to the original Devil Dinosaur in Devil Dinosaur. Dressed in a barbarian version of his star-spangled costume, Rogers and his "warbound" DD have just defeated a half-dozen Wolverines in Arcade's Killisieum, where Doom provides the bread and circuses for the citizens of Doomstadt. This is also where Ghost Racers is set, but apparently the Killisieum has room for more than one kind of bloodsport.

A rather big deal is made out of how awesome "The Captain and The Devil" are for winning their latest match, but I don't know; I think if you're partner is a Tyrannosaurus Rex, you're usually going to have the advantage in most bouts of hand-to-hand combat. (Don't bring bone-claws to a T-Rex fight, I believe the old saying goes.)

The Captain and Devil have a pretty awesome plan for capturing Arcade and forcing some information out of him–where their pal Bucky is–but their attempted revolt is thwarted, and Cap ends up before a silent god-king Doom and his mouthpiece, Sheriff Strange. (I really wish they had given Doctor Strange a badge in Secret Wars, maybe even a whole sheriff's uniform.) They give Cap the precise information he tried to scare out of Arcade, and then send Cap and DD on a mission into Greenland: They are to kill The Red King, who is keeping Bucky captive there.

That's the first issue, which ends with Cap meeting his contact and guide in Greenland, Doc Green. From there, the trio make their way through a harsh, sword-and-sorcery inspired world where everything is saturated by gamma rays, so there are deadly forms of Hulk flora and Hulk fauna everywhere, and even a battle axe-wielding Captain America and a fucking T-Rex occasionally find themselves in deadly danger. Genre-wise, this is actually fairly close to Weirdworld, the other barbarian comic that was part of the suite Secret Wars tie-ins. It's a comparison emphasized by the fact that Weirdworld artist Mike del Mundo drew the excellent covers for this series.

Among the various battles are flashbacks to this Steve Rogers' past, detailing his relationship with Bucky, and debates between The Captain and Doc Green about the true nature of all living things, and how the gamma of Greenland informs every aspect of the world, changing it for, if not the better, than at least the truer.

There are a few twists at the end, one more predictable than the other, but like many of the less-ambitious Secret Wars tie-ins, it is basically an exercise in time-killing, a simple Point A-to-Point B plot, with an unusual cast of characters taking readers through the sights of an unusual alternate reality, with the creative team trying to pack in as much cool shit as they can. They succeed; it is cool, but there's not much to it.

"Hulks and dinosaurs," the back cover reads. "What more do you want?"

It's a very honest assessment of the contents, because that's pretty much all there is here, but, let's be honest, for most of us, that's enough...provided the hulks and dinosaurs are drawn well (they are) and the writing isn't bad (it isn't).

Stuck almost at random in the story is an eight-page "back-up" story that appears to have been a back-up for the first issue of the series, so it appears after the first 20 or so pages. Entitled "Phoenix Burning," because it's set in Phoenix, Arizona, it's the origin of Greenland. It stars Bruce Banner and Amadeus Cho (neither of whom appear in the main storyline), as they find Phoenix being targeted by gamma bomb-carrying missiles. Cho makes a daring attempt to save the city and all its people amd sicceeds, but only by saturating them all with gamma and essentially Hulking out the whole city and the surrounding environs. This is written by Pak, providing another little link to the original "Planet Hulk," and drawn by Takeshi Miyazawa, whose are is as great as always, but a strange page-neighbor for that of Laming.

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