At this point, it’s widely accepted that Immortal Hulk is a classic in the making. Al Ewing’s and Joe Bennett’s disturbingly realized vision of the Hulk continues to impress month to month. With the main book entering into its final arc and the Leader’s machinations coming to fruition, it seems the series is on track for an epic conclusion. However, with so many moving pieces at this juncture in the narrative, it’s a far cry from what this series started out as. Here is where Immortal Hulk: Flatline comes in. Helmed by all-star creator Declan Shalvey, Flatline harkens back to the humble origins of this great series that retains the layered storytelling it’s become known for.
What sets this issue apart from the typical one-shot lies in its sole creator. Shalvey works triple-time as he writes, draws, and colors the issue all himself. It’s impressive to see a creative tackle such a daunting task, but Shalvey makes it seem easy — every aspect of the issue displays the incredible command he exercises over the comic form. It is through this that Shalvey is able to fully realize his creative vision, which yields a breath of fresh air into the Immortal Hulk. The narrative picks up in a classic Hulk setup with Banner aimlessly drifting from town to town. Alongside this, Banner and Hulk are not on good speaking terms, which seems to be taking its toll on the pair. With the arrival of a mysterious visitor, there comes an opportunity for reconciliation or self-destruction that both Banner and Hulk are forced to reckon with.
From the first page, Shalvey lays out the entire thematic thrust of the issue and establishes its introspective tone. Here he brings his signature “wide-screen” sensibility to the issue’s art. The use of wide paneling fully immerses one in the story and adds a cinematic aesthetic to the whole issue. This also works at effectively pacing the narrative across the whole issue. This style of page layouts lends itself to establishing a consistent reading flow early on, only for it to be broken later.
Such stylistic choices allow the paneling to noticeably break pace for key moments to breathe and feel unrestricted. This becomes especially prevalent in the latter portion of the issue as the “Hulk’s time” shines through more action-oriented beats. From a design and layout perspective, one would be hard-pressed to find a reading experience that better suits this narrative.
Another artistic aspect that works wonderfully is the depiction of Hulk during the day. During “Banner’s time” in the daylight, the Hulk is never far out of sight. He frequently lurks in various reflective surfaces rearing his rage-fueled emotions. This keeps a constant tension in the quieter scenes and offers more insight into Banner’s emotional state than his exterior reactions express.
The issue’s coloring is also particularly effective — Shalvey gives the issue a color palette that oscillates between the familiar greens and yellows to dark blues and reds. Shalvey’s sparing use of greens in the initial act of the narrative works especially well as infrequent highlights before giving in to the gamma-fueled moments that ensue. This ends up lending each page its own style that changes and evolves as the narrative unfolds.
Behind the exceptional art and engrossing narrative lies a much more intimate message. One can tell from the initial panels this is a story dealing with depression and its crippling effects. As the main Immortal Hulk series has proven time and again, Banner and Hulk’s relationship makes for prime material to explore this subject matter. Here, Shalvey takes this central premise seriously and delivers an emotionally rich tale that ultimately serves as an encouragement to anyone struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts.
Immortal Hulk: Flatline #1 is a triumph of an issue. Every aspect of it works perfectly in tandem with the rest for a totally engaging story. Shalvey has truly crafted an exceptional entry worthy of the prestige associated with this series. Flatline offers a breath of fresh air not only for the series for sequential storytelling as a whole.
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