By Steve Morris
Spoilers below, of course: we’re talking about the last issue of the run!
There have been many different approaches to The Incredible Hulk, but Greg Pak’s take has always been one of the most powerful and affecting for me. Other writers focus on the idea of Banner and Hulk fighting each other; of the race for a “cure” to the Hulk; or of multiple personalities growing forth from Hulk’s green shell. But Greg Pak’s approach was simpler. He asked “why is anger and rage such a bad thing?”
So many children are told not to fight back. That they should accept the insults, the slurs, the punches, and the relentless assaults, because it’s not “becoming” to “stoop to the level of their bullies. And it’s that logic which kicks off ‘Planet Hulk’, a storyline which begins in issue #92 of The Incredible Hulk. The most rational and intelligent men in the world band together and calmly inform the Hulk that they have betrayed him – after sending him to fix a problem in space, his ship suddenly transforms into a transport vessel which pings him off to a distant planet. His rage is too much for Earth, the humans rationalise, and so they banish him to a planet with no other intelligent life.
By the end of the fourteen-part story, in which Hulk restores the planet he lands on, and finds friends and family, its that same vessel which unexpectedly self-destructs, killing almost everything and everyone. It’s the calm and rational scientific minds of the humans on Earth who make a decision for the greater good, rationalising that Hulk is simply too dangerous and unpredictable. Those same minds are the ones who didn’t build a stable enough rocket, and end up killing thousands in one cruel sweep.
Hulk’s “dangerous” rage, on the other hand, united the planet of Sakaar into its first peace in living memory. We’ve seen the Hulk go from angry refugee to a warrior in the slave-pits – and then a revolutionary who storms power, deposes the King, and unites the planet behind his rule. Hulk finds friends, allies, mentors and a Queen to rule along side him. Everything which Earth denied him is free to be claimed on Sakaar, which begs the question: what was it that was actually holding Hulk back this whole time? Because it certainly wasn’t his rage, like the Illuminati (as Reed Richards, Tony Stark et al legitimately called themselves) claimed it to be.
Throughout Planet Hulk, Greg Pak allows Hulk’s rage to be something which it wasn’t allowed to be in the hands of other writers: it was allowed to be understandable. Hulk’s endless rage – his anger at society – was given a real target in the form of the people oppressing Sakaar, a corrupt and cruel society which enslaved its population under a brutal monarchy. By offering a different avenue for Hulk’s fury, Pak struck a nerve on behalf of all the marginalised people who were told to stick it out, accept their oppression, and never rise to their level. Hulk was no longer a big green monster punching an endless line of helicopters: it was a man who could stand up to injustices and inequalities in a way nobody else was able. And given that opportunity, he rose heroically to the occasion.
Notably, the Hulk hasn’t been written by a huge number of marginalised writers, and Pak’s tenure on Hulk is marked by an empathetic understanding of what the character is going through. His Hulk is a cathartic hammer who smashes down all the walls built around him. He sees injustice, oppression, stupidity and cruelty – and he bludgeons it as it deserves. His approach wins him fear and dismissal from the Reed Richards and Tony Starks of the world, who have never had an inch of the suffering which marks every day of Hulk’s life, and have never had to live under the boot of society. But on Sakaar it wins him admiration, celebration, and a rewarding and productive mission of liberation.
Hulk’s journey through the series is one of understanding, as he realises that he can be open and true about his feelings, and react honestly and authentically to every obstacle in his way. He no longer has to think twice or second-guess his approach for fear of a US Government stomping down on him (which to some extent is also true for Pak himself, who can write about the downfall of an oppressive society without getting editorial notes about being mean to the US police force or military). More often than not he simply convinces his enemies to join him, and they become his allies. Hulk goes from being a tragic figure to being a triumphant revolutionary: an inspiring hero whose journey through these fourteen issues will resonate with certain readers in particular.
But perhaps what’s most sadly authentic about the series is the way it ends: the shuttle explodes after being reactivated by mistake, and implodes, killing thousands of people on Sakaar – including Hulk’s wife Caiera. His story is once again made a tragedy because of human deception, leaving him alone… or so he thinks. In the aftermath of the explosion, however, he sits in the rubble and ashes and wishes to die. He has nothing left to live for. But that’s when his allies, called “The Warbound”, return to his side. Not only do they support him and refuse to leave him alone – they tell him to embrace his rage. Something the Avengers would never do, as they cannot understand.
Just as he was about to repress himself once again, to clench his fists and quietly accept the injustices and unfairnesses of his life… rage is offered as a salvation.
And so he decides to return to Earth, alongside his friends and allies. But he is not just raging at a power he can’t defeat: instead he is justified, he is rational, and he is understood by those around him. Greg Pak knows the power of anger, and he also knows why the people in power don’t want to see the oppressed and marginalised stand up for themselves. And so we see Hulk rise up once again, the warbound revolutionary, to take his fight back to Earth, and direct his justified rage at the people who most deserve to be smashed.
Incredible Hulk #105 “Armageddon”
Written by Greg Pak
Drawn by Carlo Pagulayan
Inked by Jeffrey Huet
Coloured by Chris Sotomayor
Lettered by Joe Caramagna
Steve Morris runs this site! Having previously written for sites including The Beat, ComicsAlliance, CBR and The MNT, he can be found on Twitter here. He’s a bunny.
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