“Our time is past”
Kids love the Hulk.
It is a strange contradiction how adults fear the Hulk while he is beloved by children. This is partly due to a mixture of understanding and aspiration, as they see part of themselves in the Hulk, while wishing for other parts. The Hulk’s childish persona and understanding of the world aligns with young ones, while the abject power fantasy of possessing incredible strength is appealing. The Hulk’s rampages are essentially magnified temper tantrums, lashing out against mistreatment with the power children lack. More so, children understand misjudgment. They know that those who cannot articulate well, or are clumsy, or not fully developed, are not wrong as much as misunderstood. If they trample, they only do so to explore. No-Name of the Brood tells the children of Sakaar of how the Hulk “was a bigger monster than all of them”. The abnormality of the Hulk’s journey is embraced rather than diminished. If future generations can willingly accept changes rather than fight for the old order, the battle if already half won. For grown-ups, a “monster” is a term for fear and derision. For the children it is one of endearment.
The Hulk of Planet Hulk is not as simple-minded as his previous childish incarnations. Forced to maturity on Sakaar, the Hulk has been flung into an adult role where he must make tough decisions about generations future and past. With the Imperials and Spikes advancing, but Miek’s Queen injured, the Hulk must choose the immediate safety of the entire group, or the future of Miek’s people that rest upon his Queen’s survival. “She’s the last Queen”, Miek explains, “Without her, Miek’s people already dead”. The endurance of Miek’s race rests on the continuation of the old order. The actions of Hulk’s Revolution affect not only himself, but multiple generations. Children are the future, both potential and actual.
Like the Hulk, Miek both physically and mentally has transformed from his earlier earnest idealism into a mature leader of his people. Desperately trying to preserve the last Queen, he is faced with harsh reality when the Spike’s infection proves too deep. He is confronted by the end of the old regime, which equates to his species’ future. Having to live with the prospect of extinction Miek struggles with this, but the Queen herself understands the end of her era. “Our time is past” she tells Miek, and this assurance is enough to convince Miek of its necessity. Whilst Miek prevents the Hulk destroying the Spike-infected Queen, it is not the action he prevents as much as the actor. “She’s my Queen”, Miek reminds the Hulk, “and you not killing her”. Instead of meaning the naïve protection of the Queen above all others, Miek makes the incredibly mature decision of killing the Queen himself. Wordlessly he sacrifices the future survival of his hive for the benefit of all. Survival and destruction for past and future is decided within the internal confines of a race. Miek has been forced to rapidly shift from the protection of his race to being its destroyer. As shall be seen, this decision may have pushed him too far.
The future of the entire planet has been woven throughout Planet Hulk with prophecies concerning dual figures of Sakaar. They tell of the coming of either Sakaarson or Worldbreaker, saviour or destroyer. For Hiroim, this is not an actual person but a concept, a metaphor for the choices of life. He interprets that “the prophet speaks of the Sakaarson – and the Worldbreaker – only in parables. When he speaks of the trials each of us faces”. Yet it is difficult for people to apply this consideration towards themselves, far easier to await a flesh-and-blood representation of these hopes and fears. Since he arrived, across Sakaar people have placed these expectations into the Hulk, who embodies both the ability for destruction and the possibility of peace, both monster and hero. Miek’s decision to exterminate his Queen demonstrates Hiroim’s point, as in this one act Miek has saved and doomed his species. Witnessing the choice, one youth of Miek’s hive can only rationalise the difficult decision as one of parable, not reality. He justifies how Miek “has delivered us and destroyed us forever” by granting Miek special licence to make such decisions. Hero or monster, it is easier for the hiveling to believe in some special designation of fate, rather than Miek’s choice being one of circumstance and necessity. Miek himself dissuades any notion of special treatment. He knows himself, and knows he is not Sakaarson or Worldbreaker, “just Miek”. People hope for their leaders to be greater than themselves, they are terrified by the randomness of the world. Many hope the strange alien Hulk will be their saviour incarnate, but the Hulk will demonstrate he does not act because he is monster or hero; he acts in spite of it.
