Horror tone breathes new life into the Hulk (Review)

Spoilers for The Immortal Hulk #1-5 and Avengers: No Surrender #684

A frequent criticism of superhero comics throughout the past few years has been their predictability. While this can be debated, The Immortal Hulk by Al Ewing and Joe Bennett is anything from a traditional superhero tale, as it leans into the Hulk’s Jekyll and Hyde origins.

After its resurrection during the maxi-series, Avengers: No Surrender, Bruce Banner decides that he’s not ready to let the world know he’s back, especially since his relationship with the jade giant has changed. Now, in order for Banner to become the Hulk, he must die.

A common occurrence as, in the first issue, he’s shot in gas station robbery and the Hulk takes over beating the robber to the point of crippling him.

The second issue takes Banner to a town where people seem to be suffering from a “grief sickness.” Every time a person visits the graveyard they are afflicted with illness and eventually die. The sickness is eventually revealed to be the attempts of a scientist to bring his son back to life with gamma radiation. It is resolved with the Hulk sealing the mad scientist in a very deep grave still alive and trapped forever.

These issues really emphasize the Hulk’s moral ambiguity as he puts his foes in states worse than death.

The third issue revolves around the B-List Hulk villain,Hotshot, as he attempts to find a priest to exorcise his girlfriend as she rants about a green door and her powers go haywire. Hotshot eventually holds up a church while the Hulk crashes through the window to defeat the villain. Sounds fairly simple, but it’s probably the most creative issue in the graphic novel.

It’s told from very different perspectives each with their own art styles with which the witnesses give their own accounts. A cop sees the Hulk as a hero and the art resembles a classic style. An old woman sees Hotshot as a noble, James Dean look-alike, so the art makes Hotshot look like the hero while the Hulk, looks like the villain. It all helps add to the theme that the line between hero and monster is blurry at best.

The last two issues of the graphic novel follow Dr. Walter Langowski, aka Canadian superhero, the Sasquatch. Langowski aids reporter Jackie McGee in her search for the Hulk. Langowski is looking for Banner in an attempt to fix the problems he’s having with his Sasquatch alter ego, as the Sasquatch was brought about through the same Gamma experimentation as the Hulk.

Langowski is eventually stabbed during a bar fight while they were gathering information, forcing him to transform into the Sasquatch where he starts killing doctors and destroying the hospital he was staying in.Hulk shows up to stop the destruction; however, during the fight it’s revealed that the Sasquatch is actually being controlled by the spirit of Bruce’s abusive father Brian.

This fact terrifies even the Hulk, but he eventually stands up to Brian and defeats him by absorbing the Gamma energy the Sasquatch naturally emits, freeing Langowski and destroying the Sasquatch permanently. Hulk leaves before the authorities arrive but not before seeing the smiling image of Brian Banner in his reflection.

It’s the scariest part of the book by far and its impressive because at a glance Brian looks like a normal person, but the fact that he scares one of the most powerful characters in the Marvel universe, the Hulk, is bone–chilling.

Like most good Hulk stories, The Immortal Hulk asks “What is the difference between a man and a monster?” and it does so with flying colors.

Nearly every line in the book is written with dripping uncertainty as the characters struggle with their own humanity and the monstrous foes they face internally and externally. This is encapsulated at the end of issue one as Bruce looks into a mirror and asks, “I’m not a bad person. Am I? What do you think?” to the demonically smiling image of the Hulk.

The art really adds to this dark and oppressive feeling. Joe Bennett really emphasizes the monstrous appearance of the Hulk, with veins showing over his body and dark green eyes piercing the reader. Special mention also needs to be made of the covers by Alex Ross, whose realistic paintings work perfectly to accentuate the horror themes of the series.

The colors by Paul Mounts add to the oppressive feeling as well. I cannot think of a single panel that features bright colors, which works perfectly for the type of tone the creators are trying to achieve.

Overall, The Immortal Hulk Vol. 1 Or is He Both? is both a great horror comic and superhero comic. It is well written, well drawn and perhaps most important of all, very beginner–friendly for those looking to get into comics. The Immortal Hulk is a must read, regardless of your familiarity with the Marvel universe.

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