Well, I said I'd review the Planet Hulk HC after reading it, so here it is!
To be really honest, when I read about the premise of the Hulk being shot into space and exiled, it didn't really excite me at all. I even read The Incredible Hulk #91, which was the issue the Illumnati (Iron Man, Mr Fantastic, Dr Strange, Professor X, Namor and Black Bolt) tricked the Hulk into going into space and destroying the Godseye satellite and then sending him far far away to a distant planet where he couldn't hurt anyone.
I had the mentality of "Meh. So what?" and thought that the new Hulk storyline was pretty much just some sort of sci-fi "Hulk in space" garbage.
How wrong I was. Hulk didn't land on an uninhabited planet full of lush green flora as the Illumnati intended. He instead landed on the war-torn planet of Sakaar, which had its major cities conquered by The Red King, a dictator who ruled with an iron fist.
When the Hulk landed, he was "drafted" into the battle arenas which Sakaar was renowned for. Think Hulk in the place of Russell Crowe in Gladiator. Like Russell Crowe aka "The Spaniard", Hulk was captured as a slave, then sold to the people running the gladiator arenas, then shipped off to train in The Maw, Sakaar's version of the gladiatorial training arenas. And like Russell Crowe, Hulk forms a close bond with his gladiatorial allies and eventually takes down The Red King.
Seems like a simple tried-and-true recipe doesn't it? Nothing special? Don't count on it. While the formula has been done before to great success (think Gladiator and also Ben-Hur), the difference is the setting and the people involved. While the Hollywood movies we watched were all based in the Roman Colosseums and featured humans, there's nothing human about Hulk's gladiatorial allies and the planet on which he fights on.
Hulk, also known as Green Scar, Two-Hands and Holku by his compatriots, is suspected to be the Sakaarson, prophesised by Sakaar inhabitants to be the one being who would come to Sakaar and unite its people. But there is also another legend, the legend of the Worldbreaker, who would come to destroy the planet Sakaar. Is Hulk the Sakaarson? Is he the Worldbreaker? Or is he both? The Planet Hulk storyline keeps asking these questions throughout its run and the answer is only revealed right at the very end.
Hulk makes some great allies in Korg, a rock monster, Miek, a bug-like indigenous species of Sakaar, Brood, part of the alien Brood that X-Men fans would be familiar with, and Hiroim, who is a priest-monk-warrior with tremendous battle capabilities and power. The interaction between these characters are fantastic, and though they don't always agree with each other (fights break out between the allies a couple of times during the story), they are all "warbound" together after fighting alongside each other in which a comrade of theirs has been killed.
What's really fascinating about the planet Sakaar is that while the Hulk is pretty much impervious to EVERYTHING on Earth, on the planet Sakaar, he can bleed, he can burn, he can feel pain. Even the simplest spear on Sakaar can pierce the Hulk's hide...not even Wolverine's adamantium claws could do that (though that had something to do with Wolvie not having the strength to cut through Hulk's skin)! So the Hulk isn't the most powerful creature on the planet, but he's certainly the most determined to fight and win.
And that he does. We first see the savage mindless beast that is the Hulk, but as the story progresses, the Hulk learns to adapt to the harsh environment and more chillingly, he learns STRATEGY and how to battle. While this version of the Hulk isn't as cunning and devious as his Mr Fixit persona, with each battle he's been through, he learns a new war strategy...something that should give the Illumnati chills when Hulk returns to Earth and takes them on in World War Hulk.
The story is extremely gripping and addictive...I just couldn't put it down at all and I spent three whole hours reading the story from cover to cover! The art is beautifully rendered as well...Carlos Pagulayan and Aaron Lopresti did extremely well to create a completely alien world full of new species and battle-torn backdrops to completely engulf the reader and make us believe that there really is such a world as Sakaar.
The premise of the Hulk going from slave to king on Sakaar might be really cliched, but it really is one of the best stories I've read this year. And I'm not really a Hulk fan either, but I've become one after reading this series.
It really makes me want to rush out and get the World War Hulk single issues, when Hulk and his warbound allies come to Earth and Hulk finds the Illumnati members to take his revenge. I think I'll wait for the TPB to be released though, since World War Hulk is a company-wide event in the vein of House of M and Civil War...I'd definitely want to read as many issues as possible involved!