Immortal Hulk is not a book that messes around. It can be playful, sure, but for the most part it’s pretty committed to being a horror book no matter what the external circumstances are. Last issue ended with the Avengers having to more or less kill the Hulk (or as close as one can possibly get to do doing so anyway) in order to save the life of Walter Langowski, the former Sasquatch, and the Hulk ending up inside Shadow Base divided into different jars at the mercy of his enemies. How do you follow an ending that explosive? Why, you double down on it.
So far Al Ewing’s take on the Hulk has hit a number of literary references. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde, Paradise Lost, and Lovecraft among others. However, the closest relative to what this issue contains would be Alan Moore and Steve Bissette’s famous Swamp Thing issue “The Anatomy Lesson”. That issue involved the dissection of Alec Holland, the titular Swamp Thing by a corporation to understand how he ticks. It’s also the issue that introduced the idea that would be the status quo for decades following it. The idea that Alec Holland was not a man turned into a plant, but a plant who truly believed he was a man. While this issue doesn’t do anything to that degree in this issue, it does evoke that with the Hulk being dissected in different jars as something less than human, and most importantly it starts driving at what Ewing has for all his run been driving at: what is the Hulk?
Throughout this run, Ewing has teased out what the Hulk is including through reference points previous runs have evoked. A misunderstood creature that science created, a creature of Banner’s repressed id. But the favorite lately is that he’s the devil, or at least something close. His greatest ability isn’t his strength or healing, but his ability to draw the worst out of people and tempt them with their worst selves. But also because as Ewing has demonstrated in his run and in this issue, the Hulk doesn’t “do” science or logic, that’s Banner, but that of course also applies to his very nature. The Green Door and The One Below All that have haunted this run aren’t props, they’re invocations of just what the Hulk probably is. Something more evil than a puny human.
Joe Bennett continues to show why he’s a great get for this book with his ability to communicate the physical and more abstract ideas of horror Immortal Hulk continues to offer. Ruy Jose’s inking helps to sell the terrible transformations undergone in this issue too, along with Paul Mounts’s sickly lighting. While Immortal Hulk has been a slow burn, it’s one where the revelations of this issue are well-earned. There really is no other comic like it in the market, and frankly that’s for the best.
4 Jars Out of 5