“Monsters? That’s all I see.”
Had his shuttle reached its original destination, the Hulk would’ve died.
It is something largely uncommented on within Planet Hulk, but while the Marvel heroes were concerned with saving the Earth from the Hulk, they wanted to save Banner from him too. Stress, violence and anger are what trigger the transformation of Banner into the Jade Giant, therefore, lacking any of these stimuli on the intended peaceful planet selected for the shuttle, there would be no reason for transformation. There would be no purpose to the Hulk. In addition to exiling the Hulk from his home planet, the Marvel heroes wished to reduce Hulk’s usefulness to the point of nonexistence. The agency of the Hulk himself goes unconsidered. They likely regard the Hulk as a mindless beast, a mutation of Banner’s psyche, but if nothing else Planet Hulk has proven the Hulk is his own entity, with his own thoughts and own will. It is easier for the regular Marvel heroes, including Banner himself, to disregard the Hulk’s autonomy as they can override the Hulk’s own wishes for their own. Lacking purpose, independence or free will, the Hulk would only be a monster. And monsters can be controlled.
Landing upon Sakaar has placed Bruce Banner in an unusual position. Typically, Banner is the selfless hero, the human component to the Hulk, the default personality. On this planet, it is not Banner’s intelligence or subtlety that is needed, but the Hulk’s strength and memorable image. Banner treats this new environment as if it is within their regular parameters. “You know how it works,” he tells the Hulk, “You run wild. And then I clean things up”. He refuses to acknowledge that it is the Hulk’s wild, monstrous side that is necessary, while he is not. Similar to the Hulk earlier, Banner has become accustomed to their cyclical adventure. This Bruce Banner does not believe he can cure himself of the Hulk, recognising it as part of him, albeit a part he can contain. Banner dismisses the Hulk and his newfound friends, labelling them “Monsters. Nightmares. Just like you”. For if Banner maintains superiority over the Hulk, if he remains the human hero and Hulk the monstrous troublemaker, then Banner’s own existence will be affirmed and his guilt exonerated. Hulk’s memories of the world K’ai, which he ruled alongside the Princess Jarella, only emboldens Banner’s position. “On Jarella’s world, it was me in your body, remember?”, Banner cruelly reminds Hulk, “She fell in love with me. Not you. Never you”. According to Banner, all the noble and heroic things done by the Hulk are actually the result of him. The Hulk does not have any instincts of his own. He has no autonomy, and therefore no heroics.
It is no so much that Hulk has no autonomy, but that he’s never truly been given the opportunity to exercise it. Their usual surroundings make the Hulk a purely responsive creature, he has not been given enough time to do what he wants. Now, on this new planet, new opportunities are emerging. Hulk can stay cognisant long enough for his independence to be recognised. Banner cannot disconcert the Hulk with his ‘natural superiority’ anymore, given that Banner is no longer superior on this new world, so he attempts to control the Hulk by undermining the Hulk’s independence and free will. Banner calls the Hulk “a monster. But… also me”. He both demeans the Hulk as a separate entity, while removing the possibility of Hulk even being “a monster” on his own terms. To exact full dominance over him, Hulk must be both conjoined and beneath Banner’s status. However Hulk understands the self-sabotage Banner is trying to implement, and he recognises this hypocritical stance of being the same yet unequal works both works. “I got you figured out. Because I’m you remember?”, Hulk admonishes Banner, throwing his sentiment back at him, “But with one difference. You’re all alone”. Despite Banner’s attempts to undermine him, Hulk recognises his own worth, his benefits to the community of Sakaar, and the purpose he can serve here. Of course, in trying to separate one personality from another, each side is incorrect. Trying to untangle the man from the monster does a disservice to both. Defeated, his superiority over the Hulk unresolved and undermined, Banner grasps this fact. “I’ll always have you”, says Banner before a final attempt of taking back control. Hulk cannot exist without Banner, and vice versa. Neither can be free from the other.
