“He’s supposed to be angry”
For the Hulk, nothing is permanent.
This is true on a biological level, given how the Hulk is usually a temporary manifestation of Bruce Banner’s repressed anger. Primarily he should only manifest for limited amounts of time, becoming dormant again once these intense emotions have subsided. Even more than biologically, in terms of publication it seems that the Hulk is one of the most inconsistent popular icons in fiction. His speech patterns range from stilted to articulate, his motivations from instinctual to actively destructive to protective, even his iconic green skin used to be grey. While most superheroes have a basic status quo from which new creators or storylines can return to and begin from, the Hulk does not really have this luxury. At best the Hulk is a fugitive, constantly on the run, beginning each new series in a new location with a new objective. He has no primary residence, no Daily Planet or Avengers Tower or Batcave, and no normal life or Secret Identity where he can hide from his pursuers, only an alter-ego equally tormented with his existence. This doesn’t mean the Hulk possesses a steady progression from his first appearance, only that there is not really a basic starting point for the Hulk. He doesn’t have a home. The Hulk emerges from a hostile environment, and then returns to it once his task is completed. To finally find peace would abandon the only constant in the Hulk’s existence; anger. By necessity, for the Hulk to continue existing, both as a fictional character and in terms of publication, he cannot stop fighting.
The attempt at peace within Sakaar also appears futile at first. Within their newly elected King, strains at handling the entire planet’s problems are already beginning to show. The Hulk’s counterpart, Banner, makes a minor reappearance, and while it seem he and Hulk have come to an understanding, his presence reminds us of the Hulk’s fractured self. The Hulk is looked upon as expansive and unified, when in reality he is one of the most divided beings in existence. Yet even before the Hulk’s arrival, conflict between the Imperials and the Bugs were rampant, the subjugation and distrust continuous threats against harmonious prosperity. Compromise between the old and new order seems too difficult for either side, so Miek and Elloe, the most radical of the Warbound, would rather meet the Red King’s supporters with “good killing” than negotiation. It would seem perpetuating the bloodshed between opposing factions is easier than transitioning into the uncertain, peaceful future. Elloe becomes confronted with the humanity of the opposing loyalists when she finds her own mother among them. She becomes forced to choose between mercy or conviction, old family or new, who a person is or what a person thinks. The entitled superiority emblemised by Elloe’s mother, believing they “are still blooded imperials. This world belongs to us. Not the bugs” reveals the greater obstacles of change, shedding past attachments. The past still holds a strong grip on the future. Caiera tries to remind them both of this future, “we’re building a nation now”, as if noble words could prevent the systematic hatred between these races. The fallibility of such phrases are demonstrated when Hulk’s own words are thrown back at him by Miek, reminding him of his past conviction to “never stop making them pay”. Miek has not allowed the Hulk, or himself, to grow past the people they once were. Now who the Hulk used to be is preventing him from whom he wishes to become. Yet the Hulk has never much believed in words. He believes in action.
In a decision that appears to confirm accusations of barbarism and savagery against the Hulk, he settles Miek and Elloe’s argument by placing them in the gladiator Stadium to resolve their differences through combat. The Shadow Elders are both disgusted and self-satisfied by this brutish display. “You were right about him”, they discuss, “So full of hate”, viewing this ‘new world’ as identical to the last one. Again the Hulk is underestimated and misjudged, as he knows the passion fuelled by justified rage cannot be quelled with diplomacy, as cathartic release is needed through action. He does not undermine the necessity of the actions of others. But he also realises the damage from letting this anger constantly spiral outwards, so he sacrifices himself to be the receptacle of these old prejudices, placing himself in the fight as the target of both sides. “We are all Warbound now” he tells the different groups, covered in both their weapons, “Embrace your brothers. Or I’ll kill you myself”. Whilst fighting and anger can be dismissed as basic and primal emotions, the Hulk recognises and incorporates how through utilising these emotions, rather than repressing them, positive progress can be made.
Re-establishing the allegiance with the Shadow Elders, the Hulk rejects the traditional oath of a bodyguard, wanting to dismiss the previous hierarchy of master/servant, instead wanting a mutual relationship founded not on obedience, but on love. “I want a Queen”, he tells them. Bruce Banner has had several relationships – Betty Ross, Jarella, Monica Rappaccini, Nadia Blonsky – while the Hulk’s romantic partners have been limited. Caiera is a partner created entirely for the Hulk, equal both physically and romantically. Indeed, she is so calibrated to the Hulk, she does not even know of Banner’s existence. But of course you cannot truly know the Hulk without knowing Banner. For full disclosure, the Hulk must reveal this hidden part of himself, something secret even to his Warbound. Typically, Banner is a contradiction of the Hulk, the opposite of all Caiera admires, but he is also part of him, their selves are intertwined and inseparable. The Hulk must risk exposing his complicated, contradictory self to fully bare his soul to Caiera, and it is a risk he’s willing to take. “He wanted you to him”, Banner explains to Caiera, “all of him. All of us. All of me.” The Hulk may appear as a one-note angry monster to those who don’t know him, but for those who do, Hulk is a messy, multi-faceted, complex, creature. These are conditions Caiera is willing to accept, she can know both the weak scientist and strong monster and embrace both. By doing so, with both halves of their being simultaneously accepted, both the Hulk and Banner, joined in mutual desire, can embrace Caiera together.
