Sunday, May 13, 2012

Planet Hulk: Sword and Planet and Hulk

Stop me if this plot sounds familiar. An Earthling finds himself on an alien planet that is ruled by a cruel despot who oppresses his own people. The level of technology on the planet is a mixture between ancient and futuristic, combining flying ships with swords and shields. The Earthling finds himself on the wrong end of that despot's regime and winds up in a fight for his life. During that fight, he ends up crossing paths with a resistance against that ruler. The people of the planet who turn to the Earthling as the prophesied savior who will overthrow their leader and restore peace to their planet.

Oh, and the Earthling is the Hulk.
 "Hulk crush puny planet in giant hand!"

I'll admit that I'm not overly fond of the straight-to-DVD stuff that Marvel has put out so far, but Planet Hulk has completely changed my mind. The animation isn't stellar, but the show itself is not to be missed. The action is fantastic and the storyline is true sword-and-planet awesomeness. It's far from a superhero story. Bruce Banner never appears; the Hulk is the Hulk the whole way through, whether awake or asleep (or, just as frequently, unconscious). It's raw, brutal, and full of action. It doesn't give us much about this planet and its people, but it doesn't have to. It paints its world  with broad, bold strokes, and then sets the Hulk loose to rampage through it. Planet Hulk takes its inspiration from the comic of the same name. The storyline is a little simplified and softened for the kids, but there is still plenty of bone-crunching, limb-snapping violence.

After being exiled into outer space by the Illuminati because he is just too dangerous to be kept on Earth, the Hulk ends up on the above-described planet, where he is bound as a gladiator. He is thrown into the arena beside a ragtag bunch of warriors. Although he initially refuses to fight or to acknowledge his role as the savior of the planet, the Hulk eventually learns the importance of fighting for others and stands up to save the people from tyranny. On Earth, he was just a monster. On Sakaar, he might be a savior.

The sword-and-planet genre appears to have failed big time in the flop of big-budget Disney film John Carter. I didn't go see that (and from what I've heard, I'm not alone), but I've heard that part of its problem was that it was just too complicated and didn't explain enough. Planet Hulk, on the other hand, makes sense. The triumph of a brutal, strong, barbaric figure over a decadent and corrupt civilization would make a classic sword-and-planet writer proud, and the film works excellently even when you ignore the greater Marvel universe. It's the triumph of one man (er, one Hulk) over a world that would chain him or destroy him. The parallel with the way the Hulk is treated on Earth is clear, but really the story is just about adventure in the best and oldest tradition. Hulk fights evil and stands strong against those who would crush him. He fights a wide variety of interesting enemies in larger-than-life battles and, though battered and bloody, never backs down.

The cartoon stops short of the full run of the storyline, which I'm glad of. In this form, the story is epic, violent, and triumphant, just the way a good adventure story should be.

(I'll admit I'm not the first to make the sword-and-planet connection, but there's really no other way to talk about it!)


  1. I havent watched this one, but I did like the Hulk VS dvd where it had two shorts on it, having Hulk square off against Thor and Wolverine respectfully.
    If you havent read the actual Planet Hulk comic run, I highly suggest trying to get a hold of it and reading it. Its one of my favorite runs to date.

  2. Sounds very Howardian! I'm surprised you didn't take the opportunity to use that word. You need to do your part in spreading it, you know.

  3. I've read the comic. I liked it a lot, but I found the tone rather different. More bleak and over-dramatic. I liked the movie more, truth be told.