WARNING: The following contains spoilers for The Immortal Hulk #9 by Al Ewing, Martin Simmonds, Joe Bennet, Ruy Jose, Paul Mounts and VC's Cory Petit, in stores now.
Marvel's The Immortal Hulk is taking Bruce Banner on a character-defining journey, not just painting him as someone who can't -- or won't -- die, but as a Jade Giant with demons literally in his soul. However, as the seedy military operation known asthe Shadow Base fails in its every attempt to take Hulk down, we see they have one more ace up their sleeves.
In Issue #9, that card is red. In these desperate times, Shadow Base decides to unleash an all-new Red Hulk to hunt Banner down. The kicker: It's the Absorbing Man.
Carl "Crusher" Creel has become the third "Rulk" of the Marvel Universe, following General Thaddeus "Thunderbolt" Ross and Robert Maverick. The former turned into the red monster thanks to A.I.M. and the Intelligencia, with Maverick later getting his powers thanks to a device called the Hulk Plug-In. Creel has been given a serum derived using the plug-in's technology, a gamma infusion that turns him into Hulk's crimson-colored equivalent, albeit with a unique twist making him the deadliest one there is.
Before we get into that, we have to understand Creel's powers. In 1965's Journey into Mystery #114 from Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the former boxer-turned-criminal was given a magical potion by Loki, which allowed his body to absorb anything he touched, whether it be liquid, steel or even diamond. This made him a powerful foe against the likes of Thor and the Avengers over the years, but he seemed to turn a new leaf in 2017's Black Bolt series. There, he helped the Inhuman king escape a cruel prison, although Creel did die, only to be resurrected mysteriously. Despite seemingly finding love with Titania, it turns out he's been missing the criminal life and wants a challenge, which is why Shadow Base is able to co-opt him after Iron Man imprisoned him, and turn Creel into their new weapon.
Initially reluctant, he finally realizes he can go toe-to-toe with this bloodthirsty Hulk, something he's never been able to do, and his mentality quickly switches back to that of a villain. With the serum powering him up, he's now going by the codename "Red Dog," and what gives him his advantage is, of course, his ability to absorb the energies of the materials he comes into contact with -- a key asset in the ensuing brawl.
When he engages Banner, using his signature ball-and-chain, Creel proves to be a more-than-worthy adversary. Just as Shadow Base predicted, he literally sucks the gamma radiation out of the Hulk. He's now able to pulverize the Green Goliath, who becomes gaunt and frail, drained of his very essence. It's a beatdown the other Rulks failed to accomplish, but as Creel reminded himself before the fight, pride usually comes before the fall.
And so it does. Here, Creel absorbs the demon that's possessed Banner over the last few months: The One Below All. The serpent-like entity tortures Creel's mind and begins to devour his soul. This manifests in the physical realm as Creel's body disintegrates in front a shocked and helpless Hulk, leaving us wondering how can he be saved. It's a dark turn of events, but with Creel's last resurrection, chances are he might bounce back from this. There are questions, after all, to be answered.
Will he remain a Red Hulk? What is going to be the after-effect of all this? Maverick did, after all, end up in a coma. We're sure his new bestie, Black Bolt, as well as Titania (who's on heroic missions with Roxxon in Weapon H), are going to be asking him all this when they catch up to him. Well, that's if they meet him, because right now, Creel's stint as a Hulk looks like it'll be short-lived.