WARNING: The following contains spoilers for The Immortal Hulk #13 by Al Ewing, Joe Bennet, Ruy Jose, Belardino Brabo, Rafael Fonteriz, Paul Mounts and VC's Cory Petit, in stores now.
Throughout decades of comics, the dynamic between Bruce Banner and the Hulk has been one of pop culture's most fascinating and enduring relationships. It's been explored on the fan-favorite TV series starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno in the '70s, numerous cartoons and animated movies, and, of course, a slew of appearances on the big screen, the latest being Mark Ruffalo's Green Goliath for Marvel Studios.
What makes it so engaging is the way they've been represented as yin and yang at times as well as antagonists to one another, nearly always painted as a modern day Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. In short, they've always been at each other's throat, with one side trying to break free while suppressing the other at the same time. The Immortal Hulk #13, which has been subverting the characters' lore since its launch, however, has fundamentally changed this dance with each other, in the process giving us the most perfect moment we could ask for.
As the One Below All brings his hellish dimension through the Green Door to Earth (think the Devil trying to move Hell to our realm), Hulk, as well as his Gamma Flight allies, are all at the villain's mercy. Crusher Creel was separated from his Red Hulk version of the Absorbing Man, with the latter finally breaking the demonic overlord free, all while Hulk struggles to contain the spread of this satanic realm across where it all started for him: New Mexico.
Soon enough, we learn that they've all been played like a fiddle. Gamma radiation was the One's means of possessing these gamma-powered beings, looking to separate their personalities because he simply needed the monsters alone to break the door down, not the men. The One gloats in the form of Bruce's abusive father, Brian, that this truly is the start of the end of days, savoring hiss imminent victory. He's finally ready to literally create a new Hell on Earth.
However, an emaciated Hulk absorbs the residual gamma laying around and is powered up just enough to take down Brian as the avatar for the One. It's a tough fight but the Jade Giant emerges on top, and proceeds to find a frail Bruce in the desert, dismayed at the revelation that he's been nothing but a demon-possessed pawn since the lab experiment in Los Diablos, NM turned him into a monster. Recognizing Bruce is mentally broken, Hulk surprisingly comforts his other half now that they're both free of the One's influence. What ensues is a heartfelt moment painting them less as comrades-in-arms, and more as brothers.
Most importantly, Hulk tells Banner that apart from the other personalities (such as Joe Fixit, the Devil Hulk and his smarter Savage Hulk), the version he's speaking with now has always loved Bruce. He views the distraught scientist as one might a baby, and makes it clear no matter what, protecting him has always come first. It's a reassuring moment, and one of the best exchanges we've ever witnessed between the two. Both men are no longer burdened by each other, and at long last, are well and truly free of the One's corruption.
With these demons exorcised, it remains to be seen what path this new, immortal Hulk will embark on, and more so, what lies ahead for Bruce. He's still petrified and will have doubts -- because let's be real, Hulk will always be part of him -- but there's just enough sincerity from his greener half to take a glimmer of hope and optimism from their exchange. Bruce ends the issue by seeking out his ex-wife Betty Ross, most likely looking for a second chance at happiness, as it's obvious both him and Hulk may actually get a shot at really being happy now. But as history dictates, their fates will forever be intertwined -- at least, we now see it's a connecting thread based on care, love and brotherhood. One can only hope this will last long enough for both the man and the monster.