When a character has been around for as long as the Hulk has, it’s hard to envision that there’s anything new or exciting that can be done with them. We’ve seen the Hulk be an Avenger, die, come back to life, become a professor, a world breaker, divorced from Bruce Banner, die and come back to life again, and…you get the idea. With so much history and iterating bogging them down, where do they go from here? Writer Al Ewing and artist Joe Bennett’s second volume of the imitable Immortal Hulk, aptly titled The Green Door, says “Back to the Beginning.”
It is, surprisingly, the most refreshing thing that could be done with the character, and it works in ways one would never expect, but that feel open to new ideas for years to come.
What’s it about? Marvel’s preview reads:
Bruce Banner is alive and on the loose — and now the entire world knows it. Soon the Hulk finds himself hunted once again — this time by the government, Alpha Flight, the mysterious Shadow Base…and the Avengers! Someone’s going to find him first, but which option is least bad? It might not matter, because Bruce has bigger problems. Something terrible has infected him…
Right off the bat, that’s a more bombastic, superhero-esque premise than the first volumes slower “on the run” introduction. Where that volume, Is He Both?, had famous Hulk iconography in Bruce Banner hitchhiking around, investigating a kind of monster of the week story, this one deals in underground laboratories, Hulk breaking Thor’s skull, and numerous references to General Ross. It’s the other half of the story; the big, green, monster half. It’s referential, yes, but also inventive and fresh, taking the core elements and imagery of the character and delivering them in a streamlined way with big and small moments alike.
It works fantastically.
As Hulk brings Banner, somewhat reluctantly, back to where this all began to the gamma bomb test site — the place where Banner died and was reborn — Ewing writes with a sense of immediacy. One that furthers the original horror inclinations of the book well. The author has said before that this is a plot taking the character back to the very early origins of a “monster that comes out at night” and both in Banner’s inner turmoil and in the larger struggles, it succeeds in delivering a message about trauma, doubt, and means to an end.
Banner and the Hulk are locked into a deadly race against time as whatever is on the other side of the supernatural green door makes its way into the waking world. They’re also locked in a deadly struggle against each other. Haunted by images of their abusive father (and I do mean “their”), taunted by something that seems to know more about them than they do, the story is grounded in a plot that sees Bruce’s body (of which he’s not always in control) expressing doubt and trauma through violence. A later scene where Hulk’s body is emaciated, thin and garish, with a distended stomach, but still raging further this message that he’ll do anything to see this through…that he is “Devil Hulk”. Sure, it’s on the nose, but it delivers its messages very effectively. So, too, with the numerous images of Hulk not entirely obfuscated by windows, but rather contained within them — peeking through to the world, wanting and waiting for a chance to rage.
This, in turn, gives some credence to villainous traits the Hulk has taken – at one point literally absorbing an adversary into his body in a Carpenter/Cronenberg like display of gore. Is it justified? No, probably not. Certainly not in the way he treats his former allies, but is it understandable? Yes, maybe more than we would ever say aloud. When the gateway to Hell is opened at the end it feels both deserved and horrible all the same.
Ewing has thought not only about parallelism in the dialogue and narration, which is delivered in a kind of morose poetic way, but also in the plotting and imagery so obviously and deeply that I can’t help but commend it wholeheartedly even if some of the fight scenes here seem a little like filler.
Similarly, Bennett’s artistic effort here is very much about that struggle. Hulk pounding against glass, which I think is a real photo effect laid over illustration, looks fantastic. So does a gross, upsetting image of him dissected and contained in various jars — his eventual escape is one of the most genuinely upsetting things I’ve seen in a Marvel comic in years. Only so, though, because it’s measured against a small, exhausted Bruce Banner — weak and afraid, struggling to communicate with the monster inside of him. This duality, as it does in Ewing’s script, carries this second volume, and while it mostly leans into the Hulk’s view, it does so successfully because it sets up the stakes and scale very well. There’s some obfuscation and confusion in big fight scenes, and the Avengers’ fight really lacks any cohesion as the artist’s strengths are in one on one fights, but that’s mostly transitory and doesn’t drag the book down too severely.
Especially fantastic is the penultimate fight scene, between Hulk and the Absorbing Man where one page drawn by Martin Simmonds demonstrates Creel is turning the tide of the fight by rendering everything in a more painterly, watercolor-esque style that has followed the character through the issue. It’s similar to the “word of mouth” narrative-driven issue in the first volume, where these characters paint their own imagery, and larger than life events are interpreted entirely differently depending on who the audience is (the same could be said for how Hulk looks on either side of the glass). There’s also a head and attached spine wrecking ball in this thing…what’s not to love?
Ultimately, Immortal Hulk has taken a trajectory I never would’ve expected, but one I appreciate more than words can express. Its messages are vast and scary, but deep and relatable. It’s about our own bodies, and how internal trauma and doubt manifest themselves in the real world in often horrific, terrible, and sometimes uncontrollable ways. It’s also about superheroes and big fight scenes. The mere idea that these creators can assemble a narrative that meets those two different needs so wholly demands attention and praise, and I’ll gladly keep reading for as long as they keep creating. Hulk is home — he doesn’t have to like it, but we should.
Like what we do here at AIPT? Consider supporting us and independent comics journalism by becoming a patron today! In addition to our sincere thanks, you can browse AIPT ad-free, gain access to our vibrant Discord community of patrons and staff members, get trade paperbacks sent to your house every month, and a lot more. Click the button below to get started!