Having now placed himself within the Rebellion community, it is questioned if the Hulk can rise above it. His strength and unrelenting anger may suit him within the confines of a gladiator stadium, but out in the wide open world his strength becomes far more directionless. Like Caiera predicted, Hulk is still a monster to these people, even after he rescued him, because they view him as purely reactionary, lacking agency towards the cause. One escapee comments that the Hulk is “not here to help you. He’s a monster, an alien animal, dangerous and deadly”. Hulk’s intentions are questioned and his good actions dismissed. Although a few follow the Hulk with unthinking loyalty, thinking him their awaited saviour, this still hinges on fate rather than choice. Whether he be beast or leader, killer or liberator, what people think of Hulk is based upon what they want to think of him, not what he is. People only see what they want to see, and therefore the Hulk is constantly misjudged. For the opposing Imperials, the Hulk is “just a gladiator”, strong but not strategic, effective but not intelligent. Hulk feeds off this underestimation like he feeds off all negative perceptions of him, internalising it to add to his persona. Regardless of his bulky green exterior, his moody attitude or great temper, there is more to the Hulk than what is seen. Hulk tells an Imperial spy, “there’s nobody here but us monsters”, and this is both true and false. False because each character here is more complex than how they’re seen, possessing their own internal conflicts and free will. True because to trick the enemy you must put on the veil of simplicity, fool them into thinking monsters can exist.
A regular and easily admirable protagonist appears to us in the form of Headman Charr. Dignified and resolute, muscular and battle-scarred, Headman Charr swoops into the plot with his head held high, chest puffed out and arms outstretched with weapons. Faced with an upcoming crisis, alongside the abandonment of the Empire he has dedicated his life service towards, the Headman responds not with anger but with noble, stoic defence: “This is our home. Stand firm”. For a brief moment we are left to wonder, surely this man, already immersed in his community, with such clear virtues and leadership, is meant to be our protagonist? Does he not embody so much more a ‘hero’ than the lumbering, oversized Hulk and his collection of freaks do? Is not this the saviour we have been seeking? The Headman treats the Hulk with the same mixture of contempt and need many regard him with. He grins “Finally” during the moment of the Hulk’s rescue, but is far more reserved post-battle. “The monsters are our best hope” he tells his villagers. The Hulk’s creatures are required if not welcomed. A temporary allegiance between the two factions is formed, albeit one where the Headman places himself firmly above his teammates, and seeks to shape these “monsters” towards his own goals.
Of all the Warbound it is Miek who is most starved of community, and most eager to place his hope and loyalty within it. Miek’s own bug-like race is considered inferior to the pink, soft-skinned Imperials, and the depths of this institutionalised discrimination are revealed in flashback Miek’s father, a weary and proud veteran, was exterminated alongside his entire hive by the Headman. Miek’s vengeance is as much for the present as it is the past. He seeks to demonstrate protection of his new family by avenging his old one. It seems Miek has also mistaken his comrades for the simple monsters their enemies think they are. Trying to extract a blessing from the Warbound, Hiroim is unconcerned and Korg suggests forgiveness. His new family looks towards the future, not the past. Unfortunately this is not true of the Hulk, whom Miek worships the most. The Hulk is more than a monster, but not quite a hero, and the wrath that continually fuels him should not be passed to others. “Never stop making them pay” is a perpetual mantra. It is ceaseless, but that also makes it futile. It means anger will remain undying, and vengeance will never be satisfied. To dedicate yourself to such a lifestyle is easy to follow if hard to maintain. They are words Miek will choose to live by, and the Hulk will come to regret.
Do the Hulk’s words negate his ability to be a hero? Are the Headman’s actions justified if he was following orders? Exterminating Miek’s hive was cruel, but under the Emperor’s orders, enslaving Miek’s remaining brothers as animals is purely the Headman’s responsibility. Done in the name of his community, the Headman’s actions violate the free will of the hive, reducing them to less than they are. Morality shifts depending on who is judging, and on whose behalf you act. Instead of chasing the past and avenging a memory, Miek has regained his old hive now, and is attacking in their defence, for their current dignity. Regardless of how you are perceived by others, maybe ethical actions boil down to the self, to how you regard your own choices. If you can face yourself after what you’ve done. While the Hulk destroys the Headman’s village for his crimes, he also eradicates the Headman’s excuses. Rid of his community, the Headman is faced with himself. Approached by the Imperials and questioned about the Hulk, the Headman stares into the breastplate of one, considering his reflection. “Monsters?”, the Headman tells the soldiers, “That’s all I see”.
