The Hulk. There are few images in pop culture as iconic as Marvel’s Green Goliath. He represents the ultimate catharsis – every repressed, violent impulse given form, freedom, and ennobled; although the Hulk seems like a mindless, destructive brute, he is, by turns, breaking free of would-be oppressors like General Ross, avenging (so punny….) someone who’s been hurt or killed, or standing between innocents and harm. Like (early) Spider-Man and the X-men, he was protecting a world that branded him a menace…and would often save the day only to be run off by those he was protecting.
One of Hulk’s best storylines in recent memory was World War Hulk. After Hulk goes on a rampage in Las Vegas, a secret team of Marvel’s elites decide to launch him into space, intending to send him to a planet free of civilization where he can live out his days in peace…but things obviously misfire and Hulk ends up on the savage planet, Sakaar. In an arc chronicled in Planet Hulk (now a graphic novel, novel, and animated film), the Green Goliath emerges from gladiatorial combat to become the prophesied Worldbreaker…a hero with an adoring following, a cadre of close friends, a powerful, beautiful wife and a child on the way. It seems like the perfect happy ending – a fitting reward for a lifetime of heroism. So, naturally, it all gets blown up.
Blaming the self-styled Illuminati who banished him to Sakaar – Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four, Tony Stark, Dr. Strange, and Blackbolt of the Inhumans – Hulk returns to Earth with murder on his mind. He rampages through line after line of Earth’s defences…breaking the Avengers, the X-men, and the entirety of the USA’s armed forces. He establishes a kingdom on Manhattan Island….and that’s just act one. In the end, Hulk forces those who sat in judgement of him to reckon with themselves….to face the same hard choices that he did…and ultimately confronts Marvel’s own Superman – the Sentry – in a no-holds-barred throw-down that proves once for all, exactly what the Hulk is made of.
Yesterday’s Death Battle featured the Hulk against DC’s Doomsday and recalled the Worldbreaker/WWH story. It made me think of Greg Pak and John Romita Jr’s amazing story, the amazing tie-in stories (Christos Gage’s WWH: X-Men was particularly strong…took a silly remit and worked it into an amazing fight with a huge emotional punch at the end), and the inspirational message that anger can be overcome and, ultimately, used for good.