Moving on from Captain America to another Marvel icon, today’s book is the newest run of the ongoing adventures of the Incredible Hulk – and what may be the best comic Marvel is putting out right now.
As always, we’ll be dropping a review at the end of the post, but first, some background on the different forms of the ‘Jade Giant’, from the classic Hulk to the infamous Worldbreaker!
Published by: Marvel
Written by: Al Ewing
Art by: Joe Bennett & Lee Garbett
Collects: Avengers #684 & Immortal Hulk #1 – 10
WHAT’S THE STORY?
Immortal Hulk, among a great many things, predominantly follows the rise of a new (kind of) Hulk personality. That of the ‘devil’ Hulk. Devil Hulk has appeared before, initially some twenty years or so ago, but he’s never had as much play as he gets in this series.
That is, in part, because with Immortal Hulk, writer Al Ewing puts a huge emphasis on the fact that Bruce Banner has Dissociative identity disorder, and as such, the reason for his and the Hulk’s vast differences in behaviour and intellect is due to the fact that the Hulk is one of Banner’s ‘alters’.
It just so happens that in Bruce Banner’s case, his alter was the one who received his powers when Bruce was caught in that fateful gamma blast that transformed him into…
Real Name: Robert Bruce Banner
Affiliation: The Defenders
First Appearance: Incredible Hulk #1 (May 1962)
Dr Robert Bruce Banner was one of the world’s foremost experts on nuclear physics, and his vast knowledge and prowess in his field taking him into the employ of the United States military, in the hopes he would gain funding for his other, more humanitarian projects, in turn.
There, Banner was stationed under Airforce General Thaddeus ‘Thunderbolt’ Ross, who had him work on an experimental Gamma Bomb. During this time, Bruce met and fell in love with Ross’ daughter, Betty Ross, starting a relationship that would endure despite Bruce’s dark future.
When the day came about to test his new bomb, Banner was horrified to see a young man, Rick Jones, had broken onto the testing grounds. Sacrificing himself to save Rick, Banner rushed onto the grounds and pushed Rick into cover, but was caught in the explosion. His cells irradiated by the Gamma bomb, Bruce was cursed with a monstrous, dim-witted alter-ego with God-like strength; becoming an anti-hero of sorts, ‘the strongest one there is’… the ‘Incredible’ Hulk!
Now that you’re up to speed on who the Hulk is (not that you needed it, everyone knows who the Hulk is), we’re going to quickly run through the main alters of Bruce Banner leading into this series, because nearly all of them get a bit of play at some point in the Immortal Hulk, and it’s just worth knowing because there’s so much more to the Hulk than the lumbering green beast.
First up, obviously, is Bruce himself. A seemingly meek scientist who does his best to portray himself as calm and collected, while in truth he is a rather volatile and rage-filled individual. Bruce has no powers beyond being able to transform into the Hulk when enraged. He is, however, a genius, as evidenced by the fact he created the very bomb that transformed him into the Hulk. Over the years, he has managed to create a vast array of weird and wonderful things in the pages of his comics, to a degree that some of his inventions are borderline magical (not literally – but in the world of comics, when people read a certain level of brilliance, they can basically invent anything – see Mr Fantastic’s various creations).
Next is the ‘Savage’ Hulk. The most famous of the Hulks, and the one most often adapted into other media, the Savage Hulk has immense strength that grows with his level of anger. He is dim-witted, often showcasing a limited vocabulary. In many ways, he resembles (mentally) a child; naive, quick to upset, and prone to tantrums. He is aware of Bruce Banner as a separate personality and doesn’t like him very much. He’s also very aware of the fact that Banner has repeatedly tried to get rid of him. Despite his limited mental capacity, the Savage Hulk has often shown a great amount of intuitiveness. He’s in touch with the more spiritual elements of the Marvel Universe and can sense things that regular humans can’t, like the presence of ghosts.
In his first appearance, the Hulk was actually grey. However, due to printing and ink issues at the time, he became green. Later, this green Hulk would be reconciled as a different alter of the Hulk. The most famous of the various grey Hulks (there are minor variations on all of these different alters) is Joe Fixit. As Joe Fixit, the Hulk displays more intellect than his Savage counterpart. In fact, he is generally rather savvy and cunning. However, whereas the Savage Hulk, deep down, is a kind, innocent soul, Joe Fixit deals in vices. He is arrogant and hedonistic, and has also been described as ‘the moody teenager Banner never allowed himself to be’. True to form, this Hulk’s favourite stomping ground is Las Vegas, where he has previously worked as a bouncer, and as such, some of the Vegas culture and lingo has rubbed off on him. He generally only comes out at night.
Fans of the MCU will be familiar with this one. ‘The Professor’, also known as the ‘Merged’ Hulk, is the union of the various Hulk personalities with that of Bruce Banner. As a result, ‘the Professor’ is a genius with godlike strength. He physically looks more like Banner than the more regressed looking Savage and Grey Hulks. However, with that intelligence and a touch of Banner’s personality comes certain mental restrictions that stop him from cutting loose like his more popular counterpart. Instead of tapping into his unlimited rage-fueled strength, the Professor has been known to use various gadgets and technology to help him in his adventures. As of yet, he is the only alter not to show up in the near-40 issues of Immortal Hulk.
