Hey gang! It wouldn’t be an edition of Forte without me emerging from seclusion to scribble down my thoughts about my comic of the week. This time around, I’ve returned to the world of Marvel Comics, and picked up a book featuring a hero that is undoubtedly the meanest and greenest Avenger – that’s right, we’re talking about Immortal Hulk volume one, Or Is He Both?, written by Al Ewing (Zombo, Loki: Agent of Asgard) and drawn by Joe Bennett (52, Amazing Spider-Man). Immortal Hulk is a much darker take on the rage-fuelled misadventures of the green goliath, and is an unnerving tale centred around Bruce Banner’s relationship with his gamma-powered alter ego.
During the events of Civil War II, Bruce Banner died. Shot in the head and heart by gamma-irradiated arrows by the hero Hawkeye, the Marvel universe was rocked by the death of a founding Avenger. Bruce Banner was dead for the better part of two years – but now, the Hulk is back. Drifting from town to town, trying to stay under the radar, Bruce has discovered a horrifying truth – he might be mortal, but the Hulk is not. If Banner dies, the Hulk will rise and wreak his revenge on whoever has damaged his host. The relationship between Banner and Hulk – tenuous at best, antagonistic at worst – is completely changed. The Hulk drives Banner to find wrongdoers, following clues like a detective until he closes on his prey and the Hulk emerges to dole out his own savage version of justice. Bruce is reminded of his early days – frightened of sundown, and dreading the arrival of his own Mr Hyde. Sooner or later, the world is going to realise that the Hulk has returned, but there’s no way they’re going to be able to contain him.
Immortal Hulk is probably closer to a horror story than a superhero book, and I absolutely love it. Ewing treats Banner’s situation as more of a classic Dr Jekyll/Mr Hyde nightmare, with a hefty dose of inspiration from classic werewolf tales thrown in for good measure. Banner stresses that when the sun goes down, the Hulk is in control, and a gamma-powered monster that emerges in the dark to strike down criminals sounds more like Spawn than a traditional Hulk story. Ewing has steered Hulk away from his modern incarnation (i.e. emerging when Banner is angry) and back to some of his earliest characteristics, but with a malevolent twist that makes you question whether this version of Hulk can even be considered an antihero. To be honest, if it weren’t for the references to Banner’s death in Civil War II and the appearance of the hero Sasquatch (member of the lesser-known team Alpha Flight), it would be easy to forget that Immortal Hulk was even presented as a superhero story; it reminds me more of the kind of thing that you would’ve seen in a Vertigo book back in the day (RIP, you magnificent imprint).
If it wasn’t already obvious, Immortal Hulk is not your typical Marvel book. If you’re looking for some light-hearted superheroic antics, this is not for you. If you’re looking for a surprisingly dark exploration of the (incredibly uneven) relationship between a man and his alter-ego from the company that brought you Howard the Duck, then Immortal Hulk will be up your alley. Give it a crack, and enjoy one of the most psychological stories to come out of Marvel in a while.
Written by Alastair McGibbon