I came to this the wrong way up, having first watched the 2010 animated film
that's based on it. What I read today is the Marvel graphic novel containing Incredible Hulk 92-105 and the Planet Hulk: Gladiators Guidebook, which means I haven't read the lead-in storyline ending in Earth's heroes sending the Hulk into space or the related issue of 'What If?'
. However I do have World War Hulk
and I'll be reading that later.
As far as I can see, people who saw the film second seem to prefer the original comics, which I can understand. They're wrong, mind you.
I'll try to get the book/film comparisons out of the way first. The book's big advantage is its size. It's got lots of story that simply wouldn't fit into an 81-minute movie, including Miek's metamorphosis, the true nature of the Spikes and more time spent rebuilding the planet afterwards. I can see why many fans preferred it. However the flip side of this is that the film's storytelling is cleaner. The book can get messy. It's going for both lots of detail and an epic scope, which means we have a planet with four main sentient species, any number of stranded additional freaks (e.g. the Hulk), a totalitarian regime, political rebuilding and so on. That's a lot. We certainly get the complexity, but the upshot is that I wasn't always clear on what was happening and why. It'll make sense afterwards, but that's afterwards.
I admire this, mind you. It's gloriously ambitious, especially in the context of a series that's often seen as being nothing but "Hulk Smash". However intellectually I think it could have been clearer and more focused. It's hardly Cerebus: High Society or Church and State.
The comics' other problem is their serial nature. Viewed as a graphic novel, the book's weakest at the beginning and the end. That's fine. That's the nature of the medium. You expect a reset button at the end. Now in fairness it's quite a good reset button and it's setting up World War Hulk
, but I don't think it's as good as allowing the story to find its own natural conclusion, as the film does. The bigger problem though is with the Hulk himself. He doesn't change in the same way. What made the film special was its anti-hero's journey, from monosyllabic rage through to being an enlightened king. He learns to think. He loosens his grip on hatred. However the comics can only give us some of that, then have to pull it back at the end by taking the Hulk more or less to where he was at the beginning. Even angrier, yes. About to wreak all kinds of planet-shattering havoc, yes. However personally I didn't find it as powerful. Nevertheless that said, they're still doing a huge amount with the big green guy and if you're seeing it as episodes 92-105 of an ongoing storyline, it's practically revolutionary and contains some real game-changing ideas. If I'd been reading the book at the time, I'd have gone apeshit for it too.
Okay, that's enough book-bashing. Otherwise, it's great.
The Hulk himself is cool. He doesn't go through a scary misanthropic stage at the beginning in which he stands back and watches people die, but he's more badass in this version and does all kinds of unstoppable Hulk craziness like pulling together a planet's tectonic plates and falling from orbit just because he feels like it. He's definitely a monster. He smashes, he kills and he's dangerous enough that he's bringing up a live possibility when he says "before I kill your whole stupid planet." Apart from his disappointingly good grammar, this is definitive Hulk.
The Red King meanwhile is an abomination. He's a totalitarian dictator who's playing really dirty, in a story with broad enough horizons to make us feel as if we really are seeing an empire being governed. You've got racial tension, human rights abuses, federal vs. local authority issues and more. The story isn't just about killing the bad guy, but about reconstruction afterwards and what it means to govern. This is really interesting. I'd have loved to see it taken even further, but even so it's miles beyond the usual Ming the Merciless nonsense of a palace and a couple of guards. The greatest quality of Planet Hulk (the comic) is its breadth and that's something the film by its nature couldn't quite capture.
Caiera has big breasts, by the way. Also the Silver Surfer's great and I loved the Jack Kirby cameos.
There's much here to admire. This is a powerful story that's doing a lot with the Hulk as a character, not all of which made it into the film. Greg Pak has said it wasn't inspired by other superhero comics, but by the real lives of gladiators in ancient Rome, by warlords and emperors (e.g. Genghis Khan) and by Sun Tzu's Art of War. This means it's violent and full of death. That reset button ending I mentioned is also a mega-tragedy. All these are good things. My only problem is that to me, it feels like a first draft. If you like, imagine adaptation as being the equivalent of having a really tough editor. The animated film would be the result of that process. The Red King's death in the book is a bit lame, for instance, but overall, despite a few rough areas, this original is still impressive.