Despite being somewhat of a filler issue in a much larger story, Absolute Carnage: The Immortal Hulk #1 is too introspective and well-written to disregard. This comic isn’t essential to understanding all the craziness of all the current titles sharing the same banner as Donny Cates and Ryan Stegman’s Absolute Carnage. However, it does provide a little insight into what might be the ace in the hole in stopping the Lovecraftian alien god from doing all the horrible things Lovecraftian alien gods are typically wont to do.
Focusing on the headspace of Bruce Banner and all the demons setting up shop inside it is a wise change of pace from other Absolute Carnage tie-ins. This issue is far more measured than the cover suggests, which is to its benefit. Writer Al Ewing has done a fantastic job of tapping into the core elements of the Hulk for the last couple of years in The Immortal Hulk. Now that another host of horror-inspired characters has embraced the nastier side of their origins in their own titles, it only makes sense that the undying Bruce Banner be pitted against the swirling nightmare that is Carnage (and by extension, Venom).
Make no mistake, this is a slow issue in terms of insane, gory action, but it makes up for it by giving the larger story a new wrinkle (which we won’t get into in order to avoid spoilers). Ewing's pacing is spot on, as usual (this guy is kind of Marvel’s golden boy at the moment, and with good reason).
The introspective storytelling echoes Alan Moore’s work on Swamp Thing and Jeff Lemire’s run on Animal Man. It puts the existential terror of being the Hulk front and center. All the superhero stuff is mostly by happenstance. Donny Cates has done similar work with Venom and Carnage. However, with those characters it’s a bit easier to embrace horror tropes since they were both introduced as villains and are inherently ghastly on every level, especially their aesthetics.
And speaking of aesthetics, Absolute Carnage: The Immortal Hulk #1 is a rather handsome book. Filipe Andrade’s sketchy line work and slim, almost elongated character designs add an air of surrealism to this issue. He is able to make each page dynamic, even if its execution is very clinical in terms of panel structure and layout.
Bruce Banner sitting and talking to the different parts of his mind are as enthralling as any action sequence. There’s just something haunting about it all. And while this issue isn’t necessarily frightening, it does have some disturbing imagery and unsettling reveals.
If you’ve been reading either Absolute Carnage or The Immortal Hulk, this is a must read. Again, it's not essential in the traditional sense, but it is a wonderful example of a well-crafted comic. It’s not going to set the world ablaze, but it’s what we’ve come to expect from such talented creators as Ewing and Andrade.