We’ve been dreading the end of Immortal Hulk as much as enemies dread the Hulk, but the penultimate issue of Immortal Hulk hits shelves this week. It’ll be October 13th when the finale drops, but before then Al Ewing and Joe Bennett take a unique approach in Immortal Hulk #49. You can see in the preview the team has dropped the use of word balloons and conventional captions and gone with text to the left and right of the page. It’s a bold choice and it works.
Immortal Hulk #49 opens with a quote by Dante Alighieri from The Vision of Hell. It’s a poetic quote that sets up the general flow of the text for the rest of the book. That text is narration by Jackie, a character who opened this story and is clearly closing it out with Hulk. The general flow of the language is poetic and thoughtful. You read it as if you’re in Jackie’s head from her reflections on a superhero battle taking place feet from her to reflecting on the Fantastic Four rocket that gave them their powers.
As a reporter, Jackie gives us a play-by-play of the events while supplying color and commentary on her point of view. It helps ground the story in the human element and how fantastical these characters are before her.
There’s also something to be said about how Ewing has Jackie reflect on the mainstay heroes and their relationship to Hulk. It’s as if this issue serves as a stripping away of other types of heroes in the face of Hulk. Opening the book with her reflections on the Fantastic Four helps establish the hero that comes from an accident which explains how they connect with him here. That connection is heartfelt, especially with Thing which adds heart to the story.
Jackie’s narration blends well with the art thanks to Joe Bennett filling out the splash pages with plenty to soak in. The superheroes waiting for Hulk in the preview page displayed below give you a lot to take in, from each smug expression to Hulk’s point of view, to the drama of what may happen next. Ewing does a good job sprinkling details in the captions that make you look back to the art from start to finish. That allows the single image to live on in the words at multiple points.
A big part of what makes the lack of word balloons and panels work is how it slows things way down. The pace of this book is reduced to the speed of prose and as a penultimate issue, we’re on the edge of our seats to see where the story takes us before the big finish. It’s a smart choice to enhance the moment.
The plot of this issue is, however, a short few moments drawn out. The story cuts away to key flashbacks and details of the past, but there isn’t quite enough here. There are some introspective elements that work well enough — like Hulk looking in a mirror and also facing a mirror of a kind with a portal before him — but a lot of what Jackie narrates about is surface level. There are also connections to rockets, rising up and going downwards, but it didn’t feel as deep as it’s letting on.
As this single issue stands, it’s exciting to see Ewing and Bennett take chances with the storytelling so close to the end. There are great connections Jacki’s narration makes about Hulk and his place amongst the other Marvel characters, and for that Immortal Hulk #49 seems to be stripping away who Hulk is to others so that he may face himself in the finale.
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