When Marvel Comics produced Civil War II back in 2016, the six-issue storyline came with no shortage of polarizing events. Not the least of which was the death of Dr. Robert Bruce Banner at the hands of Clint 'Hawkeye' Barton. In Banner's absence, Marvel elevated long-time Hulk supporting character Amadeus Cho into the role of the comic's main Green-Skinned Goliath, resulting in more affable, and much less savage version of the Hulk.
But two year later, Banner has made his way back to the land of the living, reclaiming the mantle in Immortal Hulk.
It's not an exaggeration to say his trip to the other side has left both parts of his persona fundamentally changed by the experience. Additionally, Bruce has seemingly been accompanied back from the great beyond by a plethora of the most macabre enemies and situations he and the Hulk have ever faced.
SYFY WIRE spoke with Immortal Hulk writer Al Ewing (Mighty Avengers, The Ultimates) about guiding Bruce and the Hulk through this unapologetically horror-themed trip.
Talk to me about the title Immortal Hulk, as it speaks volumes to the current interplay between Bruce and the Hulk, especially considering their current "arrangement."
It covers a lot of ground. On the one hand, we've got Bruce's current situation — notably it's The Immortal Hulk, not The Immortal Banner.
Plus, it marks the book out as a different take on the Hulk, much like The Totally Awesome Hulk did, except "immortal" is a much more supernatural sort of adjective, as opposed to the more light-hearted Amadeus Cho run. So I'm glad we got to have the title change!
Was the homage to the '70s TV show purposeful? It seems you've taken the format of that show and flipped it completely on its ear.
My guilty secret is that I haven't watched that many episodes of the TV show, just enough to get the basic flavor, really.
But the TV show did a lot in terms of offering Bruce Banner a status quo. Reading back through the comics, it's notable how much the character is kept in flux, never stable, never allowed to settle into a situation. That's a luxury TV shows of the time didn't have — David Banner had to start and end in roughly the same place every week. So that imposed a kind of base condition for Banner, one we exploit so readers feel like they know pretty much the full story coming in, even when comics Hulk has a pretty convoluted history, especially lately.
The ending to issue number #7, which I will not spoil for anyone, is a jaw-dropper for long-time readers of the Hulk and any fan of horror. Why did you feel the Hulk was a good match for the horror genre?
The first ever Hulk comic was a horror comic. The sell wasn't the strength so much as the unstoppability — it's made very clear that nothing can hurt or hinder him. And since he's the antagonist — one man's brutal but intelligent dark side given form as the moon rises — that's a bad thing. (Except when he's set against the Commies or the "toad men" and the reader gets the vicarious thrill of seeing this monster set on someone who apparently deserves it.)
We're going back to all that — the changing at night, the dark side element. This is a new, horrible iteration of the Hulk, and we should feel nervous when we see him with characters we like — but at the same time, there's that question of "does anyone deserve this monster? How far does he represent humanity's anger? Is he truly separate from us?"
Why is this cerebral Hulk — as we've seen within the pages of Immortal — so much more frightening than most prior iterations of the character?
This isn't the first time we've seen a smart Hulk on the page — like I said, back in those first couple of issues, he was pretty intelligent, although later he fell into a kind of Cartesian dualism where Banner was all brain and the Hulk was all body. Personally I like smart Hulks better than dumb ones, especially for horror — for the simple reason that a dumb Hulk can be controlled. When a monster like the Hulk isn't just a bellowing beast — when he has his own agenda, and you don't know what it is, and he might be two steps ahead of you, that's inherently more frightening.
Can you speak to Joe Bennett's contribution, not just in terms of how he paces action for the book, but really his faces. There are many jump scares and crazy moments that really benefit from how expressive Mr. Bennett's faces have been through the first seven issues of the book.
Joe's been absolutely fantastic all the way. I think it helps that we have similar tastes in horror — we're both huge fans of The Thing, for example. (As in the visceral body-horror flick, not Ben Grimm.) Finding that out probably contributed a lot to the extreme body-horror turn the second arc takes — an example of how a great artist feeds right back into the writing.
Thus far we've seen everything from ghost stories, to body horror, to a truly bone-chilling slant on the old Hulk vs. Avengers dust-up. How much much deeper down the rabbit hole are you planning to go when it comes to horror elements for Immortal Hulk going forward?
Pretty far. Issues 8-10 get more and more extreme in some ways — the aforementioned body horror, the creepiness of the mirror subplot, the ramping up of the Green Door — and then, in 11-13, we're in Hell. Not even Marvel Universe Hell, which is quite cuddly at this point — a more literal, theological interpretation. Which will be a lot of fun...