An homage to a storyline in another comic from years ago can be dangerous. Your readers might not have ever read the original story. Or they might have read it, but didn't enjoy it. Perhaps they did read it, but they don't make the connection. And so on, and so on. None of that stopped Jeff Parker, though, who took the "Planet Hulk" storyline and turned it on its head for a two-parter titled "Planet Red Hulk."
Fortunately, you don't need to have read "Planet Hulk" to get the gist of this story, which has the Red Hulk (just like the original Hulk) pulled through a space warp to a distant planet, where through a series of battles the Red Hulk becomes king. It's certainly a bit of a coincidence, multiplied when the Red Hulk becomes the Red King (a character name from the original "Planet Hulk" storyline) and you start to wonder just how much we're supposed to buy that all of this is unspooling again.
And then you hit the two-thirds mark of this issue, and Parker quietly turns everything on its head.
That was the moment when I knew that Parker made the right call in writing "Planet Red Hulk." Not just because of how he distracted the readership before pulling the rug out from under their feet, but because of how Parker's using the history of the Red Hulk and the original Hulk into a much larger story. One of the most ludicrous moments from earlier in this series is coming back to become a plot point, but while before it made most readers roll their eyes, here it's taken seriously and ends up being interesting. I'm impressed that he pulled it off here, and it's made me more interested than ever on just what Parker has in mind for "Hulk" in general.
Carlo Pagulayan was the original artist for "Planet Hulk," so it's a nice touch to have him on board for "Planet Red Hulk" as well. His characters here have a rough-hewn look, perfect for the savage pair of planets that the Red Hulk lands on, and now more than ever, you look at the Red Hulk and you think "brute." (I suspect he'd approve.) From rippling eight-pack abs to massive killer worms that humanoids ride into town, Pagulayan rises to the occasion and draws it like it's a perfectly ordinary thing, as if he was asked to draw a toaster. It's a visually pleasing comic, and it was smart to have him around for "Planet Red Hulk."
"Hulk" is one of those series that I'm continually startled to still be reading, but Jeff Parker just keeps pulling me in, month after month. Considering this is a book starring a character that I never thought I'd be interested in, that's no small feat. As long as Parker's on board, I have a sneaking suspicion that I'll still be reading "Hulk." There are worse fates in life, certainly.