Immortal Hulk Features the Unexpected Return of a Secret Empire Casualty

WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for The Immortal Hulk #11 by Al Ewing, Joe Bennett, Ruy Jose, Paul Mounts and VC's Cory Petit, on sale now.

At the end of Immortal Hulk #10, Carl "Crusher" Creel -- the new Red Hulk -- opened the Green Door, turning Los Diablos into a red-tinted hellscape filled with destroyed buildings, rubble and a mysterious green light shooting up from a hill. In Immortal Hulk #11, Hulk continues his journey into Hell (or at least, this version of it) and discovers the desiccated, eyeless corpse of one of his oldest friends: Rick Jones.

It's been a while since we -- or Hulk -- have seen Jones. During the events of 2017's Secret Empire, Hydra Cap manipulated Jones into aiding his villainous plans. However, after learning about this version of Captain America's allegiance to Hydra, Jones engaged in acts of espionage against the villain, sending data to Rayshaun Lucas/Patriot. After his actions were exposed, Rick was jailed and executed by firing squad. The hero's final words, "Avengers Assemble," proved a major rallying cry in the battle against the corrupt regime.

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In Immortal Hulk #11, Hulk and Jackie McGee proceed towards the green light on the hill. On their journey, they discuss how other heroes have historically let Hulk -- and thus Bruce Banner -- off the hook for his immense violence. Their conversation is interrupted by a corpse Hulk identifies as that of Jones.

It's not totally clear how sentient this version of Rick is, however, as Hulk remarks, "He's hollow inside. Just a skin repeating old lines." But as we later learn, there's some indication that the deceased hero is more than just an animated shell.

Later, an apparition of Thunderbolt Ross appears. Hulk notes that he doesn't know if Ross is actually dead, and the latter transforms into Red Hulk. As they battle, McGee pleads with Jones to help the Jade Giant, as he "was a Hulk too," referring to Jones' stint as A-Bomb. Jones refuses. He continues parroting classic lines, but the lines he uses seem to directly respond to McGee's pleading, indicating he has some awareness of what's going on. Additionally, after Hulk tears Red Hulk apart, Jones remarks, "He sounds fiercer. Crueler. Dangerous," which is a direct response to what he's hearing.

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After destroying Red Hulk, Immortal Hulk #11 ends with the reappearance of Brian Banner -- Bruce's father and abuser. As Hulk is engulfed in a green light, Brian says, "There, you see? Just like I've always said. He's a monster. Believe me, son... you're better off without him." This is, of course, not the real Brian, but the thing behind the Green Door's impersonation of him. However, the villain's words are stunning, as they seem to imply that Bruce is being stripped of his alter-ego as the Hulk.

Immortal Hulk #11 blurs the lines between reality and hallucination, leaving readers with the question of who is real and fake. There's no solid indication that the Rick Jones in Hell isn't the real version of the character, though it's entirely possible that he's a hallucination meant to unnerve Hulk and Banner. It's unclear how much of a role Rick will play in the story going forward especially considering his current state. However, another hero -- Alpha Flight member Puck, who appears briefly in the issue -- makes it clear that he has a plan to escape Hell using Creel and his powers, so Jones' reappearance here might just lead to a more permanent resurrection for the character sooner than later.

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