Many of my friends saw Return to Planet Hulk as a cash grab retread by Marvel and Greg Pak. Even if that were the case, I liked Planet Hulk so much I was fine with that. The story was incredibly original with stakes that seemed to never let up. The funny thing is, I think Pak has pulled it off again with this book. It not only draws you in, but has huge stakes and a deeper meaning on the very last page.
So what’s it about?
The official summary reads:
Return to Planet Hulk – this time with Amadeus Cho! When Amadeus picks up a distress signal from a distant planet, he’s shocked to find out that it’s from Sakaar. As the Totally Awesome Hulk, Amadeus has been trying to avoid the curse of anger that haunted Bruce Banner. But Sakaar is a place for warriors and gladiators…a place where the Hulk fought brutally in the Imperial Arena. If Amadeus is to survive there, he may have to embrace the savage Hulk within himself – especially when he faces a series of impossible trials known as the Gauntlet! But who sent the mysterious call for help that brought him to this deadly planet? Can Amadeus conquer Sakaar like Banner before him – or will he himself be conquered? And is that thundering barbarian…the Odinson?
Why does this matter?
Two big reasons. The first is that this effectively changes Amadeus Cho in an earned and believable way. The second is how the revival of Skaar has bigger implications. Oh, and it’s a big action frenzy gladiator-style fight book. Get some!
Fine, you have my attention. What’s good about it?
The most fascinating element of this story is how writer Greg Pak shows what a “Planet Hulk” story would be like with an entirely different mind behind the monster. Hulk is required to fight giant bugs and gods, but Cho is still capable of enlisting some strategy to win without killing — more or less. This story probes what the costs are if you don’t kill in a savage world with savage rules and it reveals the cost of letting the monster in when outthinking the enemy doesn’t work. If you’ve been reading Hulk lately you know Amadeus has lost control and everything in this trade paperback explains why. That makes the things that happen to Hulk in this volume matter even more.
The action is pretty intense, too. Make no mistake, Mad Max: Fury Road inspired the design aesthetic of the bad guys here, be it the vehicles or their screams for blood. Hulk is thrust into a gladiatorial mission to fight five of the Worldbreaker’s worst monsters. There’s an interesting explanation for all this which makes sense given how society today is all about doping us into a calming relaxation to ignore who is in charge or terrible things that happen every day. The battles end up having a plot device that explains how Thor, who is on the back cover of this collection, enters the story.
Those battles are pretty damn exciting and they’re all drawn by Greg Land. Sure, you’ll see some familiar faces that Land always seems to use — like the woman whose mouth is agape for some reason — but he’s very good at drawing muscular giants with dynamic angles to make it all so much fun. A highlight is how Land crafts the Cho/Hulk scenes taking place inside his mind. It utilizes a fun car metaphor that amps up the crazy driving these two are doing as they attempt to wrestle the wheel from each other. They build as the story goes, first with Hulk in the trunk, but eventually Hulk driving all the way to the end where…I’ll let you find out what happens.
It can’t be perfect can it?
This story doesn’t quite reach the excellence of Planet Hulk. It’s also much shorter and feels like more of a pitstop than the destination. I will say one weakness is the villain who doesn’t get much explanation beyond being told he’s ruler now, so what can you do. Generally the story is more fun if you turn off your brain and let the action and setting run rampant. Cliffhangers occur, but they aren’t too surprising. Overall it’s necessary, but you won’t see why until you’ve read the whole thing.
Is it good?
Fun, action packed, and a worthy return to Sakaar. Pak subtly reveals a change in Cho that has ramifications later and it all ends with a good reason for the entire departure.