THE IMMORTAL HULK #1 / Writer: Al Ewing / Penciler: Joe Bennett / Inker: Ruy José / Color Artist: Paul Mounts / Letterer: Cory Petit / Publisher: Marvel / June 6, 2018
Comics, television, and cinema have portrayed Bruce Banner and his alter ego, Hulk, in many ways over the years. Since I’ve never been a strict fan of either, I won’t attempt to count those ways. The Hulk presented in The Immortal Hulk #1 by Al Ewing, though, strikes me as a brand new vision, a dark vision spinning out of Avengers: No Surrender, one in which there’s a horrific method to Hulk’s madness.
The Immortal Hulk #1 starts off with a piece of misdirection. A twelve-year-old girl enters a convenience store as her mother pumps gas. A hunched over man, his baseball cap low, lurks inside. Is he a bad guy? No, the bad guy is a man who enters after the girl and pulls a gun on the clerk. The girl drops her soda, and the gunman kills her. The man in the cap, his eyes suddenly bright green, falls next. The clerk drops after that. As it turns out, the robber is a young husband and father who owes money to loan-sharking bikers. The night following the robbery, he pays the money to the bikers and is on his way out when all hell breaks loose. The young thief, Tommy, hears the chaos as he frantically tries to get in his car. He’s too late. An enraged Hulk–who was present at the shooting in the person of Bruce Banner–confronts Tommy. Before he inflicts any physical injury on him, Hulk forces Tommy to acknowledge the girl he killed and answer whether he believes himself to be a good person. Things go poorly after that.
The Immortal Hulk #1 is the definition of a slow burn—a horror story that starts out innocuous. Ewing begins the issue on an otherwise (and forgive the horror of this phrase) ordinary robbery and shooting. That Bruce Banner is one of the victims is only hinted at the end of the action. This everyday horror is a surprising inclusion. Vigilante super heroes often battle super villains, but there’s no super villain here. When Tommy meets up with the biker gang to which he owes money, he tells them his “sob story” about his family and not having a job. The gang doesn’t particularly care. Is Tommy being honest or looking for an easy way out? Ewing doesn’t say definitively, but it’s implied that Tommy’s being honest—that he’s a young man who made a bad decision that spawned escalating bad decisions.
Enter the Hulk. Ewing hides the Hulk for as long as possible. The beating of the biker gang happens almost entirely off panel with only a pair of green arms initially visible. The reader feels the fear of the moment through Tommy who frantically searches for his keys. Further, hiding the Hulk heightens curiosity and dread. What does he look like? What are his motives? Finally, confronting Tommy, Hulk unleashes a “bad cop” style psychological grilling—and then nearly kills him. The Hulk has often been a frightening protagonist, but usually when he’s frightening, he’s a mindless beast, a force of nature that doesn’t make the conscious choice to hurt individuals. What sets this issue apart is that Ewing’s Hulk is fully conscious of his actions. Hulk hurts the bikers; there’s nothing special there. When it comes to Tommy, though, Hulk doesn’t just hurt him, he punishes him—mind and body—for what he did.
Ewing’s story for Immortal Hulk #1 creates the perfect spine for a horror story, but it’s largely the art team of Joe Bennett, Ruy José, and Paul Mounts that conveys that horror. This starts with the Hulk, the payoff for all the suspense. This Hulk is vicious with neon green eyes and a smile that is simultaneously happy and out of place on the monstrosity wielding it. Prior to the Hulk’s appearance, this issue focuses on other characters’ eyes and faces. Minor players feel like they have top billing because Bennett is able to convey real emotion on their faces. It’s this emotion that makes the reader feel for Tommy despite what he did, and it’s this emotion that makes the reader wonder at and fear Hulk’s eventual actions. Meanwhile, José’s shading is spot on throughout—just enough to add the feel of weight and movement. On top of that, Mounts’ colors are instrumental in making the night scene work; he balances dim light and shadow just right. This issue is every bit as much of a visual horror as it is a written one.
Few superheroes are protagonists inside suspenseful horror stories. Even fewer of those protagonists are the horror in the horror story. Hulk is both. Ewing created a new vision for the Hulk, one portraying him as a brutal revenger. As a whole, the creative team on Immortal Hulk #1 succeeded in creating Hulk’s darkness by showing the life and humanity surrounding him. This issue is a horror show of the best kind—the kind where the reader isn’t sure who’s scarier. To Banner the answer is a simple one. But is that the same answer the dead twelve-year-old girl would give?
Verdict: 5 out of 5 Men in the Mirror
Theron Couch is a collection of 1000 monkeys on 1000 typewriters trying to produce Hamlet. From time to time he accidentally types comic book reviews. Theron’s first novel, The Loyalty of Pawns, is available on Amazon and he’s published assorted short stories. Theron maintains a blog with additional comic and book reviews as well as posts on his personal struggle with mental health.