Themes of prophecies and children collide as Planet Hulk progresses. Both concerns the future, what is prophesied about the future influence how future generations treat it. Under the current circumstances the future looks bleak. The idea that violence is not only acceptable, but necessary, within the Revolution, leaves an enormous impact upon impressionable young minds. The example of Miek (influenced himself by the Hulk), alongside the persecution upon their species, have left the hivelings of Miek’s species vicious and bloodthirsty. Korg references his own longevity, his ability to live through multiple generations, as having a unique perspective upon the unforeseen impact of this Revolution. “I look into the eyes of those hivelings, and I fear we’ve already failed”, Korg confesses to the Hulk, “They only know hate”. Overall the Hulk’s actions have been noble, but the impression he still gives, to both sides, is a monstrous one. Hulk acts he doesn’t care what people think of him, without realising on this planet, unlike Earth, he is looked to as an example. It is not only the Hulk’s fault, but his followers too. They must learn to interpret the meaning behind the Hulk’s actions; it is not enough to copy them. The Prophet’s teachings entreat the planet “to be like the Sakaarson”, but it doesn’t instruct people to be him. People must separate the Hulk’s morals from his methods. Destruction and anger are not enough to unite the world. Friendship, unity and hope, what the Hulk fights for as much as how he fights, are needed too.
The Shadow Elders have deemed themselves worthy to judge whether the Hulk is their prophesied saviour. From their introduction, the Shadow Elders reek of elitism. They have already segregated themselves from the rest of the planet, content to determine Sakaar’s future without participating in it. Instead of interfering against the injustices and tyranny of the Red King, they seek to preserve themselves and wait for salvation. They chastise Caiera for brining “doom upon [her] own people” by breaking her oath to the Red King, unsympathetic towards the necessity of action. Rather than following the humanistic perspective of Hiroim, and allowing salvation to come from within, the Shadow Elders wait for it to come from above. They created the wormhole which brought the Spikes, the Silver Surfer and the Hulk to the planet, “scouring the universe for a saviour of flesh and blood”, one to take control of their destinies and fix their mistakes. The Shadow Elder’s need for a simple, all-encompassing solution is complicated by the Hulk’s multi-dimensional nature. Hulk is not simply a hero, as he is not simply a monster, he is somewhere in between. When they use the familiar derision of Hulk being a “monster”, Hulk responds, “Yeah. But so’re they”. He both accepts and rejects the label of ‘monster’, muddying the simplistic dichotomy of ‘monster’ and ‘hero’. The need of the Shadow Elders for an overriding definitive saviour robs the Hulk of any complexity, and them of any compromise.
Within the trials of the Shadow Elders the question of the Hulk’s true nature is most blatantly examined. The trials are designed to show inner peace and conviction as much as outer perception, and the Hulk’s internal being is always in turmoil. Under the trials, mental projections of typical Marvel Heroes, far better suited to the role of Sakaarson than the Hulk, appear to question him. “This will end as it always does”, one projection predicts, the self-doubt of the Hulk’s inability to escape his cyclical nature is ongoing. The doubt and anger of the Hulk, the contradiction between the Hulk’s isolation and the need for unification, are too much for the Shadow Elders. “How can you united when your heart is so full of hate?” they ask, before concluding “You are not the Sakaarson”. However, in this second sentence, the Elders betray their wisdom for anachronism. While it is true the Hulk does not fit their model, the Elders would rather wait for an ideal candidate than act now on an imperfect one. The Hulk had never expressed any interest or intention of being the Sakaarson. He does not long to be a prophesied saviour, only to do what he can as himself. The Hulk has neither time nor patience to be the Elder’s messiah. He has a world to save.
In some ways, the Hulk’s beastly status and the persecution he’s endured makes him suitable for leadership. Only from these persistent misjudgments can real empathy emerge. While others are content to disregard the Spikes are merely infectious monsters, the Hulk is willing to see for himself. It is revealed the Spikes had previously been peaceful and harmless, drifting in space and feeding off “cosmic energies from dying stars”. It is only once they were removed from their natural habitat, pulled down to Sakaar by the Elder’s wormhole no less, and driven insane by hunger, that they became deadly. “Stranded on the ground” and starved of resources, the Spikes were transformed into living weapons by the Red King. The Spikes’ story parallels the Hulk’s, placed on a strange and hostile environment without sympathy, the Hulk was only triumphant due to the community and faith given to him. It is the children of the Spikes, abused and starving, that threaten the world, who require assistance and understanding rather than conflict and fear. Once again the Hulk is responsible for future generations, and progress involves mutual cooperation. “We can help you”, the elder Spikes explain to the Hulk, “If you help us”.