Others find it harder to accept the flexible nature of the Hulk. While Miek is one of Hulk’s first allies, he carries expectations of the Hulk being his constant protector against the world, and a singular idea of what he can be. Now that they rule the world, Miek’s anger and need for continued vengeance is going unfulfilled. Miek cannot let go of the past, nor of his preconceptions. Instead of recognising evolution and progress towards peace, Miek thinks the Hulk is “forgetting what he’s made for”, arguing “He’s supposed to be angry, smashing, revenging”. Like Hulk’s enemies, Miek only reductively sees the Hulk as one thing. By showing Hulk the original recording on his shuttle, he reminds Hulk of how he was previously rejected. Hulk is in constant fear of losing what he has gained, and of his anger overwhelming him, of being unable to change. A technician excuses one of Hulk’s outburst by how “the old emperor did that all the time”. The Hulk seems to be no better than the leader he just overthrew, and he is reminded of his old flaws. Miek has reminded Hulk not of his past anger, but the futility of such anger changing anything.
The old familiar instincts of the Hulk to run away from responsibility flare up again, taking Caiera to the wasteland of the planet and explaining how “if I went there, I’d never have to fight again”. He has been shown the nuance required for ruler this diverse nation, and has been reminded of his supposed simplicity. The Hulk has made such progress away from his reductive categorisation, becoming more than others thought possible of him, but the internal doubts forced into him from the misjudgement of others is still present. “Maybe we should just go”, he tells Caiera, viewing escape from responsibility, to halt progress and return to his isolated existence easier than moving forward into the unknown role of leader. While Caiera has become a part of himself, who he would apparently share this isolation with, the Hulk’s true nature is still hidden from most people. He doesn’t know if he can be what they believe him to be.
Caiera sympathises with and respects the Hulk’s inner turmoil, even if she disagrees with it. “There’s no need for this”, she reassures him, “You don’t have to fear yourself”. Divided, misunderstood and hunted most of his existence, the Hulk has become so used to embodying anger and inflicting terror that he is unsure whether these parts of him can be discarded. He fears his excessive power to destroy, and he lacks the power for change. But Caiera shows that, despite what the Hulk claims, his perception of himself is quite limited. While the Hulk envisions himself capable of only destruction, she reveals the growth and prosperity he can bring. The previously barren wasteland is now filled with vegetation due to the Hulk’s irradiated blood. The Hulk is more than a scientific accident; he is a unique creation, whose actions can be as constructive as much as destructive. Life is brought by the Hulk, not only in the wastelands, but through Caiera’s pregnancy too. Maybe the cycle of destruction which the Hulk has long been ensnared can be escaped. Maybe change is possible.
Done with war and fighting, the Hulk resolves not only to make peace with all remaining factions of the planet, but to clean up the destruction in the capital city, rather than causing it. Such positive change requires the contributions of all, and not all are willing. The Imperials are upset having to help with the rebuilding, suggesting they “might as well have the Red King kicking us around”. Destruction is easy, easy to do and cathartic to experience. Reconstruction is harder, and difficult to celebrate, if not more essential. People still see the Hulk as only capable of the former, not the latter. In Miek’s view, these are not separate actions but interlinked. “Maybe saving needs breaking first”, he argues, “Destroying, then building”. The old system of Miek’s race has been irrevocably broken with his Queen’s death. He argues that the Imperials old lifestyle has also been forever changed, as they are “losing everything. Your land, your houses, your slaves.” For him, the creation of a new system is connected to the destruction of the old one. Although acceptance of death is vital for moving forward, what Miek truly proposes is not acceptance but continual fixation on the past. If life and death become inseparable, then neither state is allowed to settle, but must be constantly moved into the next phase. What comes next is always defined by what is before. Although looking at the future, Miek’s sentiments still hold onto the past.
Hulk rejects this fatalistic worldview by “returning [The Spikes] to the stars”, relinquishing the grief of the past. Through doing so, their essence also leaves Sakaar, making the planet’s inhabitants finally find peace when the Spikes are “finally home”. Both the Spikes and the Hulk return to their natural environments. The Spikes had already known it, and were prevented from returning, but for the Hulk it is Sakaar, and he could only find it by living on it. Everything seems as it should be. The Hulk is unused to such peace and freedom, asking his wife “What do we do now?”. Caiera is happy and content to be in the moment, looking towards neither the past nor the future. The only goal for her is to “just live”. The past appears finally overcome. It is a moment of absolute triumph and relief.
It cannot last.
