Immortal Hulk Book Two (2018)
Reprints Immortal Hulk #11-20
Written by Al Ewing
Art by Joe Bennett and Eric Nguyen
Rereading Immortal Hulk has been sparking my interest in going back and revisit Peter David’s Hulk run. That is a daunting task because of its enormity, but Al Ewing does such an excellent job of building on David’s numerous contributions to the Hulk mythos in a way that doesn’t feel derivative. This is done by introducing new aspects to Bruce Banner & The Hulk that complicates their relationship. I also think Jackie McGee is a grounding force, always there reminding the reader and Banner about the human costs of being this green behemoth. In Book Two, Ewing literally takes us to Hell, where Banner confronts those closest to him left as collateral damage.
The book opens in the wake of Hulk and Absorbing Man’s battle, which manifested the Green Door. Hulk and McGee run across the wasted reanimated husks of Rick Jones, General Thunderbolt Ross, and McGee’s father. Absorbing Man comes across Puck of Alpha Flight, who was presumed dead years earlier. The ultimate reveal is of Brian Banner, Bruce’s father, as the malevolent presence behind Hulk’s immortality and torment. We learn that Brian believed Bruce to be the personification of the chaotic gamma force in the universe, the near-death of Bruce’s mother in childbirth seen as the first act of destruction. However, we see the brutal abuses Brian heaped on his wife that led to her death and a reminder that Bruce killed his father at the sight of his mother’s grave.
Ewing introduces the idea that Hulk is a material form of the Breaker of Worlds, the actual entity from which gamma comes from in the universe. Bruce escapes this purgatory and immediately contacts the only person left in the world who might care about him, Betty Ross. This is when the next primary antagonist of the series is introduced, General Reginald Fortean. Fortean was a protege of General Ross and has made the harnessing of Hulk’s power his only focus in life, partly out of a sense of duty to the late General. Things start to move quickly as Bruce finds Betty without realizing Fortean has sent a tracker, Bushwhacker, to bring in the Hulk. This leads to the return of Doctor Leonard Sampson, the Hulk’s psychiatrist. And then, the next issue, the death & return of Rick Jones, is addressed. All along the way, Ewing reintroduces these characters in ways that a new reader will not become confused with but also with enough details that long-time fans will appreciate his attention to the Hulk mythos. It reminds me a lot of Geoff Johns’s deftness in the pages of JSA.
Ewing digs into the Hulk mythos by bringing back Joe Fixit. Joe was an alternate personality of Bruce that appeared as the gray Hulk. He retained human intelligence but worked for the mob in Las Vegas as an enforcer. This time around, Joe appears inhabiting Bruce’s body rather than the Hulk. His arrival plays out in an absolutely fantastic sequence in Shadow Base, the headquarters of General Fortean. There’s a constant tension for the reader in how much we empathize with Banner/Hulk. He does some truly horrific things due to his new regenerative immortal powers, including literally absorbing people into his own cellular structure. Joe Bennett’s art is so perfect in showcasing the grotesque nature of this act, and he doesn’t flinch from making sure we see the terror in the victim’s eyes. The victims are always people who have done horrible things, so we as readers are left to weigh whether they deserve it or not.
The most shocking turns this volume takes are the revelations about what becomes of Betty Ross and Rick Jones. Both had their personal lives forever upturned by the birth of the Hulk, but now their physical forms are subverted. They also seem to have been infused with the same cure of immortality haunting Bruce Banner, unable to end their suffering and living forever in these new forms. Rick Jones’s fate is part of the book’s conclusion where Hulk, Betty, Rick, and Alpha Flight converge as General Fortean unleashes his forces on his target. I still believe this is the Hulk story that needs to be on film if they ever decide to spotlight the character in a solo picture again. I doubt Disney would go that direction based on how we see Hulk in Endgame. However, I firmly believe the Hulk works best as a body horror story, and Al Ewing has proven that in his ongoing run.