Greg Pak has been writing the adventures of the Hulk since 2006, and he's finally reached the end of his swan song before passing off the character to Jason Aaron come this October with a brand new The Incredible Hulk #1. That book will focus on the Bruce Banner/Hulk divide, but that comes after Pak's epic run which has featured Banner and the Hulk more in sync than ever – not to mention a bumper crop of brand new supporting characters that this irritable loner never really had before. That's why the title's been pluralized as The Incredible Hulks.
But that's all ending with #635 here, and this last Heart of the Monster arc has been, to put it mildly, batshit insane. It's been stuffed to the gills with crazy twists, scads of villains, magical malarkey and lots and lots of stuff being smashed all to hell. Pak has obviously been having a blast, trotting out every character he's wanted to use (Bi-Beast woo!) and putting the final buttons on the stories he's been telling for the last five years, since he begain building to Planet Hulk, World War Hulk, Fall of the Hulks, World War Hulks and even the Chaos War stuff. It's been kind of a mess, occasionally hard to follow, but it's still been pretty darn fun.
The deal is that Monica Rappaccini, head of A.I.M., has stormed into Tyrannus' secret lair and turned his fountain of youth into a veritable wishing well, and when a crapload of Hulk-related characters get splashed with the waters from it, everybody gets a wish, and everybody's wish usually backfires, because magic is tricksy. As we open the final issue, the Hulk and the Red She-Hulk, aka Bruce Banner's ex-wife Betty Ross, have found their nirvana in smashing the living shit out of each other and an entire world in the Dark Dimension over and over and over again, neither having to restrain or repress themselves anymore after doing it all their lives. Such is their weird and ever weirdening relationship, although it bears noting that she is now apparently on the same power level plane as he is, which is really saying something. As we all know, Hulk is the strongest one there is.
Unfortunately, both Hulks will be called upon to leave said violent bliss to deal with the fact that Tyrannus is now in control of Fin Fang Foom, whose power has not only been magically amped, but he's also eating a bunch of gamma bombs to amp it even more, so the slick immortal can conquer the world. "I saw the fall of Rome, boy… I know a great nation aching for the destruction of its failed oligarchy when I see it." That line right there cements Tyrannus as just an awesome character that I hope to see more of in the future, and I think I'll be able to deal with the fact that Betty, drunk on spite and newfound inhibitionless power, banged this guy for a while.
That's been my huge concern, ever since Betty was given a monstrous alter ego – how this was all going to shake out for her, and how much of who she was would carry over into what she's become, or if we were just going to get this drastic personality shift to serve a neat new superhero character design. All that worry is put to rest here as well, as by the end of the epilogue, all that gamma-powered violence seems to have vented a lot of their anger and made both Bruce and Betty relaxed enough to actually have a happy ending together for once – and it sets up their status we saw back when Fear Itself began, too, as I suspected would somehow happen – who knows if Pak had to gear towards that once Marvel's big event started, or if Matt Fraction got the cue from Pak as to where he was going to end up.
Anyway, artist Paul Pelletier is called upon to go apeshit with the bulging musculature and crazy ass gamma-amped destruction, and he does not disappoint. He's always drawn amazing Hulks, and his Foom is immense and frightening, too, and when Bruce and Betty come back home to kick his scaly alien butt, they go full-on Kirby-dot with the crackling giant-sized smashing. There's no better way to bring across power than with Kirby dots, no siree. Unfortunately, Pelletier is so good that when Tom Grummett shows up to handle the epilogue, it's a bit of a letdown visually. Fortunately for Hulk fans, Marc Silvestri coming on board with Aaron when the series starts anew should put things right back up where they should be, qualitatively speaking.
The story isn't, though. Somehow, Pak's managed to make a happy ending kind of satisfying for once, in a medium filled with tragic twists and emotional gut punches that always have to make life miserable for their characters. He gives Rick Jones, Jen Walters and Betty the freedom to shift back and forth to their Hulk forms at will (as Rick couldn't before and Betty had some health issues associated with it), but he also reaffirms that Bruce Banner and the Hulk are not two separate beings, as they each like to believe they are, but rather one and the same, aspects of one mind. That's particularly curious, considering that Aaron's plan when he takes over is to physically separate the two – which may or may not be something that happens as a result of Fear Itself. Maybe it's just Aaron's own idea. We'll see how much of what Pak established (and what had been established by several prior Hulk writers) about how impossible it is to separate the two carries over into Aaron's run, but then again, comics tends to be about making the impossible possible.
Aaron and Silvestri may come on to do great things, but they have a really tough act to follow. When Pak came on board The Incredible Hulk in the first place, it was after a long run of really iffy Hulk stories in the aftermath of Peter David's departure after 12 years of redefining Bruce, Betty and Rick Jones. Pak only stuck around for five years, but in that relatively short time, the Hulk and all his supporting cast have exploded all over the place. Planet Hulk got its own animated movie, the Red She-Hulk is going to be in Fraction's new Defenders title, and not only is a new live-action Hulk TV series in development at ABC, but there's even going to be a Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H. cartoon show featuring all of the new monsters in the Hulk family, like A-Bomb.
Pak has done amazing things, and the fascinating thing is that, on many occasions, I was completely convinced he was going to go off the rails and do something I hated. He'd build stories that seemed to be going in directions that made me nervous about how well he'd hold true to the characters that I hold so dear, since the Hulk was one of the first characters I ever really formed an attachment to in my youth. Even in Heart of the Monster, after he'd proven himself over and over again, I was half-convinced he was going to trash Betty Ross somehow. But Pak always came around in the end, he always served the characters instead of making the characters serve him, and for that, he's one of the best writers the Hulk has ever seen.
On behalf of Hulk fans everywhere, we salute you, Mr. Pak, and you'll be missed.
CRAVE ONLINE RATING: 9/10 (Incredible Hulks #635), 10/10 (Greg Pak's run on the Hulk)