It’s almost easy to forget that the Immortal Hulk – which is now an ultra-high concept book that is equal parts science fiction epic and psychological thriller – started as a straight up body horror book. Those first couple of issues, with Bruce Banner wandering from town to town, waiting for the night to come and the Hulk to emerge, was some of the best horror in comics. (Well, at least in the Big Two – James Tynion IV and Cullen Bunn have each done some absolutely fantastic indie horror stuff.)
Spoilers ahead for Immortal Hulk #39!
As the comic has moved into a more traditional superhero fare, the horror has somewhat receded – to be sure, the body horror is still there, but it’s less horrific on a thematic level.
Immortal Hulk #39 follows up on the plot thread from last time. The Leader, Samuel Sterns, has dove into Banner/Hulk’s mindscape, imprisoned the quasi-malevolent ‘Devil Hulk’ and took up residence in the visage of the ‘Worldbreaker’ Hulk, who did the whole Planet Hulk and World War Hulk thing. Sterns, it seems, has been playing our heroes for fools this whole time – Sterns was behind Brian Banner, and has been manipulating people all around Bruce Banner for a while.
And it’s this issue where the horror reappears with a vengeance. Devil Hulk is ripped to pieces, literally. Brian Banner is consumed, literally made a part of the Leader, as Sterns’s head and torso splits open, revealing a Xenomorph-like second mouth, grotesque sets of insectoid legs, and a brain so large it splits his skull open. Even Bruce himself is horrifically, grotesquely tortured. His entrails and veins are grown and twisted into a tree, with roots growing into the corpse of the Devil Hulk. Each branch of the “tree” is plugged into its own little green door.
Joe Bennet is doing career-defining work on this book. There’s no doubt about it. It’s traditional comic book art infused with this distinctly maligned, twisted horror alignment. It’s equal parts Dave Cockrum and H.R. Giger, if I had to pick two influences. And it is impressive. With every punch and jump and shout, you feel this palpable sense of action, of tense strength . . . and then you look at who exactly is doing those actions. These horrific looking, absolutely disgusting figures, who each are like something ripped from Alien. They’re disgusting, terrifying, and absolutely awesome.
Look, if you haven’t started reading Immortal Hulk by now, I doubt there’s much I can do to convince you. But you need to be reading Immortal Hulk.
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