The Incredible Hulk only lasted six issues when Stan Lee and Jack Kirby first created the character, so few likely thought at that time that the word “immortal” would ever be attached to their creation. Decades later, though, The Hulk is still around, with writer Al Ewing and artist Joe Bennett kicking off the latest chapter in the Green Goliath’s career in Immortal Hulk #1. Yes, the recent “No Surrender” event in Avengers unveiled The Hulk’s immortality, and in fact revealed that he had always been immortal. Ewing and Bennett use that newly discovered perk to great effect, adding a new element of terror to an unstoppable monster who’s now also unkillable.
It’s Lee and Kirby’s Hulk that Ewing and Bennett channel the most in their introductory issue. Bennett’s Hulk is far more massive, but carries that classic Kirby underbite that exemplified the character’s monstrous look back in the day. Ewing brings back a similarly classic aspect regarding to Bruce Banner’s transformations, using this element to establish a horror-like vibe throughout the issue. The story’s title, in fact, is an homage to one of the cover blurbs to 1962’s Incredible Hulk #1.
“Is he man or monster” has been a theme commonly explored throughout the character’s existence, and Ewing puts his own spin on it here. Banner continues to wrestle with that very question, as he always has, just as The Hulk continues to revel in his strength. What’s different, though, is The Hulk taking his brutality to a new level, yet stopping just short of taking it too far. It’s an interesting dichotomy that makes Banner even more uncertain as to whether he’s a good guy or not — a dilemma that’s heightened knowing now that his alter ego truly can’t be stopped.
Ewing’s story is plenty brutal on its own, working well to both kick off and conclude the series’ first issue. There’s a one-time opportunity that Ewing takes full advantage of regarding The Hulk’s new status quo, making for a shocking opening sequence that rightfully cannot be used again. The violence of the scene is shocking regardless, but not overly gratuitous because it works to set the tone for the remainder of the issue. The opening scene’s aggressor’s fate is similarly ruthless, but serves to establish The Hulk’s new nature, as well as Banner’s reaction to it.
It’s not all about violence, though, nor is the issue entirely a tribute to Lee and Kirby. Ewing also channels the psychological feel from Bruce Jones’ early ’00s run, as well as the human drama done so well during Peter David’s own lengthy run starting in the ’80s. Ewing also introduces a potential new supporting character — one who’s a nod to the classic Bill Bixby/Lou Ferrigno television series.
He’s been incredible, indestructible, adjective-less — and now, immortal. Immortal Hulk #1 is a tense and thrilling start to the character’s next saga, and one that actually has something a little different to offer.