World War Hulk is the explosive graphic novel that shows what happens when you make the Hulk really, totally, incredibly angry. It follows on from Planet Hulk, and the basic story is that Reed Richards, Black Bolt, Dr. Strange, and Iron Man tricked Hulk and jettisoned him off to space. They intended for him to land on an uninhabited planet but on the way something went wrong and he landed on Sakaar. Hulk overthrew the evil king and became a cherished saviour, finally recognised for the hero he is. His joy was short-lived though, for the vessel that carried him to Sakaar exploded and took with it Hulk’s Queen. Filled with fury at having been exiled and having his heart torn apart, Hulk returns to Earth with one thing on his mind – revenge.
I love the premise of this story and was excited to read it. Hulk has always been one of my favourite characters so to see him take on the Marvel universe in a full-blooded battle is something that just screams badassery. But the execution fell flat for me.
Like I said, I like the initial premise. In this collection there’s a prologue that begins on Sakaar and we’re with Hulk’s warbound (his allies) that talk about the events leading up to World War Hulk, and we also spend some time with a de-powered She-Hulk as she rebukes Doc Samson for supporting Iron Man. I think it’s cool that the heroes are painted in a bad light and I was fully on Hulk’s side (as I’m sure most readers are) and yet, the actions of Iron Man et al are understandable as Hulk is a danger. I thought the best parts of the graphic novel were when this situation was explored, especially when civilians got involved and started supporting Hulk. But mostly it’s ‘Hulk Smash’, and while I love the Hulk Smashing things it grew tiresome fairly quickly.
The problem is that there’s not really any nuance to the violence. It’s just pages and pages of Hulk punching people but it feels like he’s playing a game where he’s using a cheat to be invincible and super-strong. I get that Hulk is really dangerous and his anger levels are to the extreme so he is practically unstoppable, but the fights should be epic set-pieces. As an example let’s take Black Bolt, leader of the Inhumans, said to be the second-most powerful hero. He’s the first one Hulk takes on, but the fight happens off page, and then suddenly he’s defeated. And this is pretty much the same for the other battles. So while it’s cool to see everyone going up against Hulk you soon realize that you’re reading the same fight over and over again.
There are some exceptions though, and I really liked it when Hulk used his brain, like how he took out Dr. Strange. I would have liked to have seen more of this. As Hulk and his warbound fight and defeat the other heroes they set up a similar gladiatorial arena to what they endured on Sakaar, but it’s just presented as something that happens. There’s no attempt to discuss the implications of what Hulk is doing and whether he’s turning into the very thing he defeated on Sakaar.
It turns out there are only three people who can get through to Hulk, She-Hulk (although that pretty much fails straight away), Rick Jones, and Sentry. I liked the inclusion of Rick and I think his presence in the Marvel universe is a great link to the blossoming stories in the 60s (as an aside, I really hope they find some way to include him in the cinematic universe). Sentry is a hero with the power of a million exploding suns, but he’s also agoraphobic and prone to schizophrenic episodes. Tony Stark manages to persuade him to enter the battle but Sentry takes his time, and this feels forced because it’s obvious the only reason he’s taking his time to make the decision is so he doesn’t enter the fray too quickly. When he finally does it doesn’t feel earned as there’s no strong reason given for him to change his mind, and for someone who purportedly considers Hulk a friend he didn’t seem too reluctant to start fighting him.
World War Hulk starts with a bang but by the end it’s a whimper. I’ve seen some other complaints online about the artwork but I enjoyed it. It certainly looked awesome and the images conveyed the epic nature of the battles, although the sound effects became a bit ridiculous towards the end. It was clear they were striving to find new ways to present the sounds of destruction. The story lacked humanity, and I didn’t get any sense of what anyone was feeling (apart from Hulk being angry, obviously). While it’s cool to see Hulk smash it’s not enough to sustain a graphic novel of this length and the individual battles are repetitive. I wanted to see more heavy hitters, I mean, where was Thor?!
The main story didn’t live up to my expectations and I hesitate to say that it’s terrible, because it’s still pretty badass, but I wouldn’t call it anything above average. It does come with a couple of What If? stories too. The first explores the possibility of Hulk saving his wife while perishing himself, and it follows his Queen as she comes to Earth seeking vengeance. I liked the twist on the premise but it’s pretty similar to the main story, and since it’s much shorter it feels even more rushed. The other one, however, shows what would have happened had the craft not been diverted and landed on the planet that Richards et al intended it to land upon. I loved this one, as it focused on the dysfunctional dynamic between Hulk and Banner. It was a bit more light-hearted but the last couple of pages were brilliant and I love the possibilities it shows for Hulk. I’m glad it was included in this graphic novel because it meant it ended on a high note.