The Next Big Thing

World War Hulk: Aftersmash #1

World War Hulk’s forgotten epilogue gets re-examined over ten years later.

The Next Big Thing is a weekly column where I go back and look at what I’ve been calling “preview anthologies”; one-shots released by superhero publishers meant to establish a new status quo and highlight new titles due for release soon. This week we’re onto World War Hulk: Aftersmash #1, an epilogue to the titular event that takes the focus away from the Jade Goliath and his targets in the Illuminati and instead focuses on a more ground-level view of the aftermath of The Hulk’s attack on New York City.

The problem with doing a weekly series focusing on these kinds of preview anthologies is that they don’t follow a set format, so it’s hard to stick to the same format from article-to-article. The point of these comics is usually to entice people to follow the characters into their own comics and that’s usually done via vignettes focusing on each of them, but this issue weaves it subjects into one story in a really impressive way. 

I’m going to separate them out in their own segments of the article so I can talk in more detail but the creative team deserves a lot of credit for taking five separate characters and crafting a single story around them that allows them all to spin off into their own adventures. Speaking of which, the creative team in question here is:

Writer: Greg Pak
Penciler: Rafa Sandoval
Inker: Vicente Cifuentes
Colorist: Val Staples
Letterer: Joe Caramagna

Misty Knight
Rafa Sandoval, Vicente Cifuentes, Val Staples & Joe Caramagna (Marvel Comics)

The choice of Misty Knight as one of the five protagonists of this issue is a really interesting choice to me, because not only does she not really have a book to spin off into, the book that she is in just got cancelled. Misty’s coming into World War Hulk: Aftersmash #1 off the heels of Heroes For Hire and what that team got up to during World War Hulk is referenced in this issue, but Misty isn’t carrying those events into a new title like everyone else is. I could be wrong, but I don’t think Misty shows up in a significant capacity for another three years after this, where she plays a role in the Shadowland event and its tie-ins, particularly Shadowland: Blood on the Streets and Shadowland: Daughters of the Shadow.

It’s a shame because Misty goes through it in this issue in a way that sets her up to do something new and interesting. She starts the story blaming herself for the failure of the Heroes For Hire but by the end of it she’s saved the day and taken control of an army of killer robots and forcing them to defy their programming. That’s an interesting place to start a story, especially when Misty’s previous failure was rooted in how she couldn’t control the disparate personalities of her last team. I don’t want to armchair book what the should have done, but it’s really interesting to me that Misty is the only character here leaving the book without a clear path forward.

Amadeus Cho & Hercules
Rafa Sandoval, Vicente Cifuentes, Val Staples & Joe Caramagna (Marvel Comics)

Of all the books that spun out of World War Hulk: Aftersmash #1, The Incredible Hercules is undoubtedly the most fondly remembered and with good cause. Prior to World War Hulk, Amadeus Cho was a pet character of Greg Pak’s who debuted two years prior while Hercules was coming off a somewhat breakout appearance in Civil War where he served alongside Captain America’s anti-registration team. The two characters were paired up in the pages of Incredible Hulk alongside Angel of the X-Men and Namora of the Agents of Atlas as the Renegades, Earth heroes aligned with The Hulk during his attack on The Illuminati, at first at least.

Amadeus goes through quite the journey during World War Hulk; he starts the event absolutely sure that The Hulk is a hero, based on his own personal interaction with him one time but as the attack on Manhattan continues, Amadeus’ faith in his hero wanes and he realises that while he may be one of the smartest people in the world, he still sees things through the black and white worldview of a teenager. Hercules meanwhile is a bit less complex in his motivations; Amadeus actually manipulated Hercules into joining the Renegades by hacking into SHIELD and firing missiles at them, which I’m not sure if Herc ever discovered, now I think about it.

Amadeus and Herc are actually a really small part of this story, they spend it in one place, trying to fix a growing chasm in the street, which is surprising considering how their title was probably the most high-profile of the spin-offs from this issue. Perhaps that’s why; Incredible Hercules carried on the numbering of Incredible Hulk and received a fair amount of attention compared to the other “Aftersmash” titles, so it’s possible that Pak thought Warbound and Damage Control needed more focus within the narrative of this one-shot.

Looking back, I’m not sure what the legacy of Incredible Hercules is because I remember it really fondly, but I think it kind of got hamstrung by attempts to keep it going despite low sales. In order to recommend it, you can’t just say “hey, read Incredible Hercules!” you have to recommend Incredible Hercules and the Assault on New Olympus event, Hercules: Fall of an Avenger, Heroic Age: Prince of Power and another event in Chaos War and then the short-lived Herc ongoing series. I definitely think this is the best thing to come from this one-shot, but I don’t know if it fully stands up as a “classic run” of the era, as controversial as that may be to say.

Rafa Sandoval, Vicente Cifuentes, Val Staples & Joe Caramagna (Marvel Comics)

Speaking of pet characters of Greg Pak, the Warbound are Hulk’s allies from the planet Sakaar who journeyed across the stars with him to get revenge on The Illuminati, but with Bruce Banner in custody they find themselves on a strange planet full of superpowered beings very angry at them for their role in Hulk’s attack. The Warbound are made up of Korg, No-Name of The Brood, Elloe Kaifi and Hiroim The Oldstrong and they start this story in a really divided place, having not only lost their way but also in learning that one of their own, Miek, was responsible for the destruction of Sakaar and the whole purpose of their war was wrong.