All of the cooperation, all the sacrifices and conflict and persecution have led to the Hulk confronting the Red King, battling for the future of Sakaar. While the Hulk takes on the Red King personally, it is a fight of one against many, of individualism and dictatorship versus a community that takes place. The Red King kills his own guards to battle the Hulk, telling them “The Green Scar is mine”. He is possessive and narcissistic to a fault. Meanwhile, as he attacks the Red King, the Hulk asks Miek to link minds, “All of us. With him” so that the Red King sees it is for his damage to society, not personal vengeance, that the Hulk fights. It is perhaps a vain demonstration, given the Red King is too entitled and shameless to care about his own failings, but it is an effort that has to made, to show this Revolution is being done for the right reasons. It is not enough to merely overthrow one tyrant to replace him with a similar regime; it must be done for the correct purpose: “Fighting for friends”.
In this final confrontation, Hulk attacks not only with his own rage, but the anger of his society. He fights for the massacres of Miek’s people, for the enslavement of the Spikes, for the neglect of the Wildebots, for the bombing of villages and the neglect of his subjects. By the end, all the Red King has is himself. “I’m mad too”, he tells the Hulk, but he can only fight with his own anger, only against the consequences of his actions. Persistently selfish, the Red King has eradicated his support, and he ultimately fights alone. “Not. Mad. Enough”, Hulk tells the Red King. He has learned that lonely anger, the petty grudge of not being superior, is insufficient and futile. It cannot even hope to compare against the righteous rage of the oppressed. Faced against all of those that he has wronged, their anger collected and carried within the Hulk, the Red King is woefully outmatched.
Anger can overthrow the undeserving ruler from his throne, but can it actually save the world? The Hulk can always dismantle, but can he also build? Knowing the answer is uncertain, the Red King detonates the tectonic plates of Sakaar to self-destruct the planet. He would rather nobody run society if he is not able too. Even Hulk’s allies are filled with despair, “this is the end”, they proclaim. They have relied on the Hulk as a blunt instrument, but are unprepared for him to be constructive. “With all his strength, the Green Scar could smash this world to pieces”, Korg says, “But what can he do to heal it?” If the Hulk can only dismantle the old regime, with no ability to rebuild it, is the Hulk a hero or a glorified wrecking ball? Is his rage, the very fabric of his being, as useless and impotent as people expect?
If there is one thing the Hulk is not, it is what people expect.
Korg understands the best way to test Hulk’s limitations is to challenge them. Although Korg doubted the Hulk, he was “just making him mad. He seems to work best that way”. Hulk has given so much to his new planet. He has given it his blood and care and purpose. Now he places himself at the very core of the planet. Even as it “burns him… he will not let her go”. His cooperation with the planet’s residents extends to the planet itself. Now he proves his strength is as much for building as it is for destruction. “Today the Worldbreaker… unbreaks his world”. It is the moment we understand just how limited our understanding of the Hulk is. For all his raw energy and brutal strength, the Hulk capable of more than one thing, he is more than a single entity. Within his large grip there is room enough for everyone. The contradiction and misunderstanding he embodies are vaster than we imagined. His power is more than we could dream.
People have talked incessantly about monsters throughout Planet Hulk, and maybe only the Hulk, labelled a monster himself, is fit to judge. He can see the Spikes are not monsters, and “the only real monster on this planet” was the Red King. The Red King was monstrous for his actions, for what he did rather than what he was, but also for being such a hopeless ruler. An elitist recluse like the Red King, secluded in his golden armour and unconcerned with his citizens, could not be a good leader. The planet of Sakaar is too diverse and fractured for such a singular and selfish person. The Hulk being leader is no more ridiculous than this. While the Hulk himself is still doubtful, Korg astutely observes, “to hold the many different people of the world together, only you have the strength”. This “strength” is not just physical. It is the strength to do what is right, no matter how hard. It is the strength to be compassionate for all. It is the strength to try to “bear every burden of the world”, no matter how impossible.
The Hulk has had many different roles: brainless Frankenstein’s Monster, wild and rabid animal, genetic experiment, heroic protector, lonely defender, and most recently Gladiator. But all of these roles are singular and reductive. They do not allow for the flexible and contradictory nature of the Hulk, they do not let him be his own person. On the surface, “King Hulk” seems to be just another role, but it allows for far more layers. For a King must be wise yet grounded, strong but kind, protective but compassionate. The Hulk is not perfect, his rage and stubbornness are fundamental parts of him. The many factions of Sakaar will find it difficult to adapt to a new ruler who belongs to none of them. Being a King will not be easy for the Hulk.
But neither is being the Hulk.
Tomorrow this retrospective is brought to end with Planet Hulk: Armageddon. I have saved discussion of Incredible Hulk (vol. 2) #103 for then, as thematically it fits into the discussion of the epilogue.
Planet Hulk: Allegiance is formed of Incredible Hulk (vol. 2) #100-103, 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.