I know of two What If? issues based on Planet Hulk
: this one from 2007 and What If: World War Hulk
(2009). For those who haven't heard of What If?, it's an ongoing Marvel comics experiment in... well, what it sounds like. There are three stories here:
- 1. "What If Caiera survived the explosion instead of Hulk?" (16 pages)
- 2. "Peaceful Planet" (20 pages)
- 3. "What If Bruce Banner Had Landed on Sakaar Instead of the Hulk?" (1 page)
#1 has a brilliant, tragic ending, but still manages to be a let-down. It's about Caiera's vengeance on the Earth if the Hulk had died at the end of Planet Hulk
, which is a great idea and yet it goes awry during the actual vengeance. She kills a bunch of superheroes. Gee, there's a surprise. Far from having emotional power, it just feels like the kind of thing that's been done in almost every What If? ever written. It's lacks dramatic weight. In principle I don't think there's anything actually wrong with it, but the final pages just feel like empty "look, we've killed Iron Man!" carnage instead of an insight into the soul of a grieving woman.
However if you can ignore that underwhelming middle section, it has a strong beginning and a heartbreaking end.
#2 is my favourite. It deposits the Hulk on a idyllic forest world, populated by cute and slightly goofy monsters with the brainpower of guinea pigs. The first few pages are beautiful, despite the fact that nothing at all is happening except that the Hulk explores his new home. It's sad and sweet. We see the Hulk fall in love with this world just as much as we do, whereupon a plot of sorts begins with Bruce Banner. They're like an old married couple. They timeshare the same body, welch on agreements and have petty rows that are funny. Banner wants to get away, but the Hulk hasn't the slightest intention of allowing that. For the first time, he's happy.
#3 is a one-page cartoon, with comedy spears and dead people talking to each other even after they're skeletons. It's not very good, to be honest, but I love the fact that it exists. It's Mad magazine parody, not any kind of regular superhero fare.
I also really enjoyed all the artwork. I think Leonard Kirk bears more responsibility than Greg Pak for the first story's failures, but he's also inking his own pencils and the results have far more charm and personality than the regular superheroics I'd previously been reading. That's not to say that I have even the slightest objection to John Romita Jr and Klaus Janson, but to me this feels juicier. Then the second story has a jolly, clean-lined gloss to its inks and colours that feels slightly Disney and jumps out at you, in a good way. Again it's a bit different. I appreciated it. Finally the third story looks as if it was drawn by a twelve-year-old, but that's why it's great.
Overall, I thought these stories were wonderful. It's not just that they're good in themselves, although I do like them a lot, but having them reprinted in the 'World War Hulk'
graphic collection adds richness and poignancy to the whole saga. Seriously, I'd say the whole thing's twice as good because they exist. They're an elegaic side-step, bringing unexpected beauty and emotional depth just when you didn't expect it after the pure adrenaline rush of Hulk beating the living daylights out of the entire planet. You can mourn, then afterwards be happy. They'll make you laugh. They're charming. Admittedly with hindsight I'm not surprised that the third story was omitted from the graphic collection, but I've decided I love What If?s.