Written by Greg Pak with art by John Romita Jr, this volume collects the five issues of World War Hulk, a prequel issue, and an issue depicting an alternative reality to what occurred in the actual continuity.
In earlier events, Hulk was shot off into space by a cabal of superheroes (including Reed Richards, Iron Man, and Doctor Strange). They wanted to send him to an uninhabited paradisiacal planet. Instead he ended up on a planet orientated around an arena in which superpowerful entities battle to the death. (Ooops!) With his leet fighting skillz, Hulk quickly takes over the place. He finds a wife and is all set up to live a long happy life, declining gracefully into senescence surrounded by little hulklets. Things go a cropper, though, when the ship he arrived on blows up doing untold damage. Blaming this on the ship’s creators (Richards, etc.), Hulk gets his angry on and heads back to Earth to settle scores.
Each of the five central issues of this volume essentially revolves around Hulk beating up one or more superheroes. I realise this is, in some respects, the archetypal plot construction of superhero comics, but it’s been a while since I’ve read something so traditional. Ultimately, I found it all a bit tedious. I’m sure interesting things can be done (and presumably have been done) with the Hulk, but this was not one of them. The story ends with a gigantic space cannon basically blasting him back in to Bruce Banner form. On the one hand, space cannon are epic. On the other hand, it’s hardly a very psychologically interesting solution to a character who is basically a thinly veiled (and I appreciate that we’re talking gossamer levels of thickness here) metaphor for psychological conflict.
There were some plusses: We get to see Doctor Strange in action (the master of the mystic arts is definitely one of my top five characters), and there are nicely integrated flashbacks to Hulk’s previous encounters with some of those he’s fighting (in issues from the 70s, I guess).
In the alternative reality issue, we get to see what would have happened if the ship he was exiled from Earth on had ended up where it was meant to. This story was very sweet and quite imaginative in an undemanding kind of way. It’s just unfortunate that you have to wade through the first six sevenths of the volume to get to it…