WARNING: The following contains spoilers for The Immortal Hulk #19 by Al Ewing, Joe Bennett, Ruy Jose, Belardino Brabo, Rachelle Rosenberg, Paul Mounts and VC's Cory Petit, in stores now.
The Marvel Universe has given the Hulk some pretty gruesome deaths over the years: In Civil War II, he was shot through the head by Hawkeye; in the Ultimate Universe, he was sliced and diced by Wolverine; and in the Old Man Logan timeline, Wolverine also tore him apart from the inside. Outside of those gory demises, there have been more cerebral, emotive endings, as seen when he attempted to commit suicide using a gun, only to spit the bullet back out.
In short, the Hulk isn't easy to kill, which is underscored again recently by The Immortal Hulk when, despite being chopped to pieces, Bruce Banner's organs found a way to reform the Jade Giant. However, in the same title, writer Al Ewing and artist Joe Bennett take things to the next level, with the Hulk suffering a death that, while undoubtedly not permanent, is, hands down, the worst he has ever experienced.
This chapter, titled "Butterfly," finds Shadow Base sending its best gamma agents after Banner. Only this time, they're not really taking a hands-on approach in controlling the monsters; they're allowing them to roam free. Banner ends up encountering an even more disfigured version of Abomination, and sadly, when it reveals its face, we see Rick Jones inside.
That's a massive punch to the gut, considering Banner wanted to bring his friend back to life following his death in Secret Empire. However, when they fight, the new Abomination's powers leave readers speechless, as he spews acid and dissolves the Hulk's gamma-filled body. He comes off like Mortal Kombat's Reptile, vomiting on the Hulk, and eroding his body. It leaves us wondering what else Shadow Base has up its sleeve.
We almost immediately learn the answer, as Betty Ross is back in her Harpy form. A mix of the Red Hulk she once was, this new version is like a zombie, but, because she remembers the tragedies she experienced with Bruce, she wants to find a way to help him. Shadow Base activated her by putting a bullet through her skull, so while we're initially hopeful that she'll save Banner, in the back of our minds we know something bad is coming.
It comes full circle in the final pages, when Betty finds Bruce, unable to move because Abomination's acid has dissolved his limbs. He cries out for help, but Betty rips open his chest cavity, pulls out his heart and begins to feast on it. It turns out her memories dredged up the hatred she felt for Bruce, and this is her way of making her ex-husband pay for all of his sins.
It's not an easy way to go, because on one hand there's the best friend who's barely in control of his senses, and on the other is the woman Bruce placed love and faith in. Clearly, she's over their history, and as seen on the final page, with Hulk's insides all over the ground, their love is now as hollow as his frame. Ultimately, in terms of killing Banner and the Hulk, Shadow Base takes the cake here because it doesn't just destroy him physically, it does so emotionally too.
The Immortal Hulk #20 goes on sale July 3.