The Warbound start this issue in SHIELD custody but they break out when things kick off between the Hivelings and the native Sakaraans who blame each other for events of the attack on Manhattan. However, they find themselves stopped by Spider-Man, The Thing and Luke Cage, leading to a big brawl. Elloe slips past the heroes to try and stop the warring aliens but gets stabbed in the chaos and Hiroim uses his Oldpower, channelled through the rocky forms of The Thing and Korg, to fix the growing chasm. As the dust settles, the Warbound slip away from SHIELD forces and run away out of the book and into their own spin-off miniseries.

From here, the Warbound don’t make a massive impact on the Marvel Universe and their miniseries is fun, if not forgettable. They find themselves up against The Leader, trapped in a walled off area of the New Mexico desert known as Gammaworld. Hiroim ultimately dies, sacrificing himself to stop The Leader but before he does he passes on his Oldpower to a SHIELD Agent named Kate Waynsboro. They showed up a couple of times after this, becoming allies with Hulk’s half-Sakaraan son Skaar but only really ever in titles written by Greg Pak. The biggest impact any of the Warbound has had since this story was Korg’s breakout appearance in the Marvel Cinematic Universe; first in Thor: Ragnarok and then again in Avengers: Endgame where Taika Waititi reinvented the stoic Kronan into a soft-spoken revolutionary.

Iron Man
Rafa Sandoval, Vicente Cifuentes, Val Staples & Joe Caramagna (Marvel Comics)

So, I don’t think World War Hulk: Aftersmash is necessarily advertising Iron Man’s series to you the same way it wants you to read Incredible Hercules or Warbound, but the events of World War Hulk did have a major effect on Tony’s ongoing series at the time and it’s my favourite run on Iron Man, which no-one ever talks about, so I’m taking the opportunity. At the time, Tony Stark’s ongoing comic was Iron Man: Director of SHIELD written by Charles and Daniel Knauf, the father/son creative team who created the television show Carnivale. However, for the two-part World War Hulk tie-in, Christos Gage took over for two issues which focused on SHIELD’s response to their leader being captured by The Hulk.

You’d think a two-issue tie-in to an event in the middle of a run by a different creative team to the regular team would have no impact on the future of the title, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. The tie-in issues establish the existence of a bomb which could be detonated and open up a kind gravitational well that would pull everything into the Negative Zone. This weapon would later be pulled out and use by Iron Man during his fight against The Mandarin at the end of the Knaufs run, rewarding readers who held on for the two-issue tie-in and proving there was a larger plan at play.

I probably could have cut this bit from the article but you underestimate just how much I will talk about Iron Man: Director of SHIELD if given the chance. It came out at the same time while Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting’s “The Death of the Dream” story in Captain America and was just as exciting and compelling a superhero thriller as Bucky, Falcon and Sharon Carter’s attempts to find their footing in a post-Steve Rogers world. This is a hill that I am more than happy to die on.

Tom Foster
Rafa Sandoval, Vicente Cifuentes, Val Staples & Joe Caramagna (Marvel Comics)

The murder of Goliath by the cyborg-clone of Thor during Civil War was perhaps the most controversial moment in a series which went out of its way to be quote-unquote “politically charged”. I’m not best equipped to dig into the complexities of exactly why a black man having a hole blown in his chest by what essentially amounted to a police drone in the form of an Aryan wet dream, but I trust you’re smart enough to realise what that was a bad call. I also don’t think I really need to mention how wrapping his body in chains before burying it was also poor optics, to say the least.

Civil War kinda brushes past the human cost of Goliath’s death, it’s a story beat to reinforce Captain America’s position and make Iron Man question his own but Greg Pak takes the opportunity to run flesh out the aftermath of Bill Foster’s death by introducing his nephew Tom Foster, who justifiably wants revenge against Iron Man for the death of his uncle. He first appeared in World War Hulk as a leading voice among the pro-Hulk civilians but in this issue he sneaks into Avengers Mansion and gets his hands on Pym Particles, growing to giant size in order to attack Iron Man. However, by the end of the story he willingly puts his hate aside in order to protect people as his uncle would have.

Tom’s story continues in the pages of World War Hulk Aftersmash: Damage Control and Damage Control has always been one of my favourite concepts in the Marvel Universe. When I was a lad, my uncle gave my a folder full of American comics and Damage Control #1 by Dwayne McDuffie and Ernie Colon was among that assortment — I still have it, in fact. I’m a massive sucker for how different industries operate within a superhero shared universe and I think learning about the existence of a superhero clean-up company at such a young age really expanded my expectations of the kind of stories you could tell within these settings.

Tom would learn to channel his anger at the system into something good, becoming the new Goliath as an employee of Damage Control. Unfortunately, he would relapse into antagonism under the pen of Brian Michael Bendis as he joined Wonder Man’s Revengers, a team of one-time heroes with axes to grind against the A-List heroes of the Avengers. Most recently, Tom was serving a prison sentence for his actions as a member of the Revengers but earned a pardon by helping stop a prison break led by the Mad Thinker.

Overall, I think this is one of the best constructed preview anthologies just in terms of craft and presentation. The weaving of each of the stories into one narrative doesn’t really happen in these kind of comics for a reason; it’s really hard to give everyone a shining moment and much easier to just do one story followed by another story followed by another story. However, part of the reason this series exists is to examine how big an impact the different comics being previewed had on the line and the shared universe and that is one regard in which this unfortunately issue is let down. 

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