Doomed planet. Desperate scientists. Last hope. Kindly couple. (Alright, maybe not so much a kindly couple as a pair of psychopathic murderers, but whatever…)
Fresh off of the Hulk’s war with Shadow Base and the neo-cosmic interlude of #25, The Immortal Hulk #26 imagines a world so harrowing, so horrifyingly decimated by corporate interests that it could only come from the mind of acclaimed horror writer and noted Minecraft fan Al Ewing. With the Earth being systemically destroyed by disaster capitalism spearheaded by a corporation run by a literal monster, Banner has taken it upon himself to deliver an ultimatum to the human race: Hold the responsible parties accountable, or the Hulk will.
This main through-line of the issue is honestly haunting. Framed as a conversation between Banner and old protégé Amadeus Cho, the story reaches further and further into the emotional depths, appealing first to the reader’s humanity, then their rage. Over the course of the conversation, Banner moves from smug dismissal of Cho’s concerns to outright rage — rage at society and rage at those who would keep the status quo. Righteous anger burns beneath Banner’s eyes, an unyielding drive to punish the world from its ultimate outsider. And punish the world he does. With his manifesto broadcast worldwide, Banner becomes an inspiration, a countercultural icon. A wave of discontent grows within the citizenry of Earth, particularly the younger generations as they struggle to find their identity in a post-corporate world. The movement grows, gathering momentum and disrupting society’s power structure as more and more begin to question authority and its bonds over humanity. With Banner’s appeal to Cho, the reader is beckoned into this anti-authoritarian mindset, asked to question the bonds they themselves have been placed under.
Now of course, this is a reflection on the exact issues society faces today. One would hesitate to even call it a commentary, as the situation is so plainly laid bare. Mega-corporations seemingly operate with little to no accountability and in doing so ruin the quality of life for both the current and future generations.
Now is the issue’s representation of these social issues heavy-handed? Yes, and honestly at times it even trends toward too depressingly real. There is something to be said for escapist fantasy and its relationship with social commentary. Politics do of course belong in comics, but there comes a point where the message can be too realistically bleak to effectively tell the story it wants. The difference with The Immortal Hulk and its treatment of these social issues is that it absolutely comes from a place of good faith. It does not revel in the despair of what the world has come to, instead offering an optimistic path forward to those who are discontented by society’s ills. Additionally, there is a certain amount of posturing that is frankly quite funny, as Bruce’s “evil” personality Joe Fixit leads this social revolution. The book posits that the Devil Hulk and noted self-serving Namor themselves recognize these evils of the world and are disgusted by them, making the reader constantly wonder who the despicable force is that could turn even these men socially conscious.
As an entry into the larger narrative, The Immortal Hulk #26 is an interesting beast. As a standalone issue in a vacuum, it introduces numerous plot threads that will be carried throughout the coming arc and beyond. However, it is a notable departure from the tone with which the series has operated for at least the past few issues. Everything about it still feels like classic Ewing, with his brand of personality, continuity, and eye for story structure. However, after the events of the Shadow Base war, it comes off as slow at times. The high-octane action of the previous arc is contrasted with a cerebral story of social structure and commentary on climate change. This is absolutely not a bad thing by any means; not only would nonstop action bore the reader, but breathers like this help to focus in on character moments, to check in on their state of mind. The issue at hand is what feels like sharp juxtaposition transitioning from one story to the next. In fact, while #25 is a magnificent experiment in cosmic storytelling and a fantastic issue by itself, it does not help this feeling of being lost, as it introduces a more tangible division between the two arcs. This does of course come down to personal reading preference, however. This feeling ultimately varies from reader to reader as they move through the larger narrative. Additionally, this is such a small and personal complaint that it has little bearing on the merits of the issue itself, merely something to keep in mind for the reading experience.
The new chapter of The Immortal Hulk has begun, and if there’s one thing to be certain of, it’s that this chapter will be memorable. Cathartic and anti-establishment at its core, the new socially conscious Hulk is exactly what’s needed in the modern world. Bolstered by the ever-fantastic team of Bennett, Jose, and Mounts, the issue promises to challenge expectations at every turn, delivering its unique brand of horror by showcasing the world outside your window.