Seth Tomko is a writer, college-level educator, and adventurer.
Bruce Banner is just as surprised as anyone when he returns from the dead, and he finds himself a victim of his own life. Every morning he wakes up naked and penniless because every night he becomes the Hulk, who operates with his own agenda, inscrutable even to Banner. He mostly seems to be trailing other people exposed to gamma radiation, many of whom have been seeing the same vision of an open green door.
Trailing the Hulk’s path of destruction is Jackie McGee, a reporter for the Arizona Herald. She has convinced her editors to give her a lot of leeway because she broke the story of the Hulk’s return. She also has personal reasons for her chase, stemming from a childhood incident with the Hulk. Sasquatch, another Gamma-powered superhero from Alpha Flight, also hunts for Banner because of his personal history with him. None can tell, however, if when their paths converge what will prevail: the rational Bruce Banner or the angry destruction of the Hulk.
While this is a superhero comic, it is also a horror comic. Banner doesn’t want to become the Hulk, but he knows that every night he will. Doing so leaves him incapable a living anything resembling a normal life, so he lives at the mercy of the Hulk. As it turns out, he has to live. Readers discover early on that while Bruce Banner can die, the Hulk cannot. Evoking images of Frankenstein’s monster, the Hulk takes control of Banner’s body one night on a coroner’s table, bring dead flesh to life. Often the art is drawn in a way to evoke framing from horror movies because the Hulk is terrifying.
Some of this terror comes from body horror. Banner is rightly afraid of his own body, what it becomes, and what it does. Turning into the Hulk is rendered as a painful and gruesome process, similar to a werewolf transformation, and in this incredible, indestructible body, Banner is a prisoner to the Hulk’s demands. Additionally, the art is gory in a way that a superhero comic often is not. Both Banner and the Hulk suffer grievous injuries that are rendered in detail. In issue two, Banner thinks about how he tries to appreciate his senses while he has control of them, cluing in the readers that these sensory experiences are both his escape and his prison. The Hulk is drawn as towering, monstrous, and destructive. He becomes almost a force of nature, and he is frequently compared to an earthquake.
To go along with the visceral body horror is something more complex yet just as disturbing. The Hulk is vengeful and purposeful. He isn’t like an earthquake because earthquakes don’t come as punishment. The Hulk, however, is a punishing force, causing harm to the people and property he deems deserving, especially where Gamma radiation is involved. All the while, Banner questions for how much of the Hulk’s actions is he responsible. There is a deliberate invoking of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to underscore this bifurcation, and a constant motif of mirrors and reflection reinforces this dichotomy of minds and intentions.
The Hulk’s penetrating stare and ability to smell lies is something that happens to make the perpetrators of crimes confess before he punishes them, which carries religious connotations and seems to intrude on Ghost Rider’s territory. There are several references to the Hulk being the devil, and all the Gamma irradiated people report this same vision of a green door, with at least one character speculating it is the gate of Hell. These elements give a book that is already rich in horror components another layer that is mysterious and unexplained, therefore unsettling.
The Immortal Hulk is a great read. This book will appeal to longtime fans, giving them a different take on the Hulk, and anyone interested in getting into it will appreciate how it focuses on the character first without having to know the decades of backstory. These Hulk stories promise a wild and unique ride, and they certainly deliver.
Ewing, Al. The Immortal Hulk, Vol. 1: Or Is He Both? Penciler Joe Bennett, Inker Ruy José. Marvel, 2019.
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© 2019 Seth Tomko