The Hulk's physical might allows him to fell seemingly unstoppable opponents and literally crack worlds, but is that really the trait that makes the Hulk the “strongest” in the Marvel Universe? Or is it his ability to endure and come back from any wound, no matter how mortal it may be? In Immortal Hulk, writer Al Ewing and artist Joe Bennett have been making a case for the latter.
Over nearly two dozen issues, we've seen Bruce Banner, his “Devil Hulk” persona and the other personalities that reside in their consciousness endure and overcome onslaughts from supernatural forces and gamma mutated monstrosities. In Immortal Hulk #23 and 24, they'll face both of those and the might of the U.S. Military as the title character's war with General Fortean and the forces of his Shadow Base comes to an end.
Then, in October, the Immortal Hulk's ability to endure will be put to the ultimate test in two special issues. Absolute Carnage: Immortal Hulk, by Ewing and artist Filipe Andrade, finds the titular characters battling the godlike, symbiote-empowered serial killer Carnage, for the title of Marvel's Mightiest Monster. And in the milestone Immortal Hulk #25, Ewing, Bennett and German Garcia pit the legacy of the Hulk against the fundamental forces of creation in a story that jumps forward billions of years in the future to the heat death of the universe.
CBR spoke with Ewing about both these stories, the Hulk's final battle with Shadow Base, and how the intergalactic events of stories like “Planet Hulk” and World War Hulk figure into the larger story he's telling.
CBR: Immortal Hulk #23-#24 promises to bring the Hulk's war with Shadow Base and General Fortean to a close. What can you tell us about the coming throwdown, especially now that Fortean has bonded with the Abomination?
Al Ewing: It's the culmination of the war between Hulk and Fortean that's been back-and-forthing for a while now, and the last step on a road Fortean's been on since his first appearance in these pages, when he was talking about the example his mentor, General Ross, showed in terms of becoming a Hulk to fight a Hulk. Now, General Fortean's become a Hulk himself - more importantly, he's become something with a good track record of fighting the Devil Hulk, in that when it was being "piloted" by a traumatized dead person - and one of Hulk's friends - the Abomination incapacitated the Hulk enough that had Betty not intervened, it would have captured what was left of him for Shadow Base. Now Fortean - a military strategist who's fought Hulks his entire career and is willing to do whatever it takes to take one down - is in control of the Abomination shell, and we're going to see how he can use it as part of a co-ordinated battle with the Hulk - and how it affects him in turn.
In a lot of ways, this current arc has felt like a mix of the horror vibe that was part of this series from the get-go, and the classic Hulk vs an overzealous military figure story. Was that by design? How key is this arc in the larger story you're telling?
Ever since the Hulk returned to life, he was on a collision course with the military. The simple fact is that the Hulk cannot be allowed to roam free. If he's not being contained in some form by the Avengers - and he rejected them pretty thoroughly in #6 and #7 - he's going to attract the attention of the authorities, particularly people with a long-standing grudge or ideological enmity with Hulks and their smashy ways. So we were always going to pass through a story of the world against the Hulk.
In terms of the larger arc - right now, the Hulk has structure. He's not just a dichotomy, he's a system - we have an established quartet of personalities working together on his inside, in addition to a group of gamma people and allies that support him, at least to some extent, on the outside. And now the Hulk is taking this structure, this twisted version of the traditional "Hulk Family," and pitting it against the more ordered structure of Shadow Base, and we'll see how that works for him. But if the Hulk is anti-structure, anti-rules, a counter-cultural force of chaos -can it work? Or is this setting him up for his biggest defeat yet?
In October's issue #25, the action jumps into the far future and the heat death of the Universe. Now, the solicits mention the “Ninth Cosmos," and the idea of numbered iterations of cosmos was a significant element in your Ultimates run. Are you bringing in some of those ideas to Immortal Hulk?
We established in Ultimates that the current, post-Secret Wars iteration of the Marvel Multiverse is the Eighth Cosmos. Pre-Secret Wars, it was the Seventh - there's some debate about whether that's a true restart, since everybody survived it, but the big cosmic aspects seem to be counting it. Galan of Taa, who became Galactus, was born in the Sixth, and before that there was the Fifth, where the ghost wizard Moridun is from. And so on back to the First Firmament. It's all in Ultimates and Ultimates2 if you want to read it.
Anyway, once everything ends - and begins again - it will be the Ninth. And the Ninth Cosmos is where #25 is set. So we're billions of years in the future, in a completely different space and time. This is why we called it "groundbreaking" in solicits - because we're exploring this new territory, this place and time where, to the best of my knowledge, Marvel Comics hasn't yet been.
