By Hussein Wasiti — I can’t stop thinking about The Immortal Hulk, the ongoing book by writer Al Ewing and artist Joe Bennett that gives the jade giant a Cronenberg-esque rehaul. This comic is by far the most fascinating and engaging comic published by either of the Big Two, and the book’s success — despite its esoteric nature — is a testament to the strength of the storytelling.
I don’t make the Cronenberg connection lightly; the Canadian filmmaker’s penchant for body horror makes for an obvious comparison with Ewing and Bennett’s work in this comic, and I found myself thinking of other Cronenberg films that explore violence and the duality of self, specifically A History of Violence and Eastern Promises. I’m a Cronenberg nut, which means these connections might not seem like the most obvious ones to make to others, but it informed my reading of the comic, especially this first volume that collects the issues #1 - #5 of the series, along with a portion of Avengers: No Surrender.
Despite being a big Marvel fan, I actually haven’t read a Hulk comic aside from the early Jack Kirby and Stan Lee stuff. While this comic is written by a Hulk fan for Hulk fans, it’s insanely accessible, and Al Ewing manages to introduce and layer so many elements of the Hulk mythology without it seeming overbearing or impenetrable to a new reader like me. It reads a lot like Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting’s Captain America run, which told a new story but folded in the character’s entire history, creating the ultimate Cap story, and no story featuring that character has been the same since. That’s also how I would characterize The Immortal Hulk; it’s definitive, weaving decades of stories into something that feels new and fresh.
One particular aspect of the book that enlightened me was the exploration of Bruce Banner as a person. I really had no idea he was this messed up. The theme of violence begetting violence from A History of Violence rears its head here: the Hulk as we know him, the one who is prone to smash, comes across to me as an angry child, a manifestation of years and years of abuse with no outlet or form of therapy. The Hulk as we know him now, which the series later dubs as “the Devil Hulk,” is a different manifestation of Banner. The Avengers: No Surrender portion of this collection explores the many deaths of Bruce Banner, and to me the Devil Hulk reads as a culmination of his death experiences, one tired of being played by the system as Ewing and Bennett depict in the opening salvo, and one who seeks to make a difference in any way they can in a new way.
Bennett has been around for a long time, but here he makes his explosive mainstream splash, one that has already put him on the map as one of the greatest artists to ever tackle the Hulk. He manages to deliver the scale of the character as we have seen for decades, but Bennett gets to flex his character-acting chops by infusing such energy and expression into the Devil Hulk. Ruy Jose provides inks and Paul Mounts’ coloring provides the exact amount of unease and vibrancy that this book calls for.
Ultimately, what makes this book resonate with me is its insistence to take chances, to take a universally-beloved character like the Hulk and tell a story that truly has never been done before. Who would have thought that people wanted to read a horror book featuring the Hulk? It’s one of the most original Big Two comics right now, and those pining for a fresh take on the character seriously cannot go wrong with this first trade, which perfectly sets up Banner’s new status quo.
The Immortal Hulk Vol. 1: Or is He Both?
Writer: Al Ewing
Artists: Joe Bennett, Leonardo Romero, Paul Hornschemeier, Marguerite Sauvage, Garry Brown
Inker: Ruy Jose
Colorists: Morry Hollowell, Paul Mounts, Paul Hornschemeier, Marguerite Sauvage
Letterers: Cory Petit, Travis Lanham, Paul Hornschemeier
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Release Date: December 2018
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Hussein Wasiti is a history undergraduate with an intense passion for comics. He is a staff writer on The Beat and a contributor to Comics Bookcase. You can find him on Twitter as bullthesis. He lives in Toronto with his hordes of comics.