Are you a good person?
That’s the question The Immortal Hulk asks. The series recently wrapped up with Issue #50—it enjoyed a strong three year run that I’m honored to have experienced since Issue #1. I remember the cover to Issue #1 (pictured above) and how I couldn’t stop staring at it when I went to pick up my subscriptions for the week… Hulk stared right back at me. Hand outstretched, one massive leg pushing the enormity that is Hulk out of his grave. I must’ve blacked out: the next thing I remember is devouring every word Al Ewing penned for Issue #1 as if it were gospel. This comic isn’t Hulk as you know him, this is The Immortal Hulk: you can’t kill him.
Issue #1 establishes everything you need to know for the entire 51-issue series. (The Immortal Hulk ran from issues 1–50, but also has Issue #0, which is a must read.) You can’t kill Hulk, but you can kill Banner. This story came off the coattails of Marvel’s Civil War 2, wherein Bruce Banner was killed by Hawkeye and his conveniently made Gamma arrow. Ewing’s answer to the outrage that followed Bruce’s death was simple: “You can kill Banner, but you can’t kill Hulk.” What followed is his run with a wide range of influences: Dante’s Divine Comedy, the Bible, as well as Jack Kirby and Stan Lee’s original 5 issues of The Incredible Hulk are but a few examples. While the literary influences are enough to make your head—and computer—spin, it’s the original issues of The Incredible Hulk that were monumental in shaping Ewing’s story. Many people know Marvel’s Hulk and the trademarks that make up his character: he’s the strongest there is, you wouldn’t like him if he’s angry, and of course, “Hulk smash!” But few don’t realize just how different today’s Hulk is from the Hulk Kirby and Lee envisioned during his creation. Today’s Hulk is a dabbing member of the Avengers, a fun monster who smashes cars and buildings without any serious repercussions until the narrative deems it necessary. Even then, all the damage Hulk causes is dismissed as the actions of a mindless monster, similar to the treatment of Dr. Frankenstein’s very own monster. You can’t blame the latter just as you can’t blame Hulk. After all, his whole schtick is smashing and being the strongest; he’s a green giant who loves smashing things, and eventually Bruce Banner will find a way to get rid of Hulk and everything will be fine… right?
Ewing’s response would be an emphatic “no,” in the form of 51 issues of The Immortal Hulk. Ewing uses all 58+ years worth of Hulk comics to cultivate a story that goes against what people may think Hulk is about. Yes, Hulk is very strong and smashes things occasionally. But in those original issues of The Incredible Hulk, the monster had some depth. Stan Lee took inspiration from Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde as well as Frankenstein when creating Hulk, and Ewing’s one of the few Hulk writers who understands what that means. Hulk is horrifying in The Immortal Hulk—no kidding. If you’re brave enough to read it—which you should be—you’ll see Hulk eating people, tearing monsters’ limbs off, decrepit skeletons, and more Cronenberg-esque body horror. Unlike the Hulk people have grown accustomed to with his mindless smashing, smiling, dabbing, and where he is now after Endgame: a happy Bruce, Ewing’s Immortal Hulk is damaged. He remembers all the horrible sins he’s done, as well as sins done to him. And they’re immortal, just like him.
Ewing’s Hulk is what Hulk is meant to be: horrifying, and a commentary on mental health. Most Hulk fans credit Rocket Raccoon creator Bill Mantlo, and prolific Hulk writer Peter A. David (PAD) for establishing Bruce’s traumatic childhood. His father beat his mother, and later killed her. As a result, Bruce develops Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID)—with Hulk manifesting for the first time to protect a young Bruce. Traditionally, Hulk comes out when Bruce is angry, a manifestation of his anger-management issues. Ewing’s Immortal Hulk takes from PAD’s run and comes out at night, similar to Mr. Hyde. The Immortal Hulk doesn’t distance itself from what came before, but recontextualizes the past for this new terrifying—but human—Hulk.
Bruce’s failed relationships are a manifestation of his inability to overcome his traumas. His friends’ distrust in him is a result of his frequent “Hulk smash!” episodes. He tries to do good, but Hulk will still destroy, ruining (and sometimes ending) lives. Bruce is flawed. He kills his father in an attempt to run away from the pain he caused in his childhood. It didn’t work. He lashes out, trying to patch the scars up with good deeds. Nonetheless, his father will always be a part of him. It’s his struggle, one that mirrors our own as we try to be a good person. In The Immortal Hulk, Ewing forces us to ask ourselves:
Can I truly be a good person?