Writer: Al Ewing
Artist: Joe Bennett
Contents: Immortal Hulk #1-10 and material from Avengers #684
The Hulk is back from the dead. Literally. After taking an arrow to the head Bruce Banner has risen from the grave as the Immortal Hulk. Now, Bruce is trying to live in a world that thinks he’s dead and he wants to keep it that way. Unfortunately, there’s a new, seemingly unkillable Hulk who takes control of his body during the night. It’s intelligent and sadistic and making it very difficult for Bruce to keep his existence under wraps. Who is this new Hulk? What is its purpose? Most importantly, if it’s evil then can it be stopped?
This is the first in a series of over-sized hardcovers chronicling the newest Hulk comic by Al Ewing. Some of you may know Al for his work on Zombo at 2000AD. Much like Zombo, The Immortal Hulk is a horror series. It isn’t as heavy on comedy as the 2000AD book though, although there are moments of levity. The Immortal Hulk is surprisingly grim for a Marvel comic. Throughout these pages, you’ll find moments so horrifying that they’d make a Mortal Kombat fatality look tame. This isn’t some lazily written book reliant on shock-value though. Ewing tackles themes such as mental health issues, parental abuse, insecurity and the negative effects of pride throughout this book.
The book starts off with a fairly simple issue. Banner, a store owner and a young girl have been gunned down in an attempted robbery. You’d think that would be it now that our protagonist is dead but it’s not. As soon as the sun goes down Bruce is resurrected as his body regenerates and he turns into the Hulk. Now the Hulk is intent on tracking down the robber and taking revenge. It’s a great introduction to the series.
This and most of the first few issues are standalone stories. The second issue has Banner investigating some disappearances occurring in a small town. The third is an almost Rashomon-style tale with multiple witnesses being interviewed by a reporter. Each tells their part of how the Hulk confronted the gamma-powered Hotshot. The beautiful part of that issue is how each witnesses version of events is shown in a different artstyle. It helps the reader understand who’s telling which part of the story and gives a nice tribute to vintage comics.
Throughout these tales the Hulk sightings are being investigated by Jackie McGee, a reporter who eventually reveals his existence. This is where things really start to pick up. As per usual the military starts hunting Banner after this. Throughout the rest of the book he’s forced to deal with The Avengers, Sasquatch and an upgraded Absorbing Man. Normally Hulk just wants to be left alone but as these opponents find out, that’s not the case anymore. Over the course of these encounters Ewing explores the themes I mentioned before. We see Banner trying to deal with his multiple personalities and it’s discussed by other characters who know him. We’re given insight into his past and his time in college. The book also touches on his abusive father and the fear both Banner and Hulk still have of him. Finally, in the last few issues we see how pride can tear a man apart.
The art is mainly handled by Bennett. He’s an incredible artist. His characters are drawn very realistically. They’re expressive too, especially this new Hulk. There’s moments where you can just see the sadistic intentions in his facial expressions. He’s got a smile that would scare the Joker. He’s not purely evil though. There’s a page in the first issue where his expression changes from panel to panel. The robber is begging for mercy and you can see him considering it through his changes in expression between panels. The human characters like McGee and the Avengers accomplish this too. You can tell how they feel at a glance. Of course it wouldn’t be a Hulk book without some action and I assure you the action looks great too. The fights generally stay fairly simple but it helps add some realism to them so that’s a good thing.
The main thing that people praise about this series though is the horror elements so let’s talk about that. It deserves the praise. The Hulk is portrayed like a horror villain in some issues, lurking in the dark, just waiting to attack. It’s one of the advantages to this idea that he can only transform at night. It allows Ewing and Bennett to make Hulk seem like a legitimate monster. This also justifies the use of a darker colour scheme when the Hulk takes over. All of this helps make him and the monsters he fights seem scarier. The body horror is the main thing though. It’s terrifying. Things happen in this book that are not only visually terrifying but psychologically too. Standouts for this are issues 2, 8 and 9. Like I said, it makes Mortal Kombat look tame and that’s quite an accomplishment for anything in the horror genre.
The lettering throughout this book is another highlight. One of the things I love about it is how so many characters have uniquely coloured narration boxes. Sasquatch has orange boxes for example while Captain America has blue ones. Banner and Hulk also have different shades of green for theirs. It’s a great way to separate Banner’s personalities and make it obvious who is speaking at a given time. There’s also unique speech bubbles for certain characters like Iron Man and Ghost Rider. It helps draw attention to their dialogue. Meanwhile differently shaped speech bubbles such as the one Thor has after Hulk punches him helps illustrate the damage taken. Nice little touches and alongside the great artwork and writing this all adds up to a fantastic collection of comics.
We get a surprisingly good amount of special features in this book as well. We get half a page worth of series editor Tom Brevoort’s thoughts from the developmental stages of Immortal Hulk. On top of this we get prototypical plans for the opening of the first issue. There’s also an essay on the character by Ewing himself alongside sketches, character designs and variant covers. I’ve read omnibuses that were three times the price of this book with less than this so I’m extremely impressed.
Overall, this is well worth picking up and I’d even say it’s an essential read for any Hulk fan. Even if you’re not into the superhero genre and just like horror comics this’ll likely appeal to you. It’s smart, terrifying, well-written, visually stunning and above all, accessible. Knowing the character helps but it’s not a requirement to get into this series. The main story explains everything you need to know for each issue. Additionally, we have part of an Avengers issue that covers the Hulk’s origin. It also gives some extra detail on how he died prior to this series. My only criticism is that this Avengers material isn’t at the start of the book. It would have been more useful to new readers. Still, this is an insanely good hardcover and I’d definitely recommend grabbing a copy and getting into this series.
The Immortal Hulk Hardcover Volume One
This book was utterly incredible. It documents the first 10 issues of the series while including some material relating to it from an Avengers comic. The writing in this was so intelligent in the way it handles not only Bruce and his multiple personalities but the side-characters and their own issues. The stories themselves were interesting too and the constant mystery of "The Green Door" had me intrigued throughout the book. The art was phenomenal. Bennett was amazing throughout the issues here and the artists who handled the viewpoints of the witnesses in issue #3 and the Absorbing Man's point-of-view did a great job too. Plus, Alex Ross' work on the covers is just impeccable. The lettering could've been more inventive in places but it was certainly above average. On top of this we have enough special features to rival an omnibus. Just an amazing book from start to finish.