Across Sakaar, from the coliseum of Crown City to the rural fields hopeful uprisings are forming. In “every field, every forest, every valley where his name is spoken”, new fighters are emerging. Under the Hulk’s persistent influence, the nascent Rebellion has become a full-fledged Revolution. To place the Hulk as architect of the Revolution may give him too much credit. The Hulk has not enlightened the populace or exposed how tyrannical the Empire truly is, but has given conviction to those who already felt this way. He is not changing anyone’s mind but strengthening their resolve. By returning to the Maw and freeing the slaves, he reinforces these principles and honours the Silver Surfer’s previous words. People should be free, bound only by their choices. It is a nuance that escapes Elloe, a former privileged member of the elite, as she takes the Obedience Staff to force the slaves to kill their trainer. The Hulk disrupts this further attempt of control, telling the slaves “you’re all free. And to hell with anyone who’d make you a slave again”. While Elloe insists her command was morally justified, Hulk instructs her to then “kill him yourself” and take direct responsibility. Elloe must face her own decisions; use her own free will rather than controlling others. No one’s agency, regardless of context or action, should be overlooked. Hulk is even sympathetic to the gigantic creature that attacks him, freeing it too from the commands of others. Whether acting on behalf of yourself or the community, people should be free to make that choice, no matter how inarticulate or monstrous-looking. Someone incapable of acting on their own free will is little more than a monster.
Despite his apparent eagerness to reject the Empire, the Headman reappears unquestioningly loyal to them. He cannot shake himself from his old ideology, and his choices are not his own. Similarly Miek’s dedication to his beliefs consumes him beyond rationality. The consequences of “never stop making them pay” are first witnessed. Miek’s thirst for revenge is not satisfied with the Headman’s death and he turns towards the surrendering soldiers. Lacking parental guidance for so long, Miek takes a sentiment of the Hulk and runs with it, radically dedicated to payback. “All I knowing is what he teaching”, the Hulk’s one-note instructions filling a void in Miek’s soul created from years of abandonment, soothing over the pain and abuse by dealing it out to others. This incident shows on a micro-level the first tangible failing of the Hulk’s leadership. How can one with only anger ever lead to peace?
Like how the Hulk cannot be given full credit for the success of this Revolution, he cannot be fully blamed for its failures. The rage and conflict that has emerged from this warfare already existed within everyone; the Hulk’s example has only brought it to the surface. Rather than steering this passion towards a positive goal, Hulk has become a justification for excess violence, something he is uncomfortable with. Hiroim the Priest knows this energy is not one-sided, and that “every blow struck in anger turns back upon us”. This anger cannot be gotten rid of, it only accumulates until it infects the whole society. Hulk also knows his example is unsustainable for this Revolution, and ultimately unnecessary. “We fought for you”, a follower tells him, “you fought for yourselves” he retaliates. Despite claims that the Hulk is responsible for their actions, he demands they take ownership of their choices. For this Revolution to move past reliance and excuses, they must move past pure devotion to what they wish the Hulk to be, and recognise the complexity and will of his being.
Whilst Miek undergoes a transformation that renders him physically similar to the Hulk, mentally he lacks the moral compass and subtleties of Hulk’s decisions. Miek admires what he can see, and he sees the strength and protection the Hulk provides, missing the inner conflict beneath his tough façade. The unsympathetic exterior Hulk has displayed now has consequences. And the impact of the Hulk’s teachings reminds him of his only apparent purpose; fighting. “How can he stopping”, Miek asks about the Hulk, “what he made for doing?” For now it enough to persuade the Hulk to re-join the struggle, but Miek’s assessment of the Hulk also reduces him to a mindless beast, a slave to his instincts. If Hulk cannot choose for himself, then maybe he is only a monster. Hiroim’s teachings dissuade this notion of fatalism; “no destiny, no doom foretold. We make our own choices. To save ourselves or destroy ourselves.” The possibility for both salvation and destruction exist within no one quite like the Hulk, and while he now decides to utilise his anger, hope too can exist alongside it.
