With the comics industry continuing to battle the effects of the pandemic, Brendan Allen and I are continuing to talk about comics that the other might not have read. I’m more of a capes, sparkly tights, laser guns and swords guy, while Brendan loves dark magic, criminals, and things that go bump in the night. This week, we’re revisiting a recently concluded series and one of our earliest reads in the column.
Immortal Hulk changed the character forever, there’s no doubt about that. When the horror-themed take on the Hulk launched, it breathed fresh air into a concept that had struggled with its identity since the Worldbreaker waged war on planet Earth in World War Hulk. Volume 2 of the series showed there was much more to the concept than just “a meaner Hulk exacts poetic justice on monsters, both literal and metaphorical.” Consisting of issues #6-10 of the ongoing series, volume 2 introduced the concept of The Green Door, as Al Ewing, Lee Garbett, Joe Bennett, Ruy Jose, Martin Simmonds, Le Beau Underwood, Rafael Fonteriz, Paul Mounts, and Cory Petit push the horror into new realms, quite literally.
Shadow Base is in hot pursuit of Bruce Banner. They know that the key to stopping the Hulk may be to stop Banner. To do it, they strike deals with angels and devils, including some of Banner’s closest friends, and the Hulk’s greatest enemies. But past all that, the greatest challenge in the Hulk’s life stands waiting in the form of a Green Door…
Tony Thornley: So I think we did the first volume of Immortal Hulk as my third or fourth pick for the column. Here we are nearly a year and a half later, and the series just concluded two or three weeks ago, and the next volume of Hulk starts in two weeks. So I think it’s a great time to take a look at the second volume of this series.
Brendan Allen: This is honestly one of those series that I never would have picked up on my own, so I’m really glad it came up here. Never could really get into the Green Goliath, but Ewing and Co. did an amazing job with this series. Six artists in this arc? Just noticed that. Why were there six artists?
Tony: So one guest artist in Garbett, Simmonds doing pencils on a story paralleling what Bennett was drawing in that issue, then some extra inkers on a couple issues, which is usually a sign of either some lateness or tight deadlines. I think the series started either bi-weekly or an issue once every three weeks, so that might have been it?
I think we could say a lot of the same things about the story as we did before. It’s not that Ewing is repetitive. It’s that he found his groove for this series, and then kept it up. He builds on the creepy foundation of the first arc, adds a little bit of cosmic horror here, some of Banner’s personal trauma there… This story arc is also the most traditionally “superhero” of the series as well. You get the massive Avengers fight in issue #7. You get one of the only traditional Hulk villains the series used with Absorbing Man in #9 & 10.
I feel like this story arc is about acknowledging the toys that Ewing had available in the toybox, and then showing that not only does he know how to use them, but he’ll use them in some incredibly unique ways.
Brendan: Yeah, they downplayed the vigilante anti-hero vibe I was picking up in the first arc. In this one, Hulk’s motivation is clearer, and it’s generally pointed in the direction of good. People who get in the way do end up paying dearly for it, though, so maybe that Punisher flavor is still thematically present, just not as obvious.
Tony: Yeah, even with this version of the Hulk getting the “Devil Hulk” nickname, any “evil” he does is in self defense. He’s an amoral in HOW he does good, but it’s about the ends justifying the means.
So I’ve talked in several pieces about the main artist for this book- Joe Bennett. He’s been caught sneaking anti-semetic images into the backgrounds of panels. Just before the book concluded, racist caricatures that he’d drawn of opposition political figures in his native Brazil were uncovered. This is something I thought long and hard about before I settled on proceeding with this book, and I think it was worth leaving this book on the schedule for two reasons.
The first- the other creatives who worked on this book deserve to be recognized. Ewing wrote perhaps the best single Hulk story in the history of the character across these fifty issues. Probably only Planet Hulk by Greg Pak comes close. Garbett and Simmonds’ guest pencilling spots were both phenomenal. Mounts creates this visual language in the colors that I want to come back to because it’s so unique.
The second is that we’ve never really discussed separating art and artist in the column. The closest we came was talking about John Byrne’s personal views when we talked about Dark Phoenix, and then you and I talked long and hard about a book that was on the schedule that we never covered.
In this case, I think it’s worth discussing the artistic merit of this book, while putting a massive asterix on the fact that he’s done and said some pretty despicable things. This is a remarkably effective horror story drawn by a really awful human being.
Brendan: That’s a tough call to make. Obviously, people have been kicked off projects for similar offenses, and we have turned down more than a few books with very similar circumstances. As you said, though, there are a hell of a lot of people who worked on this book, and Ewing has not only publicly decried Bennett’s actions, he severed the relationship and took material action, donating several thousand pounds to Rainbow Railroad and Rainforest Trust.
Tony: Absolutely. Ewing did the right thing there, especially because this is such a pro-diversity work. On the corporate side, they had to edit out some images from an earlier issue, as I linked above, and Marvel has removed him from future work, such as December’s upcoming Timeless one-shot (replacing him with Greg Land). And look, this book looks great. The scene where Hulk absorbs a mad scientist is one of the best horror sequences of the last decade. It’s just horrible to put that next to who the artist is as a person.
Brendan: Yeah, that scene, and the one where Hulk’s power is getting sapped by Absorbing Man. Anyone who has rapidly lost weight, or had to stop working out abruptly due to injury or circumstance can tell you that is EXACTLY what skin looks like when it’s quickly deflated, with no fat or muscle filling it out. It gets exaggerated to the point of grotesque, like Banner is wearing Hulk’s skin and filling it out poorly. Awesome body horror. Extremely difficult to reconcile the quality of the imagery with the human who drew it.
Tony: Definitely. I think the only downside to the guest artists is that we really didn’t get to see either of them go as deep into the body horror as Bennett does. A few of the guests later in the run, like Kyle Hotz, Aaron Kuder and Juan Ferreya, do get to stretch those wings though.
[Note: An aside about the Hulk’s favorite food was edited out here after the writers joked with each other about taking a break to each cook dinner. The answer is canonically beans.]
Brendan: Did you catch the pro-wrestling nod in this one? There’s a spot where one of the characters mentions a ‘heel-to-face turn.’ I think Mr. Ewing might be a fan of the one true sport.
Tony: I think I did notice it. Ewing is just a good dang writer. A lot of very intelligent choices on all levels.
So what did you think?
Brendan: I really like this series. It’s truly unfortunate that it has to be viewed with the knowledge that one of the creators made some pretty shitty choices that caused pain for entire ethnic and political groups. This would go down as one of the best series of the decade, even of all time, if it weren’t for that asterisk. This book is the Barry Bonds of comics.
Tony: Yeah, it’s easily the greatest Hulk story ever written (though we might need to check out Planet Hulk eventually), and it’s a damn shame that it will forever come with a “…but…” Ewing is a genuinely good person, and he doesn’t deserve that to hang over what’s his best work to date.
So what’s up next?
Brendan: We’re going to have a look at Image Comics’ Dead Eyes Vol. 1, by Gerry Duggan and John McCrea.
Immortal Hulk V2: The Green Door is available in print and digital editions now, as well as in the omnibus edition of the series.