This continues directly from Planet Hulk, in which the Hulk was sent into space, landed on Sakaar and became the figurehead for a revolution. Now bonded with the surviving aliens he first met in gladiatorial combat as Warbound, he’s returning to Earth with revenge on his agenda. The Hulk considers the people responsible for his exile to be Black Bolt, Mr Fantastic, Doctor Strange and Iron Man, and he and his crew plan to deal with them all. Greg Pak continues his impressive Hulk run with John Romita Jr on art. Both deliver.

An evacuated New York serves as the primary battleground, and, as Spider-Woman comments early on: “The Hulk’s stronger than he’s ever been and each of his buddies is almost as strong as he used to be”.

The scene is set for the most spectacular scenes of Hulk mayhem ever committed to the printed page, and thanks to Romita Jr they’re provided. We’ve all seen the Hulk battering someone through a building before, and we have it again, but the imagination at play here is far greater, and the compositions for the battle scenes are stunning, both up close and at a distance. Settling on a single example, early in the book Iron Man accepts responsibility, dons his chunkiest, most protective armour ever, and flies headlong into the Hulk. The traditional accompanying sound effect is absent, but we have the full vista via hundreds of impact lines, the glass shattering in surrounding buildings and helicopters wavering in the sonic reverberations. It’s reprised in even more spectacular fashion near the end, and equal consideration applies to other such scenes.

As magnificent as it is, the sheet amount of pages require more than action, and while Pak’s plot is relatively straightforward, he delivers an emotional core by focussing on those who know they’re about to meet the Hulk. Doctor Strange is central, and his manner of coping with the Hulk a credible departure, while the obedience implants introduced in Planet Hulk have a significant part to play.

To begin with, this is the best Hulk event there’s ever been, but it doesn’t reach the finishing line in peak condition. Warbound are most frequently used to stand around and comment, although Hiroim has a good scene with Doctor Strange. A gladiatorial sequence is bleak, but unconvincing, the revelation behind assumptions setting most of World War Hulk in motion is weak, and in the Marvel continuity of the time Thor is absent, so the Sentry is substituted. The less familiar character pulls a considerable sting, although his participation is well foreshadowed. There are enough stunning set pieces though, and a sense of desperation well sustained that make this a substantial read. It leads into a relaunched Hulk series by Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness in which the Red Hulks are introduced.

The UK edition provides improved value by including extra material. The closing chapter is two glimpses of alternate Planet Hulk scenarios, both written by Pak and drawn by Leonard Kirk and Rafa Sandoval, but neither is compelling. A later individual comic did the same for World War Hulk, this time featuring Thor. Better is the Peter David written prologue, which appears in American editions of World War Hulk: Front Line. There’s a discussion between the similarly gamma irradiated Jennifer Walters and Doc Samson, while the Hulk is on his way to Earth and reminiscing about his earliest encounters with his enemies. Sean Phillips, Al Rio and Lee Weeks draw the different strands. Warbound are followed up in the book of that title.