Comics have impacted my life in a tremendous fashion.
Comics are the artwork decorating the walls of my home.
Comics are in my classroom and led me to life as a teacher.
Comics are the foundation of many of my dearest friendships.
Comics gave me the opportunity to write a review of The Immortal Hulk #33 while overseeing the largest weekly reviews round up in the direct market. It’s a position I’m incredibly lucky to hold and one I try never to take for granted; life is good when you’re discussing good comics.
I always enjoy The Immortal Hulk because of how it showcases Joe Bennett’s storytelling, even when he is paired with one of many talented guest artists to date. His layouts continue ratcheting up tension with each turn of the page. A slow descent from Bruce’s entire face into his iris is madness-inducing. How these panels frame characters together builds a sense of claustrophobia making each moment of explosively unleashed violence a far greater release. Bennett is unleashed in a number of spreads, including one very impressive extra-sized display, to demonstrate how he can deliver power as a visceral force strafed by tightly bunched pencils, subtly twisted in perspective, and rich with detail. These pages are nothing short of appropriately terrifying.
So many more readers and critics recognize Bennett’s name now, and I appreciate seeking out his prior work—discovering an artist with a Hitchcockian flair in crafting sequences. And so I also appreciate having an industry, like comics, where artists are given time and space to develop their craft and seek out the rare alchemy that summons a series like The Immortal Hulk.
Nick Pitarra’s pages showcasing the landscape of Hulk’s consciousness contrast nicely with the creeping slasher vibes emanating from Bennett’s. Pitarra possesses an expansive style where both characters and panels demand ample space to stretch out. Each version of Hulk he designs seems to smother the space around it with muscles powered by endlessly detonating hydrogen bombs. This is the Hulk as Hulk sees himself, and it’s no surprise to readers of The Manhattan Projects that Pitarra can so deftly draw you into the mind of such a bizarre character.
This surprise appearance by Pitarra makes me appreciate the rich array of artists and styles currently supported in the direct market. Following a talented artist like Pitarra for the past ten years has led me to so many excellent comics, and to see his work here is a treat.
Together, Bennett and Pitarra deliver the final showdown between Hulk and the combined forces of Roxxon CEO Dario Agger (in Minotaur form) and Xemnu the Titan complete with a body-transforming garbage disposal in its belly. That showdown is every bit as satisfying as you might hope, especially when it arrives at Dario Agger’s fate—the result of overestimating something he did not understand and sacrificing his own workforce without ever considering the consequences. In a week that also sees the publication of a Punisher comic where a man is skinned alive, the final state of this immoral executive is still the most horrifying image in a comic book.
Dario’s presence has brought the series’ focus to the effects of mega-corporations upon everything from the media to youth culture, and now The Immortal Hulk provides some fictional catharsis in smashing Marvel Comics’ icon of amoral capitalism. It delivers the rare sort of reading experience that is both tremendously fun and respectful of its audience's intelligence.
Even in the midst of so much long-awaited calamity, writer Al Ewing continues to unpack more of a constantly evolving investigation on how Hulk functions. The childlike Hulk walks with the gladiator Hulk and witnesses many of its other forms chained or otherwise contained. It’s a representation of Xemnu’s control and a sequence filled with hints and signals about how all of these personalities function together.
This is further evidence that even when brought low, alongside the rest of humanity, the Hulk overcomes not simply by being stronger than any opponent, but becoming stranger than them with each gruesome death. There are untold layers to this collection of identities and many stories left to be told in the pages of this series. It’s like the line goes in The Dark Knight, whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stranger.
I want more of this, all of this, because it gives me exactly what I want after a long day right now. It’s an incredibly well-considered and involving work of fiction. This comic is more than a distraction, it’s the sort of work that keeps you thinking long after setting it down. It’s exactly the sort of work I don’t want to lose after life discovers some new form of normal.
However, when I think about how Hulk has developed across six long decades, I’m also reminded how resilient even the most underappreciated forms of media can be. Hulk managed to maintain a regular presence in Marvel comics even after his first series was cancelled at six issues. Marvel Comics managed to survive bankruptcy and constant financial woes, eventually making Hulk a globally recognized character in massive motion pictures. This character, covered in the fingerprints of luminaries like Kirby, Lee, and Ditko, has survived many catastrophes and so have comics.
That I’m writing—and you are reading—an essay about a new Hulk comic reflects that our attention will remain fractured and it’s absolutely healthy to find distractions from what’s happening in our world. So it’s natural to feel sad and scared about the future of comics—especially the comics market that creates space for exceedingly strange series like this. For all of its many flaws, this is still a marketplace that employs thousands upon thousands of people in its retail, production, and distribution chains. It’s also a market still delivering stories like The Immortal Hulk #33, an absolute ass-kicking vehicle of a comic book.
The industry is facing difficult days ahead and a lot of promising projects and very talented people are going to suffer as a result. Yet we aren’t going to stop seeking out incredible stories to inspire us, and there will be a call for many more stories as we move ahead. I’ll continue to write about them, you’ll continue to read them, many of my students will continue to check them out from the library, and we will continue to discover, share, and read new comics. Things are going to get strange and the status quo will certainly change, but this impactful, innovative, and persistently inspiring medium will continue in some strange form. I look forward to writing about it.
Published by Marvel Comics
On March 25, 2020
Written by Al Ewing
Art by Joe Bennett, Nick Pitarra, Ruy Jose, Belardino Brabo, Marc Deering, and Mark Morales
Colors by Paul Mounts and Michael Garland0comments
Letters by Cory Petit
Cover by Alex Ross