Lieutenant Caiera does not believe she has the luxury of making her own choices. Like the Hulk, she was also made for fighting, trained from a young age to be the Red King’s bodyguard and then made “his slave” once tested. Instead of recklessly resisting the system she has been forced into, Caiera opts to sacrifice her own will to the Red King, in order to modulate his actions. Defeating the Hulk will stem the Red King’s maniacal tendencies. “If I kill you first,” she tells the Hulk, “at least they’ll have a chance”. While she cannot exert her own will, she can at least mitigate his. It is a tough compromise to make, and one that is ultimately futile. The Red King’s will cannot be contained, lashing out when his absolute power is questioned. Impatient over Caiera’s victory, the Red King unleashes the Spikes, a plague that converts whoever infected into a mindless carrier. Whoever is contaminated is transformed into a hideous, mindless creature that robs the host of their soul. In other words, they no longer have free will. And there is nothing more monstrous than that.
Faced with catastrophe, both the Incredible Hulk and Caiera the Oldstrong choose solutions and protection rather than cowardice or despair. Under a crisis their inner goodness comes to light, regardless of whatever obligations they might have had. The special abilities of both Hulk and Caiera make them better suited for protecting others, but it also makes them abnormal towards those they would protect. Despite coming on behalf of the villager’s safety, it is Caiera they are fearful of, asking “What kind of monster survives that?”, before relenting to her higher status. The fear of government power overrides the fear of supernatural power, until Caiera mentions the Spikes, when the basic fear for survival overrides all. The Hulk is not afraid but proactive, his presence stokes not only his follower’s flames of passion, but the courage in their hearts. The Hulk is able to overcome the Spikes, and with that legendary foe temporarily outmatched, newfound hope is opened. The impossible is made conceivable.
In sacrificing the town of An-Sara the Red King irredeemably proves his lack of concern for his citizens, nothing is above protecting his own station. Poor and misguided Miek nearly makes the same mistake. Discovering that the Queen of his hive has been chained and enslaved, made to lay eggs for food, Miek almost puts the pride of his race above the survival of them all. Miek’s retribution is justified, but his adherence to “never stop making them pay” has now endangered everyone’s safety. The Hulk understands his example is partially to blame, and so he rushes into rebuke his own statement with something Miek originally told him. It is something that counteracts the one-sided, futile idea of endless vengeance with the principles of sharing and mutual trust. “Fighting for friends”, the Hulk explains to Caiera as he rushes to save Miek’s Queen. Beyond this simple and sincere reason, protecting others and aiding their wishes, nothing more is needed to fight.
The Red King does not care for the free will of his subjects. He does not care about the protection of his citizens or the wishes of his servant. Caiera’s selfless act of rescuing a child contrasts with the Red King’s annoyed monitor accusing her of “working with the enemy”. More than the disobedience of assisting “the enemy”, it is the cooperation, the “working with” that truly disconcerts the Red King. He cannot contemplate putting others before himself, nor Caiera utilising her free will to aid anybody else. The Red King acts only in his own interest, not bending his will for anyone nor compromising for anything. If the Spikes are monstrous for completely eradicating the autonomy of others, the Red King is monstrous for hoarding all autonomy to himself.
The Red King bombs the town of An-Sara. Caiera attempted to reason with the Red King, to subjugate her own will against a higher authority, but she has learned that such a selfish individual cannot be placated. In joining the Hulk’s Warbound, Caeira chooses to place her freedom among a community, instead of beneath an individual. It is a pledge of equality. It is the choice to be more than an instrument of a tyrant. It is these choices, acting on behalf of others rather than serving one, resisting oppression rather than allowing it, that shows the heroic core at the centre of their tough exteriors. By joining their strength together, Caeira and the Warbound form an allegiance, something that is greater than them separately, encapsulating their various desires into one objective. In this moment they are greater than themselves. They are more than monsters.
Tomorrow in Planet Hulk: Allegiance, we follow the Hulk as he turns from pure survival instincts towards the goal of overthrowing the Red King, the struggle of overcoming past generations, and the complications of actual Revolution.
Planet Hulk: Anarchy is formed of Giant-Size Hulk #1, written by Greg Pak, pencilled by Aaron Lopresti, inked by Danny Miki, and coloured by Chris Sotomayor, and Incredible Hulk (vol. 2) #96-99, written by Greg Pak, with pencils by Carlo Pagulayan, Aaron Lopresti and Marshall Rogers, inked by Jeffrey Huet, Danny Miki and Tom Palmer, and coloured by Chris Sotomayor.
The collection of Planet Hulk can be purchased here.