Life is broken. All is broken. In a far-flung era, too impossibly distant to comprehend, life has evolved. And life has met its match in the color green.
It is immediately made apparent that this isn’t an ordinary Hulk story; nothing is ordinary about this story. Baked in the hardest of sci-fi roots, the pure conceptual power at play in Immortal Hulk #25 is astounding. Biotechnology is omnipresent, a truly alien aesthetic that simultaneously bends the mind with its vibrant intricacy and alienates the reader, reminding them that this is not our world, that this is not the Marvel universe we know. Built as a spiritual sequel to Ewing’s own Ultimates, the issue takes place in the never-before-seen Ninth Cosmos. After the events of Immortal Hulk #24, it was revealed that the Hulk had survived until the end of the (current) universe, positioning himself into an opportunity for unimaginable power. In the same way Galan of Taa endured the death and rebirth of the universe to become Galactus, Destroyer of Worlds, the Hulk has become a force of nature, universal destruction and despair incarnate. As such, the Ninth Cosmos is bleak. Where Galactus imposes, Hulk rampages. Where Galactus perpetuates the inevitable entropy of the cosmos, Hulk simply kills. Life as we know it has ceased to exist.
In its stead the universe is populated by new hyper-sentient, hyper-empathic creatures. Devoid of gender and mentally linked on a deeply personal level, they exemplify the idyllic connected nature of the universe, defiant in the face of impending doom. This is one of the many ways the issue shines. Because the story is told from the perspective of Par%l, it offers an engrossing perspective. As the reader is immersed in the culture and mindset of the beings, they begin to understand the universe as a whole. Bright flashbacks, fond memories of a simpler time for Par%l, fade into an abyss of oppressive darkness. Paradoxically, this abyss forces the reader into a sense of claustrophobia. With nothing but the emptiness of the void as far as the reader can see and as far as Par%l can feel, unease takes hold. This is a new style of cosmic storytelling for Marvel. There are no Guardians of the Galaxy, no indication of any universal gods watching from the Omniverse. There is the cosmos, and the cosmos itself tells the story. The visceral and emotional response to this brilliant worldbuilding is a true testament to the skill of the art team, García and O’Halloran.
There is a strong and concerted focus on colors in the narrative of the issue, and the artists collaborate to enhance this plot device from text to a concretely vivid experience. García fills the page with intricate detail, demanding the reader to hang on every line and every experimental design. He was tasked with translating an entirely new cosmic aesthetic to digestible visuals, and he delivered on every level, creating compelling alien scenery and crafting the visual language of the universe as the reader is introduced to it. However, none of this would have a fraction of its impact without the mind-bending work of Chris O’Halloran. With such a sharp narrative focus on colors and how they relate to the physical laws of the universe, expectations are high. O’Halloran easily exceeds them. His palette is bright, accentuating every light source in the art, beckoning the reader to wonder at the majesty of light staving off darkness on all sides. And yet, there is no uncomfortable contrast at all; everything about it feels cohesive. The stark shift occurs when green crawls from the abyss. The forbidden color invades, creeping into the utopian blues and golds. It shocks the senses and corrupts the reader’s thoughts, providing a tonal shift to accentuate the horror of the situation Par%l finds hir self in.
With Immortal Hulk #25, the series enters its third season. Banner and his counterparts have fought their way past the Avengers. They have fought their way through Hell, glimpsing incredible existential agony in the process. They have fought their way through shadowy organizations, bent on wiping our “heroes” away and using whatever shreds remain for their own nefarious purposes. What this anniversary issue offers, however, is the promise that there are battles that cannot be fought through. One of the highlights of the series so far has been its cryptic fascination with theology and how it related to the concept of pure, unadulterated evil.
These religious overtones return in full force with this issue. Every scene and every element of the comic build to an existential nightmare. Evil has triumphed. Now, this is admittedly a common trope in superhero comics, to the point where it may seem trite. Rest assured, there is nothing trite about Immortal Hulk’s treatment of Evil. With every harrowing tease, the dread amplifies to create a terrifying overarching mood for the series. This begs the question: How does Immortal Hulk #25 fit into this narrative? The whole issue is intentionally unique, and nothing about the universe portrayed within resembles anything Immortal Hulk readers know about the larger Hulk narrative or the Marvel universe itself. Throughlines do appear to tie the vignette to the rest of the saga, but does that necessitate such a departure from what has been proven as an established, tried and true run on Hulk? It wouldn’t be an Al Ewing comic if it didn’t. With every story beat, with every philosophical question posited to the reader, the story exhibits the trademark suspense and wit of one of the greatest superhero sagas ever crafted.
Looking backward to incorporate heady established concepts to set the stage for a new kind of cosmic story, and reaching forward to forge his own path and make an indelible mark on the future of comic storytelling, Al Ewing has promised an incredibly vibrant path in the next chapter of the Jade Giant. Ewing, García, and O’Halloran have created a living, breathing universe all their own, literally untouched by any creator before. Each page turn builds suspense, each moment builds atmosphere.
As a quick aside to the testament of this atmosphere, Ewing has stated that his main track for the creation of the issue was Radiohead’s “Everything in its Right Place,” and the influence is palpable. The breathy and distorted cosmic feel permeates the issue, with dark undertones reaching out, threatening to take over at a moment’s notice. A similar experience can be found with the album The Wilderness, by Explosions in the Sky. The rawness of its instrumentation with its deep, cutting melodies encourage the reader to open their mind and experience the comic to its fullest. This is the most fascinating thing about the issue. It serves to push the franchise forward into a new era, and in doing so it relies on a very specific tone. In order to feel the full impact, one must first consciously open their mind to the influence of the issue’s atmosphere, much like Par%l opens hir mind to flourish in the universe at large.
Ultimately, Immortal Hulk #25 is a unique opportunity for an unparalleled experience and readers should revel in it as such.