Leaning heavily into the “anything goes” conceptual free-spiritedness of Secret Wars, writer Sam Humphries and artist Marc Laming take an inspired twist on a recent classic. Trading on the namesake of the Jade Giant’s highwater fable, the current volume finds an unlikely protagonist in gladiator Steve Rogers. Even more unlikely, The Captain’s current combat/life-partner is a giant red T. Rex!
As outlandish as this may sound, there’s a methodical pedigree to these disparate components. The common thread is that they all spring from the mind of industry revolutionary, Jack Kirby. Cap first appears in late 1940 as the product of The King and writer Joe Simon. The Hulk, of course, comes from his early Marvel days with Stan Lee but the “terrible lizard” is Devil Dinosaur, from Kirby’s wild- and widely unchecked- final run at Marvel in the late 1970s. Making rare appearances since, Devil is usually accompanied by a simian protohuman named Moon Boy. Subbing for Moonie is Steve The Barbarian. In any event, they have more of a “Ka-Zar/Zabu” thing going on and it’s a cool, welcome change-up.
Also refreshing is the plot twist. Instead of being met with the de rigeur punishment of defending Battleworld on the Shield, Rogers’s cunning and defiant fighting spirit are rewarded. Sure, the dangling carrot is extremely loaded but what Doom offers is strategy above pure survival. In keeping with the cut across genres, Planet Hulk can add “war movies” to the list. Granted, the literal “War Hero” is present but it’s a far different version than usual. This sort of “remove Colonel Kurtz” mission may be right up his alley.
While not possessing a ton of big league credits, artist Marc Laming also seems the right man for the job. So far, the layouts are of standard comic book pedigree but his figures are thick and rightfully carved. Doctor Strange may seem a little round but then again, he’s not native to the Kirby-verse.
Also accruing notoriety is color artist Jordan Boyd. Fresh off a stint on the Cold War retro-fashioned Operation S.I.N., Boyd lets loose with the most gamma-vibrant credits spread imaginable.The rich reds of Devil’s hide and the Captain’s armor are sharp contrast from the drab backdrop of the previous series.
Also along for the ride is writer Greg Pak and artist Takeshi Miyazawa. Contributing an eight-page back-up (nine, if you count the faux cover by Leonard Kirk and Tamra Bonvillain), this doomsday “day zero” tale amounts to what would’ve been a “What If?” short of some nature under different circumstances. In case anyone needed a backstory for “continent of Hulks”, this is where they came from. It’s eight pages of amazing tragedy that will delightfully horrify and sadden.
The unexpected personal motivations revealed in the lead’s back-half make for better return than straight-aping the gladiatorial tropes of the original. There’s also every bit of the classic Rogers grit decidedly reinvented. The movie elevator pitch would be: Apocalypse Now with Dirty Dozen overtones in the vein of Spartacus, Conan The Barbarian and The Beastmaster. But with super-hero iconography. And a frikkin’ dinosaur!
P.S. props to cover artist Mike del Mundo for delivering the Chuck Norris-esque Hulk mega-fist onslaught against the good (yet puny) Captain!