How Horror Changed The Green Goliath
It all began when he died. Way back during the Civil War II event, the heroes of the Marvel Universe sought to apprehend Bruce Banner, AKA The Incredible Hulk, for a crime he had not committed. Banner had no plans to go quietly as these things go; however, before he could hulk out, Hawkeye shot an arrow square into his head, killing him instantly. For some time, the world had not seen or heard from Banner, and with She-Hulk and The Totally Awesome Hulk in the mix, no one even cared. But when the Avengers: No Surrender event came, the Hulk returned…and he had changed.
When Stan Lee and Steve Ditko created the Hulk back in ’62, he was compared to both Frankenstein’s Monster and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. A strange amalgamation of the two characters that ended up being a hulking grey mass with a short temper that only appeared at night. Since then, that view of the character has totally changed and even evolved into future stories where we see that Banner has multiple personalities (the original Grey Hulk being one of them).
With the Hulk returning in Avengers, he was different, even with a new title, “Immortal,” and what would come from this return would change the way we think about the green goliath forever. With writer Al Ewing, penciler Joe Bennet, inker Ruy Jose and colorist Paul Mounts, The Immortal Hulk hit shelves with a promise to seduce and terrify its fans. No longer was the Hulk an action book, deciding instead to lean into his horror roots. From the issue’s first cover (the first of many by acclaimed artist Alex Ross), we see the Hulk rising from his grave, then turning the page is a quote by Carl Gustav Jung “Man is, on the whole, less good than he imagines himself or wants to be.” These quotes will precede every issue of the series and set the tone of the story that follows.
The first issue follows a typical superhero formula, the bad guy does a bad thing, and the nomadic Bruce Banner is there to exact a form of justice as the Hulk. Except this time, something is different. Bruce dies in the first few pages, and the killer escapes! His victory is short-lived, however, as we learn of the first secret that The Immortal Hulk has to offer; Bruce can’t die, or more accurately, when he dies, he returns as you-know-who. With the Hulk on his tail, the killer attempts to flee but is instead met by the green goliath. As this story continues, the colors and shading lend themselves to the story because we will learn that the Hulk, now, only comes at night. Bennet uses his impressive and detailed linework to bring a Junji Ito-esque picture to the characters’ faces that expertly show the terror or anger in their eyes. In contrast, Jose and Mounts show the depth and range needed in the inks and colors to let readers know that this is not your average Hulk book.
“SANDRA ANN BROCKHURST. That was her name. She was twelve.” These are the first words uttered by the Hulk, and if you noticed that he seems to sound very well-read…that’s because he is. Two more secrets are revealed in this scene, one being that he can now speak very well and the other being that he can literally smell lies. Things don’t end well for hte robber as he is later seen in a hospital with every bone broken, a collapsed lung, and internal bleeding. Will he make it? It doesn’t really matter because this Hulk doesn’t care about that, and this issue leaves us with one question, is Bruce Banner a bad person?
The first 20 issues of the series present a lot of ideas and a lot of interesting characters. (Trust me, it’s more than we can cover in one post *whispers* which is why there are many more planned!) To begin, the Hulk doesn’t simply transform anymore; instead, he becomes an enormous mass of guts and innards as he sheds one’s skin to become another; it’s an internal struggle that is personified in a way that would make David Cronenberg proud. This is because Banner’s personalities take center stage in the later issues and appear to be on some amicable terms. We will find out throughout the book just how important they are to Bruce as well. One idea that is explored as well in the first 20 issues is “The Green Door.”
Since Bruce’s apparent resurrection, Gamma irradiated heroes and villains have exhibited similar new gifts. From Doc Sampson to Betty Ross, anyone affected by gamma cannot die; instead, they are taken to a new plane of reality, a reality that houses a god-like threat; The One Below All. Now, the series is still tackling these big ideas so there is no definitive answer to what the heck any of what we see in those early issues is, but what Ewing DOES answer for us is how the world of the Hulk and gamma has been around in the Marvel universe for so long that it has either created a whole new spiritual plane of existence or awakened a long-dormant one.
The military also plays an important role in the story as a man named General Fortean goes to any lengths to capture this new Hulk and study him. What happens….well, we will get to that in a bit. As expected, the Hulk does get captured at least once, which brings us to an image and realization that he can survive and remain sentient even when being dismembered and put in other jars, further showing just how powerful gamma is. Throughout all of this, the theme of horror is never lost and instead leaves the reader with a series that FEELS like the Hulk but also feels like a long-overdue evolution of the character.
In my opinion, the book’s second issue is potentially the scariest one. It tells the story of Dr. Frye, a man obsessed with gamma research and the avoidance of death. By trying to save himself and his son, he becomes a horrific looking, radioactive zombie who begs for the thing he tried to avoid. All the while, the Hulk is there not as a hero, but as someone who twists the knife and makes him realize how badly he messed up. It is a raw and unforgiving story that sets the tone for issues to come.
There aren’t many new villains in the series, but when they do show up, they are TERRIFYING. Like I mentioned earlier, General Fortean will go to any lengths to catch the Hulk, and in this case, that even means utilizing his best friend and worst enemy. With the body of the Abomination and head of Rick Jones (covered by clasped hands that look like a cocoon), Fortean creates an Abomination that not only begs for help but spits up a radioactive acid that defeats the Hulk.
Each issue has the power to leave the reader in a state of shock and awe while thinking, “did that just happen?”; and something like that cannot be taken lightly in a world where horror seems to be making a slight resurgence in popular culture. Al Ewing’s The Immortal Hulk isn’t afraid to take a beloved character and evolve him in a radical direction, and that alone makes the series one of Marvel’s best. By tackling big ideas and delivering on some quality body horror, thanks to its talented creative team, readers will, in no time, be looking into their deepest thoughts and wondering, “I’m a good person too, right?