Advance Review: GREG PAK 'Smashes It' In PLANET HULK Prose Novel (8/10)

Incredible Hulk cover
Credit: Ladrönn (Marvel Comics)
Credit: Ladrönn (Marvel Comics)

A Novel of the Marvel Universe: Planet Hulk
Written Greg Pak Interior
Art by Carlo Pagulayan, Jeffrey Huet, Alex Maleev, Aaron Lopresti, Sandu Florea, Danny Miki, Gary Frank, and Jon Sibal
Published by Marvel Comics
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

Credit: Ladrönn (Marvel Comics)

"Planet Hulk" is one of the most iconic runs of The Incredible Hulk in recent history, exploring Hulk’s exile into space at the hands of the Illuminati and his slow transformation from rebel to royalty on the planet of Sakaar. In the lead up to what seems to be at least a fleeting visit to "Planet Hulk" in Thor: Ragnarok, the writer of the original 2011 comic book run Greg Pak has returned to deliver a solid prose adaptation in Planet Hulk, out in comic shops on October 4 and bookstores October 17.

Pak offers a fairly straightforward adaptation of the original arc, filling out the story of the run’s thirteen issues with more substantial worldbuilding of the tragedies that befell Sakaar before the rise of the Red King. The novel doesn’t add any groundbreaking information that will change long time fans’ perception of the story Pak and penciller Carlo Pagulayan delivered ten years ago, but Pak seizes on any opportunity to give the sprawling cast of characters more emotional depth. In particular, he turns the gelatinous, hungering hive mind Spikes into tragic figures in a way not quite possible in the condensed medium of a monthly comic book.

Credit: Ladrönn (Marvel Comics)

It’s these moments that highlight Pak’s strength as a first time novelist - his ability to seize on background characters and elevate them in a way that builds out the tumultuous, war-torn planet Hulk unexpectedly finds himself leading. As is the way of a novelization, Pak lifts dialogue and narrative beats heavily from the source material, but he finds his own ways to make the story fresh and new again for returning fans.

Though Amadeus Cho makes appearances in the original comic book run, Pak weaves him through additional moments in the novel with ease, acknowledging his importance as a counterpoint not just to Reed and the Illuminati but as an idealistic and fiercely loyal counterpoint to Bruce and Hulk themselves. The novel closes on an unexpected note, but even this choice is refreshing, skirting one of the most frustrating moments of the novel’s conclusion without going so far as to attempt to rewrite it out of The Incredible Hulk’s long-running (and already convoluted) canon.

Credit: Ladrönn (Marvel Comics)

While Planet Hulk is a well-executed adaptation on the whole and new readers will find it fairly easy to engage with, Pak’s writing lacks some descriptive character elements that suggest an assumption of a reader’s familiarity with the source material. Description is always difficult to navigate in prose: too much is florid and exhausting, too little is dry and clinical.

Pak does a stunning job creating atmosphere through the roar of a crowd or claustrophobic anxiety of Hiver Miek’s scented sadness, but he sometimes falters at making clear what many of the non-Hulk characters look like in a way that at times reads as if he’s forgotten there isn’t an artist on the project. Pages from the series by Pagulayan (originally inked by Jeffrey Huet) do pick up the slack, but there’s an element of expectation at times, fleeting moments where Pak seems to forget this may be the first time a reader of the book is encountering the decades the Marvel universe not yet touched on in the films. What’s an Imperial? What’s a Shadow Warrior? It’s not necessary to get deep in the weeds of the intricacies of their histories (particularly in a 304-page novel) but even a line or two of clarity on appearances for characters other than the insectoid Hivers or monstrous Spikes might have made a new universe of characters more immediately relatable.

Credit: Ladrönn (Marvel Comics)

Pak also defies the expectations many readers may have about novelizations though, and translating a primarily visual, action-oriented tale into a prose novel that manages to be exciting and engaging is an exceptionally difficult task that Pak absolutely manages. As a comic book, "Planet Hulk" was gripping and dramatic, with breathless and bloody battles across a dusty and devastated planet. Pak captures the emotional resonance of Pagulayan’s pencils through his prose with aplomb, and the time he spends exploring Miek’s sense of smell and his ability to share emotions and memories through scent is particularly vibrant and compelling. Pak gives their tragic circumstances space to breathe in the prose novel in the way it lacked in the comic, adding an emotional depth to the series that underpins the Hulk’s constant internal battle between his anger and Bruce’s empathy and compassion.

Planet Hulk will make a great read for anyone curious about the cameo appearances currently hinted at for Thor: Ragnarok, and a stellar read for anyone looking to dive into the annals of Hulk’s long history who isn’t sure how to make the jump into the convoluted world of direct market comics. Pak did stellar work on the monthly installments of P"lanet Hulk" and recreates it here, pulling off the tricky feat of making an adaptation fun and new even to old fans in his first published novel. With both DC and Marvel diving into the young adult market with the likes of Double Down and Lois Lane, maybe Marvel could consider an Amadeus Cho tie-in novel down the line -- based on his work with Planet Hulk, Greg Pak would absolutely smash it.

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