June 4, 2019 - Benjamin Bailey - IGN.COM
The most buzzed about superhero comic right now isn’t an epic event series or a hyped run by the hottest new creators on the scene. The comic that everyone is talking about is a slow-burn horror tale that deals with death, abuse, religion, and cosmic horror from Marvel Comics. Since debuting last year, The Immortal Hulk has been a commercial and critical success that has lead to multiple printings of each issue and reports that, in some comic stores, it outsells the likes of Batman comics and The Amazing Spider-Man. A year ago, nobody would’ve guessed a Hulk comic that features very little smashing while it wallows in bleak darkness would be the talk of the industry, but here we are. The Immortal Hulk is one of the best superhero comics being published because it’s smart, philosophical, scary, and perfectly structured.
When writer Al Ewing and artist Joe Bennett launched The Immortal Hulk back in 2018, they made it clear right away they were taking the character in a very different direction. The first issue is about a gas station robbery gone wrong. It’s about a 12 year-old girl being murdered. The Immortal Hulk #1 featured no supervillains or evil aliens bent on world domination. It was about the sort of evil that people do everyday. It was dark and unforgiving.
This gas station robbery also served the purpose of introducing another element that would set The Immortal Hulk apart from previous runs on the character. In the same shooting that took the life of the little girl, Bruce Banner was murdered. His body was taken to the morgue and when the sun set, the Hulk rose. No longer was the Hulk the product of rage and anger, he was now death incarnate. In order for Banner to transform, he had to die, and once night fell he would rise again, only this time as a monster. As a giant green devil.
From there, Ewing and Bennett took the Hulk on a gamma-infused road trip through Hell. They leaned heavily into religious symbolism and Lovecraftian elements of dread and horrors from beyond. These were not situations the Hulk could merely punch his way out of, which was a major change of pace for the character (obviously). The Immortal Hulk is not about what it means to be strong or angry. It’s not about science or heroics. It’s about what it means to be good or evil. It’s about what happens when someone is both.
There is something to be said about this introspective approach being a big attraction, as well. It’s the exact opposite of what we get in superhero entertainment these days. Typically, we get stuff like Avengers: Endgame which feature scenes as crazy and epic as what you will currently find in Marvel’s event series War of the Realms. There’s a focus on huge spectacle, which is great but it’s nice that The Immortal Hulk offers something different; a philosophical story that moves slowly and rarely features big, heroic moments. It’s the exact opposite of what we get in our current crop of superhero output and that makes The Immortal Hulk a breath of fresh air.
These dramatic changes to the fundamentals of the Hulk are definitely a huge factor in the The Immortal Hulk’s success, but the book is also wrapped in familiar dressings that tap into a sense of nostalgia for long time fans. The nomadic Banner is reminiscent of the old Incredible Hulk television show starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno. The battle with The Avengers in the second arc is classic Hulk stuff, with the heroes throwing everything they have at the Hulk while he smashes them down again and again. It’s scene we’ve seen several time in the Hulk’s history and it serves as a great reminder of the character’s raw power. Then, there’s the “man or monster” dilemma which is the very foundation of the character, although here it’s played for horror as opposed to superhero adventure. By keeping these elements in play, Ewing and Bennett are embracing what fans love about the Hulk while spinning new and exciting ideas that take the character into uncharted territory.
Of course, the biggest factor in The Immortal Hulk’s domination is the execution. The reason that this series is so popular is because Ewing and Bennett -- along with colorist Paul Mounts and cover artist Alex Ross -- are going big and nailing it every issue. Ewing’s scripts are poetic and haunting, like a mixture of Stephen King and Friedrich Nietzsche. Bennett’s pencils are equal parts smooth and horrifying. He brings in elements of Jack Kirby’s Hulk but pours in a heavy dose of terror and gore. His Absorbing Man is straight out of John Carpenter's The Thing. Bennett’s coloring turns the green glow of gamma into the stuff of nightmares and Alex Ross’ covers are glorious works of art that capture the tone of the series perfectly. In other words, the level of craft in The Immortal Hulk is staggering.
The Immortal Hulk is a monster success and unlike any other comic being published right now.