Immortal Hulk was a series on my radar for some time. It’s an Eisner award nominee. Several sites name it as one of their top ongoing series. And it also features Al Ewing, a writer I love for his more intellectual, detailed approaches to scriptwriting. (Take a look at his Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor series to see this done very well.) But my knowledge of Hulk as a character comes with the face of Mark Ruffalo and the MCU. In other words, I’ve never read a Hulk comic. This left me wondering if jumping in to this series at issue #20 was perhaps the right place to do so. Would there be enough context for me to understand, or will I be hopelessly lost?
Immortal Hulk #20
Joe Bennett (penciler), Belardino Brabo (inker), Marc Deering (inker), Al Ewing (writer), Ruy Jose (inker), Paul Mounts (colorist), VC’s Cory Petit (letter) Marvel Comics
July 3, 2019
The first answers to these questions come in the opening quote from Timothy Leary: “This is now the hour of death and rebirth.” That was my first hint that maybe I’m coming in here at a crossroads. The space between those two metamorphoses is a fine time to explore what has come before and recap the reader. I might just be in luck! And that’s just where we find Bruce (in Gamma Hell) with his father. Ewing wisely uses this moment to explore the father-son relationship and drop some hints of what has taken place before. Hints are good, but they’re not perfect. But I know enough to stay curious, particularly when I see Bruce’s reactions to his father and mother. Facial expressions tell me what the script doesn’t do so overtly.
Unfortunately, when the action returns to Earth, I lose my way. It’s great to look at, from Hulk’s muscular glory and the fun Joe Bennett has in drawing action scenes. They prove fine contrast to the naked wizened Bruce Banner in Gamma Hell, showing how different two sides of this same man are. But amidst all the punching and kicking and Hulk-Smashing, it’s hard to figure out the plot. Hulk’s battling some half-human, half bird creature that has a connection to him. It’s not just in how he says her name (“Betty”) but it’s in his eyes: concern, fear, sadness. He is afraid on many levels and for many reasons.
Thanks to other supporting players, I find out that the creature on the attack is Mrs. Banner, Bruce’s wife. And she’s infected with something called the “Abomination.” (That name alone tells you this is not good news!) With that information alone, I have enough to understand her relationship with Bruce. Something has taken over his wife and made her a monster, and it pains him to watch his lover turn enemy. Not a perfect setup for a new reader, but enough to understand and progress through the rest of the issue.
Here is where I wish some of that excellent exposition from earlier made its way here, because I was starting to lose interest. And with that comes a temptation to cheat and fire up the ol’ Google to figure out what I’m missing, but I’m here to evaluate this issue on its merits alone and without the help of outside sources.
One thing that did keep my interest, as I mentioned before, was Joe Bennett’s art. He crams a great deal of detail into scenes without making them feel overcrowded. I may be a bit lost on the overall plot, but I’m certainly enjoying what I’m looking at as I’m reading. And that art does provide further development of the clues the script drops, such as the twisted anger in Mrs. Banner’s face as the Abomination takes control.
Once this final battle concludes, the finale brings back that idea of death to rebirth, a wizened man (presumably Bruce) in space, facing existential questions of who he is and what he will become. More of that deep philosophical stuff I liked at the start, which had me wondering: was this the conclusion of an arc? (Based on some later detective work on Comixology – after I finished reading, of course – it appears this may be the case.)
I’m pleased with how strong this issue started out. But I got a bit lost once the cast grew past Bruce and his parents. I made it to the end, but there were just too many information gaps. But that opener is what stuck with me most. It was that reminder of the genius of Al Ewing’s writing: the ability to dig deep and explore emotion and philosophy alongside action. And artwork works well to enhance those ideas and elevate them to higher levels, as well as explain what is unsaid further on in the issue. Did it make me curious enough to go back and start where I properly should, at the beginning? Most certainly.