Writer: Sam Humphries
Artist: Marc Laming
Price: $3.99 per Issue
Miniseries: Issues 1-5
Secret Wars is the big Comic-wide event of Marvel’s 2015 lineup. All the universes have collided and what is left are fragments, tangled together and meshing in odd, often twisted ways. There are three sects of the Secret Wars breakdowns, but Planet Hulk takes place in the Warzone sub-heading; The Warzone titles being a series of stories focusing on individual areas of the Battleworld map.
Planet Hulk is a series staring, primarily, Steve Rogers and Devil Dinosaur. Yes, that’s right. The Captain and his big red T-rex. It opens in a Doom (as in Doctor) coliseum, where Steve has been held captive and is forced to perform in Gladiatorial battles after his world was destroyed and he was left in the battleworld. Being Steve Rogers, he of course takes offense to this, and tries to fight back. Not, as you might think, to escape or seek justice, but because he is seeking his missing friend Bucky Barnes. He fails, ultimately, but he is brought before Doom and told he has a choice. If he completes one task for Doom, he and his friend will be set free. The task? Kill the Red King in the gamma-infested Greenlands, where Hulks dwell.
Steve accepts, and the series mainly follows his quest to trek across the irradiated Greenlands in search of the Red King’s castle to do his deed and free his friend. He has help along the way, of course, in the form of firstly his Warbound (battle brother and possibly even somehow more deeply bonded to) Devil Dinosaur, and secondly in a mysterious Hulk who calls himself Doc Green. Devil Dinosaur is, actually, possibly one of the best characters in the whole series. A little silly, sure, but how awesome is a giant red Tyrannosaur fighting with Captain America on his back? Pretty awesome. Doc Green is less easy to read, coming off as quite cynical and rather jaded by the Greenlands sector (a whole realm of people infected by Gamma who lost themselves to the Hulks inside them.) Doc Green plays the amicable antagonist with Steve; they don’t quite seem to get along, as their ideals and motives clash frequently, but as a team they fight well together and is is with Doc Green’s help that Steve is able to push through the Greenlands to reach the castle of the Red King.
Now, the story itself is short, only five issues. The writing is a lot of introspection, a lot of Steve contemplating his life and his motives for continuing in a world that is as broken and terrible as the Battleworld. His primary motivation, in fact, through the ENTIRE arc, is Bucky Barnes. His best friend, nearly his brother. When he is down or facing an obstacle, it is his determination to get to the Red King and free his friend that keeps him going, and his memories of how close they were and what Bucky meant to him that keeps Steve going. (Doc Green frequently chides him for this emotion.) Bucky is Steve’s driving force in this arc; his friendship, his loyalty, a need to repay him for a lifetime of brotherhood. They were soldiers together and then arena partners, always having each other’s backs. Steve and Bucky were brothers, if not closer. They had the kind of bond that drives people to move mountains, or, say, murder Red Hulk despots for one another. Bucky is absolutely Steve’s everything, especially after their world was destroyed; they were left with only each other. He’s Steve’s purpose in the Battleworld. With his home and his family and his world destroyed and delegated to the fragments of the Battleworld, saving him is the only thing he has left to him. Bucky is his mission.
Now, spoilers ahead.
Steve, Devil, and Doc make it to the Red King’s castle. Fighting his way inside with the help of his companions, Steve confronts the king. Of course, being set on this task by Doom, it was hopeless to begin with. Bucky is dead. This fact drives Steve- Steve Rogers, Captain America- to murder the Red King out of hand. And while he mourns his friend… Doc Green comes to visit. Long story short, Doc Green… also Steve Rogers. A Hulked Steve. A Steve who lost his Bucky years and years ago, and became sore and angry and jaded for it. A Steve who lost and will to fight or uphold the morals that make him such a good person. A Steve who is more than happy to lie and trick others. Doc Green taunts Steve for giving in to his baser instincts, mocks him for having killed the Red King.
And what happened next… well. The ending is something that shouldn’t be spoiled. While not quite a shock, it hefts a pretty nice emotional punch. You really get an idea of how terrible a place the Battleworld is, for those that live there. It- and the whole story overall- is a nice blend of grittiness and desperation. The series is at first a quest- save the princess from the dragon, if the princess were Bucky Barnes and the Dragon a Red Hulk. There are trials that step in the way the hero must overcome, and an antihero to present another viewpoint. It’s a hero’s cycle, of a sorts, but it is well-written and manages to be emotionally impactful and rich. It is an adventure story and a morality tale all at once.
The art is excellent, with each character looking like themselves, while also looking suitably different to represent their split from the main Marvel universe. Gladiatorial Dino-rider Steve Rogers is scarred and unkempt, Doc Green is a much smaller version of a man who never received a Super-Soldier serum. The scenery is lush and dense while not overtaking the characters, and it looks desolate and worn, as one would expect a post-apocalyptic fragment world populated by Hulks to look. It’s feral and sharp and Laming does an excellent job making the whole story feel in fitting with the themes of the story. As for characterization? It’s good. Story and characters are, fantastically, the driving point of the arc. It ends on a somewhat dismal note, but it feels rich and full after a read either way. It doesn’t have to be a story with a happy ending; in this case, a brutal one fits with the savage nature of the Warzones of the Battleworlds.