Thursday, July 13, 2006

Review - Incredible Hulk: Prelude to Planet Hulk

The Incredible Hulk: Prelude to Planet Hulk
By Daniel Way, Keu Cha, and Juan Santacruz
Published by Marvel; $13.99 US
Collects Incredible Hulk #88-#91 and Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe: Hulk 2004

So, "Planet Hulk" has got the entire greenskin-lovin’ world feeling like they managed to locate that remote control from Click and found out where Power Girl likes to jog. Words like "best," "since," "Peter," and "David" litter not only the fan message boards but just about every other review. He may not be getting Civil War numbers, but it’s obvious Hulk’s making the kind of splash the book hasn’t made in a while.

As a regular browser and poster on a few Hulkilicious message boards here and there, I’ve seen a lot of unfamiliar "faces" on the green forums in the past few months. And a lot of them tend to ask what there is before "Planet Hulk" that they should read. So, I thought I’d take a look at the story of how Hulk got lured into the last frontier in the first place.

The story: Bruce Banner seeks solace in the Alaskan wilderness. Nick Fury finds him and enlists the reluctant scientist to use his greener side to dispose of a decades-old Hydra satellite with the capability of detonating every nuke on Earth. As soon as Hulk locks horns with the sentient machine, he finds out Fury hasn’t been completely honest with him, but he doesn’t know the half of it yet.

The name of this arc, when originally released, was "Peace In Our Time." In fact, before Marvel officially announced the creative team of Way and Cha, the trade was listed as Incredible Hulk: Peace In Our Time at Amazon. While the decision to change the sub-title to Prelude to Planet Hulk likely had more to do with the buzz "Planet Hulk" was getting than any kind of admission of guilt, it still reflected an unintentional and surprising bit of critical honesty on Marvel’s part.

In other words, Prelude to Planet Hulk is perfectly named. It’s a prelude to something else, and that’s all it is. It’s a story that could easily have been squeezed into one or two issues, and it leaves the reader feeling that the editorial direction Way received amounted to little more than "Please fill space." The only noteworthy thing about it is that at the end the Hulk gets kicked out of the classroom, Major-Tom-Style.

Way has leaned towards so-called "decompressed" storytelling in the past, and in some cases it’s worked well. Unfortunately, Prelude isn’t the right story for this particular style. In series like Venom and Sabretooth, which both featured predator-and-prey stories with strong sci-fi thriller flavor, the pacing helped to build suspense. In Prelude, Way keeps the same pace but the suspense just isn’t there. Much like Bruce Jones's first issue of Hulk, the first chapter of Prelude does nothing but let us know Banner has isolated himself from society, while giving us a brief tussle between Hulk and some unimpressive thugs. The art from both Cha and Santacruz seems stiff and ill-suited to action sequences.

There really isn't much left to say. It's boring and slow and really not worth your money. The trade also collects Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe: Hulk 2004, and I've never enjoyed handbooks, so I didn't even bother to read it. I am intending on picking up the Planet Hulk Gladiator Guidebook, though that does seem to do something the other handbooks don't. It offers info that you couldn't get otherwise and that isn't essential to understanding the story, while most of Marvel's guidebooks just compile info that any reader could know had they read the issues. No disrespect meant to the folks who put the handbook together, it's just not my cup o' tea.

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