The Leader has been the Hulk’s long-term arch-enemy, yet despite the Leader’s superior intelligence the Hulk’s always beaten him. This time, though, the Leader has allied himself with other genius-level villains, and it would seem he’s finally won the day. In Fall of the Hulks we saw the Leader sideline the smartest superheroes, and Bruce Banner was nullified. All in all, a good day’s work, and this opens with Banner living an idealised life in which he’s married to Betty, they have a couple of kids, and kindly old Grampa Thunderbolt Ross loves playing with them.

It’s a fantasy life being pumped into his head, and during his unreal working day he mixes with the other geniuses the Leader disabled, Doctor Doom the one pushing at the boundaries he realises are artificially imposed. That’s just the start of a wide-ranging epic that crosses over into other stories, but considerately, ensuring this collection can be enjoyed without great reference to them. Greg Pak sustains the necessary intensity about the brewing crisis, and also supplies a bombshell ending to each chapter, the first being the revelation of who the Red She-Hulk is, then not known.

The closing chapter begins with a video recording by Bruce Banner, identifying himself and claiming “I’ve spent the past few months manipulating and betraying almost every superhero and government on the planet”. As confessions go, they don’t come much bigger, and it introduces the climactic battle cementing World War Hulks as bring pretty well everything you’d want from a Hulk story. As in earlier volumes, Paul Pelletier’s pages mix sheer power with detail and great visual characterisation. The ending’s perhaps a little twee, but that can be forgiven.

So why only a three star rating? That’s because ‘World War Hulks’ only occupies just over two-thirds of the book. Running parallel to the main story are short interludes featuring another son the Hulk is unaware of, Hiro-Kala, also with a grudge against his father. These three shorts by Scott Reed and Miguel Munera don’t seem to be connected to the main story, and indeed, they’re not, but they have a great relevance to the following volume Dark Son. It reveals how Hiro-Kala seems to have hit rock bottom, but how he taps into salvation. It’s necessary explanation for what’s coming, but it’s dull. We just don’t care enough.

Finishing the collection is a Bill Mantlo story from 1985. It’s grim, which is the intention as it explores Bruce Banner’s youth with his violent and intimidating father. It’s of its time in drawing parallels between Banner’s brutalised influences and what he became, meaning there’s no subtlety at all. The primary interest is art by Mike Mignola so far removed from his later signature style that were it not for the credit it would be considered the work of a different artist.

Anyone wanting the complete World War Hulks story shouldn’t be put off, but the core is here and not everything is essential.