Ever since the monstrous resurrection of Bruce Banner and the Hulk in the pages of Avengers: No Surrender, the iconic character and his solo ongoing series, The Immortal Hulk, has leaned more heavily into the realm of horror than most mainstream superhero comics. And yet, despite all the gamma-radiated smashing and devilishly horrific transformations, the storytelling and pacing of Al Ewing and Joe Bennett's series has subtly unfolded like a mystery, an approach that's particularly apparent in the most recent issue.
This issue features two major questions; namely, what happened to two longtime Hulk supporting characters in Rick Jones and Betty Ross-Banner. Rick, the teenager Bruce Banner had saved from the gamma bomb that ultimately turned him into the Hulk, has been dead for some time, but his body has been exhumed, with its whereabouts and purpose serving as a framing device for much the issue, with the narration taking Rick's perspective from beyond the grave. Meanwhile, Betty, Bruce's ex-wife, has disappeared, her home left in ruins, leading to investigators to suspect this more sinister version of the Jade Giant.
Ewing paces the issue well, leaving just enough narrative breadcrumbs to keep readers wondering what is exactly becoming of Rick and Betty while providing enough development to tease how they will end up, all while the Hulk and Doc Sampson take the fight directly to the Shadow Base. At the same time, Ewing is more than aware he is writing a Hulk book, despite its horror and mystery underpinnings, and packs this issue with plenty of requisite smashing as the Hulk and Doc face even more monstrous gamma-radiated creatures in a brawl that takes up much of the second half of the issue.
In selecting Rick as the issue's primary narrator, Ewing also has a chance to reframe the Hulk's origin and character arc as the more wicked version of the character is juxtaposed with longtime psychologist Doc Sampson. Doc serves as a sounding board for Bruce and the Hulk over the course of the issue, while Rick offers an outside opinion from his lengthy history with the character. In a way, The Immortal Hulk has always been a character study of Bruce Banner from a horror perspective, and Rick's narration, along with the prominent presence of Doc Samson, makes this all the more clear.
Similarly, Bennett knows how to illustrate an issue that leaves just enough to the readers' imaginations regarding some of the series' extreme violence and horror. The Hulk and Doc's confrontation with the monsters in this issue is one of the comic's more brutal fights in recent memory, but it never comes off as gratuitous, a lot of which comes from Bennett's well-placed sense of restraint. In the issue's quieter moments, Bennett knows how to capture the menace, pain and fear of the story being told, his hauntingly atmospheric visuals elevating Ewing's script to further heights.
Ewing and Bennett's Immortal Hulk #16 is z pivotal issue in the series as the mystery surrounding Rick Jones and Betty Ross-Banner deepens. Through the perspective of the late Rick Jones, another side of Bruce Banner is explored, along with his eternal link to his gamma-radiated alter ego. However, the issue itself is not overly cerebral, thankfully, with the creative team continuing to bring all the action expected in a Hulk comic. And, as the larger machinations of the Shadow Base become more evident, the issue features the potential death of a longtime Hulk supporting character, the resurrection of another and the return of a certain fan-favorite personality that is sure to leave readers eagerly waiting for the next issue.