WARNING: This article contains spoilers for The Immortal Hulk #8 by Al Ewing, Joe Bennett, Ruy Jose, Paul Mounts and VC’s Cory Petit, on sale now.
If there was ever any question whether The Immortal Hulk is firmly rooted in horror, those doubts were gone by the end of Issue #8. When you’ve got a comic that opens with the title character having been sliced up and stored in dozens of jars in a secret underground lab -- oh, and he’s still, inexplicably, alive through this experience -- then all bets are off. But it's not what’s been done to the Hulk that’s the scariest part; it’s what the Hulk does to someone else that provides the greatest horror element to this story.
After his fight with the Avengers last issue (a fight which neither side really won), Hulk has been proverbially swept under the rug by the U.S. Government and handed over to a top-secret underground facility called Shadow Base. The aims of this lab are unclear, though their primary focus seems to be dissecting and studying Bruce Banner’s gamma-irradiated alter-ego, not to mention truly pushing the limits of his immortal nature.
We see a team of scientists use an adamantium-tipped hydraulic scalpel to slice through the Hulk’s heart, before bringing it to the desk of Dr. Clive, a low-rent Victor Frankenstein with a God complex and an office full of jars, all with a different piece of the Hulk inside. Very quickly we learn that Hulk’s body heals and regenerates in a very specific way. It’s not like Deadpool, regrowing brand new pieces of himself when he loses them. Instead, all the separate pieces of Hulk vibrate when they’re near one another, as Dr. Clive demonstrates when the two halves of the massive green heart stitch themselves back together until the heart starts beating again on the table, despite having no blood to pump, or body through which to pump it.
Dr. Clive and his colleague discuss needing to know the “rules” of Hulk if they have any chance of breaking them. They seemingly want to figure out the science of Hulk’s immortality in order to potentially replicate it. They state that it’s not psionic, as he has had his hypothalamus destroyed before now, and the head was registering zero psi activity. Like Chekov’s Gun, however, you know it’s just a matter of time before one of those jars will break, and it’s not long before Dr. Clive’s hubris gets the better of him.
After word comes down from his superiors that Carol Danvers is determined to locate the Hulk, Dr. Clive is instructed to pack up his lab and leave. It’s at this point that Hulk (or rather, Hulk’s head in a jar) starts smiling, which freaks Dr. Clive out enough to start making threats about cutting him up even more, shipping him off to different parts of the country. When he sees Hulk laughing even harder, he realizes his mistake. Hulk hasn’t been helpless at all, and while he's been studied, Hulk has been studying. With a snap of his finger, the jars break and the numerous pieces start coming together, rebuilding the Immortal Hulk.
The problem is, Clive has spread these parts out all around him, so when Hulk starts reforming, he does so around the doctor, trapping him in a disturbing body horror scene. As arms and legs and guts and bones start stitching themselves back together, they close in on the doctor, his screams and pleads meaningless as he's slowly imprisoned within the reforming flesh of the Immortal Hulk. As he begs for mercy, his hand reaches out for an alarm he’ll never reach, and with one final, helpless plea, his limb is absorbed within the Hulk’s frame, and the doctor is no more.
As he is once again whole, Hulk tells the doctor (who’s now crushed and absorbed within his body) that trying to find science in Hulk is meaningless, as science is “the other guy.” “And when you hurt him,” Hulk states, “I take it personal.”
Despite his appearance and his reputation, Hulk rarely intentionally murders anyone, and while you could argue that the doctor’s death was simply a byproduct of the Hulk’s body reforming, he has nevertheless killed someone now, a fact that plagues Banner when he returns at the end of the issue. The Immortal Hulk #8 taught us -- and Hulk himself -- a lot about the physiology of this new version of Hulk, revealing a horrific new ability that led to one of the more memorable moments in the life of the Immortal Hulk.