So our next group of graphic novels is themed around World War Hulk, the Marvel Universe “event” that falls between Civil War and Secret Invasion. This is a bit different from those two, though, in that it’s smaller scale. That is, Civil War and Secret Invasion are huge, world-changing books that no title can ignore. If you’re writing a Marvel comic, you must acknowledge those, and it has to have some impact on the stories you’re writing. But World War Hulk is optional. A few titles need to be involved, but the rest can pretty much decide whether it makes sense to include a WWH tie-in or not.
Frankly, I think that works better, because it does less damage to other storylines that are going on, and makes the participating titles feel more purposeful. It also has another benefit, though, which is that the entire core story can be told in a single series. Whereas Mark Millar’s Civil War miniseries was just a skeleton on which the actual story hung, Greg Pak’s World War Hulk is the whole story of the Hulk’s return to Earth, and his declaration of war on the heroes who sent him into interstellar exile.
This definitely works to the advantage of the story, as does Pak being a good writer. If you like space opera, you’ll want to read Pak’s Planet Hulk, and if you read that, you’ll want to read this coda.
So that’s the main story; then there are the stories written around it, which tend to fall into one of two groups: Ones that are primarily about the Hulk and ones that are primarily about other characters reacting to the Hulk. The ones that are about the Hulk are the weakest, because they’re suffering under the constraint of not being able to change anything. The Hulk is going to do what Pak wants him to do, so there’s no chance of talking him out of it or defeating him or whatever. So Frank Tieri’s World War Hulk: Gamma Corps , for instance, feels very unnecessary and a bit pointless.
World War Hulk: X-Men straddles the line between the two categories, due to it being a collection of a bunch of miscellaneous titles. (The original title, according to Amazon, was “World War Hulk: Marvel Universe,” which is considerably more accurate. I suspect they changed it for sales reasons.) The actual X-Men part falls into the irrelevant-battle-with-Hulk camp, as does the Iron Man part. The Initiative and Ant-Man books are mostly about those characters instead of the Hulk, but are weirdly out of context here, and should be read along with their actual serieses. (The Ant-Man one is included in the Ant-Man paperbacks, and works much, much better there.) The only story that really has a point is the Ghost Rider one. It’s a battle with the Hulk, yeah, but it’s one that has a point other than pyrotechnics, and it ends up using the Hulk to tell a story about the Ghost Rider.
And on the far side of the line, telling stories around the Hulk rather than about him, is Paul Jenkins’ World War Hulk: Front Line . The Front Line series seems devoted to taking major events in the Marvel Universe and telling human-scale stories, and that’s what they do here, focusing on a murder mystery in the devastated and evacuated New York City. It doesn’t rise to the level of greatness, but it does add something to the World War Hulk storyline, and is recommended.
Finally, there’s Greg Pak’s Incredible Hercules books, which have an odd relationship with the Hulk books. As I understand it, the series that was The Incredible Hulk became the Incredible Hercules, keeping its issue numbering consistent and keeping Pak on as the writer, while a different Hulk title started up after World War Hulk. It strikes me as odd, like the Browns becoming the Ravens then a new team becoming the Browns again.
But anyway, setting that aside, the first volume of Hercules is a direct WWH tie-in, with a bunch of would-be allies of the Hulk trying to help him out. It could have fallen prey to the same pointlessness as other Hulk-related tie-ins, but it ends up having something to say about the difficult friendships and the nature of heroism, so that works. From there, the assembled group of characters goes on to have more Hercules-focused (and therefore: myffic) adventures, which will go on to lead us directly into the Secret Invasion stuff, but that’s a different entry...