Unfortunately the looming status quo rears to rid the Hulk of his newfound peace. It is, quite frankly, difficult to reconcile the conclusion of Planet Hulk, the ending sets to rob him of all his progress, and only affirm that the system is inescapable and change is impossible. It is the token of Hulk’s past that ruins his future, as the shuttle from Earth which sent the Hulk to Sakaar explodes, and destroys his new wife and home. Moreso, it is the out-dated judgements of the Hulk which prevents his ability to disprove them, as the message from the Marvel Heroes before the explosion reiterates the danger and destruction of the Hulk, his need to find peace through isolation, after he had just accomplished it through community. By regarding the Hulk as only a monster, that is all he can remain. It is later revealed in World War Hulk it was in fact Miek who rigged the explosion of the shuttle, unable to accept peace when he had dedicated his purpose to destruction and payback. It is hard to gleam a message from such needless tragedy. The explosion at the end of Planet Hulk appears to destroy not only the planet Sakaar, but all the ideas it contained as well.
Not all is lost in the destruction of Sakaar. While he becomes blinded with grief and rage for some time, the lessons and experiences of Sakaar shall remain with the Hulk for some time. As Caiera dies in his arms, she tells her husband “I will never leave you”. While physically she may be gone, her spirit and life will live on inside the Hulk. Elloe’s mother manages to tell her daughter that “this world you and your friends were making… it was a good thing”. While the place itself is collapsing around them, what was attempted remains an idealised society. They were not foolish to try for peace, even if it failed. The loyal and stoic Hiroim, so hesitant to embrace hope, only for it to backfire just when he had, seems utterly defeated by this catastrophe. With all the Shadow Elders dead, their power passes to him, the last of his kind. The Shadow People were tied to the planet, so for Hiroim this is the end of everything. “They’ve killed our whole world”, he tells Korg. Korg refuses to accept this, holding that their bonds are greater than their environment; they are “Warbound! To the end!”. With all material things, the very planet itself, removed from around them, these ties of friendship must be maintained, now more than ever.
The Hulk has survived the centre of the explosion, although no one else around him was able to. The Hulk is cursed not only with inflicting violence, but invulnerability from him. He is unable to be hurt, and unable to hurt anything back, his immense strength becoming useless faced with such utter defeat. Hulk is once again “the Strongest One there is”, but he is also “the only one there is”. The rank of being “strongest” now meaningless to the Hulk, the isolation of the ranking has become painfully clear. Hulk is perhaps the angriest he has ever been, raging at the planet to “GIVE THEM BACK”, and return him to the peace he so long desired. But his anger cannot resurrect the dead; his strength cannot do the impossible. Resigned and defeated, the Hulk can only plead for reversal. His potential future destroyed, the lonliness and anger he tried to avoid returning to him, the Hulk wishes for the past.
What is there left for the Hulk, when everything has been taken away? There is nothing left to rescue or destroy, “nothing left to save. Nothing even left to smash”. If the prophecies of the Sakaarson/Worldbreaker were true (as it seems both were), they have been fulfilled. What comes after was never foretold. If the Hulk had finally found the home he’d been searching for, he was unable to live in it for long. But perhaps it was never about finding a home, however much the Hulk desired it, as much rediscovering his purpose. The Hulk had become quite dormant and aimless before Planet Hulk, staying out of the way as a fugitive and recluse. Now he emerges from the smoke of Sakaar reinvigorated to his meaning, angrier than he has ever been. The Hulk is asked if there is “someplace [he]’d like to go”, and in this moment of clarity, this rediscovery of primary motivation, perhaps we can find some solace. The “story of the Green Scar” is not about settling into a peaceful environment, but the eternal struggle to find one.
Planet Hulk ends with the same lines it began with. Throughout the storyline, several phrases are repeated; “May he who dies, die well”, “Fighting for friends” and of course “Never stop making them pay”. Within both these words, and the events they signify, the Hulk can appear trapped. His is a life of tragedy and anger, conflict and sacrifice. His is a tale of a monster trying to be a hero, and never quite succeeding. In some ways, Planet Hulk is quite unsatisfying, but it is in a way that is true of those who seem unable to escape others preconceptions. Anger and tragedy are inevitable for the Hulk, peace can be only temporary. Only his rage is permanent. While this may be unfair for the Hulk, it is only the truth. The best he can do is face his fate rather than run away from it. In some ways, the Hulk trying to be left alone is the same as denying his rule of the Revolution, they both denied the Hulk’ true nature. He is not a monster, yet not a hero either. He is something in between. All that is left for the Hulk is to embrace his contradictory being, and face those who would deny him such complexity. Planet Hulk ends with the Hulk on his way to Earth in retribution for his family and world. By while it is a return trip, the Hulk is not retreating, but charging forward. And he is not alone.
Planet Hulk: Armageddon is formed of Incredible Hulk (vol. 2) #104-105, 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. This post also included discussion of Incredible Hulk (vol. 2) #103, the epilogue of Planet Hulk: Allegiance.
The collection of Planet Hulk can be purchased here.