In 2018's Immortal Hulk #1 Al Ewing and Joe Bennett introduced readers to a new incarnation of the titular Jade Giant -- one that's just as strong as previous emerald hued personas, but infinitely more dangerous.
This version of the Hulk possesses three things the others don't: Intelligence, cunning and a severely vicious streak. So far, the Hulk has primarily used these traits against the malevolent supernatural forces that may be behind the mysterious resurrections of the Marvel Universe's gamma-irradiated characters. He's also turned his rage against the clandestine government forces of Shadow Base, who have tried to kill and imprison him. The question that's been looming in the background of the series, though, is what would happen if the Immortal Hulk suddenly turned his attention to the institutions of the larger human world that have hounded him? What would he do?
Readers got a glimpse of exactly that in Immortal Hulk #15 where the title character told his gamma empowered former psychiatrist, Doc Samson, that he intended to end the world. But what exactly did the Hulk mean by that? And what role would Bruce Banner and Samson play in those plans? For the answers to those questions and more CBR spoke with Ewing about the dark drives and personal demons of his cast members.
CBR: In Immortal Hulk #15, your titular character opens up to Doc Samson about some of the things that drive him and the history of this particular persona. We learn that he is indeed rooted in the idea of the Devil Hulk from the Paul Jenkins and Ron Garney Hulk run. What made you want to go back and look at this aspect of Banner and the Hulk's psyche?
Al Ewing: I guess it sprang semi-organically out of thinking about who this Hulk was, and what his long-term goals might be. That and a lot of the theological imagery and iconography that started creeping into the book -- right from Avengers: No Surrender, really, which was when I first started thinking about that end of things, with that Jarvis speech that people liked. So I was thinking a lot about the Devil, and various conceptions of that figure, and the Hulk as representative of that darker side, the shadow side of ourselves.
The shadow isn't just the dark side, though -- it's things we don't like to admit to ourselves, uncomfortable truths we hide from. And while Bruce doesn't like to admit to his anger, sometimes anger is a justified and necessary response to the various injustices of a world that, to put it mildly, could be improved. So how would someone who felt completely outside of humanity express that anger? Would he be tactful about it? Probably not - and when that person has the raw power of the Hulk, that could get scary.
Anyway, when I did one of my regular research read-throughs and remembered the Paul Jenkins / Ron Garney Devil Hulk -- a Hulk Bruce represses completely, who he doesn't want to admit, who has "Devil" in the name, who wants to end the world -- that all clicked into place very easily. Suddenly, I had a good idea of who this new Hulk was -- or, at least, who he'd evolved from.
Also in that issue, the Hulk tells Samson he's here to end the world. Some people might read what he's laying out there as almost an MCU Thanos or Ras Al Ghul-style manifesto of killing countless people to save the rest. Samson seems skeptical and says he's just like any other Hulk. Can you talk at all about your intentions with and or interpretations of this scene?
This is actually kind of fascinating to me from a writing perspective, because obviously this is how citizens of the Marvel Universe are going to react to Hulk if he says any of this stuff in front of a TV camera. (Or to Jackie McGee. It'd make quite a front page.) He doesn't really know how to phrase things delicately or politically, so I can see how the automatic assumption might be that Hulk must be about to embark on some genocidal project.
But I think it's important to remember that the Hulk is a chaotic being -- he hates being told what to do, he bristles against any kind of structure, including the towns and cities he routinely destroys, and yes, the lives he ruins in doing so - but Bruce Banner isn't a killer. If we subscribe to the Amadeus Cho theory (Which I do -- it's comic book logic but it's a neat way to get around it), when Hulk goes on his rampages, the Banner side is trying to steer the runaway train, and succeeds enough to make sure there's an absolute minimum loss of life, usually zero. And while we have shown this new Hulk being a little more relaxed about that -- scarily so -- I still feel like there's a very long way to go before he's murdering billions of people as part of some master plan.
Although, having said that, I also don't want to come out and say it's completely impossible that the Hulk could do something monstrous, because I think that might defuse some of the tension inherent in this version of Hulk. I guess this comes back to my general struggle with the Internet and its tendency to impose interpretations on stories -- my intention was to have people read that and wonder and speculate and maybe worry about what the Hulk might be planning, not to say, "Well, the Hulk must obviously be planning THIS, because he thinks THIS!" and boil it down to one possibility, and kind of filter everything in the story through that. That's probably a recipe for disappointment, especially with this book. The central question is, "Is he man or monster, or is he both?" A certain level of ambiguity is always going to be part of it, and I like to make sure that ambiguity is in there.
I will say that nobody I've seen has guessed what the Hulk (or Banner) is really planning yet. So when it comes, it'll hopefully be a cool twist.
Oh, and as for Samson - he's going through a massive existential crisis, so he's not the greatest psychiatrist in the world right now. I think he's just glad Hulk might be thinking about someone besides himself.