Also known as the ‘Worldbreaker’ Hulk, the Green Scar is the most powerful of Bruce Banner’s alters. He came about after the Hulk was shot into space by a group of superheroes including Iron Man, Mister Fantastic, Doctor Strange and Professor X, with the hopes he would land on a peaceful planet and be able to happily roam until the end of his days. Instead, he was thrown off course and landed on the gladiatorial planet of Sakaar, where he was forced into combat. Eventually, he overcame his plight, became the planet’s champion, fell in love and had a child. His time on Sakaar made him more intelligent and cunning, and through mutual respect and understanding with Bruce, able to better focus his rage. As his potential for a happy life and fulfilment was taken away from him, he is the angriest and subsequently the strongest of the Hulks, to the extent that at his peak, he begins emitting immense amounts of gamma radiation, and his mere footsteps risk damaging the planet.
As previously mentioned, other alters come and go as the story dictates, but as of Immortal Hulk, these five, plus the emerging sadistic ‘devil’ hulk personality, are the main ones who still occupy Banner’s mind.
As to how these various personalities mix and react to the ‘Devil’ Hulk’s dominance, you’ll have to read the book to find out…
WHAT’S THE PLOT?
Bruce Banner has died many times. Most recently, it was at the hands of Hawkeye, who he had asked to kill him if ever he was on the verge of transforming into his monstrous alter-ego, the ‘Incredible’ Hulk. Using a special arrow of Bruce’s own design, Hawkeye reluctantly shot banner in the head.
But as always, Bruce, and the Hulk, have returned…
But this time, things are different. The Hulk is only coming out at night. And he’s smarter. More sadistic.
Something in the gamma has changed the way the Hulk works, and he’s not the only one who’s feeling its effect.
As the monsters come out to play, the U.S. government, the Avengers and the former Canadian super-team Alpha Flight quickly realise the Hulk situation is more dire than it ever has been before.
While I am technically reviewing just the first ‘book’ here, I’m going to be talking rather generally about the series as a whole, because while I have read all of it, I’m not going to write a post about every arc because it would be redundant – they all have many of the same pros, and all I would be doing is citing different examples to say the same thing.
Namely, that this series is great.
I’m not a huge Hulk fan. I like some of his stories, but he generally wouldn’t rank anywhere near my top five (Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, Thor, Luke Cage and the Winter Soldier, in case you’re wondering).
But Immortal Hulk is better than all of those other heroes current series’ at the moment. Yes, I’m constantly interested in the ongoing developments of my favourite hero over in Amazing Spider-Man, but Immortal Hulk is just on another level.
The series is just so moreish. The various twists and turns, ingenious situations and gruesome new developments are fascinating, and the various cliffhangers, enticing. It’s top tier writing. In some ways, it could be compared to the long-form complexity of the books Jonathan Hickman put out (SHIELD > Fantastic Four > Avengers > Secret Wars), but while Hickman’s writing can sometimes be overly complex and seemingly tries hard to be intellectual, Ewing’s Hulk yarn manages to be every bit as detailed and informed, and yet welcoming and open at the same time.
Sure, there’s a lot of background Hulk knowledge that would make the experience more enriching, and it tackles some grand themes that people may not be initially familiar with, but there’s enough context baked into the story that you can easily get by without half a century’s worth of Hulk knowledge.
Another big part of its success is the decision to pivot the Hulk further into the horror genre than most creators do. So much of Hulk’s identity and his rogues’ gallery is monstrous and disgusting, but rarely are they allowed to run wild with such dark takes. Dismemberment, acid burns, crumbling cadavers and cannibalism are just some of the gory things on show in this comic, and the way Joe Bennett brings the various body horror aspects of the story to life is delightfully disgusting.
Each new adversary of the Hulk has the capacity to fascinate and gross-out the readers, whether that be the acid-spewing Abomination, the grotesque Harpy or the deformed Leader. It’s beautiful, in its own special way.
There are some occasions where Bennett is temporarily replaced on the art duties, and the comic is weaker for it, but fortunately, it’s never for long.
Ewing and Bennett are a powerhouse team. Their take on the Hulk is horrifying in all the best ways, the unprecedented amount of depth they grant to this horror-tinged property easily makes it stand out among Marvel’s other books.
I’ve seen people say this run is a classic in the making, and I don’t disagree. I would recommend this to any horror fans and any Marvel fans who are looking for something to read.
It’s amazingly gruesome, delightfully creative and touchingly insightful.
It will make you love the Hulk.
All-in-all, I definitely give it a very enthusiastic…
Thanks for reading! What do you think of the Hulk? Incredible or boring? And who are your favourite Marvel characters? Let me know in the comments below!
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