It’s very rare to see such a combination of critical acclaim and incredible sales for a Hulk comic book, which makes Immortal Hulk quite special. It’s a horror series that has pushed the needle in terms of what we might expect from a Hulk comic while delivering incredible body horror visuals and a complex, thought-provoking story. Due to the pandemic, it has been months since the last volume–volume 6 came out in March–but out this week is Immortal Hulk Vol. 7: Hulk is Hulk and it’s yet another example of how this series pushes the comics medium in new directions.
#1: A thoughtful examination of identity
The exciting thing about this series is how it balances ideas about identity, awareness, and the absurd as a normal function of life. You see it when Banner looks directly at us with crazy eyes, or when a character sits questioning their place as Xenmu makes them believe a lie.
Midway through this book, Bruce is talking at the reader in an unhinged way. He’s walking closer to the reader, raising scary vibes only to cut to a double-page splash of a monstrous Hulk killing all sorts of heroes. It’s a good way to ramp up the implications of where Bruce is mentally and that plays a big part in this story. Very early on we come to realize the man, and the monsters within, aren’t thinking straight, putting Hulk into a weak state. The only way to stop the unstoppable Hulk, it seems, is through his mind and the mind of the monsters within. This creates a good conflict for him to overcome by the end of the story.
#2: Unparalleled body horror
The body horror in this book is not something you see in a superhero comic, which seems to be a statement about the creators and likely is giving readers unfamiliar with it something new to enjoy. Bennett continues to draw imaginative ways to make the grotesque give you a bad taste in your mouth — in a good way. The book is smart at depicting these gross monster images at varying sizes, and yet always in vivid detail. Pitarra draws the internal war going on in Hulk’s head and it does a good job establishing the various Hulks inside the character. The vivid and atmospheric horrors by Bennett mix well with the stylized and cartoonish look of PItarra’s pencils.
#3: The very best bad guys
It’s unfortunate villains like Xenmu and the Leader aren’t more familiar to the casual audience. Maybe that’s because they’ve always had a B-movie sci-fi vibe, or maybe it’s because Al Ewing hadn’t written them yet. Both villains get a lot of time in this book, Xenmu in the main portion fo the book and the Leader in a later chapter. What sets them apart is how they are a different kind of evil, one that wants something not easily given, and that requires they transcend to a place that’s wholly terrifying.
Immortal Hulk #34 focuses exclusively on the Leader and delves into his backstory. Here we see what made the man who he is and what he truly wants. The attention to detail is exceptional, giving us a fully realized version of the character. His goals may not be that easy to relate to, but you can understand him. This story also does an exceptional job revealing how the Leader’s life is entwined with Hulk’s, further cementing the fact that the Leader is Hulk’s arch-nemesis.
Immortal Hulk has been in good hands with Ewing and Bennett at the helm, and they are joined by Mike Hawthorne, Javier Rodriguez, and Butch Guice in this collection. What makes this book stand out is how smart it is, never relying on gross-out visuals alone. Hulk and the horrors that come with him continue to be grotesquely delicious, but at its core, it’s one of the most thought-provoking comics on shelves today.