From the beginning, Al Ewing and Joe Bennett's The Immortal Hulk has pushed the boundaries of horror content in a mainstream superhero comic with their more sinister reinvention of the Jade Giant and his supporting cast. After the previous issue featured a rare, introspective interlude for Bruce Banner, the creative team dials up the action to some of the most graphic material seen this year in a Marvel title, with a climactic, gory battle largely viewed from the perspective of a surprising supporting character: the monstrously transformed Betty Ross. With this approach, Ewing and Bennett balance a meditative self-reflection from Betty as a bloody brawl rages nearby.
Picking up from the cliffhanger of Issue 18, Hulk fights the Abomination in the streets of Reno, Nevada, after the clandestine organization Shadow Base send the ravenous, looming beast to track down and destroy him. As Hulk battles for his life against the most terrifying incarnation of his longtime foe yet, Betty reflects on her own past through flashbacks as she reaches Reno herself, crossing paths with Shadow Base operatives tasked with eliminating witnesses.
Betty Ross had been waiting in the wings for some time, as she comes to terms with her own recent transformation and what's left of her humanity. And just as this issue has Hulk's conflict with the new Abomination finally come to a head, so too does Betty's crisis with her own identity and what she has become. That juxtaposition is further elaborated by Ewing staging the bulk of the issue in dual narratives; Hulk's fight with Abomination bouncing back and forth with Betty's recollections of a time before her new hellish status quo.
Balancing two narratives simultaneously is no small feat, much less than one steeped in flashbacks and internal monologues with the other leaning more into a horror sequence than a superhero action set piece. However, Ewing more than pulls it off here. There are two different kinds of terror at play, a slow-creeping one within Betty's perspective as she traces her history, and an urgent, immediate one as Hulk faces the one opponent that just might take him down for good in a visceral, relentless showdown.
A lot of that effectiveness comes from the haunting artwork, penciled by Joe Bennett, inked by Ruy Jose and Belardino, and colored by Paul Mounts and Rachelle Rosenberg. The flashback sequences are evocative and atmospheric; even in the more innocuous imagery there's a lingering tension as Betty moves closer to the action. The fight between the Hulk and Abomination is deliriously gory; the violence isn't necessarily off-putting, but it certainly isn't for the kiddies.
The Immortal Hulk has always balanced moody, sinister mystery with some of the most horror-leaning, hard-hitting action. It's more brutal than any other Hulk comic in recent memory. This issue provides one of the best showcases of that dichotomy with its atmospheric dual-narrative storytelling building both plot threads converging with surprising, but no less bloody, results. Just as Bruce Banner and his gamma-radiated alter ego have been reinvented as horror figures, so has his longtime supporting cast and that's especially apparent here. And just as the new, terrifying Hulk is still an enigma, to himself just as much as readers, so are the Abomination and Betty Ross and the series is all the better for it.