World War Hulk #4

Background

World War Hulk #3 was not reviewed because Spider-Man does not show up. Here is a brief overview of what you missed. After defeating the Avengers, the Hulk must face one of his oldest enemies, General Thunderbolt Ross. Ross throws everything at the Hulk: tanks, jets, high-end weaponry, et al. Meanwhile, Rick Jones manages to meet up with the Hulk. And, Dr. Strange devises a new tactic to take on the Hulk: using a volatile entity known as Zom as a replacement for his broken hands.

Story Details

  World War Hulk #4
Summary: Spider-Man Appears
Editor: Mark Paniccia
Writer: Greg Pak
Pencils: John Romita, Jr.
Inker: Klaus Janson

The issue begins with the President's helicopter surveying the transformed Madison Square Garden as the site of a gladiatorial arena for the Hulk. Dr. Strange, using the entity of Zom, stands ready to battle Hulk's Warbound in the arena. Hiroim bravely defends his chosen king but Dr. Strange's new powers prove too strong. As a result, Hiroim loses his hand. The rest of the Warbound move to intercept the Master of the Mystic Arts but the Hulk takes on the task himself. Early on, Hulk does not fare well against Strange. However, Strange's consumption of Zom is tenuous at best. Zom's evil energy is beginning to affect the Strange's good nature. Several onlookers face are in the path of Strange's malevolent assault on the Hulk. Hulk, rather than a conflicted Strange, stops a building from crushing the horrified crowd. With new resolve, the Hulk overpowers the "Zomified" Strange and places an obedience disk on him, the last member of the Illuminati to fall. He defiantly proclaims that Bruce Banner is with him in this instance.

Despite the pleas of the Illuminati and other captured heroes, they are made to fight in the arena. Several members of the crowd give their support for Hulk – including the son of the fallen Bill Foster (see Civil War #4). They face a monster from Sakaar, the planet which the Hulk was exiled to by the Illuminati. The weakened four (Iron Man, Mr. Fantastic, Dr. Strange, and Black Bolt) bravely defeat the monster. Next, the Hulk shockingly orders them to fight in battle to the death among the four of them. The obedience disks of Black Bolt and Iron Man are activated.

The scene briefly switches to the Sentry in northern Vermont. He recalls the conversation he had with Iron Man in World War Hulk #1. Iron Man wished that the Sentry start acting like the immensely powerful hero he is. Iron Man needs his services in order to defeat the Hulk. The Sentry is one of the few people on Earth the Hulk considers his friend.

With the brief flashback over, the battle among the Illuminati begins. Strange manages to subdue Black Bolt without killing him. Korg expresses some reservations to the Hulk about what they are doing. Nevertheless, nothing is done to stop the four Illuminati from battling each other. Iron Man manages to fight his mind control and warn Mr. Fantastic to run away. Unfortunately, Mr. Fantastic's obedience disk is activated and he stands over a fallen Iron Man, axe in hand. The crowd urges him to kill his friend. The world watches as the Hulk makes his decision. He signals for Mr. Fantastic to kill Iron Man using the old Roman "thumbs-down" signal. Unbeknownst to the Hulk, the Sentry races off to fight him, proclaiming "it's time to play god."

General Comments

I'm of mixed minds about this issue. On the one hand, the battle scenes as rendered by Romita Jr. are wonderful intense and detailed. Pak's decision to portray Strange in a desperate light so as to use a malevolent entity was another inspired touch. However, I find that as a reader, I am simply exhausted and have no idea how Pak is going to write himself out of this dilemma with one issue left. The novelty of the Hulk smashing his way through the Marvel universe has ended for this reader. Furthermore, I no longer see the Hulk as a sympathetic figure in regards to his actions in this issue.

It's been said that Marvel has wanted to get the Hulk back to his roots as a misunderstood monster. They got one-half of the equation right. The Hulk is a monster – brutal, uncaring, and violently sadistic beyond redemption. Make no mistake, he isn't misunderstood. What was once a mini- series cloaked in shades of grey has now become crystal clear. The Hulk is for all intents and purposes a villain of the highest order. And I'm not sure I agree with this decision by Pak to do so.

No matter how Pak chooses to resolve the mini-series, one question will nag at the very core of the Hulk's character. How will he redeem himself in the eyes of the reader? While not a hero in the traditional sense, the Hulk has always been a protagonist that fans could root for. I'm not sure fans would continue to support a cold- blooded murderer who follows "the eye for an eye" concept of law. Furthermore, the Hulk's actions validate the fear the Illuminati had in deciding to exile him into space. Is this was Pak and Marvel intended all along? I have serious doubts about that.

To a certain extent, it's somewhat refreshing to have a storyline where readers have no idea what the final outcome will be. However, we can still speculate. None of the various theories in regards to the ending make any logical sense to redeeming the Hulk or providing a new status quo. We all may be missing some extraordinarily brilliant conclusion devised by Pak but again, I doubt it. This mini-series is now a classic example of a shaking up with a resolution that is too timid to make any lasting changes. In short, World War Hulk is probably going to be meaningless a few short years from now. Whatever you want to say about Civil War, its impact will have a lasting legacy on the Marvel universe.

With all that being said, I was still entertained by several scenes in the issue. Continued praise should be devoted to the work done by Romita Jr. and Janson on art duties. The Sentry's role was welcoming in that the pay-off is that we'll finally see him do something other than remain incapable of battling due to fear of the "Void." Pak's writing of the characters, except for the Hulk, remain solid. And the covers by David Finch remain top-notch. However, these tangentially good points are overshadowed by the reality that this mini-series is doomed for an unsatisfying ending.

Overall Rating

Pak is going to have a difficult job resolving all of the dangling plot threads without a ham-fisted ending. No doubt, I remain interested in the final issue but it's not entirely for the sheer enjoyment aspect. I sincerely hope that this once solid mini-series will not devolve into comic book road kill a la the Onslaught Saga and Secret War.

Footnote

Spider-Man, in his black costume, appears as one of the Hulk's captured prisoners.