After a brief hiatus to tell the story of the Leader – through the continuity-bending, horror focused lens of The Immortal Hulk – Al Ewing and guest penciller Mike Hawthorne return to the saga of Bruce Banner, Joe Fixit, the Savage Hulk, and the other various Green Giants of Marvel Comics.
Coming with him are the other characters of the Immortal saga, so far: Doc Samson, Betty Ross, Rick Jones, Doctor McGowan, and so forth. In the aftermath of the defeat of Xemnu, the white-haired epitome of nostalgia, the Roxxon company has collapsed, falling into bankruptcy and promoting the Incredible Hulk into the heights of fame and love. Yet, even so, the Devil Hulk, the malevolent hulk personality that The Immortal Hulk began with, has vanished.
The Xemnu story was about weaponized nostalgia, the tendency of media – comics specifically, but in a world where the dominant paradigm for films seems to be endless remakes and sequels of movies from the ’80s, media more broadly – to uncritically return to the status quo from creators’ childhood. It’s not hard to find examples thereof; arguably, the last decade or so of DC Comics has been defined by such. And The Immortal Hulk #35, despite having already passed the Xemnu story, continues to operate on that theme. Xemnu is gone, but the Hulk is still locked in the throes of this nostalgia. He can’t escape, despite his incredible strength and powers, the nostalgic perceptions of what the people of the Marvel Universe – and the readers – expect him to be.
With Xemnu and Roxxon defeated, and the world now accepting of the Hulk, we see Hulk reverting to a character that is reminiscent of the one from the ’60s and ’70s. His revolutionary rhetoric, the cries that he would “end the world,” and fundamentally rework society in order to forge the type of world that could outlast the ills caused by humanity, is abandoned in order to create a viewer-friendly, corporate-friendly Hulk. He may have defeated Xemnu only for Banner to become him. It’s not a coincidence, in fact, that Banner is praised by the forces of corporate America – such as Mike “the Mic” Jacobs, sponsored by Alchemax – and the state, in the form of the mayor of Georgeville, the same town that had once been destroyed by the Hulk in his battle with the Avengers, earlier in the series.
In all of this, the Hulks that are agents of change – the Green Scar, the Devil Hulk – remain locked in the background.
The Immortal Hulk #35 is, like the previous issues in the series, a fantastic comic. Ewing has been firing on all cylinders since the very first issue, writing a total reconceptualization of the Hulk that works with the basic themes of the character, but puts it in the frame of cosmic horror. Hawthorne’s art emphasizes this, with expressive art that both shows a deep sense of emotion in the human characters, and yet, in the Hulks, a deeply inhuman horrific build. These comics only improve with every issue, and it’s hard to find flaws in The Immortal Hulk #35.