The solicit text for #25 says Hulk is finally dead, but the Ninth Cosmos cowers before “The Breaker of Worlds.” That suggests the Jade Giant's legacy lives on, or he has somehow ascended. What can you tell us about this particular chapter? How does it compare so some of the previous stories you've told in this book?
This is going to be a short answer, because I'm saying nothing.
Well, not quite nothing - I will say a little about how it came to be. I've been planning for this story since June 15, 2018. That's when I sent the email saying "let's do this." So probably around the time all the Hell stuff was really locking into place. Originally, it was going to be the length of a trade - as in, we were going to spend five issues in the Ninth Cosmos - but we ended up paring it down, and now it's a relatively tight forty pages, which I think is about right.
How it compares to previous stories... it doesn't. This is going to be completely different to anything readers have seen up until this point. Hopefully it'll still be horrific on various levels, though. Horrific and filled with a kind of ethereal alien sadness.
The nature of this issue sounds pretty complex. How is your art team of Joe Bennett and German Garcia taking to it? Is this a collaboration between them, or is each artist working on a separate chapter of the story?
German is taking on 38 pages - all set in the Ninth Cosmos. His work is absolutely gorgeous - he's designed a whole universe, extrapolating wonderfully on what I wrote in the script about the protagonist, their biology, their society... when I look at his pages coming in, they really feel alien, but also they feel intensely, magnetically beautiful. I honestly feel like we got incredibly lucky in terms of getting this particular artist at this particular time - this is truly gorgeous, evocative work for German, and I'm so happy to have him doing it.
Joe is handling two pages... but they're the right two pages. I think longtime Hulk fans are going to be extremely happy with his contribution to the whole.
It's a forty-page issue that won't be like anything else you've read this year. It might not be like anything else you've read this decade, or just generally, in terms of a Marvel Comic. And that's some big talk, but I honestly feel like between German's art and designs and this concept we've been building, I think we can justify it.
October also sees the release of the Absolute Carnage: Immortal Hulk special by you and artist Filipe Andrade. How did an Absolute Carnage story with the Immortal Hulk come together, and what's it like pitting your monster against Carnage and his followers?
Well, the way it went was that Donny [Cates] wanted to put Hulk in Absolute Carnage, and he had an idea for a fun scene, and that got me thinking about how it'd fit in with what we were doing. We don't tie-in or cross over in the main book itself, but every so often, we'll do a special like this. We treat those like annual stories, so they're optional extras, and this seemed like it should be one of those times.
Anyway, you have Thunderbolt Ross - he wore a symbiote at one point, so his corpse is kind of dragged into the story. Thunderbolt Ross being stolen from his grave was already in the Absolute Carnage story, and I thought that would definitely have an effect on Banner - the corpse of an old acquaintance and ex-gamma mutate going missing? That's going to sound familiar. Then you have the whole concept of Knull - a cosmic, demonic figure from before the universe began? Again, sounds familiar. So Bruce Banner hears about this stuff - from the on-the-run motel-dwelling lifestyle he's stuck in between #20 and #22 - and immediately decides that all of this is clearly all about him. We have a little fun with that - the guest star assuming he's the protagonist of the crossover - but it's also a chance to get a close look at the current state of the four personas taking turns in Banner's body, and how that relates to Eddie Brock's simpler relationship with Venom.
Like I say, these 30 pages are optional, but I think they're worth picking up - whether you want more insights into Hulk's system, or you want an extra helping of horror that month, either way, this is a fun addition to your pull list.
Finally, You've explored a lot so far in Immortal Hulk, but one thing that hasn't gotten much focus is the Hulk's time on Sakaar, the Warbound, and the Hulk's son, Skaar. Are you interested in exploring those elements from “Planet Hulk” in upcoming arcs of Immortal Hulk? How does the “Devil Hulk” persona view the events of “Planet Hulk?”
This is a fun question - I think for the most part, these are elements I'm leaving be. I just now wrote a scene with Amadeus Cho, for people who've been wanting us to touch on that, and that scene definitely alludes to that time. So it's not forgotten. In terms of how the "Devil Hulk" persona views those times - he wasn't around for them. That was the "Green Scar," a different personality who we haven't seen (and may not see) in this run. Had Devil been in charge during the events of World War Hulk they'd probably have gone a little differently, let's put it that way - there's probably a What If. . .? in there waiting to happen.
I'd like to finish with a big, heartfelt thank you to all our readers, and for everyone who's been buying this book and spreading the word about it. The whole team puts an astonishing amount of work into every issue, but I think I can speak for us all when I say it's worth the effort to see how much readers are appreciating it every month.